Brian Topp
3 min

The foreign policy ‘debate’

The third official NDP leadership debate
took place in Quebec City this afternoon, conducted almost entirely in French.
The topic was foreign policy, and lo and behold, you can rest assured that
there was more violent agreement. (Note: If you want commentary on the quality
of the French, you’ll have to look elsewhere because I watched the English
feed, as it’s my day off and wasn’t feeling up to the more cognitive-intensive
task of listening in French while tweeting in English. Sorry.)

Despite the fact that many of the questions
were about getting the various candidates to explain why they would be the best
choice to represent the country abroad, or to describe their personal visions, they had a
tendency to stick to generalities, with a couple of exceptions – Paul Dewar
cited his previous experience as foreign affairs critic, Peggy Nash her
experience as a union negotiator, and Niki Ashton talked about how she is the voice
of her generation and is going to deal with the fallout of what is going on
right now on the world stage.

When it comes to questions of foreign
policy, there wasn’t much differentiation – more talk about peace and avoiding
conflict, a focus on development (Martin Singh went so far as to say we need to
focus on business development), climate change policy (Dewar saying that the
G20 should be the first vehicle for this policy before the UN), and free trade
is killing our jobs, so we need to focus less on sending out resources and more
on the “value-added economy.”

The token English question of the debate
was on the future of the Canadian Forces and any military deployments under a
future NDP government. The consensus again was largely about peacekeeping. While
most of them burnished their support for the troops with tales of veterans in
their families (Singh is an active member of the Forces), saying they want the
best equipment for our Forces – ostensibly to protect them during peacekeeping
missions – the focus remained on keeping Canada out of combat. Ashton went so
far as to say that she wants to keep our troops at home and away from foreign
wars that have nothing to do with us (because it’s not like we live in a global
community where events that happen halfway across the planet can still have a
direct bearing on us or anything). Brian Topp offered the contradictory notion
that he wants the Forces to no longer be an expeditionary force – but still engage
in peacekeeping. Also, everyone seemed pretty keen on the notion that the
Sherbrooke Declaration was the key to winning Quebec in the last election.

There were two “question period” rounds in
this debate, which was again where the differences started to emerge, but once
again in a very limited fashion. While Thomas Mulcair and Niki Ashton lobbed kitten-soft
questions at one another, there was still some tension between Topp, Mulcair
and Singh on taxation issues, but there remained the pile-up on Nathan Cullen
over his joint nominations proposal. There was also a smaller pile-up on Dewar
over his appointment of Charlie Angus – a unilingual anglophone Ontarian – as
his putative deputy leader and what a horrible message that sent out to women
and Quebeckers. Dewar had Nash affirm her support for public healthcare, but if
Quebec wants to raise fees, she said, she would respect their provincial

So really, that was it. I’m not sure that
the debate really illuminated too much more about the candidates, other than
the fact that Ashton is completely clueless about foreign policy and the role
of international development. (Incidentally, she dropped most of her talk of “new politics” in favour of talk about her generation.) I’m also not sure that
Cullen was able to successfully fend off the criticism of his joint nomination
proposals, but I guess that will be up to the membership to decide.

The next debate is in two weeks, coming
from Winnipeg on the topic of connecting with the regions. I’m sure it’ll be as
scintillating as today’s was.

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