President’s Commentary: Stephen Harper is diminishing Canada's international reputation

(27 Nov. 2009) - NUPGE president James Clancy says Harper is changing Canada so radically that we could lose more than our good name – already badly damaged on the world stage. "We just might lose Canada altogether," he writes.

By James Clancy
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)

Ottawa - The biggest meeting on climate change since Kyoto is coming up in early December in Copenhagen. Canada will definitely stand out at this high-profile global gathering – but for all the wrong reasons.
Our lack of leadership in combating climate change is embarrassing. The Harper government is viewed as a leading voice for the obstructionist camp. Our greenhouse gas emissions continue to skyrocket. We’re the home of the monstrous eco-nightmare known as the Oil Sands.
Our reputation will take a well earned hit in Copenhagen. But what else is new? The past four years under the Harper government have seen a steady and marked diminishment of our reputation on the world stage.

We were one of the world’s biggest supporters of the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture. But when our foreign service officers (and other public employees) aren’t being ignored or muzzled by the Harper government, they’re being publicly smeared as senior diplomat Richard Colvin was last week – all because he had the courage to speak out about the possibility that Canadian officials turned a blind eye to the risk that Afghan detainees faced torture.

We were one of the world’s great mediators of international conflict. But the Harper government severely weakened our moral and diplomatic influence in the Middle East with its unqualified support of Israel during its brutally disproportionate war with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. 

Farewell to peacekeeping and foreign aid
We were a pioneer of peacekeeping but under the Harper government Canada is no longer the world’s leading peacekeeper – we’re not even in the top 30 anymore. We used to be a leading dispenser of foreign aid to poor countries but today we’re no longer among the top 10.

Canada was a founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1919 and hosted its headquarters during the Second World War. But today our reputation as a country that respects workers' rights is in jeopardy because the Harper government inexplicably refuses to ratify three critical Conventions of the ILO governing forced labour, child labour and the right to collective bargaining.   

We were viewed as one of the world’s most inclusive and accommodating societies. Yet Canada was one of only four countries recently to vote against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and we refuse to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.

Canada used to be known as diplomatic honest brokers, peacekeepers, human rights advocates, good environmental stewards, champions of foreign aid and a more equitable world. This reputation – which is a reflection of our country’s character and what we have to offer the world – served us well for decades. It paid us a dividend of global influence that far exceeded the sum of Canada’s actual powers.

Four regressive years

But in just four years, with only a minority government, Mr. Harper has blurred Canada’s image. The international community is wondering what differentiates us from countries like the US. Our global influence has deteriorated as a result.  

But there’s more at stake than Canada losing its place on the world stage. We might just lose Canada altogether. If Mr. Harper wins a majority government there’s a good chance Canadians will wake up one morning in a country they don’t recognize as their own. 

We must not let that happen. 


James Clancy
National President


James Clancy is the national president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE


Occupational Groups