Foreign relations of Canada

From Academic Kids


Early Diplomatic history

The British North American colonies which constitute modern Canada had little control over their foreign affairs. Negotiations and treaties were carried out by the governors and British government to settle disputes over fishing and boundaries, and to promote trade. Notable examples from the colonial period include the Nootka Convention, Rush-Bagot Treaty, the Treaty of 1818, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, the Oregon Treaty and the Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty. Generally speaking, matters were concluded more to smooth British-American relations than to satisfy the colonists.

Soon after Confederation, the prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald appointed Sir John Rose as his lobbyist in London. The British government finally consented to a Canadian High Commissioner in 1880, Sir Alexander Galt. A trade commissioner was appointed to Australia in 1894. In 1909 Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier reluctantly established a Department of External Affairs and the positions of Secretary and Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs largely at the urging of the Governor General Earl Grey and James Bryce, the British ambassador in Washington, who estimated that three-quarters of his embassy's time was devoted to Canadian-American matters.

Because of its important contributions to the British war effort 1914-18, prime minister Sir Robert Borden insisted that Canada be treated as separate signatory to the Treaty of Versailles and it subsequently joined the League of Nations.

The government operated a Canadian War Mission in Washington DC between 1918-1921, but it was not until William Lyon Mackenzie King became prime minister in 1921 that Canada seriously pursued an independent foreign policy. In 1925 the government appointed a permanent diplomat to Geneva to deal with the League of Nations and International Labor Organization. Following the Balfour Declaration 1926, King appointed Vincent Massey as the first Canadian minister in Washington, raised the office in Paris to legation status, and opened a legation in Tokyo.

After the outbreak of war in 1939, Canada rapidly expanded its diplomatic missions abroad. The period from 1945-1957 is considered the golden age of Canadian diplomacy under Lester B. Pearson, when Canada had its greatest impact on world diplomacy. In 1982 responsibilty for trade was added with the creation of the Department of External Affairs and International Trade. In 1995 the name was changed to Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Canada has carried out its foreign policy through coalitions and international organizations. It is argued by some critics that Canada no longer carries as much diplomatic weight because of the cut-backs to the military and foreign aid budgets by the government of Jean Chrétien.

The are two major elements of Canadian foreign relations.

Canada-United States Relations

The bilateral relationship between Canada and the United States is of extreme importance to Canada. About 85% of Canadian trade is with the United States. While there are disputed issues between the two nations, relations are close and the two countries famously share the "world's longest undefended border."

Canada was a close ally of the United States in both World Wars, the Korean War and the Cold War. Canada was an original member of NATO and the two countries' air defences are fused in NORAD.

Main article: U.S.-Canada relations.


Just as important to the Canadian identity is Canada's strong support of multilateralism. Canada is one of the world's leading peacekeepers, sending soldiers under U.N. authority around the world. Canadian external affairs minister, Lester B. Pearson, invented the modern concept of peacekeeping, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Canada is also committed to disarmament and is especially noted for its leadership in the Ottawa Convention to ban land mines.

Canada has long been reluctant to participate in military operations that are not sanctioned by the United Nations, such as the Vietnam War or the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, but does join in sanctioned operations such as the first Gulf War. It was also willing to participate with its NATO allies in the Kosovo Conflict.

Canada hosted the third Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. Canada also seeks to expand its ties to Pacific Rim economies through membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC). Canada also is an active participant in discussions stemming from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Canada joined the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1990 and has been an active member, hosting the OAS General Assembly in Windsor, Ontario, in June 2000.

Other Bilateral relations

Canada maintains close links to the United Kingdom, with which it has strong historic ties and shares a monarch. It also remains a member of the Commonwealth. See also: Canada-United Kingdom relations

Canada also has close, if sometimes turbulent, relations with France, partly for historical and linguistic reasons. See also: Canada-France relations.

One important difference between Canadian and American foreign policy has been in relations with communist states. Canada established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (October 13, 1970) long before the Americans did (January 1, 1979). It also has maintained trade and diplomatic relations with communist Cuba, despite pressures from the United States.

Many Caribbean Community countries turn to Canada as a valued partner. Canadians, particularly Canadian banks, have played an important economic role in the life of former British West Indian colonies. Perennial efforts to improve trade have even included the idea of concluding a free trade agreement.

Canada was also quicker to act to combat South Africa's apartheid than was the U.S.

Canada also provides support for economic, political, judicial, and governance reforms for many countries around the world.


Missing image
The Lester B. Pearson Building home of Foreign Affairs Canada

Canada's international relations are the responsibility of Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC), which is run by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a position currently held by Pierre Pettigrew. Traditionally the Prime Minister has played a prominent role in foreign affairs decisions.

Foreign aid is delivered through the Canadian International Development Agency.

Provinces have always participated in some foreign relations, and appointed agents-general in the United Kingdom and France for many years, but they cannot legislate treaties. The French-speaking provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick are members of la Francophonie, and Ontario has announced it wishes to join. Quebec, ruled primarily by separatist governments since 1976, has pursued its own foreign relations, especially with France. Alberta opened an office in Washington D.C. in March 2005 to lobby the American government, mostly to reopen the borders to Canadian beef. With the exception of Quebec, none of these efforts undermine the ability of the federal government to conduct foreign affairs. Ultimately it is the federal government which has to weigh and balance the various issues which affect provinces differently, and sometimes there are winners and losers.

Territorial and Boundary Disputes

Canada and the United States have negotiated the boundary between the countries over many years, with the last significant agreement having taken place in 1984 when the International Court of Justice ruled on the maritime boundary in the Gulf of Maine. Likewise Canada and France had previously contested the maritime boundary surrounding the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon but accepted a 1992 International Court of Arbitration ruling.

Remaining disputes include managed maritime boundary disputes with the US (Dixon Entrance, Beaufort Sea, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Machias Seal Island). Also, there is an uncontested dispute with Denmark over the sovereignty of Hans Island and surrounding waters in the Kennedy Channel between Ellesmere Island and Greenland.

Selected dates of diplomatic representation abroad


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