Seldom do parliamentary candidates in Canada raise foreign affairs as a campaign issue. They assume people are engrossed by employment, economic, environmental, social and other problems affecting their day-to-day wellbeing.
Two of the very few foreign affairs related topics would probably be: to what extent a candidate is anti- or pro-Washington and whether Canada’s participation in Afghanistan should be terminated. Both questions have been thoroughly debated in public.
Central and eastern Europe receive scant political and media attention. Yet Canada invested substantial resources helping countries in the region in building democratic institutions, promoting good governance, developing market economies etc. Not only is Canada’s stake there real, we have large communities of Canadian citizens constantly focussing their attention on the country of their heritage.
The relatively toothless international reaction to Russia’s recent invasion of Georgia leave Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Moldova and other countries formerly held captive by the Soviet Union anxious: could Moscow’s ongoing political intimidation of them someday result in more aggressive behaviour; what action should NATO, EU, the USA and others take to guarantee that political provocations and military confrontations can be avoided? Russia flexed its military muscle with impunity in the Caucasus.
Simply put, one cannot rely on “diplomatic engagement” with Russia during international crises. Countries neighbouring Russia can attest to that. Canada also has Russia as an arctic neighbour. The federal government has made the inviolability of Canada’s sovereignty in the north a pre-campaign issue. Russia immediately becomes part of the equation.
The issues transcend partisan politics. The Estonian Central Council suggests that voters can query candidates’ positions on the following points:
Would a NATO presence in countries such as Estonia, Latvia etc. act as a political deterrent and military repellant in forestalling serious confrontation? Assuming that an armed response is a non-option, is Canada’s diplomatic correctness and restrained approach always effective in dealing with Moscow or other similar regimes? Should Canada take the lead in forming a collective response with more clout such as expelling Russia from the G8? Should Canada demand the immediate removal of Russian forces from Russian-occupied South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Moscow is currently augmenting? (Experts indicate that Russia is planning on a permanent military presence in these areas.) How much resolve would Canada be willing to exhibit, if Russia is unwilling to honour Canada’s territorial claims in the Arctic?
Canadians of Estonian heritage are not in consensus on taxes, pollution, health care and many other partisan platform points. Nor should they be. But Estonian national security and Canada’s role in helping to assure it should give plenty of common ground for a widely held viewpoint on how to respond to Russia’s aggressiveness.
Candidates could be reminded that Canada, in solidifying relationships with the former captive nations of Europe, can generate mutually beneficial outcomes like enhanced trade, investment, lucrative markets that derive from international stability, the latter being a by-product of fairness and firmness in dealings with Russia.
Some new issues for the Canadian parliamentary campaign agenda