Overview of Canada’s public diplomacy

Canada was throughout the Cold War known as a „peacekeeper nation“ supporting liberal internationalism, honest brokerage, environmental activism and generous aid giving. The United Nation’s blue berets became synonymous with Canada’s international international role. Its public diplomacy was successful and the state had a positive image across the globe.


It all started to change in the 1990’s though. The state faced financial difficulties and due to budget cuts for military, development and diplomacy, it had to retreat from the world scene( Greenhill, 2005, p 5). Canada’s global engagement took a significant hit and it was fairing badly compared to other G-7 and medium-sized open democracies(Sweden, Australia, Netherlands, Norway, Swizerland)(Greenhill and McQuillan, 2015). Defence and development are considered as two key aspects of global engagement and, as of 2014, Canada’s global engagement was one-third lower than the average of medium-sized open democracies and 40% lower than G-7 average( Greenhill and McQuillan, 2015). Cutting down on defence and development did not put Canada’s public diplomacy in good light among its international peers. In today’s world it is important for states to support others in tackling defence and development matters. Especially for a state like Canada, who used to be an elite country dealing with aid and development.


Especially bad for public diplomacy were Stephen Harper’s years in the office(2006-2015)(Copeland, 2016). Harper brought in isolationist politics, and reduced Canada’s presence in international bodies. For example, he cut off funding to the Commonwealth Secretariat and, under him, Canada became the only nation to withdraw from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (Paris, 2014). Besides Harper failing to win Canada a Security Council seat in 2010, Canada also remained the only NATO member not to sign the Arms Trade Treaty (Paris, 2014).

When discussing global engagement and Canada’s public diplomacy, an important thing that the country is missing, is its own international news broadcasting channel. If they have been reducing their presence from the world scene, then maybe they should have thought about starting an international news channel to still present Canadian values.

There are two important domestic factors that also hindered Canadian public diplomacy. First is that its public diplomacy resources at the federal level have been scattered across several departments. For example, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s budget dwarfs DFAIT’s (Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) and this is the department who is meant to promote Canada abroad (Potter, 2009, p 18).

Another domestic issue is its federal structure. Provinces like Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have their own international agendas that they go promoting around the world. But whilst doing that, they obviously concentrate on their own values, rather than whole of Canada’s. That undermines the federal government’s efforts and puts Canada’s unity under question. Quebec has been the most active province abroad and the federal government has had many problems with the province over the years. For example, in 2004, when Quebec’s premier Jean Charest joined French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in a joint trade mission to Mexico (Potter, 2009, p 21). English speaking Canadian media was very critical over that move and saw that as undermining the country’s image. Also, they saw that as France getting an edge over other Canadian provinces, due to one of their own provinces’ actions. Unity matters seem to be a problem for Canada. The country struggles to show itself as one and the leadership over the years has not been able to fix that.



Justin Trudeau

After Harper’s years in the office and the so-called diplomatic “decade of darkness”, Canada, now under new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has started showing some recovery. His government has started re-engaging again in the world scene and he has also cleaned up Canada’s diplomatic corps. Harper’s inexperienced foreign service placings have been swapped out for 26 new ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls with foreign service experience (Proudfoot, 2016). In 2016, Trudeau visited Cuba and his Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion was in The Hague campaigning to save the International Criminal Court (Clark, 2016). Present government has also decided to take more action within NATO, troops were deployed to Syria and the Baltics to counter Russian aggression in the region (Copeland, 2016). Another positive move to boost Canada’s public diplomacy is its commitment to UN Peacekeeping missions again. Government claimed to commit up to 600 troops for future missions (Naylor, 2016). When Canada was once known for its peacekeeping efforts then, as of 2016, it sat 73rd in its contributions to peacekeeping (Naylor, 2016). In economics, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada has come out with a plan to improve Canada’s relations with the emerging centre of global economics, Asia (Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, 2016). The bar was set low for Trudeau and many of his actions to boost Canada’s image seem common sense, but that is not to take away the progressive actions he has taken. Hopefully we see Canada restore its presence among its peers in the world scene in close future.


1) Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, published in 2016, “Building Blocks For A Canada Asia Strategy”, available at https://www.asiapacific.ca/sites/default/files/filefield/asia-strategy-report-eng.pdf (accessed: 1st of March 2017)

2) Greenhill R., published in 2005, “Making a Difference: External Views on Canada’s International Impact”, available at http://idl-bnc.idrc.ca/dspace/bitstream/10625/33024/1/120694.pdf (accessed: 3rd of March 2017)

3) Greenhill R. and McQuillan M., published in 2015, “Assessing Canada’s Global Engagement Gap”, available at https://www.opencanada.org/features/canadas-global-engagement-gap/ (accessed: 4th of March 2017)

4) Clark C., published in 2016, “Trudeau’s policy of diplomatic re-engagement a step in right direction”, available at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/trudeaus-policy-of-diplomatic-re-engagement-a-step-in-right-direction/article32881985/ (accessed: 1st of March 2017)

5) Copeland D., published in 2016, “It’ll take more than smiles to reverse Canada’s dire diplomatic record, Mr. Trudeau”, available at http://ipolitics.ca/2016/01/28/itll-take-more-than-smiles-to-reverse-canadas-dire-diplomatic-record-mr-trudeau/ (accessed: 2nd of March 2017)

6) Copeland D., published in 2016, “‘Canada’s Back’ Can the Trudeau Government Resuscitate Canadian Diplomacy?”, available at http://www.guerrilladiplomacy.com/2016/08/canadas-back-can-the-trudeau-government-resuscitate-canadian-diplomacy/ (accessed: 1st of March 2017)

7) Naylor T., published in 2016, “G-20: Trudeau is Canada’s diplomatic super-weapon as it bids to stay relevant”, available at http://theconversation.com/g20-trudeau-is-canadas-diplomatic-super-weapon-as-it-bids-to-stay-relevant-60417 (accessed: 2nd of March 2017)

8) Paris R., published in 2014, “Canada’s decade of diplomatic darkness”, available at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/canadas-decade-of-diplomatic-darkness/article20745304/ ( accessed: 4th of March 2017)

9) Potter H. Evan, published in 2009, “Branding Canada: Projecting Canada’s Soft Power through Public Diplomacy”, Canada, publisher McGill-Queen’s University Press

10) Proudfoot S., published in 2016,”Why Justin Trudeau shook up Canada’s diplomatic corps”, available at http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/why-justin-trudeau-shook-up-canadas-diplomatic-corps/ (accessed: 1st of March 2017)




2 thoughts on “Overview of Canada’s public diplomacy

  1. placido16 April 11, 2017 / 12:40 pm

    An informative piece of Canada’s public diplomacy efforts, with comparisons between the last two Prime Minister’s approach to Canada’s external relations. In my opinion withdrawal from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and being a NATO member and not to signing the Arms Trade Treaty are more issues of a state’s multilateral diplomacy rather than its public diplomacy. I am also of the opinion that Roland Paris piece too subjective and could be a bit more nuanced. Nevertheless, for future posts more careful use of punctuation marks and proof reading are recommended. All in all, an interesting piece well done.


  2. icantbelievethisusernamehasbeentaken April 27, 2017 / 2:14 pm

    Very interesting blog entry ! I think this is very well-written and gives a a great view on the matter. I also enjoyed the historically chronological order, I think it helps to see the evolution. I would just suggest some reference on the Canadian civil society impact on public diplomacy, it seems to me that, excluding a brief reference to the lack of national broadcast media, your analysis focuses entirely on the government level. Some structural issues you highlighted are very interesting, when it comes to the federal nature of the government having a negative impact on the image (or lack of it) of unity, why isn’t that the case for other federal nations such as Argentina, Germany or even their southern neighbours?

    Great read !


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s