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Is Canada's foreign policy really a major election issue? It's very unusual for foreign policy questions to be front and centre in Canadian elections, other than in times of war.  But the different parties have all raised the Syrian refugee issue, immigration, security and terrorism at various points in this campaign. Will foreign policy figure prominently in voters' minds when they get to the ballot box? John Capobianco, Marit Stiles and Bernie Farber weigh in.                                     

Marit Stiles:

Watching the foreign policy debate, you do have to wonder the extent to which the specific policy and issues will influence voters. There are very few who will be frankly interested in the minutia of international diplomacy, for example. But this has been a rather “different” campaign: we have seen the refugee crisis skyrocket to become a significant theme throughout. Some of the issues that were raised in the debate last night have become a major focus of the campaign - witness C51 and the importance of this to the Liberal-NDP battle.

The decline of Canada's international reputation as peacekeepers on the global stage is something many Canadians are concerned about… and those same Canadians seem to be looking to Tom Mulcair for the kind of new, strong leadership that will be required to gain back that reputation.

And I think that's probably the greatest takeaway of the Munk Debate: who do you (Ms./Mr. Canadian-voter-looking-for-change) see as the Prime Minister who could address the United Nations without embarrassing us with some offhand, ill considered comment about F35s China or what have you… and who, in fact, shares our vision of a Canada that is a peace builder, a leader on the global stage?

Mulcair's got some of the best hits in on a number of fronts - the hammer and nail comment, and calling Trudeau to task over his politicking with Canadians' rights in supporting Bill C-51, as well as really summing up the hypocrisy and frankly danger (to US-Canada relations) of Harper and Trudeau's support for Keystone XL. He came across as competent and statesmanlike… the kind of Prime Minister we need representing us.


John Capobianco:

I would be on the same side as Marit regarding the interest level of voters when it comes to international issues during an election campaign, especially as a “ballot box” issue. I still maintain that economic issues are always on top of voters’ minds, in particular issues concerning taxes and jobs. When I ran for office 10 years ago it was about the economy and as I knock on doors for various Conservative candidates during this campaign, it is primarily about economic issues.

However, this is not to say that voters are not interested in what is happening internationally or in Canada's foreign policy positions. In fact, I think post-9/11, international security has dominated how Canadians feel about their own safety and Canada's role within the world. Over the course the last number of years, both the US and Canada have engaged in bilateral actions to provide and ensure legislation is in place to prevent more catastrophes from occurring.

Beyond security of our borders, trade with other countries and immigration are also issues of concern to voters. With these issues, Prime M Minister Harper has been doing a very competent job over the last years and is widely seen as the only leader to continue to ensure Canada's place on the world stage remains at the highest levels.


Bernie Farber:

The debate really showed us where each of the party leaders stood. I disagree with John: I believe that as this long election period carries on the people of Canada are seeing in Justin Trudeau a person who embraces pluralism, ethnic diversity and a clear understanding of our Charter rights.

Justin's defense of his father's record spoke to many and his explanation of the need to balance security needs with our cherished rights has won him many voters in my view

And Marit, with respect, Trudeau's passion for his fellow Canadians was on view last night. Many of my contemporaries, even some who are NDP supporters, admitted that this was the most focused they have seen Mr. Trudeau and are worried that he is now coming into his own.


Marit Stiles:

Well, I would agree with John that the economy is foremost in most voters' minds. But I would disagree completely that Harper is seen to have ensured Canada's place on the world stage. Quite the opposite in fact.

As anyone who travels for pleasure or work abroad experiences, I am constantly asked, "What's happened to Canada?"  So much has changed - first under the Liberals and then under Harper. We need to regain our previous good international reputation, no question.

Tom Mulcair showed last night he'll prioritize results over rhetoric, and it was refreshing: an active, collaborative approach to diplomacy. He promoted independent foreign policy that's accountable to Canadians.

Harper and Mulcair are clearly at odds on what our role should be internationally. And Trudeau was all over the map, delivering his prepared lines but continuing to show he's not quite ready.

So, what's the takeaway for Canadians?  Tom looked like a Prime Minister. He talked about values, about choices. And over the next three weeks I think Canadians will increasingly be turning their attention to the question of who is ready to lead our country. Can we stand four more years of Stephen Harper? Or do we need a leader we can be proud of, who has the experience and gravitas to deliver not just on foreign policy but on all fronts.


John Capobianco:

The one thing that Mr. Mulcair displayed last night is that he is tremendously uncomfortable with his personal position vs. what he thinks he can sell to his party. Now, I will grant that he has offered a position on how to deal with Canada's security and he is sticking with it even though I believe it is totally the wrong position, as do many Canadians - which are why the NDP has stalled in the polls.

Mr. Trudeau on the other hand - and here is where I would agree with Marit - has no clue how to deal with Canada's role internationally. Regarding the government's Bill C-51, the anti terrorism bill, at first Mr. Trudeau spoke against it, then decided to vote in favour of it for fear his party would be seen as soft on protecting Canada's borders. Now, during the campaign, he is speaking as if he voted against it, as we saw in the Munk debate.

Inconsistency on issues is what voters will see and that will translate into lack of leadership. And when voters come to that conclusion about a candidate running to be PM, he will lose the election. I will grant that Mr. Trudeau's performance was much better at the Munk debate than his previous debate performance, but debate performance doesn't make a PM.  Having strong convictions, principled ideals and being able to show voters you can handle tough domestic and international issues is what makes a PM. Canadians have seen that with PM Harper over the many years. The person who can handle the economy, keep us safe from terrorists and ensure we have a country to be proud of will win this election. Stephen Harper is that person.


Bernie Farber:

John, what I saw in the debate was three leaders with three different visions. Each articulated where they saw our great nation. I would rather that we concentrate on the positive aspects than on critiquing style.

Trudeau was always clear on Bill C-51. Like most Canadians he wants the right balance. He understands that there are serious security issues but sees the danger in Harper's willingness to play the security card to erode our civil liberties. Hence the decision to vote for it with a mind to making changes that fit us better as Canadians.

In the end, Monday's debate helped Canadians see what the future may bring. Let us remember that the majority of Canadians rejected Harper's view of Canada, and if the polls are to be believed, still do. I hope that such rejection will play well in a few weeks and result in a new and enlightened Canada.





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