OTTAWA — Michael Ignatieff is casting himself as an international statesman who would reassert Canada’s role on the world stage as a peacekeeper, honest broker and poverty fighter.
The Liberal leader contrasted his approach to that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom he excoriated for undermining Canada’s international stature.
“Under this government, Canada is becoming a country that dares not speak its name,” Ignatieff said Monday in a speech to the Canadian Club in Ottawa.
With a possible fall election looming, Ignatieff’s decision to focus on foreign policy privately struck some Liberals as odd. Elections tend to turn on domestic bread-and-butter issues, such as the beleaguered economy.
But Liberal strategists see foreign policy as a strength for Ignatieff and a way to counter Conservative ads that the former academic is “just visiting” Canada after working for more than 30 years abroad.
During the post-war era, Ignatieff said, Canadians made a name for themselves as “the world’s leading peacekeepers.”
And, under Liberal and Conservative prime ministers, he said Canada engaged China, fought apartheid, and spearheaded international efforts to end poverty in Africa.
All that, he maintained, ended when Harper took the helm.
“The Conservatives are giving up Canada’s place in the world,” he said.
“We have a prime minister who thinks so little of foreign affairs that he changes foreign ministers the way he changes shirts. We’ve had four in just three-and-a-half years.”
While he waxed enthusiastic Monday about peacekeepers’ blue helmets being “an emblem of our identity,” Conservatives pointed out that only four years ago Ignatieff argued that Canada has been trading on an “entirely bogus reputation as peacekeepers” for 40 years.
“If you are a human rights defender and you want something done to stop (a) massacre, you have to to the Pentagon (in the U.S.) because no one else is serious,” Ignatieff said following a 2005 lecture at the University of Dublin’s Trinity College.
In Monday’s speech, Ignatieff vowed to restore Canada’s stature on the world stage with a foreign policy agenda that would see Canada champion expansion of the G8 to include countries in the G20. That would include emerging economic superpowers China and India, with whom Ignatieff promised closer ties.
He also vowed to restore Team Canada trade missions abroad that began under former prime minister Jean Chretien.
And he said he’d fight to counter protectionist forces in the United States, appoint a high-level envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, assert sovereignty in the Arctic, and make ending poverty in Africa a priority once again.
With nearly 20 per cent of Canadians born in another country and about two million working abroad at any given time, Ignatieff said Canada is ideally suited to become “one of the most international societies on earth.”
Instead of celebrating that fact, Ignatieff said parochial Tories insinuate — through their attacks on him — that “someone who has lived overseas is somehow less of a Canadian.”
“We should be more international, not less. More open to the world, not less. More adventurous, not less.”