Global Affairs looks to burnish Canada’s brand in ‘global opinion polls’

By Palak Mangat March 14, 2023

As Ottawa looks to bolster its influence on the world stage, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) has unveiled it wants to improve how Canada is viewed by its peers — a perception measured in  part by military presence.

In its 2023-24 departmental plan, tabled by Treasury Board President Mona Fortier on Thursday, GAC etched out a series of goals to strengthen advocacy and diplomacy efforts during a time of “continued international instability.” The current global relations climate gives Ottawa an incentive to help build consensus among allies and uphold the “rules-based international system,” and hold countries that violate it — as Russia has with its invasion of Ukraine — to account.

The lengthy document shows GAC has set a modest goal for improving Canada’s global ranking, from eighth in 2019-20 to somewhere “between 5 and 8” by March 31, 2024. Canada has held eighth place since 2019, per the department’s data.

It also suggests officials keep an eye on “global opinion polls,” where Canada’s “reputation abroad” sat at sixth in 2019-20 before improving to third and then second over the next two years. By March next year, GAC aims to see Canada rank anywhere from first and fifth place.

GAC pulls data from Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index and the Country RepTrak index to inform its goals for global opinion polls.

The former measures 60 countries’ reputations each year through online interviews with 60,000 adults across 20 “core panel countries” — including Russia, Sweden, Italy and Japan — gauging people’s impression of six elements: national exports; culture and heritage; governance; people; tourism; and immigration and investment. The RepTrak index, developed by the Reputation Institute, dives into brand strength for 55 nations, focusing on three main indicators — quality of life, quality of institutions and level of development — and shedding light on whether a country has an appealing environment, an effective government and an advanced economy, respectively.

To determine how Canada stacks up on global economic participation, military presence and its “people-to-people ties,” GAC relies on data from Elcano Global Presence Index, which has been published annually since 2010 by Spanish think tank Elcano Royal Institute.

That index assesses a country’s global presence based on its economic, military and “soft” performance — such as how the energy and manufacturing sectors are supported; how migration, sports, culture and tourism activities compare; and how troops and military equipment are deployed.

Canada’s military operations will get a refresh once Ottawa unveils its updated defence policy, with the feds accepting public feedback on defence and military strategy until April 30 amid dwindling recruitment and “intensifying threats.” The current policy is a 20-year plan launched in 2017; since then the rise of Russia and China has dramatically shifted the geopolitical environment.

For years, the Liberals have taken heat for not taking foreign policy and national security seriously and the plan notes that efforts to uphold human rights and democracy abroad can boost reputation and facilitate international cooperation via trade and research opportunities among Canada and its allies. Those efforts may also help reduce “authoritarian influence” from countries that want to further their own interests in Canada.

Canada’s role on the international stage again came under scrutiny yesterday, as the U.S., U.K. and Australia confirmed their commitment to a new military pact known as AUKUS.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has swatted away criticism of Canada’s omission from the pact —  framing the deal as overly focused on nuclear-powered submarines — CAF vice-admiral Bob Auchterlonie has warned that being on the sidelines could limit the forces’ access to up-to-date technology.

Global Affairs Canada’s Lester B. Pearson building in Ottawa.

Boosting response to a ‘global China’

Three ministers play a role in GAC’s activities — Trade Minister Mary Ng, International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, who is typically the lead on the file. In the department plan’s introduction, the trio highlighted the ongoing roll-out of Ottawa’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. Unveiled last fall by Joly, the strategy aims to push back on China’s “assertive pursuit” of its interests — including via foreign interference — in Canada and globally, while striking trade deals with other countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

GAC’s updated plan dropped as Ottawa continues to grapple with allegations of Chinese meddling in elections. That country is explicitly mentioned once in the plan, with the federal department stating that it plans to hire hundreds of additional employees over the next three years to help deliver its mandate to bolster “Canada’s capacity for a global China.”

The day the plan was released, Joly told the procedure and House affairs committee she will not hesitate to expel diplomats believed to be engaging in foreign interference efforts. Canada is better off blocking foreign actors found of any “wrongdoing” from entering the country than trying to monitor them once they are here, Joly said — confirming a Globe and Mail report that she denied a diplomatic visa request from a Chinese political operative last fall.