Roland Paris: Threats, Allies, and Canadian Strategy


Q: What is the state of Canadian American relations and how can Canada successfully manage this relationship if current trends in U.S foreign and domestic policy continue? Should Canada look to other allies for cooperation?

Roland Paris: The United States is our closest ally and trading partner. We must make the relationship work as best as possible. 75% of our merchandise exports representing 1/5 of our GDP go to the United States. Our economy is very heavily integrated. Keeping that relationship functioning is essential for Canada’s economic security. We must focus on developing more sophisticated tools for advocating Canadian interests in the US.

During the renegotiation of the NAFTA agreement, Canada did an excellent job of both organizing domestically and reaching out to influential actors at all levels of the US political system. This sense of urgency must be sustained, because chances are that the United States is not going to return to the America that we knew a decade ago. Even if Joe Biden is elected, which would mean a significant improvement in some respects for Canada, the United States seems to be heading in the direction of greater protectionism. That impacts core Canadian interests. 

We also need to be reaching out to and cooperating more with other countries. Saudi Arabia retaliated against Canada for a statement that was made by the Canadian government about human rights activists in a Saudi jail and China retaliated against Canada for the arrest. Canada risks finding itself alone at moments like this in an increasingly turbulent and competitive international security environment. We need to work with our allies to counter challenges such as these. If China arbitrarily arrests an Australian, Australia should be able to rely on Canada and vice versa.

We also face emerging global challenges requiring cooperation between different kinds of countries, democratic or not. Canada can work and has worked in the past to mobilize groupings of countries and nongovernmental actors to tackle specific problems. One recent example has been the creation, with the European Union, of an appeals mechanism meant to replace the WTO’s appeals process. I hope we’ll see more practical cooperation like this as we continue managing the pandemic.


Q: Is a populist movement possible in Canada? To what extent should we be concerned about this phenomenon and how can we be proactive?

Roland Paris: Canada has not experienced a populist surge to the extent that some of our other partners have, but we’re not immune. We must be vigilant. Ensuring the population as a whole feels that it hasn’t been left behind during this period of great difficulty is a very important objective. We saw tremendous economic growth over the past decade that wasn’t as equally shared as it had been in previous decades in Canada. This is an issue the pandemic has exacerbated, among others. We must address grievances such as this before they fester, and people seek outlets for their frustrations through less conventional means.

Q: Canada recently lost its UNSC bid. Is Canada’s self-image out of step with reality and are we truly capable of taking on a more impactful role on the world stage?

Roland Paris: We need to get out of the habit of thinking about Canadian foreign policy in terms of our international “role” and instead focus on our effectiveness. What are we trying to accomplish? We need to be very clear about that and then devote the resources necessary in order to accomplish some specific goals. I’m making this sound easy. It is a difficult task, but not as difficult as some people think it is.

We clearly have an interest in expanding Canadian trade. Increasingly, Asia is the center of global economic growth. We must determine how to build the kinds of relationships that are necessary to accomplish our trade goals in Asia and manage challenges in the region, including China.

We have an interest in confronting global problems like climate change and public health—both transnational problems that have a direct impact on Canadians. We also have an interest in promoting the values of liberal democracy, not by imposing that system on anyone else, but by articulating its values and defending ourselves and other liberal democracies against those who seek to undermine confidence in our democratic systems. This is especially important now when there is growing ideological competition in the world.


Q: What are some of the opportunities existing in the world today or in the near future where Canada can be an effective ally or leader?

Roland Paris: Consider the issue of migration and refugees. The surge of migrants and refugees into Europe a few years ago contributed to a weakening of the European Union and a strengthening of illiberal forces within several of its countries. We have a clear interest in a stable, democratic Europe and in sustaining our alliance in NATO. This is a core aspect of transatlantic security as well as supporting and conserving values underpinning liberal democracies. In this respect, migration and refugee challenges not only represent a massive humanitarian challenge, but also have the potential to destabilize parts of the world that are of fundamental interest to Canada.

Canada could work with and help to mobilize a coalition of countries, non-governmental organizations and private organizations to address one piece of the global migration and refugee crisis. The Trudeau government’s 2019 election platform included a pledge to lead an international initiative on refugee education. We still haven’t seen what that is going to look like, but Canada is capable of assembling groups of actors to deal with specific problems such as this one.

This is just one example. The larger point is that the world is changing very quickly and we need to think anew about what really matters for Canada and how we can mobilize at home and abroad to accomplish our objectives. Leaders in Canadian governments, private sector, and elsewhere are understandably focused on getting through this unprecedented economic and health crisis. But they also need to focus on longer term shifts taking place in international affairs. We have grown used to operating in a relatively benign international environment, but that environment is becoming much less benign very quickly. 



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