Justin Trudeau faces harsh criticism from his political rivals after Canada was excluded from a new international defense pact, days before the country voted in a federal election.
Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announced on Wednesday a new intelligence-sharing agreement aimed at countering Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Canada already shares intelligence with Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand, an agreement known as the Five Eyes, but it was not included in the new pact, dubbed Aukus.
And ahead of Monday’s federal elections, leaders of the Conservative and New Democrats were quick to criticize Trudeau for excluding Canada, suggesting it reflected a broader failure of the liberal government to engage with key allies and take a firm stand against China. .
“This is another example that Mr. Trudeau is not taken seriously by our friends and allies around the world,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole told reporters Thursday. “Canada is becoming more irrelevant to Mr. Trudeau.”
O’Toole said he would seek to join the new Indo-Pacific security deal if the Conservatives are elected.
The new Democratic leader, Jagmeet Singh, also criticized Canada’s absence from the pact, suggesting that Trudeau had become too distracted with the election campaign to fully engage with the allies. Had Canada become a member of Aukus, he said, it could have pressured China to release the two jailed Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
“The pact seems a potential way to add more pressure [on China]. Canada was absent. Another reason this election should not have been called, ”Singh said.
Canada’s strained relationship with China, and the plight of two imprisoned Canadians, has emerged earlier during elections, when leaders clashed during a recent debate.
“The voice of Canada has been absent, Mr. Trudeau,” O’Toole said during the debate in English on 9 September. “We should be leaders by our values, sir. He has disappointed the Michaels and we have to get serious about China. “
Trudeau responded, “If you want to bring the Michaels home, don’t just throw tomatoes across the Pacific.”
The prime minister downplayed the broader meaning of the Aukus pact. “This is an agreement for nuclear submarines, which Canada is not currently or in the future on the market. Australia is. “
Despite the political scoring ahead of the federal elections, experts say Canada’s absence from the deal reflects broader concerns that the country is not working to improve, or even maintain, key relationships.
“The Three Eyes agreement is not representative of Canada’s diminished status in the world. But it is part of a broader trend for Canada that simply does not engage its allies in the way it should and is becoming less and less as a result. relevant, ”said Stephanie Carvin, professor of international relations at Carleton University.
While Canada has not had a strong defense presence in the Indo-Pacific region for decades, Australia has made a much greater effort than Canada, despite its geography, to foster a close relationship with the US intelligence apparatus, he says. .
“Canada has really failed to be strategic in the way it engages its allies. Because we don’t show up, our allies, and we move on and that has negative implications for our security, ”he said.
While speaking of the country’s diminished foreign policy credentials, Carvin is skeptical that voters will punish the liberal government.
“Historically, voters have not punished politicians for foreign policy failures, and in this case, there is very little at stake.”
But short-term domestic political problems may mask more worrying aspects of the country’s presence on the world stage.
“Canada has been able to cost. We have a good reputation, we are in good alliances and we are in a safe part of the world. It’s no wonder to me that we slide, ”he said. “But, like any student who doesn’t really push himself, you can only do that for so long.”