Forging the chains that chaffe: Canada’s Foreign Policy

The Harper government’s foreign policy amounts to dissing the UN, slavishly supporting
Israel right or wrong, scolding the EU (while promoting a banking policy they opposed in opposition), and signing economic agreements with anyone with a pulse. John Baird managed to accomplish the first two at one blow last week by opposing the Palestinian Authority’s bid for recognition as a non-member observer state.

We were one of 9 nations who voted against the UN motion; 138 voted for it. Mr Baird denounced the vote as unilateral and an impediment to peace. Sorry, I’m not sure how a 138-to-9 vote is unilateral, and I always thought the more people talking around the same table was an encouragement to peace. The Palestinian Authority is not Hamas.

I know that the Harper Government likes to to refer to its “principled” policy in the Middle East but just how principled is it to favour one combatant over another in an area that’s like a telephone booth packed with dynamite.

As for scolding the European Union, well, one of their members just poached our chief banker. Now what, Mr Flaherty?

The rest of this post deals with the Harper Government’s ‘leaked’ policy to pursue economic ties with other nations, particularly the third world and China at any cost. And the cost, to Canadians and our thrid world partners will be high. Here are three mini-essays to explain why …

A Flip of the Finger for this FIPA

Of the 16 trade disputes we launched under NAFTA, we’ve lost every one. US companies, on the other hand, have won most of theirs and they’ve taken home $170 million of our money in compensation.

So when I look at the deal our PM signed with China in September, I worry. And you should too.

If China doesn’t like something we do to protect our environment or our health, it will sue us … not in open court, but in secret arbitration.

An example is needed.

Let’s say a Chinese company wants to set up a huge wind farm in Grey and BruceCounties and they meet all our governments’ existing criteria.

Let’s say you and your municipality don’t like where the windmills are going, or their numbers, or how the company does business. (China, by the way, is a major manufacturer of wind turbines now, and under this agreement, it has no obligation to use turbines we build, or to hire locally.)

So your municipality passes a bylaw that blocks construction. The Chinese consider that to be an action disallowed by the Agreement. The company sues Canada under the Agreement’s dispute arbitration provisions.

You lose. Canada and maybe even your municipality are on the hook for millions of dollars in compensation and the company gets to go ahead and put up its turbines anyway.

The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA for short) will be in effect before Christmas. Ask your MP about it. But don’t be conned; it’s a bad deal.

© David McLaren, Nov 2012

For more on the Canada-China FIPA go to: for the text of the Agreement. for a balanced debate of what the Agreement means. for crtique by Osgoode Law School prof Gus Van Harten. for a series of articles on the green industry in China (hint: the Chinese are far more committed to renewable industry than we are) and what it’s like doing green business in China. for a Chinese study on how to do business in China (hint: you need to grease the wheels of local corruption–if that’s not an impediment to foreign investment, I don’t know what is). for Rick Mercer’s take on the China FIPA.

Selling Canada Short

CBC news has revealed the Harper government’s draft foreign policy. It sets out an aggressive agenda for hanging our foreign policy hat on one hook—economic opportunity.

But the outrage from the government about the leak is so muted, you have to wonder if it was less a leak than a plant … a chance for the government to gauge public reaction before formally adopting a course it’s already on.

We already know that our PM has been flying around the world signing economic agreements with anyone with a pulse. Nine so far, with countries like Columbia, Panama, Peru and Chile—to make it easier for our mining companies to operate, presumably. Neither those countries nor our mining companies have a sterling record on human rights and environmental protection.

And now China. Well, as the draft policy says, we must seek economic interests, “even where political interests or values may not align.”

Even so, John Baird’s office insists the government is pursuing “a principled foreign policy that is advancing Canadian interests and Canadian values.”


Just how principled is it to sign a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement that gives tacit permission for Canadian companies to run roughshod over other people’s rights and environment?

Just how principled is it to sign a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement that gives a clear economic advantage to China and disadvantages our ability to protect our environment and our own energy sovereignty. What nation worthy of the name would do that for the sake of a fistful of dollars?

Beware the government whose only bottom line is the bottom line. And don’t be conned. This foreign policy is bad for Canada and bad for the world.

© David McLaren, November 2012

CIDA is short for Corporate Investment Development Agency

About a month ago, the Harper government dropped the first shoe of its new foreign policy—economic agreements with the 3rd world and China. The latter will be at our expense but it looks as though our agreements with developing countries will be at theirs.

Canadian mining companies are implicated in dozens of cases of human rights and environmental abuses: Dorato Resources in Peru, Barrick Gold in Tanzania and New Guinea; Centerra in Kyrgyzstan; Excellon in Mexico; Hudbay Minerals in Guatemala. There are others.

If the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement we signed with China is any measure, the agreements we are signing in Africa and South America will allow Canadian mining companies to run roughshod over other peoples’ rights and their environment.

Now the other shoe has dropped. CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) will be funding non-government organizations like World Vision to work with Canadian businesses who want to set up shop in other countries.

The idea is to use the connections that NGOs have in those countries to help Canadian corporations hit the ground running. The theory is that NGOs will also teach them to behave.

If that’s the theory, it’s not working. Some $50 million has gone into this effort since the Conservatives came to power. And now citizens of the nations in which our mining companies operate are looking to the courts for help. The Q’eqchi’, a Mayan people from Guatemala, have even filed suits in Ontario courts for shootings and rapes at HudBay’s former mining project in El Estor.

Forced displacement, rape, murder, environmental degradation trail the industry like the chains on Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol. NGOs might have the knowledge to make Canadian companies better corporate citizens, but not the clout. Instead, they are being used to polish the tarnish growing on our international reputation.

© David McLaren, December 2012


About David McLaren

David McLaren is an award-winning writer. He has worked in government and the private sector, with NGOs and First Nations in Ontario. He is currently writing from Neyaashiinigamiing on the shore of Georgian Bay and can be reached at In February 2015, he won the nomination for the NDP to represent the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the 2015 federal election. See that page for writings during the campaign.
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3 Responses to Forging the chains that chaffe: Canada’s Foreign Policy

  1. Munroe Scott says:

    David, I must agree all down the line. As I listened to and watched Baird at the UN podium I felt more truly humiliated as a Canadian than at any previous time in my long life. What more can one say? There and in the other things you mention the Harper Government’s use of the word “principled” is Orwellian beyond belief. And so much is being done so swiftly that the Parliamentary Opposition and certainly we the citizenry have no idea which section of Democracy’s crumbling battlements should receive priority defence. At least you and others are sounding the alerts.

    • Yes, we’ve come down a long way in the world. It takes decades to build an international reputation like one Canada enjoyed (and did much good with) and only a few short years to trash it. Another sad note that did not fit in the articles above is the defeat of Bill C-398 by the Tories, a measure that sould have allowed Canada to get cheaper AIDS drugs into Africa without violating WTO rules on patents. Big Pharma has such a lobby-lock on governments that this would have been the break-through other countries are waiting for. Shame on us.

      I refuse to wade into Middle-East politics because they are complicated and, as the novelist Vincent Lam understated it, “generational”. The Muslim and Jewish narratives intertwine since the days of Abraham. Who among us can sort them out? None, so Palestine and Israel must do it together. Why not at the UN? CBC’s

      The Current had an adult conversation about the Mid-East in December. Well at least Palestine’s Mustafa Barghouti and Israel’s Einat Wilf were adult. Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Assistant to John Baird, not so much. The links are here:
      Mustafa Barghouti.

      Deepak Obhrai.
      Einat Wilf.

      At bottom, as at the bottom of everything, is story, and this one is some 3,000 years in the making. Wilf and Barghouti are well aware of the two narratives being articluated by each side and each tells their story well. They are also well aware that their two stories will never be reconciled on the battle field, only at the negotiating table, for who can talk over gunfire? As for Obhrai, he demonstrates only a clear understanding of his speaking notes.

  2. Pingback: Lament for a Nation – Canada’s slide into colonialism | David McLaren

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