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Reassessing Canada's Foreign Affairs Approach

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Reassessing Canada's Foreign Affairs Approach

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Reassessing Canada's Foreign Affairs Approach

Reassessing Canada's Foreign Affairs Approach

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Canada's new Liberal government is expected to chart a different foreign policy course. NPR's Rachel Martin asks Colin Robertson of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute what this means for the U.S.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After nearly a decade of conservative governments, the Liberal Party of Canada swept into power this past week. One of the big issues in this past election revolved around one question - what is Canada's role in the world? Justin Trudeau, the new prime minister-elect, thinks that after years of fighting alongside the U.S. against the Taliban, al-Qaida and most recently, ISIS, it's time to scale back Canada's combat missions.

To drive that point home, shortly after the election, Justin Trudeau told President Obama Canada will no longer participate in airstrikes against ISIS. We called up Colin Robertson of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute to learn more about the direction the country's going in.

COLIN ROBERTSON: Well, I think there was a sense in Canada that do we want to be at the sharp end? We have been at the sharp end in Libya and Afghanistan, where Canada took a disproportionate number of casualties. There's general support for the campaign against ISIL, but how best you do it? And from Mr. Trudeau's perspective, I think he wants to also signal departure from what they saw as a highly combative, war-like approach of the conservative government.

MARTIN: Robertson says Canadians are also war weary after fighting in Afghanistan.

ROBERTSON: At the outset, we were in for a good reason. This was immediately post-9/11. An ally, the United States, had been attacked. We went in. We took a significant role in Kandahar while the Americans were very active in Iraq at the time. We did not, as you know, go into Iraq, but we were very active in Kandahar. After a decade, there was a sense by the conservative government, shared by the opposition parties, that we had done what we could do there.

MARTIN: When it comes to fighting ISIS, Canada may no longer be flying sorties alongside the Americans. But Robertson says there are other ways the country can play a part.

ROBERTSON: Canada will do its bit to take migrants, refugees, perhaps setting up SWAT teams in Turkey and Jordan and other places to bring people in more quickly. And in terms of the campaign itself, there are other things we can do - lift capacity, helping out on logistics. We have special forces there. He hasn't commented on that. So we may well still participate in the training. I think so much of this remains to be seen. Remember the new government doesn't take office until November the 4.

MARTIN: What is clear is that the new Liberal government in Canada is likely to prioritize the environment in a new way. Colin Robertson says, unlike his predecessor, Trudeau wants to work closely with the United States to combat climate change.

ROBERTSON: As we approach the Paris climate conference in December, you will see a significant shift on the part of Canadian government, Mr. Trudeau and indeed most Canadians. Canadians are usually pushing the envelope on environmental issues. And certainly, Mr. Trudeau has indicated he wants to be ahead of this issue. So I think on that one, which is certainly top agenda for President Obama, you'll see Canada and the United States in closer alignment.

MARTIN: That was Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat. He's now at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He spoke with us from Ottawa.

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