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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2012 > January 2012 > CANADA AND MULTILATERALISM: MISSING IN ACTION


Saturday 31 December 2011, by The McLeod Group

Multilateralism is a word little heard and less understood in today’s political and development discourse in Ottawa. The Conservative government, in practicing a policy of Canada first, uses multilateral instruments as an extension of narrow short-term Canadian objectives, rather than as part of a wider and more serious vision of global security and prosperity in which Canadians have a very real stake.

That is the major finding in a wide-ranging McLeod Group Policy Paper by former Canadian diplomat and senior UN official, Carolyn McAskie (available at

Canada’s era of "Middle Power" politics has long been discredited, McAskie says, but it once had significant influence and we truly did "punch above our weight". Intelligent and far-sighted Canadian representatives understood that we were not a big power, able to impose our view on international politics, but that we could play in the big power league creating conditions which would achieve our own objectives and work, both for our interests and for the greater good. By recruiting allies to causes which mattered to us, and which resonated with others, Canadians became known as innovators, contributors and power-brokers — trusted allies and leaders in many international fora.

Today Canada no longer has the status of a respected international player. Compromise, coordination and consensus, Canadian values which gave us influence, are seen as contrary to a new aggressive Canadian posture based on loosely defined “principled action”. Economic objectives trump social and diplomatic objectives; military solutions are favoured (and funded) over more difficult and yet more sustainable diplomatic and development solutions; and humanitarian response in Africa is seen as an end in itself. We take a one-sided view of the Middle East to the exclusion of finding a balanced solution. We ignore our treaty obligations whether on climate change or on refugees; we readily make our military instruments available to NATO while starving the UN of our expertise; and we operate arbitrarily and independently with developing country partners despite having signed on to international agreements to coordinate with other donors.

“Canada and Multilateralism: Missing in Action” chronicles how we have come to this, and says what needs to be done to remedy the situation.