MONTREAL — New Democratic leader Thomas Mulcair blasted the Conservative government for abandoning the mediating role that defined Canada’s foreign policy throughout the 20th century.
Mulcair told a Montreal audience of 250, mainly from the business and academic worlds, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has “renounced” the major role Canada once played in upholding peace in the Middle East, as well as in the development of Africa and climate change.
He charged that the government has done so for the Conservatives’ political gain.
Mulcair, who spoke in French, was the guest speaker at a Feb. 7 luncheon of the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded in 1985.
The abandonment of the role of mediator is “the source of a whole series of setbacks suffered by Canada abroad,” said Mulcair, who particularly deplored this government’s failure in its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2010.
“The Harper government has broken with a foreign policy that was producing results, a policy that was the object of a wide consensus for decades,” he said
“They have turned their back on the open and progressive multilateralism for which Canada was renowned and that permitted it to play a preponderant role on the international stage,” Muclair added. “In its place, they have exploited our foreign policy, simply to respond to partisan considerations.
“The interests of a small ideological group has taken precedence over the public interest, and low petty politics has taken precedence over the exercise of true leadership and the realization of a long-term vision.”
Mulcair accused the government of an “ideological blindness” that is “costing us collectively very dearly.”
He called the Security Council seat loss a “historic humiliation.”
“Let’s be clear: the reasons offered by the Conservatives to justify this failure have nothing to do with reality. It is false to say that Canada was defeated because we stand too firmly for democracy or human rights,” said Mulcair, noting that Germany and Portugal were successful in their bids for seats at that time and that some of Canada’s strongest allies voted against its bid.
Mulcair also deplored Foreign Minister John Baird’s subsequent “unprecedented attack against” the UN. “He even described Canada’s traditional approach as a ‘digression’ in our country’s history.
“This is a rupture when the minister charged with defining our foreign relations sees the role of mediator assumed by Canada over the course of the last 60 years as a ‘digression,’ indeed even as a mistaken course.”
The Harper government’s policy, Mulcair said, reflects the mentality of the 1940s, when the world was divided between “black hats and white hats.”
Canada, he claimed, has lost influence in the world that was considerable for a middle power, because the reputation it had for independence and acting on principle has been rejected by the Conservatives.
Mulcair said Canada could have done much more to support the reform movements that emerged during the Arab Spring, but did not because it no longer has an institution to promote democracy abroad.
He regretted the government’s “sly” dismantling of the Montreal-based International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, better known as Rights and Democracy.
He said the government has not kept its promise made during the 2011 election campaign, and repeated in the speech from the Throne, to create a new agency.
“Today, we can say that [Rights and Democracy’s] dismantling was a historic blunder,” Mulcair said.
“Once again, the Conservatives do not understand the difference between partisan interests and principles. They have put ideological obsession at the heart of their policy without caring about the impact it would have.”
In April in Montreal, the New Democratic Party will hold its first policy convention since Mulcair became leader in March of last year.