Nigel Wright: What Canada’s new Conservative leadership thinks about CANZUK

8 Mar

Nigel Wright is the London-based Chair of Canadian Conservatives Abroad (CCA). 

With the United Kingdom’s recent withdrawal from the European Union, the country finds itself needing to negotiate new free trade deals to expand market access for its products and services. This position provides a unique opportunity for the UK to work more closely with other like-minded, Commonwealth countries, to not only allow for free trade between nations, but to come together and advance their shared democratic values on the world stage. A Canada-Australia-New Zealand-United Kingdom (CANZUK) alignment could benefit not only these countries but also the wider global community.

Erin O’Toole, Leader of the Official Opposition of Canada, championed CANZUK during his leadership bid for the Conservative Party of Canada. Citing Canada’s long history of championing the rule of law, human rights, and standing with its allies to defend democratic values globally, O’Toole sees CANZUK as an opportunity to adopt a policy of “aspirational multilateralism,” where these like-minded Commonwealth countries work not only to advance the wellbeing of their citizens but also work to promote a commitment to democratic values on the world stage.

O’Toole’s commitment to CANZUK should not come as a surprise to those familiar with Canadian politics or the policies of the Conservative Party of Canada. In addition to specifically calling for a CANZUK Treaty, the Conservative Party’s official policy states that Canada’s government should work with foreign nations to reduce protectionist policies, in turn allowing for the establishment of free trade agreements.

In fact, one of O’Toole’s predecessors as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, doubled the number of countries with which Canada has reciprocal free trade agreements. Simply put, reciprocal free trade is an important part of present-day Conservative party policy.

Since becoming leader, O’Toole has also made it his goal to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party of Canada. In his televised victory speech after he won the leadership, O’Toole introduced himself to Canadians, telling them that everyone “has a home in the Conservative Party of Canada.” He quickly orchestrated a rebrand and has made efforts to establish the Conservatives as a “modern, pragmatic, mainstream party.” A forward-thinking internationalist agreement like CANZUK shares many similar themes.

With the current hung parliament and the Liberal government widely acknowledged to have bungled the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines for Canada, an election could take place this year. O’Toole’s embrace of CANZUK might provide the Conservative Party of Canada with a foreign policy plank that resonates with Canadians looking for sources of economic growth and for avenues to advance democratic values in a world in which that has become more urgent to do.

One of the cornerstones of CANZUK is freedom of movement, and this policy could give conservative parties a meaningful youth issue. CANZUK proposes allowing professionals, students and recent graduates to travel for work, education or leisure without the difficulties or bureaucratic hurdles associated with applying for visas.

This provides the CANZUK nations with an opportunity to establish an academic exchange similar to Europe’s Erasmus programme, which is popular among students in the EU. Academic exchanges have proven economic benefits. Increasing cross-fertilisation opportunities could enrich the skills and global experience of CANZUK students and help them to form international relationships that can generate trade and investment for Canada.

It is not only students who could benefit from enhanced education opportunities through CANZUK. The freedom of movement associated with the agreement would reduce the bureaucratic red tape that faculty and researchers currently grapple with when they wish to research at another institution or in another country.

This provides an opportunity for member countries’ leading research institutions to widen their net and more easily tap into the knowledge of the other nations leading academics and researchers. If 2020 has taught us anything, its that reducing barriers to research and knowledge sharing is essential in today’s world.

CANZUK could also give its member countries an avenue to help move the world forward. Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK are in many respects model countries: peaceful, prosperous, and multi-ethnic pluralist democracies. With countries around the globe stepping back from liberty and rights, the world needs leadership from countries committed to democratic values and freedom more broadly. This agreement could help facilitate much-needed cooperation between four of the world’s democratic leaders.

CANZUK’s member countries are already members of Five Eyes, which includes the United States, and cooperate to share intelligence. CANZUK would create additional mechanisms to help these four nations enhance and coordinate their own defence and foreign affairs capabilities.

With the UK being the only member nation to have a permanent UN Security Council seat, CANZUK could provide a forum for the nations to unite on foreign policy initiatives, with the UK voicing them on their behalf at the council. The agreement would also create an opportunity for increased military collaboration, training and equipment supply which could benefit the smaller militaries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Specifically for Canada, CANZUK could make us a more valuable strategic partner to the US by providing a deeper bridge to the other three allied countries, while simultaneously creating anchor points to help us to preserve our ability to act independently of the US when that is necessary for our national interest. The CANZUK alignment would fit well with the UK’s desired entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Canada should promote.

The prospect of an early federal election in Canada makes this an opportune time to develop the CANZUK idea further. Canadian Conservatives Abroad intends to play its part in doing so.

CCA will be hosting a policy discussion about CANZUK on 20 March during the Conservative Party of Canada’s convention. The event will feature UK MP Andrew Rosindell and Canadian MP Ed Fast. For more information about CCA please visit conservativesabroad.ca