When Mr. Harper took reins of power in 2006, his Government comprised politicians most of whom had no previous ministerial experience. This showed up in Foreign Policy as potentially one of largest trading partners –China, was ignored for nearly eighteen months. China was on the rise then and very keen to bond with Canada on matters of trade, but then Foreign Minister took a position which was not consistent with Canada’s economic interests and values and a huge opportunity for a trade deal was lost.
(picture courtesy: sprottmoneyblog.com)
Oil/Gas deal of the Century that should have been Canada's, but for failure of Stephen Harper's foreign policy
The unnecessary kerfuffle with United Arab Emirates led by John Baird over additional landing rights for UAE’s two world class airlines, resulted in Canada being unceremoniously dispatched from a free air base in Dubai, which served as an important back up for Canadian armed forces in Afghanistan. Moving the air base to Cyprus cost Canadian taxpayers nearly $300 million and on top of that UAE slapped visa requirement on Canadian citizens. Fortunately Mr. Baird came to senses later and made up with the UAE Government, the visa requirement was then withdrawn.
(picture courtesy: tripadvisor.com)
The argument forwarded at the time was that increased flights by UAE airlines will hurt Air Canada in the future. Harper Government could have turned the landing rights request into a win win by asking UAE airlines to place a good size order for Bombardier's struggling new C series aircraft in exchange for extra landing rights. After all the U.S. President pushes Boeing aircraft on his foreign visits. UAE's two airlines are amongst the largest in the world and an order for 50 or 100 planes could have lifted Bombardier into becoming a major civilian aircraft maker in the world.
One of the biggest setbacks suffered by Harper Government’s foreign policy was the defeat at Security Council elections. Never before had Canada suffered such humiliation as whenever it was up for election, it always won the Security Council seat with good margins. The defeat was merely a reflection of how the world perceived Canada under Mr. Harper.
Canada has always been held in high esteem by the world, it has been considered a fair player and a promoter of peace around the world. Harper Government’s aggressive pro Israel one sided policy did considerable damage to Canada’s neutrality. Its total lack of humanitarian concern for Palestinians did not play well in many countries of the world including some in Europe. The loss of Security Council seat first time ever, may well have been a reaction to such policies.
Canada’s oil boom over the last several years has served Canadian economy well. When Harper Government came to power in 2006, Canada was in an ideal position to tie up long term oil supply contracts with China, but that potential was never realized. Oil pipelines to East & West Coast were not built. Lapsed time and lack of Captainship on the part of the Government increased obstacles in the way of building pipelines. Instead of Canada, Russia ended up signing that $400 billion oil supply contract with China. Also, when Ukraine erupted, a pipeline to east coast would have put Canada in an ideal position to replace Russia as the oil supplier to Western Europe. Harper Government’s total focus on the virtually doomed XL pipeline to U.S. tantamount to putting all eggs in one basket. The focus on this pipeline was at the cost of eastern and western pipelines.
In the nine years of Harper Government, several trade deals could have been negotiated and signed, especially with China and India two of the world’s top five economies, but no progress was made in that direction. However, to give full credit to Mr. Harper, the European Trade deal is a success, though it is not a done deal yet and any of the nineteen members can veto it. Chances are, it will go through eventually, but the benefit will be claimed by the next Prime Minister.
It is too early to judge the benefits of Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) just signed, but it certainly has angles that may harm Canada’s economy, especially auto and agricultural sectors. Also, there is no certainty that U.S. Congress will pass it, so it could die before it is born. The deal has been led and driven by President Obama, who made Mr. Harper look like a silent spectator. U.S. cut a side deal with Japan leaving Canada out of the conversation and more importantly President Obama also cut a side deal with Mexico on auto parts, leaving Canada out of the equation. There was a time when Canada would have been in the forefront of such negotiations and neither U.S. nor any other country would have dared relegate Canada to this status.
So, on balance Harper Government’s Foreign Policy has been a failure. The long term impact of Canada’s isolation will translate into poor performance of Canadian economy, which is already facing the consequence of low oil prices.