New foreign and defence ministers have big challenges ahead

Melanie Joly, fifth Canadian foreign minister in six years, pledges “humility and audacity”

Melanie Joly, the 42-year-old Quebec lawyer previously responsible for Canada’s economic development agencies, official languages and tourism, reached back to the words of former Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lester B. Pearson, when she told the Globe and Mail that

she regards the vision for Global Affairs as a “mix of humility and audacity”.

Again quoting Mr. Pearson, she spoke of how Canada is able to play a big role on the international stage because it “punches above its weight”. We at would revise this to read “when Canada punches above its weight”, an infrequent happening of late on too many international policy files.

Many foreign policy experts, including RI President Peggy Mason, lamented to journalists the revolving door of foreign ministers under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

Foreign affairs is an area where you really need an experienced minister, including experience ideally in the international arena…

It takes a minister with confidence, but it also takes time, because you can’t just walk in and start leading, you have to really know the file.

Roland Paris, a former foreign-policy adviser to Prime Minister Trudeau and new director of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, has similar concerns:

It’s a role that necessarily involves a learning curve and it benefits from some continuity.

Ms. Joly does not come to the Global Affairs portfolio with no international experience. For a period in 2018 and 2019, she was the federal minister responsible for la Francophonie, an international alliance of francophone countries. She also served as vice-chair of the cabinet committee on global affairs and public safety between November 2019 and August 2021, when the federal election was called.

She holds a Master’s degree in law from Oxford, which should stand her in good stead in dealing with Canada’s international legal obligations, notably under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

Roland Paris in his Globe and Mail interview also outlined some of the biggest immediate challenges facing the new minister:

There are some significant issues that she is going to have to manage over the next little while; Canada-U.S. relations is one of them. The [election] platform also included a commitment to implement a comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy … (Joly will have to) breathe life into those policy commitments.

Global Affairs has a key role to play in shaping the promised “comprehensive Asia-Pacific strategy, to deepen diplomatic, economic and defence partnerships in the region”, encompassing as the department does both the diplomatic and trade policy sides of Canada’s relationship with the region and a second minister, Minister for International Trade Mary Ng.

A major challenge for both ministers will be carving out a distinct policy of constructive engagement with China, against an increasingly hostile American posture.

In the view of

Canadian policy would be best placed to support an “inclusive and stable multipolar order in East Asia”, as promulgated by American progressive voices like the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft,  a position well-articulated in Canada by Senator Yuen Pau Woo and Professor Paul Evans in a recent Munk School webinar

Woo and Evans are welcome voices of sanity amid the anti-China cacophony that passes for much of the mainstream media coverage in Canada, egged on by the ultra-hardline Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the often inexplicably shrill Globe and Mail.

But smart Canadian policy, that differentiates itself without alienating our closest ally, requires a department and a foreign minister at the top of their game (and a supportive Prime Minister’s Office and Privy Council Office).

Alas, as we have discussed many times before, Global Affairs is operating well-below standard and a dedicated effort to rebuild its diplomatic capacity is long overdue.

A Canadian Centre for Peace, Order and Good Government

While this rebuilding exercise is underway (and we will have more to say about that in a moment), a very good place for the minister to increase her access to expert voices would be to act on a Liberal election promise first made in the 2019 election and then reiterated in the 2021 election:

Establish a Canadian Centre for Peace, Order and Good Government to expand the availability of Canadian expertise and assistance to those seeking to build peace, advance justice, promote human rights and democracy , and deliver good governance.

However, our support for this recycled campaign pledge comes with a big caveat. Such a centre will only provide the minister with the type of independent, expert advice that she will need to balance overly cautious or American-centric departmental advice with the following changes to its proposed mandate:

  • An independent, rather than interdepartmental, centre is required if new ideas and approaches are to be forthcoming; and
  • The mandate needs to be broad enough to address urgent global peace and security challenges.

Such a centre would be complementary to, not a replacement for, the Canadian diplomatic rebuilding exercise within Global Affairs Canada that we have called for since 2015.

In the view of

To guide the diplomatic rebuilding process, in conjunction with a fundamental reassessment of Canada’s place in the world and how we safeguard and promote and improve it, an Independent Expert Commission is needed. It should include experts from inside and outside government and internationally, have the power to commission expert studies, and engage in broad public consultations.

Part of its remit should be the types of diplomatic expertise needed to advance the Commission’s recommendations and a detailed plan for developing that expertise.

Energizing Canadian disarmament diplomacy

In the meantime, one area where Canada still retains considerable expertise, which it has been loathe to properly exploit — understandable in the Trumpian days, but not justifiable now — is in the area of disarmament diplomacy. In the words of former Disarmament Ambassador, now Professor, Paul Meyer and Project Ploughshares chief Cesar Jaramillo:

If Canada wants to be more than just a back-row supporter of nuclear disarmament, it will need to invest some diplomatic energy in this endeavour.

Outgoing Foreign Minister Marc Garneau had begun to show greater interest in this vital foreign policy area, joining in a letter from Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde urging American Secretary of State Blinken, in the lead up to the 10th NPT Review Conference (now scheduled for January 2022), to embrace key recommendations of the Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament, with the following objective:

These proposals are aimed at providing an ambitious and realistic set of measures that we hope that all NPT states-parties, not least the nuclear-weapon states with their special responsibility, will study with an open mind and act on.

Minister Melanie Joly can provide an early signal that she intends to keep up this promising momentum by:

  • Elevating Canada’s own involvement in the Stockholm Initiative by offering to host a ministerial-level preparatory meeting of the group before the upcoming NPT Review Conference that is the ultimate focus of the group’s work; and
  • Announcing her intention to attend as an Observer the first meeting of States Parties of the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as the newly elected centre-left Norwegian government has recently done.

On the issue of Canadian attendance at the first TPNW meeting, see the hot-off-the-presses Open Letter to the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister from the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW), of which RI is a member, entitled Canada can join Norway and attend first TPNW meeting. The letter concludes:

As members of the Stockholm Initiative, Canada and Norway are also well placed to work together within NATO to develop a cohort of alliance members engaged in challenging nuclear deterrence policy, during the alliance’s current review of its “Strategic Concept” slated to be adopted at the next NATO Summit in June 2022.

The new government in Canada has a fresh opportunity to work with like-minded States and middle powers, such as Norway and others, and to revitalize our traditional disarmament credentials.

The nuclear weapons threat demands measurable progress on nuclear non-proliferation and arms control, and towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. CNANW expects to see early concrete action in this direction from our government, in keeping with the wishes of most Canadians, and we stand ready to assist in achieving this common objective.

For the full text of this excellent letter and the list of supporting member organizations, click here.

For a fascinating article on how Norway, Sweden and Switzerland can play a “bridge-building role” between TPNW signatories and non-signatories, written before the change in Norway’s government, see: How Can Norway, Sweden and Switzerland Stay Engaged with the TPNW? (Alicia Sanders-Zakre,, 1 February 2019).

All available testimony from foreigners tends to corroborate the view that the traditional Canadian role in the world — together with its model of pluralism and tolerance at home — remains as constructive and important as ever, and if anything should be strengthened. – Bernard Wood, January 1992 Annual Statement as Chief Executive Officer of the [then] Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security (CIIPS).

Canada, at one time the quintessential multilateral diplomatic bridge-builder (as evoked in the Bernard Wood quote above), has not endeavoured — yet — to play such role with respect to the TPNW. Indeed, Canada has not even bothered to commission a report on the pros and cons of joining the new disarmament treaty. Instead, as we have decried in past blogs, we have joined in highly inflammatory and misleading statements by NATO attacking the new landmark treaty.

In the view of

Now that Norway is taking a much more positive and constructive bridge-building approach to the treaty, Canada would be well-advised to do the same, especially if we harbour any desire to once again seek election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Other important arms control initiatives that the new minister can take early action on include:

For those interested in further information on cyber warfare and international law, see this new, detailed report entitled The Council of Advisers’ Report on the Application of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to Cyberwarfare (, August 2021).

Closing the gap between law and practice on Canadian arms exports

No greater challenge awaits the new foreign minister than that of closing the yawning abyss between Canada’s legal obligations under national and international law in relation to our arms exports and our actual practice, especially when it comes to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Israel, among other highly lucrative — but extremely problematic — destinations for Canadian-made military equipment.

While Canada’s commercial interests should rightly be promoted abroad, in any instances of conflict between those interests and the probability of risk, the course of action dictated by the risk assessment must prevail.” – page 23 of report cited below

Minister Joly’s problem, as is clearly outlined in the excellent June 2021 consensus report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, quoted from above, is that the departmental review process is biased in favour of approving permits, not in following the letter of the law.

But there is a way that she can get expert, unbiased advice in the near future.

Her predecessor as foreign minister, Marc Garneau, promised in April of 2020 that,

in order to ensure that the government always upholds the highest standards with respect to human rights, we are announcing the creation of an arms-length advisory panel of experts who will review best practices regarding arms exports by state parties to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty [ATT] to ensure that our system is as robust as possible.

To date, that promise remains unfulfilled, giving the new minister, whose legal background will enable her to appreciate the full significance of such an Advisory Panel, a golden opportunity to deliver on the “humility and audacity” she has vowed to bring to her new role.

Whither Canada?

We call upon Foreign Minister Melanie Joly to deliver on a longstanding government promise to appoint an arms-length advisory panel of experts who will review best practices regarding arms exports by state parties to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty [ATT] to ensure that our system is as robust as possible.

For a francophone commentary on the appointment of the new foreign minister, including RI comments, click here.

For the view from abroad, see: Canada’s Trudeau unveils new Cabinet (, 26 October 2021).

And for a very important statement on the need for a wholesale rethink of western approaches to Palestinian human rights, see: Why Israel is trying to criminalise Palestinian civil society (Yara Hawari,, 24 October 2021).

New defence minister has arguably the toughest portfolio of all

Former procurement minister Anita Anand has been given the troubled National Defence portfolio, to which she brings solid qualifications that she will most certainly need.

Bruce Campion-Smith, writing in the Toronto Star back in March 2020 when then rookie MP Anita Anand was named Minister of Public Services and Procurement, admirably summarized her credentials:

That skill set is impressive. Anand was most recently a professor of law at the University of Toronto, topping a resume that stretches for several pages. She holds four degrees and has held academic appointments at the University of Cambridge, the law schools at Yale, Queen’s and Western. She has served as a visiting scholar at the Bank of Canada. She was the inaugural chair of the Ontario Securities Commission Investor Advisory Panel and has sat on the boards of Oakville Hydro and the Oakville Hospital Foundation.

In November, the Royal Society of Canada — an organization of scholars, artists and scientists — honoured Anand as one of the “world’s leading scholars of corporate governance.” Her research, the society said, has “significantly altered global thinking about best practices for boards of directors, including the importance of diversity on boards.”

Add to that her successful term as procurement minister during a pandemic and it seems pretty clear she has the credentials and experience to rise to the considerable challenges of  serving as defence minister at this troubled time for the department.

Anand, the former procurement minister, is walking into the centre of a legal and social hurricane — with nearly a dozen flag and general officers on leave, or facing investigation, or leaving the military altogether….

External experts like Charlotte Duval-Lantoine emphasize that the problem is not just with the “hidebound” military culture but extends into the “civilian and political” spheres, where former defence minister Harjit Sajjan was accused of mishandling the sexual misconduct issue:

I think we haven’t had either the prime minister or the minister of defence previously situate themselves as the person who is willing to take responsibility and to lead on this issue.

This is precisely what the new minister needs to do.

Hopefully she will soon have the Honourable  Louise Arbour’s report to help guide her, especially on the important issue of taking alleged criminal acts outside the military chain of command.

While the issue of the profoundly dysfunctional culture at DND will be her biggest challenge, it is most certainly not the only one.

And then there is the matter of defence policy going forward

There will be a chorus of voices calling for the new minister to “update” Canada’s defence policy in light of the “evolving geo-political landscape,” but Minister Anand should tread carefully.

In the view of

We had a complete overhaul in 2017 and the one area that arguably needs a bit sharper focus — our relationship with China — is pre-eminently a foreign policy issue that must await fulfillment of the Liberal campaign promise for a new Asia Pacific strategy, as we discussed above in the context of the challenges awaiting newly appointed foreign minister Melanie Joly.

Another big policy envelope is NORAD modernization, a topic of the first Trudeau–Biden summit after the election of the new president.

As we have outlined in a number of blogs, this is one area where outgoing defence minister Harjit Sajjan has played it just right, ignoring the self-serving industry pressure for Canada to waste billions and undermine our arms control credentials by seeking participation in the American strategic ballistic missile defence initiative boondoggle that we have successfully side-stepped for so long.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to continue its focus on Canada’s niche area of “all domain situational awareness” as a cost effective, stability enhancing contribution to strengthening NORAD’s vital warning function.

New China webinar with RI connection

On Monday, 1 November 2021, the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) will host a panel titled China’s Place in Canada’s Vision of a “Rules-Based Order”. The virtual panel will be held from 10:00 AM to 11:15 AM (EST) and can be watched by registering on Zoom.

This panel is part of IPD’s China Strategy Project.

Photo credit: Government of Canada (Ministers of Foreign Affairs and National Defence)

Tags: A Canadian Centre for Peace Order and Good Government, all domain situational awareness, American strategic ballistic missile defence, Arms exports, bridge-building role, Canada's international cyber strategy, Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW), Cesar Jaramillo, Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, China, cyber warfare, Defence Minister Anita Anand, disarmament diplomacy, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, Honourable Louise Arbour, Institute for Peace and Diplomacy, International Criminal Court (ICC), NATO review of Strategic Doctrine, NORAD modernisation, Norway and TPNW, Paul Meyer, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, rebuilding diplomatic capacity, Roland Paris, Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament