Has Harper hurt Canada’s position in the world?

A survey of international changes under Harper, from trade to diplomatic data, suggests the answer is ‘no’


Here in New York, Prime Minister Harper is arriving to address the United Nations General Assembly. Back in Canada, commentators are repeating the widely accepted opinion that Canada’s global reputation has eroded badly under the Conservative government.

There appears to be abundant anecdotal evidence of this decline. Canada failed to secure a Security Council seat. The Prime Minister consistently snubs the multilateral meetings like the Climate Change summit. Retired Canadian ambassadors (a terminally disgruntled corps) regularly disparage all of the government’s major foreign policy positions, from Israel to China to Syria. U.S. President Barack Obama never calls Harper and refuses to approve the Keystone Pipeline. In fact, many Ottawa-based academics will assure you “things have never been worse” at the Department of Foreign Affairs. For those who pay attention to these things, it is considered an article of faith that Canada’s role in the world has faded.

But what if we try to test this quantitatively?

Recently, Maclean’s contributor Stephen Gordon provocatively applied this approach to consider the economic changes under Harper. Always eager to ape my betters, I have attempted to do the same in regards to the international changes under Harper. I started by breaking down the idea of international influence or power into five measurable elements: economic, military, diplomatic, interpersonal, and “soft” or reputational. Let’s see how the numbers from 2005 compare to today.

The trade figures are relatively positive. Since 2005, Canada’s exports have increased by eight per cent, in spite of a global recession and a historically strong dollar. Likewise, foreign direct investment in Canada is up a remarkable 73 per cent. Nine years ago, Canada had concluded four free trade agreements. That number has now tripled to 12, with another 11 being negotiated. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index has kept Canada relatively stable, shifting from 13th to 15th position. You could argue that Canadian trade should be doing even better (I would—Bay Street remains congenitally frightened of booming frontier markets in Africa and Asia), but, overall, it is clear that Canada’s global economic strength has improved.

The military picture is not as clear. Canadian defence spending is up 18 per cent. Likewise, troop numbers have increased 11 per cent. But how many air-worthy helicopters do we have, compared to nine years ago? How quickly can we deploy a battle group after a decade of hard fighting in Afghanistan? Those numbers evade me.

The diplomatic figures are surprising. It is an uncontested fact, as argued recently by former prime minister Joe Clark, that Harper has starved Canada’s “diplomatic and development capacity.” Yet the Department of Foreign Affairs budget has increased 32 per cent and international aid has grown 31 per cent since 2005. Number of staff in those departments? Up seven per cent at headquarters and up four per cent abroad. Unexpectedly, support for the oft-vilified multilateral institutions such as the United Nations has increased by 73 per cent. By contrast, personnel contributions to peacekeeping missions have remained low, though. Embassy numbers? Steady.

People-to-people contact? Mixed. The number of Canadians travelling abroad has increased 49 per cent, but the number of foreign tourists to Canada has dropped 33 per cent—possibly an effect of the strong dollar. But that did not hamper international students enrolled in Canada, which went up by 59 per cent over the same period. Immigration? Steady at about 260,000 per year, but the number of refugees accepted dropped seven per cent.

So-called “soft power” is the most nebulous element to consider and, perhaps not coincidentally, the most cited example of how Canada’s role has diminished in the world. An intriguing illustration: Worldwide Google searches for the word “Canada” declined 52 per cent since 2005. Yet establishing representatively comprehensive numbers on this is tricky. There are, however, a few organizations that publish annual reputational indexes based on dozens of diverse indicators, such international book sales, news headlines, and even Olympic medals. Three of these indices go back to 2005 and they tell a similar story. The Simon Anholt Nations Brands Index has kept Canada among the Top 5 most popular nations for the last eight years. The BBC GlobalScan ranked Canada among the Top 3 most positively perceived countries throughout the same time period. And, although Canada did not crack the Top 10 in FutureBrand’s first Country Brand Index in 2005, we placed second last year (damn you, Switzerland). Canada’s reputation does not appear to be tanking.

Has Canada’s position in the world declined? It is possible, although these numbers suggest otherwise. In fact, it looks as though it has improved under Harper. Critics can reasonably argue that things could be even better, but it is difficult to make the quantitative case that Canada’s international situation has deteriorated in the last nine years.

But maybe you can. The numbers cited are listed below. I welcome suggestions for more accurate (and creative) alternatives.

Harper & the world


Has Harper hurt Canada’s position in the world?

  1. I do not think Harper has done much damage to Canada externally, but maybe because we over estimate our influences, as we are less than 1% of the worlds population and less than 1% of the economic activity. The reality is we do not carry that much influence, and end up being a USA puppet nation.

    Harper’s damage to us, by not restoring ethics, morals, economics, efficiency, effectiveness to Ottawa the real damages is to us, the people. I do not know if Harper is inept, or corrupt, but in any case, Canada is not a sustainable nation any more. Our debt/fraud economics is devaluing Canada. In terms of USD and Yuan, the worlds largest currencies, we are a shrinking tax inflated economy of debt.

    My suspicions are that Harper has lived in a glass house too long. And why this small c libertarian conservative cannot vote Harper statism-Conservative. Seems like Ottawa is to be a hopeless mess and a parasite on the people who make Canada work. I inherited Trudeau Sr. debt as a tax slave, our kids will get Harper debt, system has no morals or integrity as able welfare pays better than disability….system is corrupt to the core.

  2. Canada’s position in the world declined, here is the simple math mdia wants to hide.

    We were a $1.8 trillion (USD/CAD par) economy last year, this year we have 2% GDP growth but 10% less value money for a 8% net decline in terms of world currencies like USD and Yuan. We are now, in USD, a $1.65 trillion economy.

    In terms of quality of life, the average standard of living is on the decline. worker participation is down as well. Fewer people contributing while disabled, retired get 0.9% increases and politicians and govmint unions get more.

    And the fraud of pensions, savings, getting interest rate returns well below anyones inflation numbers, makes us a negative value tax inflated depreciating economy of debt. Its not sustainable unless your hooked on meth, crack or heroin. But in true Canadian bravda, we love to pump the BS.

  3. There is a difference between math and people. Between trade figures and image. Economists and diplomats forget that at their peril.

    Everyone is aware that Harper is temporary. A mistake that Canadians will correct. Most countries have had bum leaders at one time or another so they know what it’s like.

    They register their displeasure via the UN election, the lack of interest in his speeches at global meetings, their ignoring of his advice….and highlight his odd behavior over photos. Other than that, he is ignored.

    Meantime, trade and so on continues.

    You will see a huge difference in relations when he’s gone.

    • “You will see a huge difference in relations when he’s gone.”

      No you won’t, because, as Gilmore himself notes repeatedly, trying to quantify “Canada’s position in the world” is ultimately a fool’s errand. Every change in every measurement employed in this piece is either entirely subjective (is Harper’s personal relationship with Obama better or worse than Chretien’s personal relationship was with Bush? Trudeau’s with Reagan? Diefenbacker’s with Kennedy?) or susceptible to multiple explanations, none of which have anything to do with Harper.

      I suppose this article gives Harper Derangement Syndrome sufferers another opportunity to demonstrate their malady, but, then again, said malady so infuses some of them that an article about the latest Blackberry or washing cats does likewise.

      • Canadians are well aware of when they are liked and welcomed in the world.

        They know they are not with Harp in charge.

        • “…trying to quantify “Canada’s position in the world” is ultimately a fool’s errand.”

          As if on cue…

          • Attacking other posters doesn’t prove your position, Firewall.

            Until you can do so, find something else to do.

          • I’ll try to do better. Here’s a start:


            “Canadians are well aware of when they are liked and welcomed in the world.”


            No they aren’t – being “liked” and “welcomed” is entirely subjective and unmeasurable and anyone claiming otherwise from their own perspective, let alone on behalf of “Canadians” as a whole is being foolish…er, sorry – this is hard!

          • Not in the least subjective or unmeasurable.

            World leaders spoke warmly of Canada before Harp….joked and hugged at world conferences…elected us to a UN position…lauded us for being an ‘honest broker’….and Canadian peacekeeping was praised around the world.

            Look, I understand your problem….except for his koolaid base Harp is underwater….and you are looking at PM Trudeau next and you know it.

            However that’s no excuse for this Sgt Schulz crap…or for attacking me.

          • Done it for years….stop with the red herrings.

      • …actually Tridea(Senior) was a relationship, (rocky or otherwise), starting with LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan.
        Internationally, we were put on the map, moreso because of that than anyything since then. In fact, those “international realtionships” have degraded into the abyss again, from Mulrooney -> (especially)Harper.

        • sry, due to non-existant macleans tablet-blog here, with no online editor.
          make that Trudeau, instead of “Trideau”

  4. Has Prime Minister Harper hurt our reputation ? Gilmore starts off with “no”,
    and then carries on to refute this.
    The usual disparaging crown shows up with “proof” , Chretien style , of the problems.
    Are any of these people accurate or truthful ?

    BBC did some thorough research, which included Canada.
    Namely : Canada now ranks number one in Best Educated countries.
    Canada ranks 13th in richest countries, even though we have the lowest population of the 20 countries on the list.
    Canada now ranks 3rd in Highest Quality of Life.
    and visitors ? We are getting 19 million yearly.

    How do others see us ? Well, very well thank you !

    • That’s not new I’m afraid. I’ve posted these results myself over many years.

      Yes, we’re an advanced prosperous western country….why would that be news to anyone?

      But you have….like the author…confused numbers with image and reputation.

      • Image and reputation are often aligned. On the eastern seaboard of the USA , Canada is looked upon as a sensible, honest country. Other countries, especially Latin America, see Canada as a safe haven. After the worldwide recession in 2008, Canada is regarded as a friendly, well managed country. And P.M. Harper, gets far more respect , than he does, apparently, in his own country.
        Whereas Rob Ford and Justin Trudeau are the objects of scorn.

        • Canada used to have that reputation and image….it doesn’t any more.

          Saying such things about Harp and Trudeau isn’t something you can just assert….you need sources.

          • You get him, Em! Next thing you know, he’ll be posting things like “Canada used to have that reputation and image…it doesn’t any more” without referencing a source.

          • Done it for years Firewall. Stop with the red herrings.

    • The BBC also lists Canada as one of the:
      highest TAXED countries in the world,
      and we do NOT have much to show for it, these days.

      How do others see that? Well, NOT very well, thankyou !!!

  5. “commentators are repeating the widely accepted opinion that Canada’s global reputation has eroded badly under the Conservative government.”

    SImply put: those commentators are Liberal or NDP supporters. Objectivity is not common in political commentary.

    • Ahh it’s a media plot again…..!

      Sorry, world wide opinion doesn’t depend on local Canadian commentators.

  6. This analysis is ridiculous. “Canada’s position in the world” is not measured by how much money is spent on various ministries or departments.

    A big reason Canada had clout was that our diplomats have been extraordinarily… well, diplomatic in the past. Now, not so much.

    It’s not conservative thinking per se, Mulroney did wonders for Canadian foreign affairs, notably in South Africa, it’s just this particular bunch in charge of the party right now are simply not educated enough to master the intricacies of international diplomacy.

    • I understand that this article is focusing on Harper Government if their policies hurt Canada’s position in the world?
      But I am more interested what he did to Canada and the majority Canadians that do not support Reform Party direction and policies, masquerading as Conservatives. I use to be PCP supporter many years ago. This is not CP or PCP.
      The rest of the world does not know or does not care about his promises when he was first elected as Prime Minister promising transparency, responsibility and accountability!!
      World also does not know about his lack of judgement in appointing many Senators and hiring PMO staff, proroguing Parliament several times, poor treatment of War Veterans … and list goes on and on. Unfortunately for Harper we Canadians know all that and much more. It is time for a change.

    • what “Clout” ?
      -you mean the recent 30-year locked-in FIPA tade deal, that benefits China, not us.-thathks to Harp.
      Or, how about NAFTA, and Mulrooney’s handling of that one -nafta is a present-day joke on Mexico and Canada.
      comon’ now.

  7. Harper is just an pawn in the scheme of things, he does what his handlers are telling him, nothing would make Canada any bigger … we are just an small blimp in the world, NO BIGGIE!!!

  8. FOR CLARITY :) How about amending your chart showing the Before and After Harper dollar amounts at current year value, you know, to account for inflation and such. Thanks.

  9. Let’s check back a year from now after we’ve had time to digest our situation after replacing our hockey pal Russia with our new friend Ukraine. It looks like our nicely growing aerospace & autos trade with Russia is now in the dumpster, to be replaced with selling flashlights & safety vests on credit to the Ukraine Army.

    • Ooh that Harper…always thinking ahead.

    • “aerospace” ?, “auto-trade”?, with Russia.
      “aerospace” requires R&D, sceince, research companies,…, Harper has all but dismantled NRC, Atomic Energy Of Canada, just to name a few. We have nuthin’ that Russia really needs.
      What are you talking about. “auto-trade”, If you haven’t noticed GM, FORD, and (almost) Chrysler have all but left Canada.

      wow, where do you ppl make these things up.

      • You have to get out more. Canada has been quite busy doing trade in Russia. Magna Intl Corp (the largest auto component manufacturer in North America) has been setting up auto production factories in Russia, worth billions. Down the toilet now that Ukraine is our new best friend. Bombardier (a large Canadian aircraft manufacturer in case you didn’t know) was setting up aircraft production in Russia until Ukraine became our best buddy. Bombardier was also re-engineering the entire Russian railways communication systems. Business worth billions. There’s more, but I don’t want to overload you with too much unexpected information. Never mind the hundreds of millions in ag products we used to sell to Russia until Harper got his shorts in a knot over Ukraine. Don’t you wish you’d finished high school and you knew more about this stuff?

  10. My, what a carefully worded article!

    Our Global Competitiveness Index has “shifted” (not “dropped”) from 13th to 15th. “Peacekeeping missions remain low” is apparently code for “have plummeted by 65%”. And for some reason we are accepting it as fact that any new trade deal, including the disastrous FIPA with China, is a mark that “clearly Canada’s economic strength has improved “.

    Well, Mr. Gilmore has thrown down the gauntlet. I’ll write another intentionally slanted interpretation for the sake of balance. Take your pick.

    “It is clear from the numbers that a big change is going on under Harper – of the percent changes provided, almost half the indicators have either increased or decreased by over 30%. That’s huge. Canada has historically enjoyed a favourable international reputation; can we expect such drastic changes to leave our good name intact?

    Military spending and deployment have shot up while peacekeeping missions have been decimated. Overseas aid and DFATD have coincidentally risen in tandem – confirming CIDA’s revelation that commercial interests are this government’s top priority when allocating foreign aid. And the sudden clamour for foreign direct trade and other free trade deals calls to mind one of the determining characteristics of a developing economy: dependence on agricultural and commodity exports as main foreign exchange earners.

    It is no secret that the bulk of this new trade is centred squarely on the infamous tar sands development, part of a policy that necessitated Canada’s much-publicized withdrawal from the Kyoto accord. This blatant disregard for the environment – demonstrated as nicely by the accidental (?) omission of environmental indicators in this article – can only be having a negative impact on our reputation; except, of course, for those countries invited to share in the spoils.

    Even drastic policy changes can take decades to affect a country’s international reputation, but in Canada’s case the numbers are already telling: less people are spending time here (even on the internet!) and those who are already here spend more time away. But can you blame them?

    Increased militarism. Aggressive economic motives. Willful environmental destruction. One would be lead to believe that we are taking the vows as the 51st state, were it not public knowledge that even that country now finds us – diplomatically at least – too offensive to associate with.

    At least there is one opinion that needs no quantifying.”

Sign in to comment.