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The Hon. John Baird (and Robert Johnston): Canada’s New Global Agenda

The Hon. John Baird (and Robert Johnston): Canada’s New Global Agenda

As Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird demonstrated his leadership on the world stage by championing freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Holding the position in the cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper from 2011 to 2015, Mr. Baird had previously served at the federal level as President of the Treasury Board, Minister of the Environment, and Minister of Transport. In yesterday’s National Post, Mr. Baird wrote about what the new Trudeau government needs to prioritize as he takes office:

The world is watching as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party take the initial steps to jumpstart an ambitious foreign and domestic policy agenda.

As a former foreign affairs minister and CEO of a leading geopolitical risk advisory firm to the private sector, we humbly offer a few recommendations on issues the new government should prioritize in order to best structure Canada’s foreign affairs, trade policies, energy and environmental initiatives.

Renew relations south of the border

Yes, Trudeau needs to reinvigorate relations between the U.S. and Canada, driven primarily by differences over the Keystone XL pipeline. Then again, the new Liberal regime should also focus and even prioritize efforts to improve Canada’s relationship with Mexico — a relationship that matters now and will matter even more in the future. Recent ties between Canada and Mexico have been stagnant, primarily due to Canada’s refusal to lift visa requirements for all Mexican visitors imposed in 2009, a decision that is worth revisiting. This could help re-energize a truly continental vision around trade and energy infrastructure investment.

Move quickly to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership while intensifying engagement with China

Speaking of trade, the TPP would bring together 12 countries around the Pacific Rim in a multilateral trade agreement, covering about 40% of global GDP. While Trudeau has not endorsed the TPP, he can be congratulated for not taking the easy way out and simply opposing the deal in the run-up to the election. Still, the TPP is a big deal for Canada, and would facilitate Canada’s ability to participate in a more open and fluid global market. Trudeau should (as he is expected to do) allow for a ratification vote on the TPP in early 2016.

Trudeau should also reinvigorate relations with China and launch bilateral free-trade agreement negotiations. Trudeau has expressed positive views towards China in past, which could put him in a unique position to move Canada forward and more successfully than past efforts with this partnership.

Stay ahead of evolving dynamics in the Middle East

Trudeau should pursue a foreign policy strategy for the Middle East that maintains a strong partnership with Israel while not jeopardizing the warm relations Canada has developed with the Arab world. Good relations in Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Bahrain will be key as the region is undergoing significant structural shifts. Primarily, the nuclear deal reached between the P5+1 with Iran will shift the balance of power in the region. The deal will open the door to a process that will redefine the roles of the region’s key powers, with potentially dramatic implications for global oil markets that will be profound for Canada. The prime minister will need to move quickly to successfully engage with the region, especially as sanctions relief for Iran remains on track and will likely occur in the second quarter of 2016.

Take a balanced approach on energy and the environment

Trudeau has not promised to make Canada an “energy superpower” as Harper did, and Canada’s oil and gas firms are wary of more stringent environmental policies that will likely take the form of national greenhouse gas emissions targets, tougher environmental reviews and phasing out fossil-fuel subsidies. Yet, on the other hand, Trudeau has also taken a more neutral role on pipeline projects and has established himself as pro-LNG exports. In an effort to remain relatively friendly with industry, it’s unlikely that Trudeau will attempt to revive a top-down approach to a national energy program as his father did, a policy that still invokes hostility in western Canada.

Overall, Trudeau should be an advocate for the energy industry, and balance his stronger environmental agenda with supportive polices that the struggling industry desperately needs amid weak market conditions. This is especially important for the Prime Minister to acknowledge before he heads to the United Nations climate talks in Paris at the end of November, where he will have the opportunity to demonstrate the crucial balanced approach to energy development and the environment on the international stage.

John Baird & Robert Johnston /National Post/November, 2015