Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tory Eyes Blind to the World Outside?

Conservatives thin on foreign policy thinkersm experience

As conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Georgia continue to dominate the established international agenda and advocates for intervention in Zimbabwe, Myanmar and the Sudan continue to demand attention, there is no question that foreign policy will be a hot-button topic in the new Parliament regardless of which party wins the election.

On that note, some may be surprised to find out that, since current Minister of Foreign Affairs David Emerson has declined to run for reelection, the incumbent Conservative party is shockingly short on foreign policy expertise.

Emerson, most will recall, took over the portfolio from Maxime Bernier, whose misadventures with classified information made him a tremendous liability to cabinet. Previous to Bernier's ascension to the portfolio -- which speculation suggests he was never had any interest in -- Peter MacKay handled the department fairly successfully before being suffled to National Defense to make up for the emerging of deficiencies of previous minister Gordon O'Connor.

MacKay has since managed the Department of Defense effectively. Which leads one to wonder whom, precisely, Prime Minister Stephen Harper would appoint to Foreign Affairs following what currently seems to be an impending election victory.

As Embassy points out, however, the Conservatives seem to be suffering from a shortage of experience and expertise on the Foreign Affairs portfolio, while their various opponents seem to be awash in it.

First and foremost, naturally, there's Liberal Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff has written extensively on the topic of human rights, ethnic conflict, and the laws of war. He also has a tremendous amount of journalistic experience under his belt, harkening to his days with the BBC.

The NDP's answer to Michael Ignatieff is Michael Byers. Byers is a recognized expert on arctic sovereignty issues, and served as part of the Amnesty International legal team that sought Augusto Pinochet's conviction for crimes against humanity.

Also representing the NDP is Brad Pye, who has experience advancing democracy abroad with the National Democratic Institute (which, unsurprisingly, has deep ties to the American Democratic party, serving to further undermine NDP complaints about alleged importing of American political ideas by the Conservative party).

Also running for the Liberals is Dr Kirsty Duncan, a former panelist on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- expertise which clearly falls into line with Stephane Dion's Green Shift agenda.

The Liberal ticket will also feature Anne Park Shannon, a former civil servant in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

War Child Canada president Dr Eric Hoskins will also be running for the Liberals. Hoskins will almost certainly supplement Liberal Senator Romeo Dallaire's expertise on issues related to children in warzones, particularly child soldiers.

Attempting a comeback is former Liberal Defense Minister David Pratt. Pratt has been out of Parliament since his 2004 defeat at the hands of Conservative Pierre Poillevre.

With arguably little expertise to spread between Foreign Affairs and Defense, Pratt would provide the Liberals with yet another weapon to use against the Conservative government -- provided, of course that he can manage to unseat Tory Environment Minister John Baird.

The Green party also has a score of candidates promoting themselves as foreign policy experts -- foremost among them the Ottawa Group of Four.

The Conservatives are considered to have one foreign policy heavyweight in their fold -- Patrick Boyer, who served in various foreign affairs-related sectors under Brian Mulroney. However, Boyer is running against the aforementioned Michael Ignatieff, and is as such unlikely to win.

With so many formidable (or at least formidable-seeming) opponents to compete against, it's a near certainty that foreign policy will be a weakpoint for the Conservatives not only during this election, but also during the upcoming Parliament.

There is, of course, a long-term solution to this problem: the Tories need to cultivate stronger relationships with the Senior Civil Service in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and need to start cultivating stronger relationships with various international Non Governmental Organizations.

That the Conservative party is attracting so few potential candidates from NGOs perhaps underscores a fundamental lack of understanding about the emerging shape of the global political order: one in which governments cooperate with civil society in the formulation of foreign policy.

The Conservatives are also clearly lacking a relationship with academia. If the Conservatives truly want to be able to claim to have an eye on the outside world, it would pay to start recruting from those who actually study it.

Until the Conservative party can muster some candidates with legitimate foreign policy chops, it will be hard to view a Conservative foreign policy as comprehensive and outward-looking.

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