External Relations

To a great extent, the history of Canada's external relations is the history of the development of a British colony into an independent nation within the COMMONWEALTH. Colonial foreign relations were normally controlled by the mother country.

The Post-Confederation Era

The colonies that united in CONFEDERATION were essentially self-governing in internal affairs. Nevertheless, the BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT which effected the union said nothing about external relations. It was assumed that those relations were virtually the exclusive concern of the UK. The authorities conducting Canada's business with the US were the GOVERNOR GENERAL, the British minister in Washington and the foreign secretary in London. The governor general consulted his Canadian ministers and transmitted their views to London; but final authority rested with the British government.

The Canadian government acquired influence over the relationship only gradually. An important landmark was the Treaty of WASHINGTON in 1871, which liquidated dangerous issues between Britain and the US left over from the AMERICAN CIVIL WAR. The British government nominated as one of its 5 negotiators Prime Minister Sir John A. MACDONALD. This recognized both Canada's growing status and its concern with the issues; but Macdonald was present as a British plenipotentiary, not as a representative of his country.

Macdonald had serious disagreements with his British associates, particularly over the Atlantic fisheries. Although unhappy over this aspect of the treaty, he signed it; and the treaty was in fact advantageous to Canada, simply because it restored friendly relations between the British Empire and the US.

In 1874 the Liberal government of Alexander MACKENZIE prevailed on Britain to accredit George BROWN (along with the British minister in Washington) to seek a RECIPROCITY treaty similar to that of 1854, which the US had terminated in 1866. Macdonald and his colleagues had tried for this in 1871, without success. Brown failed likewise. Macdonald, on returning to power in September 1878, enacted the NATIONAL POLICY. Tariff reciprocity with the US continued to be a Canadian goal, but successive American administrations gave no encouragement. Trade policy remained Canada's most persistent problem with the US, with fishery troubles a close second.

In 1880, with Britain's reluctant consent, Sir Alexander Galt was appointed Canadian high commissioner in London. In 1882 a commissaire général was appointed in Paris; he doubled as a representative of Québec until 1912. He had no diplomatic status. No further development of Canadian representation abroad took place until after WWI.

Imperial Relations

In the latter part of Queen Victoria's reign, British anti-imperialism (reflected in the withdrawal of British garrisons from central Canada in 1870-71) had given place to its opposite. In Canada, IMPERIALISM gave an outlet to growing NATIONALISM and the desire to play an expanding part in the world. When British General C.G. Gordon was cut off in Khartoum in 1884, there was considerable demand in Canada for a contingent to go to the Sudan. Macdonald deliberately damped this down. But when Britain sought to raise at its own expense a body of Canadian voyageurs to help a rescue expedition surmount the cataracts of the Nile (seeNILE EXPEDITION), no objection was made.

The beginning of the SOUTH AFRICAN WAR in 1899 raised more serious questions. Sir Wilfrid LAURIER's Liberals were now in power in Canada. Québec, the citadel of Laurier's political authority, was largely unmoved by the imperial enthusiasm of other provinces. On the question of contributing a contingent, Cabinet was deeply divided. Ultimately, Laurier was forced by the majority to send a battalion of volunteers. Further contingents followed.

Reciprocity, Boundary Disputes and the Naval Controversy

Relations with the US continued to turn largely on commercial policy. In 1888 the Laurier Liberals had adopted "Unrestricted Reciprocity"; on it they fought and lost the election of 1891, Macdonald's last. Thereafter the Liberals abandoned unrestricted reciprocity and, death having removed Macdonald from the scene in 1891, were elected, in 1896. Laurier's government would come to grief, in due course, over reciprocity, but meanwhile he had to confront the ALASKA BOUNDARY DISPUTE, the last great boundary dispute between Canada and the US. This old controversy acquired new importance during the KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH.

The handling of the question by US President Theodore Roosevelt aroused bitter resentment in Canada, as did the behaviour of British representative Lord Alverstone, who, when the tribunal on the matter met, voted with the Americans. Nevertheless, as with the Treaty of Washington, this settlement served Canada's paramount interest by removing an obstacle to friendly relations between the empire and the US.

Canada's relationship with the empire found a focus in the series of COLONIAL AND IMPERIAL CONFERENCES, the first of which was held in London in 1887. During Lord Salisbury's Conservative government (1895-1902), the colonial secretary was the energetic Joseph Chamberlain, who envisaged an empire more organized and centralized than the informal affair that had grown up.

In Laurier he met a determined defender of the status quo. Sir Wilfrid regularly declared that Canada was well satisfied with things as they were and had no demands to make; it had its autonomy and, he more than hinted, intended to keep it. After the turn of the century, the menace presented by the growing German navy led to demands both in Canada and in Britain for some Canadian naval assistance. Sir Wilfrid's ultimate response was not a contribution to the Royal Navy but an autonomous Canadian navy, provided for by the NAVAL SERVICE ACT of 1910.

The general election of 1911 turned to an unprecedented extent on questions of external policy. Any naval policy was unpopular in Québec. Robert Laird BORDEN, the Conservative leader, played down the issue during the campaign, not wishing to expose divisions among his supporters. Meanwhile, the Naval Service Act did Laurier much harm in Québec.

Elsewhere the paramount issue was reciprocity with the US. The agricultural West had been pressing for freer trade, and there was similar agitation in the US. The result had been the 1911 reciprocity agreement which provided for free trade in a wide range of agricultural products and a limited number of manufactured goods. Violent nationalistic opposition developed against this measure; manufacturers assailed it as a menace to Canadian industry, and it was claimed that it would open the door to political union with the US. Laurier lost the election, and Borden became prime minister.

The predominantly British province of Ontario now succeeded Québec as the main seat of the government's political power, and external policy reflected this fact. Borden was as much of a nationalist as Laurier, though his nationalism found different expression. Where Laurier had sought to stand aside from imperial entanglements, and had asserted no claim to influence in the imperial system, Borden was prepared to participate but attempted to exact a price. In England in 1912 he told British statesmen that Canadians would now expect "a voice" in the formation of imperial policy. When later that year he proposed that Canada should contribute 3 battleships to the RN, he clearly expected a quid pro quo in the form of such influence. Britain's Liberal government was loath to commit itself; and the Canadian Senate (still controlled by the Liberals) rejected Borden's naval bill.

World War I and Its Aftermath

Everything changed with the outbreak of WORLD WAR I. Canada was united behind the decision of Borden's government to give full support to Britain and to dispatch a CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE. There was now a stronger argument than ever before for a Canadian "voice" in the making of policy; but British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith still had nothing to offer.

In December 1916 Asquith fell and David Lloyd George became prime minister. Lloyd George realized that the Dominions could not be expected to continue making sacrifices without being called to Britain's councils. He therefore summoned an Imperial War Cabinet and an Imperial War Conference, which first met in March 1917, and between them discussed both the conduct of the war and imperial matters generally.

In April 1917 the conference passed Resolution IX, largely Borden's work, which placed on record the opinion that any postwar readjustment of constitutional relations "should be based upon a full recognition of the Dominions as autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth," and should give the Dominions and India "an adequate voice in foreign policy." The word COMMONWEALTH would increasingly be used thereafter to describe the self-governing (later independent) part of the British Empire.

There was a second series of sessions of the Imperial War Cabinet and War Conference in 1918, in which Borden was active; and in 1919 the Imperial War Cabinet in effect became the British Empire Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. Largely as a result of Borden's insistence, the Dominions were accorded what amounted to dual representation at the conference: as nations in their own right, along with other small Allied nations, and as units of the British Empire.

In both capacities Canada signed the Treaty of VERSAILLES and became a member of the LEAGUE OF NATIONS, whose covenant was part of the treaty. Thus the country acquired a new international status, won by its soldiers on the battlefield and confirmed by its statesmen's pertinacity at the conference table.

A small Department of External Affairs (seeFOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE) had been instituted by statute in 1909, principally to ensure the businesslike conduct of the country's external concerns. In 1912 an amendment made the prime minister also secretary of state for external affairs - an arrangement that lasted until 1946.

For many years the department's most important official was Loring C. CHRISTIE, appointed by Borden in 1913 with the title of legal adviser. He was Borden's confidential assistant at the Imperial War Cabinet and the Peace Conference, and a major contributor to the national achievements of the period. When in July 1920 Borden retired and Arthur MEIGHEN became prime minister, Christie remained as Meighen's trusted adviser.

Meighen represented Canada at the Imperial Conference of 1921. This conference proceeded on the general assumption that it was desirable that the empire should pursue a common foreign policy arrived at by consultation. Difficulties arose, however, over the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese alliance. Meighen, influenced by Christie, argued that the alliance constituted a serious obstacle to amicable relations with the US, so vital to the empire and particularly to Canada; whereas Australia regarded the alliance as important to its security.

A disastrous break was avoided by Lloyd George's diplomatic tactics; at the subsequent Washington Conference of 1922 (attended by Borden and Christie), the alliance was abandoned, to be replaced by a 4-power treaty signed by Britain, the US, Japan and France, which agreed to respect one another's rights and possessions in the Pacific. This conference was the last important occasion when a British Empire delegation functioned as a unit at an international negotiation.

In the December 1921 general election Meighen was defeated by Mackenzie KING's Liberals. Although external policy was not an ostensible issue, in fact 1921 marks a reversal even more striking than that of 1911. The Liberals took every one of Québec's 65 seats in the Commons, and it was inevitable that King's policies should be tailored accordingly. In 1921 Québec was strongly isolationist; the war and CONSCRIPTION had left deep marks. The result was the abandonment of unified diplomacy in partnership with the other countries of the Commonwealth, and the substitution of a separate national external policy.

At Paris, Canada had been recognized both as a member country of the British Empire and as a separate nation; King's policies consistently emphasized the latter aspect at the expense of the former. Symbolically, Christie was frozen out of the Department of External Affairs in 1923. His successor as the prime minister's confidential adviser was O.D. SKELTON, who became undersecretary in 1925 and held that appointment until his death in 1941.

Skelton was not the deviser of King's policies, which were well developed before Skelton joined him, nor were their opinions exactly the same. King was an admirer of British institutions and practices, and always considered, unlike Skelton, that in another world war Canada would have to stand by Britain. But King and Skelton entirely agreed in rejecting a common foreign policy for the Commonwealth and maintaining that in normal conditions Canada and the UK should pursue their own national policies.

At the Imperial Conference of 1923 King made it clear to Britain that he had no intention of maintaining Borden's policies. In his memoranda for King, Skelton gave no recognition to the nationalistic aspect of the Canadian Conservative proceedings of 1911 to 1921, and even avoided mention of Resolution IX of the Imperial War Conference; he represented those events as, in effect, a centralizing British plot.

The CHANAK AFFAIR of 1922, with its bungled British request for a Canadian expeditionary force, had provided only too convincing a background for King's attitude. And he had given a striking example of his view of policy when in March 1923 he insisted that the HALIBUT TREATY with the US be signed by Canada alone, without the traditional participation of the British ambassador. He was delighted when the 1923 Imperial Conference accepted this procedure as normal.

Under King, Canada achieved separate diplomatic representation in Washington. An arrangement for this had in fact been made in Borden's time, but no action had been taken. In 1927 Vincent MASSEY became the first Canadian minister to the US. Legations were opened in France in 1928 and in Japan in 1929. Early in 1939 missions were established in Belgium and the Netherlands (served by the same minister); this was the extent of Canadian representation abroad before WWII.

Canada's relations with the League of Nations began at Paris in 1919 with an effort to weaken Article 10 of the Covenant, which bound members to defend the territorial integrity and independence of all other members. Successive Canadian governments continued to fight against this article (especially unpopular in Québec) until 1923, when a resolution leaving to each member the decision as to how far it was bound to use force in fulfilment of Article 10 failed of the necessary unanimous support in the Assembly by only one vote, thus doing damage to the idea that international security was now a collective responsibility. In 1927 Canada was elected to a nonpermanent seat on the League Council, with the reluctant assent of King, who feared unnecessary commitments and complications.

The Statute of Westminster

The Imperial Conference of 1926 resulted in a formal widening of Dominion autonomy. South Africa insisted on a definition of Britain's relation with the Dominions. The result was the BALFOUR REPORT, which led to the 1931 STATUTE OF WESTMINSTER giving the Dominions complete legislative independence so far as they desired it. In Canada's case this stopped short of the right to amend its own constitution, the core of which was found in the 1867 British North America Act.

This reservation was the result of pressure from Ontario and Québec. It ceased to be operative only as a result of the CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982. The word "independence" is not found in the Statute of Westminster. King would not hear of it in the discussions of 1926; but Canada's independence may be said to date from that statute (11 December 1931).

By this time the GREAT DEPRESSION had brought the Conservatives, led by R.B. BENNETT, to power in the 28 July 1930 election. Bennett, motivated by the desperate state of the economy, raised the tariff, primarily as retaliation against the US's new Hawley-Smoot tariff, though rates for British imports into Canada were also raised. At the Imperial Conference of 1930 he made a dramatic gesture, inviting the delegates to a special economic conference at Ottawa and proposing, not a general reduction of imperial rates, but a 10% increase in rates levied against countries outside the Commonwealth.

British politicians saw how little the offer was worth; nevertheless, the Imperial Economic Conference finally met at Ottawa in 1932 (seeOTTAWA AGREEMENTS) amid hopes that something might be done to alleviate the Depression. Bennett, theoretically an imperialist, was in fact an economic nationalist of the first order. The Anglo-Canadian trade agreement made at the conference contained some concessions on both sides. But the achievement was much less than optimists had hoped, and there was ill will between British and Canadian negotiators.

As the general election of 1935 approached, the world situation was threatening. Hitler had come to power in Germany in 1933, Japan was engaged in aggression against China, and Italy was preparing to attack Ethiopia. The League of Nations' effort to restrain Italy led to apprehension of an Anglo-Italian war, and Britain and France - and Canada too - scurried away from taking concerted action to save Ethiopia.

After the election of 14 October 1935 returned the Liberals to power, Prime Minister King adopted a policy of economic conciliation, putting an end to a trade war with Japan and (more important) reaching a trade agreement with the US - an object Bennett had lately pursued without success. King's cautious policy as the danger of war in Europe grew, much criticized as pusillanimous, was to be justified by the fact that Canada entered WWII a united country.

After WORLD WAR II King was careful as ever, apprehensive of the growing American influence in Canadian affairs, hostile as ever to imperial centralization, and tending to resist the increasing involvement of Canada in world affairs. Nevertheless, by 1945 Canada was an economic and military power of some considerable size. The Department of External Affairs was expanding and its diplomats were internationalists who did not reject external involvement as so many Canadians of the 1920s and 1930s had. A sense was emerging in the French and English media and in the population at large that Canada, because of its wartime sacrifices, was owed a share in international decision-making and that the Great Powers would completely disregard the country if it was unrepresented in international councils. Canadians were finally ready to take on an active role in the world.

In 1946 the office of secretary of state for external affairs was finally separated from that of prime minister, the first secretary of state under the new regime being Louis ST-LAURENT. King's own retirement from politics in November 1948 was the end of an era.

O.D. Skelton's best legacy to the Department of External Affairs had been the group of able civil servants he recruited beginning in 1927, notably L.B. PEARSON, Norman ROBERTSON and Hume WRONG. The professional standard established by these men and their colleagues was a great asset to a country beginning to make its way in diplomacy. Robertson became undersecretary in 1941, succeeding Skelton, and Pearson succeeded Robertson in 1946. When St-Laurent was about to become prime minister, Pearson entered Cabinet as secretary of state for external affairs.

Canada and the United Nations

Canada took a strong interest in the UNITED NATIONS, the successor institution to the League of Nations, right from the UN's founding conference in San Francisco in 1945. When faith in the UN's effectiveness was undermined by the COLD WAR between the Soviet Union and the West, Canada not only accepted but even advocated the idea of a western regional union for collective defence, and signed the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949. As a result, Canadian military units were sent to Europe in 1951 to serve under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). During the same period the Canadian government (somewhat reluctantly) dispatched a brigade group to fight under UN command in the KOREAN WAR. These commitments led to large increases in Canada's ARMED FORCES.

Joining NATO marked a turning point in Canadian policy. Traditionally, Canada had been loath to accept commitments either to Britain or the US individually; it was easier to accept commitments to an organization of which both were members. It was becoming clear, however, that the war had greatly weakened Britain's world position; that confrontation between the superpowers, the capitalist US and the communist USSR was now the dominant fact of the international situation (seeMIDDLE POWER); and that relations with the American neighbour eclipsed all other Canadian external problems.

Commonwealth and Peacekeeping

As Britain gave up its imperial obligations, the Commonwealth became increasingly multiracial, a development that the Canadian government encouraged. The new polity was severely strained in 1956 by the SUEZ CRISIS, when Britain and France made a military attack on Egypt following Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal Co. The UN, including the US, condemned the aggression, which was also strongly reprobated by the nonwhite Commonwealth countries. Canada abstained from voting on a resolution demanding a cease-fire and Anglo-French withdrawal, but proposed an international PEACEKEEPING force to supervise the cessation of hostilities. The Commonwealth stayed together, and L.B. Pearson received the Nobel Peace Prize for his peace initiatives. Canada was at the height of its diplomatic influence.

An electoral upset on 10 June 1957 brought the Progressive Conservatives under John DIEFENBAKER to power. During his period in power, until 1963, foreign relations turned largely on the military connection with the US. At the very beginning, accepting a proposal that had been before their predecessors, the new government associated Canada with the US in the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD).

Diefenbaker's personal relations with President John F. Kennedy (1961-63) were poor (seeCUBAN MISSILE CRISIS), and there was trouble over whether or not Canada should accept nuclear weapons (seeBOMARC MISSILE CRISIS). Early in 1963 Pearson, now Opposition leader, reversing his earlier stand, advocated accepting them in order to carry out obligations to the US. Diefenbaker's vacillations led to resignations from his Cabinet, and finally to the government's defeat.

Under Pearson, leader of the new minority government, CANADIAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS were less acerbic than under Diefenbaker, but US participation in the Vietnam War caused a good many Canadians to question the morality and good sense of the Americans. A positive development of 1965 was the so-called Autopact (seeCANADA-US AUTOMOTIVE PRODUCTS AGREEMENT) providing for free trade between the 2 countries in motor cars and parts, one result of which was that large numbers of cars were produced in Canada for sale in the US.

The large lines of Canadian policy changed little under Pearson, who had done so much to lay them down. The lesson the generation that had fought WWII had drawn from its experience - that security could be best ensured by the Western nations being united and strong - was still accepted.

With Pearson's retirement in 1968 and his replacement by Pierre TRUDEAU, there was a change of atmosphere. Trudeau was not, like Pearson, a member of the Ottawa establishment, and he had played no part in the war. The PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE became more important and the Department of External Affairs less influential. In 1969 there was a drastic reduction in the armed forces and a considerable reduction in the foreign service.

The cut in military strength certainly contributed to a decline in Canadian diplomatic influence, though this had already been in progress as the result of the postwar recovery of France and West Germany. In 1970 a series of government pamphlets entitled Foreign Policy for Canadiansdefined Canada's goals: to "foster economic growth, safeguard sovereignty and independence, work for peace and security, promote social justice, enhance the quality of life, [and] ensure a harmonious natural environment." These high-sounding phrases seemed to traditional diplomatists hardly a practicable basis for foreign policy, and some feared that, taken with the measures of 1969, they were harbingers of a new isolationism. "Mr. Trudeau meet Mr. King," said one commentator.

Canadian-American Economic Relations

Economic relations with the US provided the worst problems of the Trudeau era. There was considerable popular anti-Americanism, sparked by resentment of US influence (though FOREIGN INVESTMENT had been welcomed in earlier times) and by continuing dislike of the Vietnam adventure, which terminated only in 1973. Energy problems following a crisis caused by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973-74 were a violent irritant, particularly in view of the domination of the Canadian oil market by American companies.

In the autumn of 1980 the Trudeau government announced the National Energy Program, one objective of which was at least 50% Canadian ownership of oil and gas production by 1990. This almost coincided with the election of US President Ronald Reagan, and to his conservative Republican administration the NEP, much hated by the US oil companies, was an object of hostility. So was another Trudeau institution, the FOREIGN INVESTMENT REVIEW AGENCY, which began to monitor foreign investment in Canada in 1974.

Before WWII Canada had 2 great trading partners, Britain and the US. Exports to Britain exceeded imports; with the US the situation was the reverse. After the war, Canada's British market never wholly revived. In recent years Japan has been Canada's second-largest trading partner. The US dominated the Canadian trading scene as never before. Canadian commercial policy has been influenced in the direction of freer trade by adherence to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, first drawn up in 1947 and modified since.

Free Trade

One of the prominent pledges of Brian MULRONEY's Conservatives, overwhelmingly elected to power in September 1984, was to "refurbish" the relationship with the US, bruised by the many disputes of Trudeau's last term. Mulroney cultivated President Reagan, and the 2 leaders' affinity was emphasized during Reagan's visit to Québec City (the so-called "Shamrock Summit") in March 1985. The new attitude appeared in the abandonment of the National Energy Program and the weakening of the Foreign Investment Review Agency, now to be called Investment Canada.

Mulroney and Reagan agreed to seek a comprehensive FREE TRADE agreement with the US. Teams from the 2 countries began negotiations, but 16 months of discussion failed to produce the desired result. At the last moment, just before a deadline set by the US Congress, the intervention of Cabinet-level negotiators from both countries brought about an "agreement in principle" (3 October 1987), within minutes of a deadline set by the US Congress. Even then negotiations continued, and the document was modified in certain particulars before it was finally published on 11 December 1987.

The complicated arrangement, which included a declaration that all bilateral tariffs between Canada and the US would be eliminated in the course of 10 years, had a mixed reception in Canada. Business interests in general favoured it, organized labour opposed it; the West was broadly though not unanimously - owing to Manitoba's resistance - favourable. The Québec government supported it and Atlantic Canada seemed uncertain about it, but Ontario was officially hostile.

The 1988 federal election was fought on the issue of free trade. Although polls showed that a majority of Canadians opposed the measure, the antifree trade vote was split and Mulroney won a decisive victory. He formed a new government and had put free trade legislation through Parliament by year's end. In 1993, just before Mulroney left power, the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was extended to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the inclusion of Mexico.

The Mulroney administration was enthusiastic about multilateral activity through such institutions as the Group of Seven leading industrialized countries (G-7) and the Organization of American States, which Canada joined in 1990 after decades of remaining outside that organization. In the aftermath of the Cold War, the government argued powerfully for an activist and even muscular UN, supporting efforts to drive Iraq out of Kuwait in 1990-91 and in peacekeeping endeavours around the world, some of which (as in Cambodia, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia) went far beyond the traditional role of monitoring ceasefire lines with the consent of all the former belligerents. Mulroney and his longtime external affairs minister, former Prime Minister Joe CLARK, were also vocal in defence of international human rights and were in the forefront of the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

The Role of Economics

Economics shape Canadian diplomacy to a remarkable extent. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (previously External Affairs) houses both a foreign minister and a trade minister while a major review of foreign policy published in 1995 placed employment, prosperity and economic growth at the centre of Canadian priorities. Prime Minister Jean CHRÉTIEN (1993- ) led, not peace missions as Trudeau had done in 1983-84 at a time of heightened Soviet-American tensions, but huge trade missions (dubbed "Team Canada") to places like Asia and Latin America. Foreign direct investment totalled $150 billion in 1995 and 37% of the Gross Domestic Product was generated by trade.

As resources and budgets dwindle, cuts abound. In 1995 the finance minister announced a reduction of official development assistance expenditures of 20.5% over 3 years, so that aid to poorer countries is projected to tumble to 0.29% of GDP by 1997-98, far short of the government's goal of 0.7%. By 1998-99, it is expected that the Department of Foreign Affairs will have slashed its budget 10 times over 10 years, to the tune of some $300 million. At the same time, contributions to international organizations like the UN soar, further diminishing the moneys available for discretionary spending on foreign affairs.