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Five years after Trudeau promised Canada was ‘back’ on the world stage, many Canadians say we’re in the same place


Research Director, Angus Reid Institute

Cast your mind back to 2015. Yes, even last October’s election feels like eons ago, but go back one further. Justin Trudeau, freshly victorious in his pursuit of a second leadership era for his lineage, announced to Canada’s international allies a simple message: “We’re back”.

Canada’s international image had suffered, according to Trudeau, under the leadership of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This, after Harper’s priorities placed “military aid over peacekeeping, unilateralism over teamwork” and “free trade over foreign aid”. The new government was going to forge a new path and put the “Liberal” back in Canada’s foreign policy. For Trudeau, a key element of reinstating Canada’s place on the world stage, alongside this shift in approach, was a seat on the United Nations Security Council. In March 2016, five months into his first term, Trudeau announced Canada’s bid to secure one of two available temporary, two-year seats.

Trudeau had a prominent supporter in then-President Barack Obama who proclaimed in front of a parliamentary audience in 2016 that “the world needs more Canada”.

Alas, in a twist of irony, exactly one decade since the Conservative government failed in its bid for a seat, to the scathing rebuke of Liberals, the same fate befell this government, to the scathing rebuke of Conservatives.

Some have speculated that the failed bid was due to any number of reasons: being outworked by Ireland and Norway: putting forth a muddled message, having promoted a feminist foreign policy while continuing to sell arms to a Saudi Arabian regime with repressive laws toward women; or deploying historically low number of peacekeeping officers, once a hallmark of Canadian international engagement, in recent years. The cause is ultimately up for debate, but one of the results appears to be that Canadian opinion of how they are viewed by the international community is no different now than it was when Trudeau made his famous proclamation five years ago.

Same number say Canada’s image has worsened as did in 2015

Indeed, new data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds that two-in-five Canadians say their country’s international reputation has worsened over the past decade (41%). In 2015, during the campaign for the 42nd federal election, an identical number (39%) said the same about the country’s image under Prime Minister Harper. The Liberals appeared to have made some progress in 2018, as the number saying Canada’s image had improved was higher than the number who said it had worsened, but that positive opinion has now waned:

views of canada

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