WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tasked his foreign minister with delivering a major speech laying out the government’s approach to international affairs on all its key pillars: development, diplomacy, defence and trade.
The speech by Chrystia Freeland early next month will set the broad context before the government announces its long-awaited defence policy review June 7, laying out the bigger picture before the military specifics.
“This is our 150th year (as a country),” Freeland said in an interview.
“The prime minister feels that now is a great moment for us to give Canadians that broader, connect-the-dots expression of the ways in which we are working to advance our national interests — and advance our national values.”
Freeland made the comment on the top floor of the Canadian embassy in Washington, overlooking the U.S. Capitol dome. But she was adamant: the speech would not be about contrasting Canada with its southern neighbour.
She illustrated her point with a farming metaphor — and the need for a homegrown foreign policy, emerging from Canada’s specific national conditions. It’s a metaphor close to home for her, based on a crop her father farms in Alberta.
“It’s canola,” she said. “It is a native plant, native to Canadian soil.”
Sources expect the speech to extol the merits of open societies, open trade, pluralism and the promotion of human rights. Such rhetoric would inevitably prompt comparisons with Canada’s next door neighbour.
In Washington, some of those ideas have fallen out of fashion. In the nationalist, America-First zeitgeist, open trade, open borders and the propagation of national values abroad are not the stuff of federal cabinet speeches.
Donald Trump proposes major cuts to diplomacy and aid. His inaugural address expressed regret at all the foreign highways and armies built with U.S. tax dollars. He’s even been reluctant to criticize abuses by strongman leaders in Turkey, the Philippines, and Russia.
Take the events unfolding across town Tuesday while Freeland was visiting Canada’s embassy.
Guards for Turkish President Recep Erdogan were roughing up protesters — in Washington, D.C., outside the Turkish embassy. Yet the U.S. government was as muted about it as it had been about Russia’s suspected interference in France’s election.
A few days after that incident, two senior Russian officials got an invite to the Oval Office.
Still, Freeland insists the speech won’t be about comparing and contrasting with the neighbour. She supplements the canola metaphor by slamming two fists on a table: “Our foreign policy stands on its own two feet.”
The speech will be a broad prelude to a specific announcement: a long-awaited military policy review now expected June 7. The Liberals began working on it soon after they took office, and have begun presenting it to allies. The process was led by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan — he was with Freeland this week as they dined with their U.S. counterparts Rex Tillerson and James Mattis.
Now it’s time to communicate clearly with Canadians about the risks ahead, Freeland said.
Canada is about to deploy hundreds of soldiers to Latvia and will lead a NATO battle group there. Military officials have already said they expect Canadians might be targeted in a Russian cyberwarfare campaign.
Freeland can personally attest to that. She’s already been sanctioned by Russia, placed on a no-travel list, and references keep popping up in social media to her grandfather having edited a pro-Nazi newspaper in occupied Poland.
Freeland said Canadians should understand the threat of a new hybrid warfare — one that fuses military capability with cyberattacks. She’s repeatedly discussed it with international colleagues.
But she says there are risks for standing up for NATO and for the sanctity of borders in eastern Europe — which she called a cornerstone of the international order since the Second World War.
“Stepping up to a challenge always exposes you to risks — otherwise it wouldn’t be stepping up. We need to be mindful of those risks. We need to be mindful of the new challenges that hybrid warfare poses,” Freeland said.
“I am confident that we are resilient…. I’m confident that our country is up to the challenge.”