Young Economics.

Canada’s Chopping its Foreign Presence

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An article today has got me thinking about Canadian foreign policy.  From the Embassy Mag.,  More Canadian Missions on the chopping block.

The Conservative government is continuing to quietly close Canadian missions abroad, with the latest casualty the resident consulate in Hamburg, Germany, which will shut down this coming Saturday.  Foreign Affairs officials have defended the moves— which will include South Africa, Malawi, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Cambodia this year alone—as an attempt to increase the cost-effectiveness of the department’s resources abroad…

According to figures provided to Embassy by DFAIT, Canada has opened 22 new missions since 2000. These included eight new missions to the United States in 2004, offices in Sudan and Afghanistan in 2003 and several in the Balkans in 2000.  However, only five of those have been since the Conservatives came to power in January 2006. All of those were opened last year in Asia and appear to have been driven primarily by trade interests…  However, the Conservative government has shuttered 10 Canadian missions abroad since taking office, primarily in Africa and Europe.

It appears today’s government is more interested in promoting trade and business relations through our international agencies, while axeing those which have more of a cultural and humanitarian orientation.  This falls in line with the recent CIDA  announcement that Canadian aid was shifting away from Africa towards Latin America.  Why the changes?  It appears that Harper is using his economic training to make his decisions based on good old-fashioned Cost-Benefit analysis.

Natalie Sarafian, a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, defended the moves…”the government is “making diplomacy abroad more efficient.  We are rebalancing our presence/resources where Canadian diplomatic and commercial interests and demand for services can be met through alternative, more cost-effective means (i.e., can be provided by a mission in a nearby city or country),” she said. “This is the reality of an ever-changing world.”

Is this the right approach for Canada to take?  The benefits of supporting relations with larger countries and trading partners are easily traced.  They wind up on Canadian accounting ledgers and in bank accounts.  However, what about the intangible benefits, like reputation and exposure?  How do we measure the value these elements bring to Canadians?  Are the Conservatives even considering them?    From the NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar:

“Cost effectiveness has the feel of it that, ‘Well we don’t really want to spend that much money because it’s too expensive,'” he said. “If it’s just a paper exercise that this is how much it costs, we’ll get rid of it, but that doesn’t take into account what is Canada’s foreign policy goals, what is our attempt have an influence on the world stage.”

And from the Liberal side, Bob Rae:

“The government has put the department in the ridiculous position basically where if they want to open anywhere, they have to close somewhere,” he said. “We’re trying to do foreign policy on the cheap, and we are paying a price for it in terms of our international reputation.”

In my opinion, the government should be pushing more resources towards promoting our foreign affairs, and not just in connection to trade.   So many issues today appear to need supranational forces to guide their implemenation.  Think environmental policy, food security, financial coordination and aid initiatives.  When Canada sits across from the negotiating table in coming years to iron out global policy, reputation and the intangibles become vastly more important to promoting our interests.    If you are in a group discussion, whose opinion and interests do you value and listen to more – a friend who you see and speak with regularly or an acquaintance you only see when they want something?

Perhaps a good metric to judge the appropriateness of our international budget whould be a statistic measuring the extent of Globalization; a more gloablized world should equal a larger budget for foreign affairs.

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Written by jk

May 27, 2009 at 2:21 pm

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