Canada and the World: from Peace-Keeping to Counter-Terrorism and Nation-Building, from Multilateralism to Global Disorder


Emily Burton-Brown and Kevin Hempstead

2017 has been a year marked by growing uncertainty in the face of political upheaval, ongoing terrorist threats, and war. On Canada’s 150th birthday we must now ask ourselves: where do we go from here? Panelists addressed this question in the final panel of the Canada’s Policy Transformation conference, titled “From Peace-Keeping to Counter-Terrorism and Nation-Building; from Multilateralism to Global Disorder,” and the diverse presentations highlighted three separate global issues affecting Canada.

Queen’s University Professor Stefanie von Hlatky opened the panel with a presentation about gender dynamics in the armed forces. Her expertise made for a timely presentation, just months after a lawsuit was launched claiming that the Canadian Armed Forces is doing little to combat internal gender discrimination and sexual assault. Her presentation examined gender dynamics in the armed forces beyond women’s participation rates, looking into the role they can play in future peacekeeping operations.

Von Hlatky noted a trend from the past decade where organizations are increasingly presenting gender issues as “key to operational effectiveness in mission success.” This trend extends further than just encouraging participation of women in the armed forces – female participation is now largely considered to be crucial for peacekeeping. From the UN National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security to an updated NATO doctrine detailing how the empowerment of women make the Alliance stronger, this narrative of the unique and necessary role for women has become a mainstay in peacekeeping and the military.

Canada has fallen in line with this trend, recently hosting the 2017 UN Peacekeeping Summit in Vancouver on November 14 and 15 and signing onto a new pilot program designed to increase the number of women in peacekeeping operations. Nevertheless, von Hlatky emphasized that although the discourse is shifting, reality is still catching up. In Canada, only 15% of the military is female, and across NATO only 5.8% of operation personnel are women. The pressing need, she concluded, is for more emphasis on the importance of diversity in the armed forces themselves, and not just the operations.

Aisha Ahmad from the University of Toronto continued the theme of peacekeeping, but shifted the audience’s focus to global security and international relations. In Ahmad’s view, Canada’s international security policy is “a story of great power politics in terms of our priorities.” According to Ahmad, Canada built its policy around peacekeeping because it was a niche that we had the capacity to serve, in a time where peacekeeping was easier due to Cold War interventions by the US and the Soviet Union.

Today, however, the world order has changed, and peacekeeping is increasingly being replaced by peace enforcement, with the U.S. as a declining world power. Ahmad stressed that historically Canada has acted in relation to our allies, and we have often followed the U.S. in our foreign policy. Shaped to an extent by the new Trump administration, the defining attribute of this new world order is unpredictability, which is a recipe for crisis. One doesn’t have to look far for examples of this – Trump frequently criticized NATO as an “obsolete” organization, causing uncertainty amongst NATO members, before eventually conceding a year later that it is “no longer obsolete.” If we cannot predict what our enemies or our allies are going to do, we are liable to engage in risk averse behavior and are therefore more vulnerable to making grave mistakes on the world stage, said Ahmad. Canada now faces greater fragmentation and complexity in its international role, particularly in areas with no clear end game.

The final panelist, Stephane Paquin, a professor at École nationale d’administration publique (ENAP), spoke to the growing intrusion of international negotiations in provincial domains, using the current NAFTA negotiations as a key example.

Since 1937, Canada has taken a dualistic approach to treaty-making: the federal executive branch first negotiates and ratifies the treaty, and the provinces then adopt legislative measures to implement the treaty as a matter of domestic law. Although the federal government has sole responsibility for trade, in practice it is shared with the provinces — particularly in areas related to agriculture, labour, subsidies and environmental and climate change. Provinces have been taking on more of an active role in negotiations; for example, as of 2002 the Quebec National Assembly must approve all important treaties.

A discussion of the provinces’ role in international negotiations is particularly appropriate now in light of the fifth round of NAFTA negotiations concluding without any major breakthroughs in the most contentious areas. The mood in Canada has become pessimistic, Paquin argued, with many questioning which state will leave the table first. However, with 75% of Canadian exports going to the U.S., provincial economies are highly dependent on trade with our southern neighbour, so Canada may yet fold. If a deal is made, it will involve major concessions from the provinces. Looking at Canada’s history of international treaty-making over the last 80 years through to the last round of NAFTA negotiations this week, it is clear we must rethink federalism and foreign policy to meet the challenges of the future.

Though the panelists spoke on broadly different topics, one message was overwhelmingly clear: whether the issue is gender diversity in the Armed Forces, peace-keeping and global security, or international negotiations, Canada now faces choices that will define its national character for the next 150 years. In a complicated, challenging, and unpredictable world, Canada has the opportunity to demonstrate real leadership on the world stage.

Emily Burton-Brown is originally from Vancouver, BC and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations from the University of British Columbia. She has over three years of professional experience in market research, and is interested in the role of public opinion on the policy process. When she’s not in class, Emily can usually be found practicing yoga or losing herself in Game of Thrones theories on Reddit.

Kevin Hempstead is a 1st year MPP candidate at the School of Public Policy, with a B.A. in History from the University of Toronto, and a M.Sc. Theory and History in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He has over three years of international trade and development experience, including work with the Department for International Trade at the UK Consulate in Toronto, and Save the Children International in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His policy interests focus on the role of government in economic development and innovation, both in developed and developing countries.