Quebec's Foreign Policy

The PQ wants more say over Canada's foreign policy. Will that dilute the country's voice?
By: /
September 5, 2012
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The Harper government may have breathed a sigh of relief at the recent election result in Quebec. The Liberals may be down, but they are not out, with the PQ taking only a minority of the province’s seats, meaning Pauline Marois will have to devote considerable time and energy to securing her domestic position. This should leave her less time for foreign policy. Phew.

But not so fast. Even a PQ minority could make serious trouble for the Harper government’s execution of foreign policy. While this might not trouble those who question the merit/coherency of Harper’s policy to begin with, it should. Canada needs to speak with a single voice on foreign policy issues – whether foreign development spending, the Arab-Israeli conflict, trade negotiations, or foreign direct investment.

Recent cuts to diplomatic spending, limited resources to expend on military and development assistance, and heavy-handed policy pronouncements that are more often than not only empty rhetoric, have left Canada with a diminished international stature. Given this, if Quebec were to undercut whatever policy line is adopted by the federal government at the bargaining table – on trade with the EU for example – Canada will find it very difficult to be taken seriously.

Consider the trouble the EU has had in convincing the world that it can formulate and implement a single foreign policy. Unable to speak with one voice, a coherent EU foreign policy exists only in the imaginations of Brussels’ bureaucrats. To paraphrase the line often attributed to Henry Kissinger, if you don't know who to call when you want to call Europe, you may not bother calling at all.

The PQ made a more assertive stance on foreign policy part of its campaign platform. This should remind Canadians and their leaders how different the issues at play are when it comes to Quebec politics. Historical precedents (Gaullism, La Francophonie) and contemporary political realities (Quebecers' opposition to Harper's defence spending priorities) encourage separatist leaders in Quebec to use the question of foreign policy autonomy for leverage at the provincial and national levels.

So rather than rest easy, because it is unlikely that a PQ minority can wrest any real control over foreign policy from the federal government, the Harper government must guard against even the perception of diluted control. Fortunately or unfortunately, that appears to be something that the PMO’s office does rather well.

Photo courtesy of Reuters