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Robert Murray: With global threats rising, Canada’s lazy foreign policy is a growing vulnerability

Commentary

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven home what many have observed for over a decade: the structure of the international order is changing. The rise of new powers and the ongoing decline of American power require the realignment and reassessment of international and national security strategies for states and institutions alike. Indeed, given the rapid evolution of threats, the evolving world order promises to be both complex and unstable.

For decades, however, Canada has allowed itself to become seemingly lazy on the global stage. By being so closely associated geographically, economically, politically, and culturally with the United States as the lone global superpower after the Cold War, Canada allowed its international strategy to become more focused on domestic political consumption than on substantive global engagement. This decline, despite warnings from observers and experts, has been largely ignored by Canadians, who have traditionally shown little interest in Canadian foreign policy, even at times of global crisis. 

Canada has put itself in a position where it does not have an international strategy through which to navigate this changed, more uncertain world. There is no clear definition of Canada’s national interests, meaning Canada has no discernable goals to pursue globally. Canada has not been able to consistently present or use effective tactics to pursue its interests or goals, and its preferences for what it wants to influence internationally remain ambiguous at best. Further, Canada has no vision or plan to protect its national defence in the face of emerging and evolving threats, making the country vulnerable domestically and globally.

Beyond not having an international strategy, Canada’s actions and behaviours on the global stage in recent years have sent an important, decidedly unhelpful, message to the global community—that Canada is more interested in a foreign policy focused on public relations, photo opportunities, and soundbites than substance. Whether it is the ongoing disinterest in achieving NATO spending targets,Military expenditure (% of GDP) – Canada https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS?locations=CA empty rhetoric from the prime minister or foreign affairs minister, a futile campaign for a UN Security Council seat, or largely ignoring core strategic interests like Canada’s Arctic,Canada must do more to protect its sovereignty in the Arctic https://thehub.ca/2022-03-01/canada-must-do-more-to-protect-its-sovereignty-in-the-arctic/ Canada is widely seen by other states as adrift on the world stage with no plan for getting on track to be a serious contributor to the rules-based order.

The prospect of a bipolar international structure, with two superpowers dominating international politics, is not something unfamiliar to Canada. Throughout the Cold War years, Canada defined, developed, and executed an international strategy and foreign policy that saw Canada forge an independent path in the world while enjoying the protection of its deep relationship with the United States in the West’s conflict with the Soviet Union. 

Canada’s conscious effort to make international strategy evolved into what became known as “middlepowermanship,”Middle Power Diplomacy in International Relations https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9781137381767_2?noAccess=true which involved leveraging its political, diplomatic, and economic capabilities while overcoming its lack of military power to pursue unique global opportunities. And Canada’s historical foreign policy proved highly successful. One of the country’s best-known and most effective tactics was multilateralism, which allowed a middle power like Canada to enhance its relative power position by working with other states and institutional arrangements to pursue national interests, such as through the United Nations and NATO.

We are witnessing a return to a bipolar international structure, one dominated by the United States and China.‘An increasingly intense rivalry’: Foreign policy expert Aaron Friedberg on why decoupling from China is a costly but necessary decision https://thehub.ca/2022-06-21/an-increasingly-intense-rivalry-foreign-policy-expert-aaron-friedberg-on-why-decoupling-from-china-is-a-costly-but-necessary-decision/ Canada must therefore take its international strategy more seriously and embark on a process to develop a clear, coherent, and deliberate path in today’s world. Canada has an opportunity to project values consistent with its domestic priorities in a world in desperate need of greater rights, freedom, and democracy while fortifying its sovereignty and national security. 

The world is not waiting for Canada, and the costs of inaction and continued unseriousness will be profound. Canada is adrift and time is running out if it hopes to find its footing in this evolving world order.

Matt Spoke: Rogers outage highlights desperate need for Interac competition

Commentary

As with many Canadians, I woke up on July 8th wondering why my cell phone wasn’t working. At first, I thought I must’ve missed a bill payment (or several), but eventually clued in that my wife’s phone wasn’t working either.

Luckily, my home internet connection is with Bell, so I was able to get on with my day and not worry too much about it. Then my wife reminded me that I was supposed to transfer her some money, so I logged into my bank and initiated an Interac e-transfer….Nope, never mind. That wasn’t working either. 

Ultimately, it wasn’t the end of the world—12 hours later, my service was back, I completed my e-transfer, and I frankly enjoyed a bit of forced digital detox. But the whole experience still shocked me. 

Looking beyond the slight inconvenience I experienced, it was clear that there were bigger impacts being felt by the Rogers outage. Small businesses could not accept Interac payments; 911 Emergency Services experienced crucial interruptions; employees could not log in to work.Businesses lost more than internet during Rogers outage: ‘Our sales were diminished’ https://globalnews.ca/news/8979844/rogers-outage-small-businesses-impact/ I’m sure there were many more significant impacts that we’ll never hear about. 

How did we get to a place as a country where a simple error by one company can so negatively impact a huge percentage of our economy, our population, and some basic services that have become the critical infrastructure to the basic functioning of our society.

Luckily, today, I feel vindicated, hearing the news that Rogers would generously credit five days’ worth of service back to my account for “only” interrupting my coverage for less than one day. We should all flock back to Rogers with gratitude.

Jokes aside though, it’s too easy to simply turn the blame on Rogers. But we’ve built a system that allowed this to happen, and it could’ve just easily happened to Bell or Telus. 

There are some obvious questions being raised about the need for more competition in our Telecom industry, but I’ll leave that to others to comment on. The most surprising outcome of this line of thinking is NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh advocating for more competition in the industry. I would’ve thought the NDP would take this opportunity to advocate for a nationalized telecom provider, but I guess Jagmeet needs to ensure continued access to TikTok so he doesn’t want to get too crazy with his views on this file. 

And I think the first step taken by the federal government has merit: that the big Telecom companies be required to work together to mitigate the impacts of nationwide outages by providing each other backup network access so that, at minimum, no one in the country goes without emergency services.

One way or another, I have no doubt that our Telecom industry will become more resilient after this, and I hope that that includes increased pressure for more competition.

What is more astounding to me though, is how this outage impacted our national payment system, and how we continue to allow Interac to operate with monopolistic power after continuously showing us an unacceptable level of complacency and incompetence. 

Interac came with this statement after the outage:

“We are adding a supplier (besides Rogers) to strengthen our existing network redundancy so Canadians can continue to rely on Interac daily,” Interac told Reuters in a statement.Canadian payments system Interac says adding backup network supplier after Rogers outage https://www.reuters.com/technology/canadian-payments-system-interac-says-adding-backup-network-supplier-after-2022-07-11/

Is it too much to ask that the one payment service available to Canadians be designed with system redundancy before this type of event occurs?

Many readers will also remember the nationwide Interac outage back in 2017 that took the payment network offline for two days.Interac system hit by technical problems https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/interac-system-hit-by-technical-problems-1.793435 Unfortunately for the Federal Government at the time, there were no competitors (like Bell or Telus) they could force Interac into mitigation strategies with. Why not?

We’ve allowed a single company—owned and controlled by our biggest banks—to become a single point of failure in our economy. This is unacceptable, and we’ve now experienced the consequences twice in five years.

While most of the political energy will be spent scrutinizing the Telecom industry after last week’s events, let’s not let Interac get off the hook by focusing solely on Rogers.

We should have more payment options in Canada, and the banks should be forced to get out of the way and let this happen. Ironically, Payments Canada, the association representing this industry, has had a mandate to become more “independent from the big banks” and lead a payment system overhaul. The result? Last year, Payments Canada handed a contract to Interac to build a modern real-time payment system…You can’t make this stuff up.

A few short years ago, I was ecstatic to hear that Canadian fintech darling Wealthsimple was launching a new product called Wealthsimple Cash to directly compete with Interac on peer-to-peer payments and bring a “Venmo” experience to Canada.Wealthsimple Launches Peer-to-peer Payment Cash App Nationwide https://betakit.com/wealthsimple-launches-peer-to-peer-payment-cash-app-nationwide/ Earlier this year they shelved this plan and announced that users could now Interac e-transfer money from within their Wealthsimple account.

I have no doubt that there were significant pressures stacking up against Wealthsimple behind the scenes that ultimately forced them to drop their competitive approach to Interac.

Where was the Competition Bureau? Where was Payments Canada?

It’s time to reopen this debate. We need more competition in Canadian payments. Now.