Twelfth Report of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee

By: The Hon. Peter Harder

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Alexandra Bridge across the Ottawa River, Ottawa

Hon. Peter Harder: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to our Senate Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee’s report entitled More than a Vocation: Canada’s Need for a 21st Century Foreign Service. I won’t repeat what our colleagues and members of the committee have said so far — they have astutely outlined the content of the report.

What I want to speak to is context.

I have long been a believer that studies are where the Senate really shows its unique worth. Senators are able to identify issues faced by Canadians and the international community, and turn those challenges into opportunities and actionable recommendations from a Canadian lens. And with the advantage of institutional memory, senators are able to take into consideration, from one administration to the next, what worked and what didn’t.

We have seen groundbreaking studies and reports in past years, such as the still-cited Kirby report on mental health, the Nolin report on cannabis, or the report from the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic from the Forty-second Parliament.

I would say, somewhat biasedly, that this Foreign Affairs Committee report falls into the same category of diligence and excellence as those to which I have just referred.

Colleagues, the subject matter of this report is not “sexy,” but the importance of the content is invaluable to our public servants working at the Lester B. Pearson Building and, more importantly, the worldwide network of hundreds of missions.

As has been said, it has been four decades since the McDougall commission produced its recommendations, so an update was well overdue. Yet, somehow, our committee still came out ahead of the game. We received our order of reference and began our study before the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Mélanie Joly, announced her Future of Diplomacy review at Global Affairs Canada.

Not only were we ahead of the minister in her internal review, but our report was also completed and deposited with the Clerk last December. At that point in time, the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee in the other place had only held their first meeting on a substantially similar study. In fact, their committee invited our Senator Boehm as a witness to testify for their study because we had already finished ours — imagine that.

Now is the time for us to put our work into action by adopting this report.

The adoption of a report is no menial task. Much work goes into the development of recommendations that can be agreed upon by the majority of our chamber based on factual witness testimony and pertinent questions from members.

The adoption of a report is an assertion by the Senate as a whole to oblige the government to thoughtfully consider our report as it pertains to public policy development and the identification of public policy issues and recourses. Our studies hold a certain merit disassociated from partisan leanings found in the House, and they hold up to scrutiny and time.

Because of this, we are asking the Minister of Foreign Affairs to provide a detailed and complete response to this report. The response must be tabled by the Government Representative in the Senate no later than 150 calendar days after we adopt the report, so the sooner the adoption, the sooner we receive our response.

I expect the minister would be pleased to offer a response considering her own internal review of Global Affairs. There could be a coordination between the two documents, and I anticipate that has already been initiated.

But more than this, the timing of the adoption of our report allows the minister to officially respond in advance of the 2025 election. An adoption of the report this week — tonight — would mean an official response in the dead of August at the latest, giving senators ample time to respond to whatever the government might say.

This is a useful tool in democratic governance because it helps the public to understand where the government sits on policy issues. It outlines governmental intentions and provides insights into the balancing act of governance.

While foreign relations issues generally don’t garner votes, an official response is necessary nonetheless as part of the edification process of those in governance, including ourselves. It allows us to ask tough questions in holding the government to account going forward — questions to ministers, at committees and, yes, even at the dog-and-pony show that is daily Question Period.

But we also need to consider this response with a bit of forethought. The political context we find ourselves in does not lead one to believe that the coffers will be unguarded for increased spending, especially in the foreign context. Certainly, there is a drive for fiscal management underlined with responsibility and prudence. This is in competition with calls counterweighing that same fiscal responsibility.

Consider, for example, the Treasury Board directive for ministries to reduce spending, amounting to billions of dollars. However, we are also seeing in the media cycle calls for Canada to meet the NATO target of 2% of GDP. That money would have to come from somewhere.

The reason I raise the 2% NATO contribution threshold is not because I think it’s something worth adhering to or that it’s even a good metric, but because there has been some indication that one way to achieve the 2% target would be to cut Canada’s foreign aid contributions.

Colleagues, this is not only short-sighted, but it is also nonsensical. According to a NATO document entitled “Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2014-2023),” Canada’s contributions using GDP is 1.38% — twenty-fifth in NATO. In dollar figures, this is over $39 billion — seventh in NATO. In order to reach the 2% of GDP, Canada would need to contribute roughly another $20 billion, which would bring us only to fifth place if all else remained the same.

In comparison, Canada’s foreign aid spending in the 2023 federal budget amounted to $6.9 billion, which is approximately 0.24% of our GDP. Colleagues, we would need to contribute around three times our entire 2023 foreign aid budget to defence spending just to meet the NATO target and to appease our detractors.

Another metric is also used to gauge our contributions to official development assistance, or ODA. This metric is perhaps less known than the NATO target of 2%, but it is also important and was developed by a great Canadian in the mid-20th century. The 1972 Pearson report, as it is colloquially known, advanced the idea that official development aid should reach 0.7% of gross national income — a different but similar indicator to GDP. Senator Bellemare or Senator Clement could better describe the differences in those two points than I could.

This target is still being used by organizations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, to track member countries’ ODA contributions, but it is based on a percentage of gross national income. In 2022, Canada’s ODA as a percentage of gross national income was 0.37% — roughly half of the target of 0.7%, and eighteenth out of all members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee. But akin to the NATO spending target, Canada jumps to sixth when considering purely dollar figures.

Colleagues, it is in this context that the government will have to take our report into account, along with other financial inputs I haven’t mentioned. The theme that emerges is that we simply aren’t investing enough or investing smartly in foreign affairs writ large. This is a theme that has persisted for quite some time, and the suspension on recruitment in the Foreign Affairs Department only exacerbated the problems we now see within the Foreign Service.

Canada is not a superpower; we are a middle power. And regardless of the musings of those who might claim Canada is broken, we are still a respected power. Reviewing and, where necessary, investing in all aspects of Canada’s global presence is necessary now more than ever.

To quote Senator Boehm:

The world of today is increasingly unstable and violent, with impacts on our trading relationships, supply chains, sovereignty, and our influence around the world. . . .

As was stated in a February 22 article in The Economist, “Russia is becoming more dangerous, America is less reliable and Europe remains unprepared.” Canada’s presence in the world must adjust to these ever-changing realities. I fear we risk becoming Canada alone, as Kim Nossal, the distinguished academic at Queen’s University, has argued.

As for More than a Vocation: Canada’s Need for a 21st Century Foreign Service, diplomatic experience and expertise are invaluable. Canada’s Foreign Service officers are some of the best in the world, and they deserve our support in order to continue the important diplomacy work that they must do in the face of the threats and uncertainties of our global community.

The recommendations speak for themselves: recruitment, training, knowledge of development, trade and linguistics, and the ability for public servants to apply their skills within the Foreign Service by secondment or interchanges. All of these recommendations would benefit Canada in our middle power role so that we can continue to punch above our weight.

Colleagues, only the executive branch — in a federation, this is the federal government’s unique responsibility — on behalf of the Crown, can conduct foreign affairs by virtue of a power devolved upon it following the U. K.’s enactment of the Statute of Westminster in 1931. This is also known as the Royal Prerogative, the exercise of which over foreign affairs has been likened by the Supreme Court of Canada to a “constitutional responsibility.”

In Canada (Prime Minister) v. Khadr, paragraph 39 can be interpreted to say the constitutional responsibility of the executive is:

. . . to make decisions on matters of foreign affairs in the context of complex and ever-changing circumstances, taking into account Canada’s broader national interests.

Colleagues, this is an additional dimension in which Minister Joly will have to judge our report’s recommendations. We know that the circumstances are complex, that they are ever-changing. With that in mind, and with foreign affairs powers being firmly vested in the federal government’s executive, this should take a higher priority from the minister’s end, as it is uniquely hers and the cabinet’s constitutional role to play.

That being said, colleagues, I ask that we undertake to adopt this report tonight — I understand there’s agreement to do that — so that we might receive a formal response from the minister as soon as possible. Thank you.

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