Sunday, May 24, 2009

"No way to run a foreign policy"

"No way to run a foreign policy," those were Craig Oliver's comments on Saturday night's CTV news report regarding the Harper government's Pakistani arms ban snafu this week and in this instance, they're particularly apt. Oliver was referencing Foreign Affairs' public rebuke of Peter MacKay for stating, while in Pakistan, that the Canadian ban on exporting military technology would be lifted. Oliver confirms the Globe reporting from Friday, that the ban was in the works and hints that the larger difficulty in events this week lies with the actions of Cannon's Foreign Affairs department. That MacKay was just edging along the lift on the ban that was certainly in the works and that everyone knew about. Apparently more on this story on Question Period Sunday.

As you might guess, I find this interesting not just for its implications on what Canada is doing (or not doing, in light of this week's arms ban/no ban dalliance) in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border situation. That is a significant and sensitive question, whether Canada should be lifting this arms ban or not and how it goes about doing it. Is it in Canada's interests to lift that ban, would we be doing so but for the Pakistani army fighting the Taliban? Are we just blindly following U.S. policy once again? Perhaps we should have a greater focus on the need for aid given the refugee situation. Does the Harper government give us any confidence that it knows what it is doing in this regard? No legitimate debate, of course, this is Canada.

What's more interesting are the Canadian domestic political implications and what it says about the Harper government's competence in handling a sensitive foreign affairs matter. They've underfunded the Foreign Affairs department ("...slashing the Department of Foreign Affairs' budget by nearly $639 million from 2007 levels, while at the same time increasing the Defence Department's budget by more than $2.4 billion."). They've had a revolving door of 4 ministers in 3 years in this significant department (MacKay, Bernier, Emerson, Cannon). And as we know, the PM is the foreign affairs force hovering in the background (the frequent critique of the Harper government being Mr. Harper's one-man show, see Caplan comments here after Lawrence Cannon's assumption of the job, for e.g.). The dysfunctionality is starting to catch up with them, it appears.

For a government that likes to talk a good game about its vaunted leadership skills and Canada being "back" in the world, there's yet again little to back up their marketing slogan. The Pakistani arms ban issue was a major failure this week and thankfully, it's going to get some more attention.