Global issues normally take a back seat to domestic affairs when it comes to Canadians casting their ballots but a number of international crises have crashed the current federal election campaign.
The Syrian conflict is shining a spotlight not only on Canada’s response to the plight of refugees but to the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East.
Hillary Clinton’s pronouncement against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline casts a shadow over Canada-U.S. relations and a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that could be signed before the Oct. 19 election day will force the party leaders to lock down their approach to international trade.
But the party leaders have yet to give detailed information on where they would take Canada in the world, says Fen Osler Hampson, director of global security and politics at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.
“Aside from refugees, foreign policy is not a hot topic,” he tells Yahoo Canada News.
“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions about the parties’ respective position on some of the major issues.”
That will end next week when Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair face off at the first-ever foreign policy debate hosted by the Munk School of Global Affairs.
“What we’re looking for is, do the candidates really have more than just a superficial understanding of the issues?” he says.
Too often, party policy is rolled out in “bumper sticker” slogans in campaign speeches, Hampson says.
“What people want to hear is, when it comes to major issues of world peace and how the world affects Canada’s prosperity, do the leaders have a good handle on the course that they’re proposing?” he says. “Do they have a plan or are they simply going to be sitting at 24 Sussex Drive and reacting to events rather than trying to lead them?”
What we know so far:
National security — The Conservatives passed Bill C-51, the anti-terror bill. The Liberals supported it but say they will add oversight provisions; the NDP vowed to repeal the legislation.
Military — The Conservatives committed Canada to the U.S.-led mission to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria; the NDP would withdraw Canadian troops from that mission; the Liberals would withdraw from the combat mission but commit to Canadian Forces training local troops to fight ISIS.
Trade — The Conservatives have aggressively pursued trade deals, signing 38 since 2006; the Liberals support free trade; the NDP say they will embrace deals that improve Canadian trade.
Other issues are lacking even a bumper sticker slogan.
“They need to clarify their positions on a number of issues. We have some sense of some general principles but on a number of different important files there is a lack of detail,” says Stewart Prest, a PhD candidate in the political science department at the University of British Columbia.
China — despite their economic downturn, China remains the world’s second-largest economy with a growth rate much higher than any other country in the world. The country is also flexing its military muscles in Asia. Should Canada pursue stronger trade or demand human rights reform?
Russia — Ukraine. The Arctic. Now Syria. Russia clearly has ambitions of a return to superpower status.
Climate change — Nations will meet at the UN climate conference in Paris in December. How will Canada deal with any provisions that might come out?
The Arctic – A signature issue for the Conservatives for years, there has been very little discussion of our northern border, despite advancing claims by Russia, climate change implications and oil and gas development plans.
“It is strange that we’re not hearing more about it because it was such a signature issue for the Conservatives for a number of years. One of their big foreign policy gambits was to secure the Arctic and it’s just sort of fallen away,” Prest says.
The Munk Debate on Canada’s Foreign Policy will take place Monday at 7 p.m. ET. It will be broadcast on the parliamentary channel CPAC and can be viewed live on the Munk Debates website.
“It will give us a much clearer understanding than we’d otherwise get, I think, about where the leaders would want to take Canada in the world,” Prest says.