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Swingback: Getting Along in the World with Harper and Trudeau

by Mike Blanchfield

While Justin Trudeau’s name appears in the subtitle of Mike Blanchfield’s new book, the volume is mainly about Canadian foreign policy in the years Stephen Harper was prime minister. Despite the fact that, as Blanchfield points out, Harper was not much interested in the wider world before taking office and had seldom travelled outside the country (and certainly not outside North America), foreign policy became one of the purest expressions of the leader’s politics.

9780773548756There was the lengthy mission in Afghanistan and a brief but ultimately ill-fated engagement in Libya, neither of which yielded the results anyone – especially Harper – had hoped for. The Conservative government largely treated the United Nations as an afterthought, and Canada’s 2010 bid for a seat on the Security Council fell short. In Blanchfield’s estimation, this resulted from a lack of effort on the part of Harper’s government, as well as being a repudiation of Canada’s Middle East policy. (In a major shift, Harper had aligned the country far more explicitly with Israel than any previous federal government, and probably more than any other government in the world at the time.) But it was their position on maternal and newborn health – a stance that, at least for a time, denied funds to any organization that provided abortions in the developing world – that most egregiously underscored the Conservatives’ pettiness and duplicity in the eyes of many Canadians.

In recapitulating this recent history, Swingback is methodical and readable. The material about Trudeau mostly focuses on his debut on the global stage, though the author does mention climate change, oil pipelines, and the decision not to cancel a controversial sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. (A sequel on Trudeau in the Trump era has the potential to be fascinating.) Throughout, Blanchfield mixes journalistic accounts of news conferences, overseas travel, and reportage from war zones with more traditional scholarly analysis. The result makes for a worthy read.