“Getting back in the game”

Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations (UN) and Laurier alumnus, spoke at CIGI this past Thursday on Canadian foreign policy as part of a promotion for his new book, Getting Back in the Game: A Foreign Policy Playbook for Canada.

“The book is for people who are interested in Canadian foreign policy but don’t spend their lives studying it,” said Heinbecker.
Heinbecker told his audience the story of how he entered a lifelong career in the foreign service.

As a young student at Wilfrid Laurier in the 1960s, he was walking through the corridors at the University one night and came across a room with a sign on it titled “Foreign Service Exam.” He walked in, took the test, and was drafted into a career of diplomacy.

After numerous postings in Canadian embassies abroad, Heinbecker served as former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Chief Foreign Policy Advisor in 1989.

All of this accumulated knowledge about Canadian diplomacy and foreign relations resulted in his new book, which addresses the question of, “has Canada lost its place in the world?”

Despite Canada having recently lost its bid for the UN Security Council, Heinbecker remains very optimistic about Canada, referring to its high-ranking education system and excellent ability to integrate foreigners into Canadian society as some reasons why Canada is still a model for the rest of the world.

In addition, Heinbecker argued that Canada does not get the credit it deserves— whether it is at Normandy in World War One or in the current situation with Afghanistan.

Heinbecker reasoned, “Personal diplomacy led by the Prime Minister is vital [to Canadian] diplomacy.” Noting that Canadians elect leaders with minimal foreign policy experience, he said, “Steven Harper hadn’t even left the continent when he came into office.”

Losing the Security Council seat for the first time since the creation of the UN is troubling for Canada as “the UN is too important to ignore.” Heinbecker blamed a general withdrawal from diplomacy for the loss.
He argued that Canada has carried out ineffectual and often offensive policies over the recent years, exemplified by closing the border on 250,000 Mexicans as part of the new visa requirements last year.

“We’ve left the impression that we’re not very interested in these relationships and international relations,” Heinbecker explained. “The world is changing, we’re not in charge of the world, the United States is not in charge of the world. We live in a multipolar world now.”
Heinbecker maintained that Canada could remedy the situation by re-evaluating and pursuing policies that demonstrate respect for international law and fair-mindedness.

Heinbecker is a distinguished fellow at CIGI and Inaugural Director of the Laurier University Centre for Global Relations.