At least, that's what The Mark is calling the political and bureaucratic churn on the Hill this Fall. For the Conservatives, foreign affairs has been a relatively straight forward series of policies in the last few years: support Afghanistan, hook it into the Liberal's own narrative in order to squash opposition, talk big about the Arctic, and look squarely at the floor when international climate accords come up. Frost with a flock of next generation interceptors—the much beleaguered F-35s—and you have the basic cake mix of half a decade of foreign policy.
No longer. Moving Minister John Baird onto the Foreign Affairs file was a clear signal that the Conservative government was going to get more serious about foreign policy. If legacy issues weren't at stake, at least the prudential management of the slow, international economic collapse was bound to push this government global. But legacy items are at stake: from their initial foray redefining the Canadian forces and reallocating and concentrating aid, the Conservatives have shown increasing eagerness to change Canada's identity at home, through its projections abroad. None of this was a secret in their 2011 election platform.
The attention comes not a moment too soon. Bolstered by what passed for success in Libya, Syrian intervention, once unthinkable, is becoming a daily debate in newspaper op-eds. And at the same time as Tehran's nuclear program reaches its climax, Foreign Policy has sparked a tongue-in-cheek "decline watch," with range from "We're totally Screwed (Start learning Mandarin)" to "USA! USA!". Level-headed middle power brokering has never been important. As Carleton University's Fen Hampson writes, the Harper government needs to work overtime to deal with the U.S. during their political "silly season."
All of which is to say that a thoroughgoing review is overdue: not only has the world changed, but this government has refrained, in large measure, from articulating a deep moral vision for Canada's role in the world. Granted, it talks about courage in the face of fear, and resistance in the face of tyranny, but fear of what? And which tyrants? Lucrative shipbuilding contracts have been handed out to augment a fleet whose purpose remains unclear. And, as I've argued in other places, we're still flying with those F-35s, whose strategic imperative seems at its most profound to be buzzing Arctic seals.
One piece that might point the way is the modest $5 million for the Office of Religious Freedom. As some friends of Cardus have argued in the latest Cardus Policy in Public, this is a timely office which can make thick, important contributions to the emerging global order. A revitalized Canadian air force and navy could find worse tasks to set their minds to. But whatever it is this Conservative government decides is the task and end of Canadian foreign policy, a discussion—maybe even a white paper or two—are on their way.
And in a world turning increasingly insular and isolated, afraid and uncertain in economic and political degradation, Canada can—and must—be a voice of prudence, charity, and the rule of law. We owe ourselves a debate, and we owe the world our very best.