The world is still waiting: Rethinking Canadian international policy

Blogger’s Note:  Following is my review of  Roland Paris and Taylor Owen, eds.
The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink Its International Policies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016).  It was published recently in the in the International Journal (72:3, 2017).  Please pardon the peculiar formatting/spacing.


The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed itself to an
activist international agenda. That said, with a beaten-down, reamed-out public
service still recovering after a decade of ideologically driven neglect and abuse
under the Harper Conservatives, not much new thinking is coming up through
the bureaucracy. This is hardly unexpected. How can a patient who has been on life
support for many years, with limbs emaciated, reflexes dulled and muscles atro-
phied, suddenly get up and run a marathon?

Enter Professors Paris (University of Ottawa) and Owen (University of British
Columbia). In addressing the policy and analytical vacuum, they present ideas
generated by ‘‘some of the country’s brightest ‘next generation’ thinkers and
most experienced policy practitioners.’’ All twelve authors are believed to ‘‘share
the editors’ view that Canada needs to pursue a comprehensive, constructive and
ambitious international strategy’’ (vii).


The papers, originally presented at the Ottawa Forum in May 2014, offer a
sweeping critique of the Conservative government’s disastrous stewardship of
Canada’s place in the world. The anthology’s core argument is that in a rapidly
changing global environment, Canada has failed to keep up. Performance must be

Although this project was somewhat sideswiped by the election of October 2015,
not to mention the rise of the populist right, Brexit, and the Trump ascendancy,
most of the articles remain relevant.1 Moreover, while many of the contributors are
academics, several are professionals drawn from different disciplines. That uncon-
ventional mix may represent the book’s greatest strength. But it has also resulted in
several prescriptions that fall outside the purview of analysis usually associated
with International Relations.


For example, Andrea Mandel-Campbell, an executive at Kinross Gold, suggests
that mining is ‘‘Canada’s Silicon Valley’’ (48) and proposes ‘‘dropping silos,’’
‘‘pooling resources,’’ ‘‘collaboration,’’ ‘‘reducing the number of government fund-
ing programs,’’ ‘‘getting strategic,’’ and ‘‘investing in the next generation of mining
talent’’ (49). University of Alberta professor Andrew Leach, championing his theory
of ‘‘manufactured energy,’’ recommends ‘‘allowing the lines between energy and
manufacturing to blur,’’ ‘‘preparing our energy industries for future carbon policy,’’
and ‘‘avoiding the temptation to force more manufacturing through discounted
energy resources.’’ (66–80). University of Ottawa professor Stewart Elgie advocates
‘‘creating incentives that will drive corporate investment,’’ ‘‘decoupling economic
growth from environmental harm, and… carbon pricing’’ (84).


The immediate connection of these suggestions to international policy or strategy
is not clear.


Jennifer Keesmaat, then chief planner for the City of Toronto, sensibly argues for
greater recognition of the importance of urban places and that the federal govern-
ment should ‘‘embrace a central role in advancing an international-partnership
framework for cities’’ (37). Keesmat does not specify how ‘‘infusing all aspects
of federal governance with an urban agenda’’ (42) is to be achieved, nor does
she resolve the problem of the federal government’s lack of an applicable consti-
tutional mandate. She does, however, display an acute appreciation for the erosion
of sovereignty, the end of state-centricity, and the rise of new actors. The term
‘‘transnational’’ appears nine times in her ten-and-a-half pages.


Professor Mark Raymond from the University of Oklahoma has produced a
particularly challenging chapter entitled ‘‘Meeting global demand for institutional
innovation in Internet governance.’’ Try, for instance, to parse this sentence: ‘‘The
feasibility of managing Internet issues at the global level in a decentralized manner
reliant on soft-law instruments depends on the creation and maintenance of global
facilities to minimize and remediate negative externalities created by the multitude
of nested clubs that constitute the Internet governance ecosystem’’ (108). The pro-
fusion of obscure acronyms (even though they are spelled out)—WCIT, ICANN,
NETmundial, WSIS + 10 (100), IETF (103), EPSRC, CIFAR (106)—is confusing
to the uninitiated.
Other chapters—by Danielle Goldfarb on global commerce policy, Jonathan
Paquin on international security, David Petrasek on human rights, Emily Paddon

1. It would be interesting to have Paris revisit the text in the wake of his recent service as an inter-
national policy adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office.

and Jennifer Welsh on the protection of civilians in conflict,2 Yves Tiberghien on
global institutions, and John McArthur on sustainable development—are more
accessible and speak directly to issues in Canadian international policy.
Variable quality is perhaps inevitable in an enterprise of this nature. Still, some
readers might find it curious that there are three chapters dedicated to various
aspects of resource management, but no chapters on diplomatic practice (e.g.,
public or science diplomacy), immigration, or defence policy.
Paris and Owen do their best to connect the sometimes-disparate threads and
stitch the volume together with a finely crafted introduction and conclusion. These
provide a degree of unifying coherence and direction that goes beyond the tem-
plate—key transformations, implications for Canada, and recommenda-
tions—supplied to each contributor.

The editors set out Eight Global Shifts (7–15), which they believe have trans-
formed the international operating environment:

1. Rapid diffusion of economic power
2. Diffusion of power from state to non-state actors
3. Waning of US leadership
4. Expansion of the global middle class
5. Changing pattern of global energy sources and flows
6. Mounting pressure on the natural environment
7. Increasing volatility and turbulence in global politics
8. Strained global governance system
The first three points might be telescoped into a single heading such as ‘‘Power
shift.’’ This shift largely accounts for points 7 and 8, and has given rise to points 4,
5, and 6. At a higher level of analysis, absent is any reference to the emergence of a

new, science-and-technology-driven threat set (climate change, diminishing bio-
diversity, resource scarcity, pandemic disease, etc.). These ‘‘wicked’’ issues have
largely displaced ideological rivalry and geopolitical ambition and today imperil
human survival in ways more profound than religious extremism or political vio-
lence. So, too, with the heightened inequality, polarization, and heteropolarity3 that
have attended intensified globalization.
What do these big picture trends portend for grand strategy and world order?
In the conclusion, ‘‘Imagining a more ambitious Canada’’ (175), Paris and Owen
offer ten largely generic lessons and prescriptions:
1. Don’t underestimate the scale and speed of global transformations
2. Recognize that Canadian policy isn’t adapting quickly enough
2. The election that brought the Harper Conservatives to power was held in 2006, not 2005 (134).
3. See Daryl Copeland, ‘‘Diplomacy, globalization and heteropolarity: The challenge of adaptation,’’
Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, Policy Paper, August 2013, https://www.policy- (accessed 14 March
3. Creatively reframe policy issues and break down old ‘‘silos’’
4. Mobilize coalitions around Canadian goals
5. Strengthen international rules and norms
6. Use knowledge as a comparative advantage
7. Focus on practical solutions to concrete problems
8. Identify long-term strategic objectives, and stick with them
9. Don’t succumb to a ‘‘small Canada’’ syndrome
10. Update liberal internationalism for a new era
Numbers 1 and 2 seem obvious enough. Number 3 is a common theme in the
literature on progressive public management. Numbers 4 through 7 encapsulate
Canada’s international policy approach from the postwar period through 2006.

Point 8 might be stood on its head to read ‘‘Be flexible and adaptable—adjust long-
term strategic objectives when circumstances change.’’

On point 9, Canada’s international power and influence have been locked into a
pattern of relative but inexorable decline since the 1950s. Under St. Laurent,
Pearson, Trudeau, and Mulroney, Canada took on large, global
projects—Middle East peace, North–South relations, United Nations (UN)
reform, ending apartheid. Chre ́tien and Axworthy downsized Canada’s game,
but effectively excavated diplomatic niches (land mines, conflict diamonds,
International Criminal Court, etc.) and called it the Human Security Agenda.
And today? After the UN Security Council defeat in 2010 and Harper’s efforts
to reposition Canada as a warrior nation, the picture is mixed. Capacity has been
steadily reduced. Canada has lost credibility, reputation, and status. Global Affairs
Canada is adrift, in need of significant reinvestment in both leadership and funding.
These challenges should be recognized if performance is to improve.
The collection is a welcome, if slightly uneven, addition to the literature that
underscores the need to radically rethink Canadian diplomacy. The editors end
with a prescient call for an ‘‘updated version of liberal internationalism’’ (186).4
‘‘Canada’s back’’ has emerged as an over-arching motif during the Trudeau gov-
ernment’s first year and a half in office. Several of the book’s specific recommen-
dations, such as renewed attention to the Asia Pacific, pricing carbon, and joining
the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, have already been acted upon. Others
have been overtaken by events, although this is unsurprising given the glacial pace
of academic publishing.
The second Ottawa Forum was held 28–29 January 2016 and featured a more
conventional line-up of speakers, including Fareed Zakaria, Antonio Guterres,
John Manley, Ste ́phane Dion, and Harjit Sajjan. A comparative review of those
presentations, available online at, provides an
instructive study in contrasts.
4. Readers who wish to pursue this theme would be well advised to consult Heather Smith and Claire
Turenne Sjolander, eds., Canada in the World: Internationalism in Canadian Foreign Policy
(Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada, 2013).