Liberals release election platform

The Liberal Party released its latest “Red Book”, its election platform document, on April 3rd (Your Family. Your Future. Your Canada, Liberal Party of Canada, 2011).

The foreign and security policy elements of the document for the most part reaffirm the positions the Liberals took in the international policy document they released last June, Canada in the World: A Global Networks Strategy.

Major elements of the Liberal policy–which, depending on your point of view (and how you choose to interpret the deliberately vague language of many of the promises) could be good, bad, or ugly–include the following [ summary in bold in brackets]:

  • Canada’s role with NATO in Afghanistan supports security and development in a troubled land previously governed by a repressive Taliban regime, which provided safe haven to Al-Qaeda to plot the terror attacks of September 11, 2001…. The mission has been an honourable one in our national interest. Afghanistan must not revert to being a safe haven for terrorists. The combat mission is ending in 2011. However, the basic objective will not be completed. The Afghan people will still not be fully able to govern themselves and maintain their own security. That is why the Liberal Party supports the 2011-2014 training mission, and continued development work. [The Canadian military should stay in Afghanistan until 2014, or perhaps until the Afghan people are “fully able to govern themselves and maintain their own security”.]
  • [T]he doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) will provide a rigorous framework for renewed Canadian leadership in preventing and addressing conflict and mass-scale human rights abuse…. A Liberal government will work with the international community to solidify the doctrine’s acceptance and implementation. This does not mean Canada will be obliged to intervene in conflicts wherever they occur. It means that Canada will renew its leadership in conflict prevention, and that when the world must act to stop large-scale slaughter of innocent people, Canada will be able to contribute with military capacity experienced in the complexities of modern conflict. [Canada should support and work for wider acceptance of the R2P doctrine, and participate in such missions at least some of the time.]
  • While we were once the world’s single greatest contributor of UN peacekeepers, in 2009 we were 56th. Traditional peacekeeping has changed significantly since Canada vacated the field. Increasingly, deployments are undertaken to more complex and often dangerous situations, better described as peace-making missions. These increasingly involve combat. Based on the hard-earned experience in Afghanistan, a Liberal government will develop a new leadership role for Canada in today’s peace operations. It will include training, commanding and deploying personnel where it’s clear that a mission is consistent with Canada’s interests, values and capabilities. And while at present only a small fraction of Canada’s defence budget is dedicated to the incremental cost of United Nations operations, Liberals will ensure that the Canadian Forces have the resources they need to engage in additional Peace Operations. [Canada should increase its participation, at least somewhat, in UN “peace operations”.]
  • Since 2005-06, as a result of both Liberal and Conservative budget decisions, Canada’s defence spending has risen nearly 50 percent and is set to continue growing even after the combat mission in Afghanistan has concluded. Liberals support the recent investments in the Canadian Forces, but the trajectory for future years must be re-evaluated. A properly-resourced military is essential to our sovereignty and our constructive role in the world, but is not sufficient on its own. The government reports that the annual incremental cost of the combat mission in Afghanistan is nearly $1.7 billion. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has reported that the incremental costs are even higher than what’s been disclosed. The incremental cost of the 2011-2014 training mission will reportedly be $500 million annually. That leaves more than $1 billion to be reallocated by a Liberal government in a balanced manner across the full spectrum of defence, development and diplomacy. [Recent increases in military spending should be maintained. More money should also be spent on diplomacy and development, however; some of the money that may be saved on the Afghanistan mission in coming years could be reallocated to those purposes. The plan for continued increases in the military budget outside of mission-specific spending will be “re-evaluated”, possibly leading to changes (whether up or down is unspecified).]
  • A well-resourced military will be essential under a Liberal government. Procurement decisions will flow from mission needs in a straightforward and transparent manner. They also need to secure the best value for money and industrial benefits. A Liberal government will immediately cancel the mismanaged $30 billion sole-source deal for F-35 stealth fighter jets, and save billions of dollars…. After cancelling the Harper deal, a Liberal government will put further steps on hold during a review of all military procurement in light of the new international policy described in this Global Networks Strategy. This review will include Canada’s search and rescue requirements as well as the needs of our air, naval and land forces. When Canada purchases new fighter planes, we will have a transparent, competitive process to procure equipment that best meets our needs, achieves best value for money, secures maximum industrial benefits, and fits a realistic budget. [Canada’s CF-18s will be replaced after an open competition that will include the F-35. All military procurement plans will be reviewed to ensure they are consistent with the largely unchanged but perhaps somewhat expanded international role of the Canadian Forces advocated by the Liberal Party.]
  • In the 2010 Budget, the Harper government froze Canada’s development assistance, removing billions from planned investments. This brought Canada’s steady improvements in support levels to a standstill and has jeopardized long-term program achievement. To restore some of the ground that has been lost under the Conservatives, Liberals will re-invest in development assistance, as we re-balance the spending in our international priorities. Still, we must move beyond stale debates about the desired amount of foreign aid. Although more money for the poorest countries can help, experts are increasingly looking at new ideas and alternative methods of supporting growth in the developing world. The key is not how much more money to spend, but how to empower people. [Savings on the reduced Afghanistan mission may be used in part to increase development assistance. But it certainly won’t make up for the “billions” removed from planned increases by the Harper government.]

Tags: Afghanistan, Canadian aid policy, Canadian defence policy, Canadian foreign policy, Canadian military mission in Afghanistan, Canadian military spending, Defence policy, Elections, Liberal Party