Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy G7 Information Centre
Summits |  Meetings |  Publications |  Research |  Search |  Home |  About the G7 and G8 Research Group
Trinity College in the University of Toronto

G7/G8 Scholarly Publications and Papers

Canada's New Government's Foreign Policy
and the G8 St. Petersburg Summit

John Kirton
January 25, 2006

On January 23, 2006, Canadians elected Stephen Harper's Conservatives with a minority government of 124 seats, compared to 103 for Paul Martin's Liberals, 51 for the separatist Bloc Québécois, and 29 for the NDP. As the 46 year old Harper moved to be formally sworn in as Canada's 22nd Prime Minister, choose his cabinet, organize his government, and start to govern, the debate over where Canadian foreign policy would go under his leadership unfolded narrowly within a peripheral dependence frame.

The dominant school of thought suggested a "restrained retreat to America." It predicted that the Harper government in its international activity and association would focus on a co-operative position with the United States, limited only by Harper's fragile majority position and a lack of ideological partners among other parties in the House of Commons. Canadian scholar Janice Stein predicted a "greater affinity with US positions internationally," including a pro-American tilt on relations with the Middle East and the United Nations (McCarthy 2006). American scholarly observers such as Joseph Jockel, Christopher Sands, David Biette and Dwight Mason predicted that the tone and ease of the relationship would improve, that Harper would make good on his defence promises that would be welcomed in Washington, but that Shamrock Summit-like closeness would be avoided, given Harper's precarious minority position at home (Koring 2006).

A second, "ignorant isolationist" school, saw Harper's government as having little involvement, influence or instinct for activism in regard to America or anywhere else in the world, given the new Prime Minister's complete ignorance of and lack of interest in international affairs, and the failure of Canadian society to force him to address foreign policy during the election campaign. As columnist Jeffrey Simpson put it, Canada would be a "small, parochial, even self absorbed country" without views on the rise of India and China or crises in Iraq and Iran, due to the paltry foreign affairs platform of the Conservatives and deliberate silence on international affairs during the campaign, a Prime Minister "with no experience or apparent interest in the world, and a party in power without a single frontbencher qualified by experience or interest to become foreign affairs minister" (Simpson 2006).

While these instinctive reactions may be understandable in the immediate wake of the highly familiar and internationally experienced Paul Martin, they are unconvincing as an interpretation of what lies in store. Indeed, the initial indications and early prospects are that the Harper Conservatives will conduct a foreign policy of global democratic development, based on an inherited liberal internationalist impulse and activist foundation, and enriched by interest and value based initiatives in democratization, defence, and development around the world. During his first major outing on the full world stage, at the St. Petersburg G8 summit on July 15-17th, 2006, Harper will be particularly well positioned to forward the G8's core value of open democracy and the St. Petersburg priorities of energy security, health and education. These directions are driven by a Prime Minister and party that has fully absorbed the Progressive Conservative tradition that it depends on to govern, and above all by an ever more precarious and competitive international system, with an ever more vulnerable America unable to cope on its own.

[back to top]


The first sign of Harper's global activism came in the domain of doctrine, in his election night victory address. In it he said surprisingly much about international affairs, with a clear message at the core. This was the centrality of the enduring Canadian value of democracy, for which Canadians had and still fought and "for which too many in our world still yearn." A second was the emphasis on immigrants and new Canadians. The first theme produced the promise: "We will continue to help defend our values and democratic ideals around the world - as so courageously demonstrated by those young Canadian soldiers who are serving and who have sacrificed in Afghanistan." Operationally, Harper pledged to "work co-operatively with our friends and allies, and constructively with all nations of the world."

The statement, reminiscent of the Mulroney government's theme of "constructive internationalism" contained no attention at all to, let alone any focus on, the United States. The dominant elements were the liberal internationalist themes of continuity, the shared value of democracy, and co-operation with friends and allies. Yet there was a prominent place for the complex neo-realist distinctive national values of multiculturalism, openness and globalism, and the willingness to use force in Canada's longest war in distant Afghanistan.

Harper's promise to "deliver on our commitments" also placed a doctrinal premium on the many promises about international affairs that he and his party had made in their party platform and on the campaign trail. In the platform, these covered a broad range of issues, countries and institutions (Appendix A). Thematically, the platform opened with the central imperative to "strengthen national unity and advance our interests on the world stage." It recognized "increased competition from around the world" and the need to protect Canada against many assaults from America, notably on softwood lumber, the Canadian Wheat Board, the Byrd Amendment and imported crime.

Economically, it highlighted global openness, pledging to chart a course for the future of NAFTA, reassert Canadian leadership in the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations, and "explore the possibility of free trade negotiations with Canada's democratic and economic partners in the Asia-pacific, Japan and India." Environmentally, it promised to control greenhouse gas emissions with a plan developed "in coordination with other major industrial countries" and extend Canada's custodial management of the North Atlantic to the edge of the Continental Shelf, the nose and tail of the Grand banks, and the Flemish Cap. Its security priorities included terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and "outbreaks of disease world-wide." Educationally, it declared it would facilitate recognition of the credentials of immigrants, and "invite the Government of Quebec to play a role at UNESCO along the lines of its participation in la Francophonie."

Beyond the largely negative portrait of the United States, there were four countries which received recognition, largely in positive terms: Australia, the United Kingdom, India, and Japan. Among international institutions, the most frequently noted were the G8, the OECD and NAFTA, with la Francophonie, the FTAA, the WTO, and UNESCO also on the list. The United Nations as a whole was entirely absent.

On the campaign trail, in his "promise a day strategy" Harper had issued 23 news releases devoted to international affairs. Of these, thirteen were devoted to security issues, with nine dealing with strengthening the military, and two each on Arctic sovereignty and Afghanistan. Immigration and multiculturalism took three releases, with the emphasis on acting against Canada's protectionist "head tax." Democratization was highlighted in three releases, celebrating Ukraine's "orange revolution," condemning Iran's pledge to destroy Israel, and mourning the death of the leader in the United Arab Emirates. Development was featured in three, headed by a pledge to add C$425 million in official development assistance, as well as commemorating the Asian tsunami and world AIDS day. Trade took a single release, on the Pacific Gateway Initiative.

Thematically these dominant themes were highly consistent with those in Harper's victory address. They embraced all regions of the world, save for the United States, North America and the Americas as a whole. And they highlighted greater resources for the instruments of both defence and development assistance, including the use of force.

[back to top]

Resource Distributions

This initial doctrinal thrust to global democratic development was reinforced by the Prime Minister Designate's early resource distributions. His first decision, taken on January 24th, was to appoint Derek Burney to lead his transition team. Described by Harper as a "former Canadian ambassador," Burney had served as Canada's Ambassador to Washington from 1990 to 1993 and played a key role in negotiating the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1988. He was also a professional foreign service officer who had acquired his early experience in Asia, had served as Chief of Staff for Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and as his sherpa for the G7 summits in 1990 and 1991. Joining Burney on the transition team were many other senior Mulroney era Progressive Conservatives with extensive experience in international affairs and the G7/8. Foremost among these was Michael Wilson, who had helped secure Canada's admission to the new G7 Finance Ministers' forum in 1986, and helped Mulroney host the 1988 G7 Summit in Wilson's Toronto hometown.

A second clear signal came in the victory speech reiteration of the campaign promises, which included substantial new resources for defence and development. On the former, on December 13 Harper announced he would "significantly increase defence spending as part of a "Canada First" defence strategy" that would enhance Canadian sovereignty by acquiring "at least three strategic lift aircraft... a 650 strong airborne battalion...available for rapid or difficult deployments for emergency, humanitarian, or military operations...and doubling the size and capacity of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) ... to enhance international disaster relief capability" (Conservative Party 2006ab). This announcement was notable for its emphasis on global deployment capability, independent of American or Russian airlift resources, aimed at humanitarian relief.

In the domain of development, the promise on January 13, 2006 was to "boost overseas development assistance by $425 million over five years beyond the currently projected move toward the average level among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) members." It was declared to be part of a thrust to "articulate Canada's core values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, free markets, and free trade _ and compassion for the less fortunate _ on the world stage" (Conservative Party 2006ac). The pledge departed from a UN demand for ODA to reach .07% of GDP in favour of a robust down-payment on a G8 Gleneagles commitment to double aid globally and to Africa within the next few years.

[back to top]

Decisions: Towards the 2006 St. Petersburg G8 Summit

During the first few days of his election victory, Harper was understandably focused on organizing his government, rather than publicly taking any major decisions on the central international affairs issues he would face in the coming year. While the timing of some decisions was under his own control, among those that were not, and that thus demanded early attention, was to shape Canada's approach to world order through its participation in the St. Petersburg G8 Summit. While the summit itself would not take place until July 15-17, 2006, Harper was elected a mere two days after the first preparatory meeting of the leader's personal representatives or "sherpas" in Moscow on January 20-21, 19, and just before the first meeting of G8 Finance Ministers in Moscow on February 10-11. Also coming up fast were meetings of G8 ministers on the St. Petersburg Summit's priority themes of energy on March 15-16, health on April 13-1, and education on June 1-2. These preparatory meetings were important. For while Harper would conduct many bilateral meetings before St. Petersburg, the G8 Summit would be his first major outing on the most visible and influential full world stage.

Relative to his Progressive Conservative predecessors, Joe Clark in 1979 and Brian Mulroney in 1985, Harper was well placed to make a solid contribution to making his new foreign policy and the Summit itself a success. His campaign and party platform had identified the G8 as Canada's international benchmark, while downplaying the UN as the central global forum. Normatively, Harper's foreign policy focus on global democratization and development matches directly the G8's core founding mission to promote "open democracy, individual liberty and social advance" world wide. Together they directly support the central emphasis of G8 summits in the recent past and present, of strengthening democracy and development in Africa, the broader Middle East and North Africa, and in Russia and the CIS states themselves. With his promised substantial increase in both development and defence spending, Harper will have the resources to underpin Canadian leadership here.

Harper has at his side several colleagues with G7/8 experience, notably Derek Burney and Michael Wilson and his promising frontbencher Peter Van Loan, who as the party's human resources critic had participated in the G8's Labour Market Minister's meeting in February 2005. He also had an experienced professional civil service G8 team that had proven its value for both Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments over many long years.

On the G8's first priority theme of international energy security, Harper's election from a constituency in Calgary, the centre of Canada's large oil and gas industry, and his party's victory in all of the 28 riding in Alberta ensures his intimate familiarity with the details and perspectives of Canada's energy industry at its hydrocarbon core. He will be aware of how Canada, as one the G8's two surplus hydrocarbon powers along with Russia, can take the lead in providing supply side solutions to G8 and international energy security through extended and even intercontinental transportation systems. He also has Derek Burney, an adviser who understands how an energy security and climate change solution can be obtained by closer co-operation within the NAFTA community, in a way comparable to what the Europeans have employed since 1992.

On health, Russia's preventative initiative for a rapid reaction force to combat infectious disease in the wake of natural disasters such as the Asian Tsunami, America's hurricane Katrina and Pakistan's earthquake could receive a needed reinforcement from Harper's emphasis on these issues and doubling the DART in response. More broadly, Tony Clement, a prospective cabinet member, displayed strong leadership as a provincial health minister when Canada was struck by SARS in 2003. He can help Harper forward Canada's priority of having agreed upon rules about when borders will be closed, rather than leaving it to officials at the WHO to devastate national economies by issuing travel advisories at their own discretion without a full command of the facts. Harper's early attention to the global AIDS pandemic will also position him for leadership on this central health security file.

On the education priority, Harper's impulse to involve Quebec more directly in Canada's UNESCO representation should strengthen the capacity that Canada can bring to the G8 table on this largely provincially owned file. Peter Van Loan can marry the Conservative proposals for vocational training and labour market reform with the Russian G8 initiatives on these subjects. And Harper's emphasis on immigration, multiculturalism and speedy recognition of foreign credentials could allow him to lead on this important Russian G8 theme.

[back to top]


Conservative Party (2006a), "Stand Up for Canada," January 13.

Conservative Party (2006b), "Harper Calls for Boost to Canadian Forces," 13 December 2005.

Conservative Party (2006c), "Harper announces increase in overseas development assistance," January 13, 2006.

Koring, Paul (2006), "Tread lightly with Bush, observers warn," Globe and Mail January 25, p. A4.

McCarthy, Shawn (2006), "Rock's UN job seen as short-lived," Globe and Mail January 25, P. A7.

Simpson, Jeffrey (2006), "Canada's biggest challenge never made it into the election," Globe and Mail January 24, p. A27.

[back to top]

Appendix A:
References to Foreign Policy in
Stand Up for Canada: Conservative Party of Canada Federal Election Platform, 2006

Stand Up for Accountability

The opening message from Stephen Harper states: "It's time for a new government that will get things done-for all of us. Our priorities are clear. We will clean up government, cut the GST, offer parents help with child care, cut patient wait times for medical procedures, and crack down on crime. Our plan will help individuals, families, seniors, and small business. A new Conservative government will strengthen national unity and advance our interests on the world stage" (Conservative Party 2006a: 3).

Regarding making qualified government appointments, the Conservative platform states: "The Liberals have repeatedly appointed insiders, in some cases completely unqualified, to important public offices. Liberal candidates and MPs have received appointments as heads of Crown corporations, board members, and ambassadors. Liberal staffers, including some of those responsible for the sponsorship programs, have worked their way into key positions in public service" (Conservative Party 2006a: 9).

Regarding real protection for whistleblowers, the Conservative platform states: "There have been many examples over the years of reprisals against government whistleblowers, including public servants who helped reveal the sponsorship scandal, and others who exposed waste and abuse in the Department of Foreign Affairs. After pressure from the opposition and whistleblowers themselves, the Liberals brought forward weak legislation to deal with the issue. Much more needs to be done" (Conservative Party 2006a: 10).

Regarding creating a Director of Public Prosecutions, the Conservative platform states that a Conservative government will "Structure the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in accordance with best practices in other jurisdictions such as British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Australia, and the United Kingdom" (Conservative Party 2006a: 13).

[back to top]

Stand Up for Opportunity

Regarding creating jobs and growing Canada's economy, the Conservative platform states: "While Liberals have been enriching themselves through their culture of entitlement, many Canadians-especially those who work in the manufacturing sector-have been suffering. Twelve years of empty Liberal promises on prosperity, productivity, and growth have done nothing to help Canadian businesses face increased competition from around the world. A Conservative government will reduce job-killing business taxes to create jobs and grow Canada's economy-for all of us" (Conservative Party 2006a: 16).

Regarding limiting growth of spending on grants and contributions and in government departments and agencies, the Conservative platform states that a Conservative government will "Limit the future growth of spending on federal grant and contribution programs and by federal departments and agencies (other than National Defence and Indian Affairs) to the rate of inflation plus population growth" (Conservative Party 2006a: 17).

Regarding investing in research and development, the Conservative platform states: "Increased promotion of basic and applied research, especially in science and technology, is an essential component of Canada's future economic well-being. It is unacceptable that Canada's expenditure on research and development, at 1.9 percent of GDP, is below all other G-8 countries and well below the OECD average of 2.3 percent" (Conservative Party 2006a: 18).

Regarding supporting Canada's traditional industries, the Conservative platform states: "It sometimes seems the Liberal view of Canada is the view from the CN Tower or the Peace Tower. Disputes over softwood lumber, agriculture, and dishing rights just never seem to get resolved" (Conservative Party 2006a: 18).

On agriculture, the Conservative platform states: "The family farm has long been a backbone of our country. For generations, our farmers have fed Canadians and become a breadbasket to the world. But farmers need our support. We must stand up for Canadian agricultural interests in world trade negotiations, and governments need to be responsive when it comes to farm income support and disaster relief" (Conservative Party 2006a: 18). The Conservative plan on agriculture is to: "Commit to adding an additional $500 million annually to farm support programs...

The Conservative plan on forestry is to: "Demand that the U.S. government play by the rules on softwood lumber. The U.S. must abide by the NAFTA ruling on softwood lumber, repeal the Byrd Amendment, and return the more than $5 billion in illegal softwood lumber tariffs to Canadian producers.

The Conservative plan on fisheries is to: "Extend the two hundred mile limit to the edge of the Continental Shelf, the nose and tail of the Grand Banks, and the Flemish Cap in the North Atlantic and be prepared to exercise Canadian custodial management over this area" (Conservative Party 2006a: 20).

[back to top]

Stand Up for Security

Regarding security, the Conservative Party platform states: "Security also means knowing that our borders are secure and that our federal government is actively protecting us against terrorism, smuggling, and organized crime. The Liberal record on safety and security has been weak. The homicide rate is up, gun violence is a growing menace, drug cultivation offences have doubled in the last decade, and the government has demonstrated an inability to deport criminals out of Canada-and keep them out. A Conservative government will protect Canadians, ensure effective and appropriate justice is administered to criminals, and secure our country's borders" (Conservative Party 2006a: 22).

Regarding enacting a national drug strategy, the Conservative Party platform states that it will: "Expedite deportation of non-citizens convicted of drug trafficking, drug importation, or running grow operations" (Conservative Party 2006a: 25).

Regarding the Air India Inquiry, the Conservative Party platform states: "The Air India bombing was the largest mass murder and terrorist act in Canadian history, and there is evidence that errors were committed by the investigative agencies involved... [the plan is to] Establish, at the earliest possible time, a comprehensive, independent judicial inquiry into the investigation of the Air India bombing of June 23, 1985" (Conservative Party 2006a: 26).

On securing our borders, the Conservative Party platform states: "Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and outbreaks of disease world-wide have focused the spotlight squarely on the Liberal government's inaction regarding terrorist and other threats here at home" (Conservative Party 2006a: 26). The Conservative plan is to: "Name a National Security Commissioner with the responsibility of providing recommendations to government as to how to coordinate the work of the RCMP, CSIS, the Canada Border Services Agency, a revitalized Coast Guard, a reinstated Ports Police, and a new Canadian Foreign Intelligence Agency, as well as the security aspects of the Departments of Immigration and Transport.

Regarding ensuring effective deportation laws, the Conservative platform states: "In April 2003, the Auditor General reported that the federal government had lost track of

some 36,000 people who were under deportation orders" (Conservative Party 2006a: 27). The Conservative plan is to: "Rapidly reduce the backlog of unexecuted deportation orders and swiftly carry out new deportation orders.

[back to top]

Stand Up for Families

Regarding better health care for Canadians, the Conservative platform notes that "more Canadians cross the border or seek out private clinics in Canada to get the care they need" (Conservative Party 2006a: 30).

[back to top]

Stand Up for Our Communities

Regarding standing up for our communities, the Conservative platform notes that "We need an immigration policy that responds to Canada's economic needs and helps reunite families... A Conservative government will build roads and improve infrastructure, clean up the environment, and strengthen our immigration system to build strong communities that serve the needs of all Canadians, not just the interests of a privileged few" (Conservative Party 2006a: 36).

Regarding improving Canada's national infrastructure, the Conservative platform states: "Truckers carrying cargo vital to Canada's economy should not be stuck at inadequate border-crossing bottlenecks" (Conservative Party 2006a: 36). The plan is to "Support the development of the Pacific Gateway Initiative, designating at least $591 million to the Initiative, but giving greater freedom to British Columbia and the other partners to designate their priority projects without federal interference" (Conservative Party 2006a: 36).

Regarding a cleaner, healthier environment, the Conservative platform states: "For all the Liberal talk about the environment, they have done nothing to clean up the environment here in Canada. They sign ambitious international treaties and send money to foreign governments for hot air credits, but can't seem to get anything done to help people here at home.

"A Conservative government will implement a "made-in-Canada" plan focused on ensuring future generations enjoy clean air, clean water, clean land, and clean energy here in Canada" (Conservative Party 2006a: 37). The plan is to "Address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), with a made-in-Canada plan, emphasising new technologies, developed in concert with the provinces and in coordination with other major industrial countries" (Conservative Party 2006a: 37).

Regarding an immigration plan that works for Canada, the Conservative platform states: "Canada has long welcomed hard-working, law-abiding men and women seeking freedom, democracy, and opportunity for themselves and their families.

"The Liberal record on immigration is to tolerate queue-jumping, set up special programs for foreign strippers, and hold up legitimate immigration applications in years of red tape. And they charge sky-high immigration fees to pay for their wasteful and corrupt spending on other departments of government.

"A Conservative government will stand up for a fair and sensible immigration plan that works for Canada" (Conservative Party 2006a: 38). The plan is to "Cut the $975 Right of Landing Fee in half. Immigrants and their families can better use this money to cover the costs of getting life started in Canada.

Regarding promoting arts, culture, and competitive sport, the Conservative platform states that it will "Give Canadians increased access to international and foreign-language television and radio programming" (Conservative Party 2006a: 39).

[back to top]

Stand Up for Canada

The concluding section of the Conservative platform states: "Canada is a great nation, strong, glorious, and free. We have tested our mettle in world wars fought to defend freedom. We have worked to unite and keep united a country with two official language communities, vast geographic distances, and many cultures. We have exported our products and ideas around the world and built a trading nation that is second to none in the world. But for all of our pride in our history, Canada is losing its place in the world and its unity at home. Will Canada's military be able to defend our sovereignty? Will Canada stay united after a corrupt Liberal government has tarnished the reputation of federalism in Quebec? Can we maintain our standing as global traders when the federal government won't stand up for our national interests?

"A Conservative government will restore pride in Canada. We will protect our national sovereignty and security, work to unite the country by respecting provincial and cultural differences, and stand up for our economic interests" (Conservative Party 2006a: 42).

Regarding open federalism-strengthening national unity, the Conservative plan is to: "Invite the Government of Quebec to play a role at UNESCO along the lines of its participation in la Francophonie.

Regarding advancing Canadian values and interests on the world stage, the Conservative platform states: "Canadians are rightly proud of our values of freedom, fairness, and compassion. But too often, Liberal foreign policy has compromised democratic principles to appease dictators, sometimes for the sake of narrow business interests. Foreign aid has been used for political purposes, not to ensure genuine development. We need to ensure that Canada's foreign policy reflects true Canadian values and advances Canada's national interests" (Conservative Party 2006a: 44). The plan is to "Articulate Canada's core values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, free markets, and free trade – and compassion for the less fortunate – on the international stage.

Regarding Defending Canada, the Conservative platform states: "For decades, successive Liberal governments have undermined and under funded Canada's armed forces. We need to strengthen Canada's independent capacity to defend our national sovereignty and security. In an increasingly dangerous world this "Canada First" vision is required to defend our vast territory and three ocean areas. Greater strength at home will also lead to greater confidence abroad within Canada's longstanding global role. Achieving this vision will require large-scale investments in every region of the country to strengthen Canada's multi-role, combat-capable defence force" (Conservative Party 2006a: 45). The plan is to "Complete the transformation of military operations and defence administration.

Regarding creating jobs through international trade, the Conservative platform states: "A Conservative government will seek to strengthen rules-based trading arrangements, and expand free and fair market access, at the national, continental, hemispheric and global levels.

"Canada is a trading nation, and Canadian jobs depend on our ability to pursue free and fair trading relationships with like-minded countries throughout the world. Yet, the Liberals have failed to enhance our trading relationship with our largest trading partner, the United States, and have also failed to seek out new markets and secure Canadian jobs" (Conservative Party 2006a: 46). The plan is to "Take aggressive action to strengthen the Canadian economic union.

G7 Information Centre

Top of Page
This Information System is provided by the University of Toronto Library and the G7 Research Group at the University of Toronto.
Please send comments to:
This page was last updated January 25, 2006.

All contents copyright © 2019. University of Toronto unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.