Most Canadians appreciate that our image in other countries is critical to the tourism industry.
It is extremely important that Canada be seen as an interesting, stable and peaceful country with a wide variety of attractions from natural beauty such as Banff, cultural offerings such as the Stratford Festival and important historical sites such as Quebec City.
Maintaining good diplomatic relations with other countries is critical for a number of less visible reasons as well. The commercial importance of the counter-part is the leading consideration; for example, the U.S., our largest trading partner, is a key post, as is Mexico, a member of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association), the European Community, China, Japan and several South American countries.
Another factor is adherence to specific treaties such as NATO (North American Treaty Organization). And, if a nation is an important source of immigrants, it is critical to have good diplomatic relations.
Further, if a multi-lateral organization affects Canada, its citizens and businesses, we need strong representation. This category includes the United Nations and its various agencies such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Development.
To be effective, relations with any entity require reasoned analysis of Canada's interests, a detailed understanding of the factors influencing the host country or organization, and a clear determination of the actions that can be undertaken to achieve Canadian objectives. In this process, the involvement of the government of the day to establish guidelines and overall policy objectives is critical.
This is particularly true for negotiating treaties, whether bi- or multi-lateral. An example was the Mulroney government's decision to pursue free trade with the United States.
Establishing and maintaining diplomatic relations requires a significant expenditure of funds and human resources. Providing housing abroad, making certain our embassies are secure and developing the required expertise does not come cheap. And, frequently, the positive results from such investment are incrementally accomplished over a significant time span and seldom involve major media-worthy events.
For example, the negotiation of a major trade treaty can take years.
In the majority of cases, the Canadians staffing our missions abroad are qualified professionals, but, in a few cases, the head of a post may be appointed from outside the professional diplomatic corps. This is usually dictated by the desire of the government to appoint someone who clearly has the credentials and stature necessary for a difficult task.
(There have also been a few cases where a diplomatic post appears to have been bestowed as a reward; for example, Gordon Campbell's appointment as high commissioner to the U.K. for his support of the Harper government's domestic policies.)
Until recent times, Canada has been remarkably successful in our diplomatic endeavours, with the result that discrimination against Canadian exports and business activities has been minimized, our nationals are treated with respect in most foreign countries and our voice has been heard in the development of international organizations, international laws and treaties.
Canada has gained a reputation for objectivity and honesty in the international community and has often been sought out as a facilitator of compromise and co-operation.
The Harper government is changing the focus of our foreign policy stance. A major determinant now appears to be domestic Canadian political concerns. In an attempt to secure the Jewish vote in certain key urban ridings, the government has become an ardent and uncritical supporter of all policy positions taken by the state of Israel and has recently appointed an anti-Palestinian ambassador. Similarly, the decision by the prime minister not to attend the recent Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka was apparently motivated by a desire to secure the votes of the Tamil population in Greater Toronto.
As a consequence, Canadian businesses and universities will face increasing hostility from Middle Aastern Arab nations and a loss of influence among Commonwealth members.
David Bond is an author and retired bank economist. Email: