Tone is important
Once we’ve watched the videos of our new prime minister Bhangra dancing, scrolled through the rehashed pics of him shirtless at the weigh-in for his boxing bout against Senator Patrick Brazeau and perused the swooning of global commentators, we may turn our attention to Justin Trudeau’s policies in his first days as our leader-designate.
One of his first acts was to inform U.S. President Barack Obama by telephone that Canada would withdraw from combat missions against ISIS. This was a central part of Trudeau’s election platform and Canadians voted for him strongly, so this move was consistent with what he said he would do.
Canada’s role in the fight has not been insignificant, though we are by no means the foremost military in this battle. In the past year, six Canadian CF-18 jets have been involved in more than 180 airstrikes against ISIS targets. Trudeau promises this will end. He says, though, that Canada will remain a part of the 65-country coalition by increasing humanitarian aid and continuing to train Iraqi security forces.
On other matters of foreign affairs, Trudeau says that his government will restore diplomatic relations with Iran. We do not know yet whether the multipartite agreement intended to prevent Iran from constructing nuclear weapons will meet this objective. It will be years before we can conclusively answer this. But we wrote in this space when the Conservative government cut diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic – long before negotiations over the nuclear program even began – that it was wrong to do so.
If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies. These were the wise words of Moshe Dayan. More to the point, from a practical standpoint, diplomatic relations will improve the situation for Canadians of Iranian descent and those with families there, who were probably punished more than the government in Tehran by the diplomatic break.
Continuing on foreign affairs, circling from ISIS to Iran and around to Israel – Trudeau spoke by phone to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu four days after the election.
The specifics of the conversation are private, but Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Rafael Barak, said he is optimistic Canada’s friendship with Israel will be unchanged.
“Mr. Trudeau has been very consistent from the very beginning of his campaign, in expressing his support for Israel,” Barak told Canadian Press. “I’m sure maybe the style will change. But I don’t feel there will be a change on the substance. I’m really reassured.”
A Trudeau spokesperson said “there would be a shift in tone, but Canada would continue to be a friend of Israel’s.”
We will watch closely, of course, to see what “a shift in tone” looks like. As we noted in this space two weeks ago, the Liberal party ran an ad in the last days of the election campaign in Canadian Jewish News promising, “On Oct. 19, our government will change. What won’t change is Canada’s support for Israel.”
That is an unequivocal statement and it probably reassured a great many voters who believed a change of government was desirable but a change in approach toward Israel was not.
The importance of a potential “shift in tone” is that, frankly, tone is just about all we have to offer. The impact we had under the Conservatives – for better or for worse, depending on one’s politics – was based almost exclusively on our words.
Proud as we may be of our significant sacrifices and achievements during the First and Second World Wars, which we will mark next week on Remembrance Day, and significant as our contribution has been in Afghanistan, Canada’s impact on the global stage today is mostly one of principled voice. We are not a major military power. We have economic power, but less than our major trading allies. Agree or disagree with the content, former prime minister Stephen Harper showed that a Canadian voice – even a lonely one in the wilderness, as it often was when he defended Israel – can have powerful resonance.
Tone matters a lot.