Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Ottawa will forge its own path on the world stage because Canada can no longer rely on Washington for global leadership.

In a major speech setting the stage for Wednesday’s release of a new multibillion-dollar blueprint for the Canadian Armed Forces, Ms. Freeland rejected Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and its dismissal of free trade, global warming and the value of Western alliances in countering Russian adventurism and the Islamic State.

While she did not mention the U.S. President by name, Ms. Freeland expressed deep concern about the desire of many American voters to “shrug off the burden of world leadership.”

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts in sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” she told the House of Commons on Tuesday. “To say this is not controversial: It is a fact.”

The Liberal government’s decision to publicly question U.S. leadership echoes criticism last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said Europe has to take on a larger role on the global stage as Washington was no longer a reliable partner. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke by phone with Ms. Merkel on Tuesday and they reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate treaty and to multilateralism.

Ms. Freeland said Canada has been able to count on the powerful U.S. military to provide a protective shield since the end of the Second World War, but the United States’ turn inwards requires a new Canadian approach to defend liberal democracies.

“To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state,” she said. “To put it plainly: Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power.”

Giving Canada’s military “hard power” will allow it to meet global challenges, she said, listing North Korea, the civil war in Syria, the Islamic State, Russian aggression in the Ukraine and Baltic states and climate change as major threats to the world order.

“We will make the necessary investments in our military, to not only address years of neglect and underfunding, but also to place the Canadian Armed Forces on a new footing – with new equipment, training, resources and consistent and predictable funding,” she said.

Wednesday’s defence-policy review is expected to lay out the military’s priorities for future overseas deployments, and outline Ottawa’s 20-year plan for spending billions of dollars to upgrade warships and fighter jets, among other things.

Ms. Freeland said Canada will step up militarily and diplomatically to boost its international voice while, at the same time, urging the United States to recognize the important role its plays in fostering peace as the world’s biggest military and economic power.

“We seek and will continue to seek to persuade our friends that their continued international leadership is very much in their national interest – as well as that of the rest of the world,” she said.

Ms. Freeland, who has emerged as one of Mr. Trudeau’s more capable cabinet ministers, expressed the Liberal government’s disappointment with Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate treaty, calling on the world to show “renewed, uncommon resolve” to combat climate change. Mr. Trump campaigned as a global-warming denier, calling it a hoax.

“Turning aside from our responsibilities is not an option. Instead we must think carefully and deeply about what is happening, and find a way forward,” she told MPs.

Ms. Freeland also championed the benefits of free trade, now under challenge with the rise of U.S. protectionism led by the Trump White House. Free trade isn’t responsible for the gap between the rich and poor in developed nations of the world, she said.

“International trade is the wrong target,” she said. “The real culprit is domestic policy that fails to appreciate that continued growth, and political stability, depend on domestic measures that share the wealth.”

Outside the Commons, Ms. Freeland sidestepped questions about the wisdom of taking indirect potshots at Mr. Trump – who issued an angry tweet against Ms. Merkel last week.

“I was careful to only refer to Canadian sources and Canadian examples,” she told reporters. “This is about us standing on our own two feet, having a foreign policy that expresses as an independent and sovereign country what we need to achieve in the world.”

Conservative foreign-policy critic Peter Kent said Ms. Freeland’s manifesto was “unremarkable,” calling it a last-minute scramble by the Prime Minister’s Office to set up Wednesday’s defence-policy review.

“The foreign-policy consultation, as far as I know, is non-existent. That speech was written over in the Langevin Block [in Mr. Trudeau’s office] and it’s sort of a last-minute chicken to lay the defence-policy-review egg tomorrow morning, which is going to have a lot more detail,” Mr. Kent said.

NDP foreign-affairs critic Hélène Laverdière called on the government to outline its plans for Canadian peacekeeping and set a deadline for Canada to meet the United Nations standards for foreign-aid spending. The government currently spends only 0.26 per cent of economic output on foreign aid – a far cry from the UN target of 0.7 per cent.

Ms. Freeland’s speech comes days ahead of the launch of what the government is calling “Canada’s first feminist international assistance policy.” International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau will announce a new policy Friday, which is expected to focus on women’s rights and gender equality.

Fen Hampson, director of global security and politics at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said Ms. Freeland handled the government’s disappointment toward the Trump administration in a “judicious, measured” way.

“It was rather hard-hitting, I would say, in terms of here’s what we’ve got to do,” he said. “We can’t rely on the Americans to carry the freight when it comes to global security. We’re going to have to do more.”

Robert Fife And Michelle Zilio
OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jun. 06, 2017 10:43AM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Jun. 06, 2017 9:31PM EDT