It is now apparent that because of questionable comments on Twitter by the Foreign Ministry, Canada now faces another impending trade war with a major trading partner. In response to the tweets, the Saudis have chosen to cut all new trade agreements and future economic investment. Students have also been ordered to leave the country, ambassadors are being recalled and any future meddling from Canada will have to deal with further Saudi backlash, a backlash which would undeniably have negative effects on the Canadian economy.
While perhaps the Foreign Minister was hoping for international condemnation to the Kingdom’s response, Canada finds itself alone in this predicament. Both the US and the EU have chosen to defer any outright statement on the matter, possibly because of the ongoing dispute around the Iran deal. As pointed out in another article on The Post Millennial, it is very likely that Justin Trudeau’s decision to re-establish ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran, might have had something to do with the quick reaction by Saudi Arabia.
Since this international conflict will have a real domestic effect on Canada, the opposition needs to take charge in guiding Canada towards an appropriate response that navigates the thin line between condemnation and international diplomacy. Since Sunday’s diplomatic dispute, the opposition has bided its time in responding to the affair.
Since taking on the role as Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Scheer has been relatively careful with his positions on foreign affairs, choosing instead to keep the government accountable on it’s domestic policies. However on Iran, Scheer has been clear on his opposition to the Prime Minister’s strategy of cooperation. In a December 2017 Facebook post, Andrew Scheer said of the widespread protests taking place in Iran:
“Canada's Conservatives stand with the people of Iran and their pleas for basic human rights in the face of one of the world's most corrupt dictatorships”.
Several months later in May, the opposition leader railed against the Prime Minister’s refusal to take a stand on the Iran-Israel conflict tweeting
“Iranian aggression against Israel — a steadfast Canadian ally and a democratic stronghold in the Middle East — must not be tolerated. Canada’s Conservatives support Israel’s right to defend itself and its people.”
The first Conservative response to the Saudi dispute came from outspoken Calgary MP Michelle Rempel earlier this afternoon. In a series of tweets, the MP pointed out the Liberal inconsistency in its approach to human rights violations. Three tweets particularly addressed the issue. The first pointed out the silence of the Trudeau government on the UN appointment of Saudi Arabia to the Commission on the Status of Women. The second, touched upon the aforementioned support of the Iranian regime. While the third, pointed out how the Liberals defeated a Conservative motion to declare ISIS atrocities against religious minorities as genocide.
Rempel’s tweets are correct in their understanding that there are three issues at stake regarding Canada’s response to Saudi aggression: human rights, diplomacy and trade. The Liberals are especially slacking on the latter two. Diplomatic trips and trade agreements have been an area where Trudeau has consistently blundered and the Conservatives know it. The opposition needs to emphasize its ability to mend these mistakes and propose tangible solutions.
There are several options facing Scheer in the coming months regarding the Saudi problem and they are all risky. The opposition cannot be seen as avoiding the issue, hoping to not make any mistakes going into next year’s election, as it will be a real problem any future Canadian government has to face. Next, Scheer can’t be seen as being pro-Saudi. It is likely that many will criticize the Conservatives based on former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. A deal which the Saudi’s viewed as being favorable to Canada, as they had many other possible sellers to acquire from. Lastly, Scheer cannot pragmatically alienate the Saudi’s until there are avenues to mitigate potential economic downturns resulting from reduced trade.
It is likely that Andrew Scheer’s comments around the pipeline and “ethical oil” will influence his eventual stance on Saudi Arabia. By focusing on the domestic debate around the pipeline and energy independence, the opposition might mitigate further economic backlash. Without the economic bargaining chip of oil independence Canada will be hard pressed to respond effectively to Saudi grandstanding.