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Richard Shimooka: Inability to intervene in Haiti highlights Canada’s international irrelevance

Commentary

Discussions on foreign and defence policy over the past few years have largely been focused on Canada’s position in an era of growing great power conflict. A constant point of discussion is what are the country’s core national interests, how should it approach them, and what resources should be provided to achieve them. A good place to think about these questions is Haiti, a country where Canada has a surprisingly long history supporting stabilization and rehabilitation efforts. 

Between 1989 and 2004, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) undertook a dozen operations in Haiti, many running concurrently, which included humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, a naval blockade, and other measures, in an attempt to stabilize the country after political unrest. Haiti was long been viewed as an exceptionally vexing foreign-policy challenge within the government—one briefing note from 1994 described the situation as a “no-win fiasco.”  Still, Ottawa prioritized the stabilization of the country and employed a range of foreign policy instruments to do so. 

Canada’s interest in Haiti rests on a number of factors. The most significant is the large Haitian diaspora within Canada, though the state was also seen as important for the overall regional stability. Building a stable, democratic and prosperous state that respects the rule of law is a key part of this –  a large exodus of refugees could overwhelm many smaller Caribbean states that do not have the resources to assist them. But Ottawa’s involvement in Haiti is not solely based on Canada’s direct national interests. Rather its involvement has occurred in many instances in lockstep and/or at the direct behest of the United States government. 

It should come as no surprise as Canada’s closest partner in hemispheric security shares these same views,  such as the desire for regional stability and promoting democratic values and prosperity in Haiti. However, the U.S. has been reticent to become involved unilaterally in the country. Instead, successive administrations have sought to deputize Canada to play a leading role in managing crises in the country. 

In the 1990s, there were a variety of reasons for this—key among them being a recalcitrant, Republican-controlled Congress that was extremely skeptical of UN operations, particularly after the 1993 debacle in Somalia. Moreover, the United States military was stretched across a wide number of worldwide contingencies. Thus, engaging regional partners to assist with security in their neighbourhood is valued by the U.S. as a form of burden-sharing. Canada is also seen to have a number of major advantages: a relatively strong bilateral relationship with Haiti, and bilingual diplomats, aid workers, and soldiers who can easily interact with local populations. 

In the past, Canada willingly assumed this mantle. In 1996, the United Nations faced a significant shortfall of forces in the country to help oversee an upcoming election in part due to political and budget constraints. Consequently, Ottawa launched Operation Standard, reinforcing the peacekeeping mission with an additional 750 soldiers, and financed contributions without recourse to UN funding. Canada made the commitment despite the military’s concurrent deployment of over 1,000 soldiers to help oversee the Dayton Accords in the former Yugoslavia. 

However, Canada’s response went beyond just military means. It had real diplomatic heft. For example, the prime minister’s foreign and defence policy adviser, James Bartleman, and U.S. National Security Advisor Tony Lake were together in Haiti to negotiate with key officials on the ground to help stop a potential descent into further violence. The joint effort, coming on the heels of Operation Standard, illustrated the strong bilateral relationship the two countries enjoyed and the respect Canada once garnered. Fast forward 27 years to today and the difference is stark. 

Recent media reports have suggested that once again the U.S. government has implored Canada to provide a greater role in addressing the worsening political climate in Haiti after the assassination of its president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, another major earthquake and years of stagnating development. A half-dozen major criminal gangs have emerged and effectively wrested effective control over significant parts of the country. These groups are increasingly sophisticated in their activities and are connected to transnational networks to facilitate their operations, which the government is ill-equipped to manage. Even the Haitian government has directly requested Canadian assistance, as the recent discord leaks in the U.S. have revealed

Yet, unlike in 1996, Canada has largely refused to intervene in the conflict or even play a strong role. Instead, Ottawa has gamely provided some armoured vehicles to support the Haitian police forces, as well as financial aid. There is a reasonable argument to be made that the situation is intractable and that a Canadian military intervention may not be appropriate. Indeed, the government has constantly reiterated that any solution must come from within Haiti. 

At the same time, it is also accurate to observe that this response illustrates the relative atrophy of Canada’s foreign policy capabilities over the past two decades. Rather than being a key hemispheric player in the region, Ottawa is effectively relegated to a secondary role.

A significant factor behind this diminution is the overall neglect of the CAF. The reconstitution order illustrates this best. As with 1996, Canada’s primary focus is in Europe, though now on supporting NATO allies in a potential escalation of conflict with Russia. Thus, it maintains a brigade group of approximately 2000 soldiers on higher readiness and preparation to be deployed to the region. Beyond this commitment, Canada is effectively unable to sustain any additional operations at this time without serious consequences for the rest of the forces.

Canada’s lacking response goes beyond military instruments, it is absent in a substantial diplomatic fashion, especially compared to 1996. It is clear that the Biden administration desires Canada to take a more active role in Haiti and the region, and previous prime ministers saw Canada’s involvement as important to its interests. Yet this government has effectively avoided taking any major role; its only response has been to practise a form of chequebook diplomacy—basically, providing $100 million in security funding. 

Given the current state of the CAF, and the decades long-process to rehabilitate them, these situations will become increasingly common in the future. With its limited military capabilities, countries are increasingly viewing Ottawa as irrelevant. This diminution will have serious consequences not just for this country, but also others in need internationally—as we can witness today in Haiti.

Trevor Tombe: Capping oil and gas emissions is a bad idea

Commentary

Putting a price on carbon emissions was once the backbone of the federal government’s climate policies. Today, it is anything but.

In its latest budget, for example, the federal government lists its climate priorities and the tools it will use to achieve them. Interestingly, pollution pricing is rarely mentioned. And when it is, they are mostly referring to the system that large industrial emitters face rather than the one individual Canadians doSee the main figure on page 74 that details “Canada’s Plan for a Clean Economy” and note the absence of the broad retail carbon tax..

The government, it seems, is rapidly moving away from market-based approaches to lower greenhouse gas emissions and instead opting for more targeted initiatives, such as subsidies for hydrogen projects, carbon capture and storage, and clean electricity generation. Altogether, Budget 2023 might offer the equivalent of $70 billion over ten years in such tax-funded incentives. 

It’s also turning to stricter regulations, such as on fuel suppliers and vehicle sales. And there is more to come. The government appears set to soon announce the most significant departure from efficient climate policy yet: a cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector.

This is a very bad idea.

First, greenhouse gas emissions have the same effect on our climate regardless of which sector or region they come from. A tonne is a tonne is a tonne.

To impose higher burdens on some activities but not others increases the cost of lowering emissions beyond what is necessary. Why incur $100 in costs to avoid a tonne in one activity when you could avoid a similar tonne for $50 somewhere else? For this reason, a cap would force emissions reductions at potentially significant costs.

With Canada’s productivity growth already lagging, achieving our environmental goals efficiently should be a very high priority. And that means broad-based and uniform incentives to lower emissions are generally best for the simple reason that the government does not know what or where low-cost emissions reduction opportunities are. Creating an incentive that we all face equally leaves such decisions in the hands of individuals and businesses, who often know best what the cheaper options are.

Second, a cap risks further undermining the strength of the government’s own case for putting a price on carbon in the first place. If we can lower emissions without a tax, the argument may go, why have one at all? We are already seeing such arguments mount significantly following the recent subsidy-heavy U.S. climate billAvid listeners of The Herle Burly podcast will be very familiar with this..

And a cap effectively invites Canadians to place blame upstream, which reinforces the misplaced idea that some emissions are more damaging than others. That goes against the entire rationale for carbon pricing, so may weaken public support. 

A cap on oil and gas emissions could also undermine the government’s own legal argument for its authority to price carbon in provinces that don’t want to, as University of Alberta professor Andrew Leach noted in recent testimony to a House of Commons Committee. The consistency of prices across Canada was a key aspect of the government’s argument. A cap on oil and gas emissions detracts strongly from that.

Third, a cap on oil and gas emissions is unnecessary to achieve our emissions reduction goals. 

The latest modeling by the federal government has Canada already on track to achieve our original Paris target of 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

It is true the government has recently moved the goalpost and is now targeting 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, which—putting aside the wisdom of moving our targets prior to ever achieving one—may require a more stringent policy. 

To be clear, specific emissions targets like these may be a misplaced goal and, in any case, are incredibly difficult for a small open economy like Canada to meet. GDP growth, population growth, oil prices, and so on, have massive implications for future emissions. The difference between the government’s own low-growth and high-growth scenarios for 2030 is roughly 50 million tonnes—more than the current emissions of the entire electricity sector.

But that point aside, we can lower emissions further and strive to achieve these more ambitious goals if we want by improving current policy rather than layering on new and higher-cost ones. 

Québec, for example, is a laggard when it comes to certain climate policies. In that province, the most recent results of the carbon permit auction within their cap-and-trade system had prices that were less than half of the $65 per tonne price that prevails elsewhere. Before inefficiently ratcheting up costs on certain targeted sectors, we could first ensure those lagging behind are brought in line. 

I recognize that minimizing economic costs is not the only criterion policymakers are (or should be) concerned about. No party fully embraces market-based approaches. And Canadians themselves may prefer costs to be hidden, even if that means total costs are larger.

Pricing emissions also does not always make sense, even economically. Regulations to lower methane emissions—which, interestingly, may be the biggest near-term driver of emissions reductions in the oil and gas sector—are for several reasons fairly low-cost and sometimes difficult to price.

But to effectively and efficiently lower our greenhouse gas emissions, our priority should be consistent treatment of emissions across all regions and sectors. A cap on oil and gas emissions moves us further from this basic principle. And it comes with a high cost.