On November 19, the CBC’s The National broke the story of a leaked government document prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The document sets out the main thrusts of the government’s foreign policy agenda and was intended for Cabinet consideration.

The overarching theme of the document is that under the Conservative Government the over-riding objective of Canada’s foreign policy agenda is to support economic growth and prosperity for Canadians. In particular, the Government is moving quickly and aggressively to build the kinds of economic relationships needed with the worlds new and emerging economic powers, particularly those in Asia.

The emphasis on the need to engage the emerging world is very consistent with the recommendations contained in an outside report Winning in a Changing World: Canada and Emerging Markets presented to Prime Minister in late June. This report, of which Gowlings was the lead sponsor, is available online, click here for a copy.

Much of the content in the leaked report is not surprising. The Prime Minister’s travels in 2012 and the announcements around new trade, investment and economic negotiations (Japan, possibly Thailand, and most importantly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership), plus an investment agreement with China and nuclear cooperation agreements with China and India, show that the policy agenda set out in the leaked document is well into its implementation phase.

The media coverage of the Foreign Affairs document has emphasized the following points (comments in parentheses):

  1. Canada needs to expand its economic and political engagement with Asian countries to make up for some lost time.
  2. Latin America also presents economic opportunities and must be emphasized. (This is consistent with the government’s “Americas Strategy” which was its major foreign policy initiative over its first 5 years in power.)
  3. The United States continues to be seen as the “bedrock” of our economic future, something the PM repeated in his speech November 19 to a Canadian American business group meeting in Ottawa. (It counters any perception that the government is talking about alternatives to the US. Rather, additional steps in Asia and elsewhere are needed to secure its economic future. Indeed, many routes to these fast growing economies and global value chains pass through the United States, where we must remain engaged.)
  4. Africa is seen worthy of renewed attention in light of signs of strong growth in some African countries and better economic prospects generally for the continent offering economic opportunities for Canadians.
  5. The report stresses that political relationships need to be nurtured and developed to support the primary economic objectives.
  6. Human rights concerns remain very important. (Some critics have said the communication of these concerns will be more muted and confined to behind-the-scenes discussions rather than expressed publically.)
  7. The Canadian Arctic is a key dimension of Canadian foreign policy and can possibly be leveraged for Canadian economic gain in relations with other countries.
  8. Canada’s international aid decisions will continue be influenced by Canadian economic interest.
  9. Economic interests will also play increasingly into decisions around the deployment of Canadian military or police personnel in international security operations.

To date, the Conservative government has not published a “foreign policy white paper” or similar document setting out its own approaches. This internal paper, however, has reportedly been under preparation for many months under the direction of Foreign Minister Baird. It therefore does provide significant insight into how the Government views this critical area of its mandate, and how it is changing the thrust of Canada’s foreign policy away from that followed by previous governments.