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article imageThe world according to Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff Special

By Michael Werbowski     Nov 3, 2010 in World
Montreal - Canadian Liberal opposition leader in a major address in Montreal this week, outlined his party's foreign policy agenda, while impugning Harper's Conservatives for diminishing Canada's stature on the world stage with their reactionary policies.
On Tuesday in the ballroom of a Montreal hotel, Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff delivered a speech entitled "Rebuilding Canada's Leadership on the World Stage," which focused on his party's foreign policy agenda. In a speech organised the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations (CORIM ) which seemed to be a bit of a pre-election rally, the liberal party leader described the conservatives' failed bid to secure a temporary seat at the UN Security Council recently, as "the most embarrassing moment for Canada on the world stage in more than 60 years." According to the Liberal leader, the country has been diminished internationally due to the diplomatic fiasco. "We have wasted a rare opportunity to lead," he said, referring to the bungled attempt to raise Harper's international profile. "This was a wake-up call for all Canadians. The world forced us to look in the mirror, and we don't like what we see," he added.
It may be a decade before Canada is again in a position to make a credible bid for the coveted security council seat, Ignatieff asserted. Mr. Ignatieff also took the opportunity to publicly respond to the government's attempt to deflect responsibility for the defeat at the UN by blaming, the lost vote on Liberal opposition, and even Mr. Ignatieff himself. "He [Harper] blamed me for the defeat," the opposition leader said. Canadian foreign minister Lawrence Cannon rather than admitting his own ineptitude may have been a factor in the defeat, preferred instead to fault Ignatieff for the debacle, as if he deliberated undermined the Harper campaign for his own domestic political gain. In fact, Michael Ignatieff simply asserted what many of the UN member states already knew when they cast their secret vote that is: Canada simply didn't deserve the seat . And it, or they, the Conservatives deserved what they got , seems to be the Liberal view .
Canada's big international cop-out or Harper's isolationism
In a not so veiled rebuke of the current Prime Minister Stephen Harper handling of foreign affairs in his five year stint as minority government leader , Mr. Ignatieff called the humiliating set-back for Canada " a clear condemnation of our foreign policy Mr. Ignatieff said. "Why did we lose?" on that fateful day of October 12th Ignatieff asked the audience rhetorically made up of Montreal's business and academic and political elite. According to the Liberal leader, one reason for the failed bid was the Harper government ignored rising powers such as India and China and Brazil for far too long. Ottawa also abandoned Africa (under Harper, aid was cut by $700 million), a continent where traditionally Canada played a more active role (especially in the Francophone countries) both in the realm of diplomacy and development, but no longer. Mr. Ignatieff, cited other examples where Prime Minister Harper damaged, diminished and tarnished the nation's reputation on the world stage, such the government's deliberate and "malicious," muzzling of NGOs or "civil society" organisation based in Canada who devote their efforts to international development and the promotion of human rights.
Among those he referred to specifically in the speech were "Rights and Democracy," or women's groups such as MATCH, or faith based groups (who are openly critical of Canadian mining companies and their activities abroad) like KAIROS; an organisation which saw its funding reduced under the current conservative regime. At times is appears Harper's Ottawa is obsessed with militarism and promoting the sacra saint free trade-mantra. However, along with the "three D's" that is: defence, development and diplomacy, "Democracy should be at the heart of our foreign policy. And Democratic debate should be part of our foreign policy at home," he said. (A statement which eerily reminded me of the Bush administration's agenda to impose democracy in the Middle-East.)
In his speech the Liberal leader also outlined certain policy goals his party would pursue if in power. Ignatieff advocates a re-balancing of sorts or a re-alignment in foreign policy, that is away from a less inward looking one based on strictly on narrow domestic political considerations ( that is catering and pandering to certain ethnic voter or pro-Israeli electorate) and move towards a multilateralist or a far more internationally engaged stance in the world. Or one based on, for instance, a more objective approach in the Middle East. Although the Liberals remain staunch supporters of Israel, they advocate a "two- state solution" to resolve the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Balanced in the Middle East does not mean neutrality," Ignatieff reassured the luncheon guests.
More peacekeeping and less war-mongering under the Liberals?
The former academic, journalist and son of a distinguished Canadian diplomat who served at the UN, also in a tone of resolute conviction and firmness told the audience, that Canada should re-engage with its historical role as a global peace keeper. Currently Canada is 50th in terms of the numbers of solders it deploys to partake in UN peacekeeping mission. In closing his remarks, he also endorsed his colleague's , the former Prime Minster Paul Martin's ( who was also in Montreal this week, to give a talk at McGill University and the Canadian International Council) proposal to strengthen the G-20 mechanism in the field of promoting global financial stability and called for the creation of a permanent G-20 secretariat to be based in Canada. "Instead of resisting the decline of the G-8, Canada should lead the way to the G20... And we should host a permanent G20 secretariat in Canada." Ignatieff also touched on other global blunders of the Harper government such alienating a "friendly" nation such as Mexico by imposing harsh visa restrictions on its nationals last year. "We also can't afford to alienate our friends," he said.
Although to be fair Harper has re-enforced ties with Latin America, specifically Ottawa's courtship with and of Colombia (a notorious nation known for human rights violations) on a bi-lateral basis, when it comes to free-trade and market access to mineral and energy rights for Canadian companies in resource rich South American states. Precisely on the issue of foreign investment and free trade today's decision to stop the sale of Potash corp. to BHP Billiton, an Australian company, shows the Harper government may seek quick access to resources abroad as part of the Globalisation game, but is reluctant to practise the same policies here in Canada.
For his part, Mr. Ignatieff considers the Saskatchewan based company as "strategic resource" which should belong to Canadians. "We shouldn't lose control of this resource," he told reporters after his speech. When asked by Digital Journal if the rise of the Republican party in the U.S Congress might lead to a more withdrawn and introspective America domestically while acting in an unilateralist manner internationally and how this might impact Canada, he replied that whatever the result of the US mid-terms elections may be, under a Liberal government, Ottawa would work with Washington on important international issues or even take the lead on issues such as children of war or global warming. "We can act on climate change," he said for instance "without waiting for Washington" to move forward first on this.
Finally, Ignatieff invoked the need for a much "greener" approach to foreign policy referring to the current government's counter-productive if not out rightly obstructionist posture, on UN organised climate talks, climate change and the potential exploitation of energy in the far North. He also evoked the efforts of a new generation of young Canadian "internationalist" who are "Canada's best ambassadors" abroad, and whose "experiences will shape the future of our country," he said.
Acknowledgement: The reporter would like to thank the staff and organising committee of CORIM for making this news article possible.
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