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Foreign Affairs officials urge policy change in ‘secret’ transition memo

Top officials candidly call for some new directions for Canada on the world stage


 
REUTERS/Ammar Awad

REUTERS/Ammar Awad

OTTAWA— Canada’s international reputation has been “eroded” in some key foreign policy areas, including fostering environmental sustainability and helping countries build stronger democracies, senior Foreign Affairs department officials are telling their next minister.

The Canadian Press has obtained a briefing note, marked “secret” and finalized last week, in which senior bureaucrats are urging their next political boss to make some changes to the current foreign policy of the Conservative government.

The leak is the latest in a series in recent days from the normally sealed senior ranks of Foreign Affairs in which top officials are candidly calling for some new directions for Canada on the world stage.

This latest internal memo says funding for issues of governance, economic sustainability and gender equality has fallen off, and that has had consequences.

“This has eroded Canada’s reputation as a leader on these issues and limited the impact and sustainability of our development co-operation overall,” it says.

The memo recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development take a more active role in promoting climate change engagement by targeting programs at climate finance, clean technology and “climate-smart agriculture.”

“While the ultimate responsibility for multilateral engagement on climate change rests with Environment Canada, DFATD could encourage the new government to earmark resources for this purpose,” the memo says.

The memo emerged as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper came under fire from his two main political rivals in Monday’s foreign policy debate on climate change, including Canada’s role in a major international climate summit being hosted by France in the weeks following the Oct. 19 election.

The document says Canada has “important environmentally-aware industries and significant expertise in natural resources management” that have made it a leading player in the promotion of democracy.

It also says that Canada has been a world leader on promoting governance in the developing world, which it defines as programs that build public institutions that respect human rights and the rule of law, while promoting freedom and democracy.

Similarly, it says, “Canada has been recognized as a world leader in integrating gender analysis into our development programming.”

But lately, Canada has been less focused on those three areas, the document says, calling Canada’s performance “uneven” and having “a lack of systematic and sustained engagement in these areas in developing countries.”

It says spending in core areas of governance has dropped by 40 per cent between 2008-09 and 2014-15, declining from $901 million to $542 million.

Economic sustainability has fallen 54 per cent over that same time, from $138 million to $63 million.

The net effect, the memo says, is to lessen Canada’s influence in shaping the next round of sustainable development goals, which were unveiled at the United Nations this past week.

In recent days, similar memos leaked to a variety of Canadian news organizations have urged the government to do more on a variety of foreign policy fronts, including engaging the UN more and dealing with embassy security.

The timing appeared to be linked to Monday’s foreign policy debate, where Harper’s conduct of Canada’s international affairs was a target of attack by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

A former public servant and leading foreign affairs analyst says the documents, which were never meant to be made public, are typical of the frank behind-the-scenes assessments that take place between the federal bureaucracy in all departments during election transitions.

“Our public service, including the foreign ministry, has a mandate and a responsibility to provide every new or re-elected government with a full, unvarnished and private assessment of the strategic environment and options for Canadian policy,” said Roland Paris, the founding director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa.

“These documents, which were never intended for public consumption, show that the foreign ministry is doing its job of preparing for the upcoming transition,” added Paris.

“I worked on transition books when I served in government a decade ago and the process is rigorous.”

 


 
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