Publication: Strategic Survey 2016: The Annual Review of World Affairs
27 September 2016
The year to mid-2016 portended change, possibly radical, in the United States, as President Barack Obama’s second term neared an end and the Republican Party settled on a presidential candidate dramatically different to any it had fielded in the previous century or more. The year delivered actual change in Canada, with the return to power of the Liberal Party, after almost a decade, under the leadership of a charismatic young prime minister.
A change of direction for Canada?
Canada’s Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, formed a majority government following the October 2015 general elections, ending the rule of Conservative leader Stephen Harper. Trudeau, son of the former Liberal leader and prime minister Pierre Trudeau, campaigned on the promise of ‘real change’, calculating that Canadians had grown tired of the Conservative emphasis on lower taxes, small government and a militaristic foreign policy. The electorate also opted for a change in leadership style, with the younger, more outgoing Trudeau providing a break from the introverted Harper.
At a victory party the day after the election, Trudeau addressed what he said were global concerns that Canada had lost its ‘compassionate and constructive voice’ under the previous government. ‘I have a simple message for you on behalf of 35 million Canadians’, he said. ‘We’re back.’ The statement appeared to signal a return to the largely bipartisan foreign policy that prevailed under governments of both political stripes until the Conservatives came to power in 2006. This traditional policy emphasised close and productive relations with the United States, Canada’s largest trading partner; strong support for multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, NATO, the Commonwealth and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie; a healthy relationship with Western Europe, coupled with the exploitation of economic opportunities in Asia; a balanced approach to the Israel–Palestine conflict; and modest engagement with Africa and Latin America.