Campbell Clark reports on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s resolve to act on his election-platform commitment to cease air strikes against ISIS. He suggests that this involves delicate diplomacy because there were already tensions between Canada and the U.S. related to the Keystone XL pipeline issue. In a November 6 article entitled Liberals plan ‘fresh start’ on energy after rejection of Keystone pipelineSteven Chase and Paul Koring report on President Obama’s decision not to approve the pipeline.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Questions to Explore:

  • How might Canada’s new position on the war against ISIS and President Obama’s veto of the Keystone pipeline affect relations with the United States?

New Terminology:

ISIS, antagonism, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), prime-minister-designate

Materials Needed:

Globe articles, some Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

As is the custom, within a day or two of being elected, the Canadian prime minister received a congratulatory phone call from the President of the United States. Although Mr. Trudeau declined to discuss all the specifics of the call, he did say that he used the occasion to inform the President that, as he had promised the Canadian electorate, Canada’s air force would no longer participate in air strikes against ISIS.

It could be argued that Mr. Trudeau, a Liberal, would have more common ground with Democratic President, Barack Obama, than did Mr. Harper, a Conservative who was seen as more akin to a George Bush-style Republican. Mr. Harper has been accused of generating tension between Canada and the US with his confrontational approach to advocating the Keystone XL pipeline, a project which Mr. Obama has recently officially rejected. Denying Canada, the US’s largest trading partner, the pipeline may mean that as a consolation the US would be willing to accept a lesser role for Canada in the fight against ISIS.

Mr. Trudeau now faces the complex task of navigating these tensions to fashion a non-combat role for Canada in the battle against ISIS sufficient to maintain a positive relationship with the U.S. Students can benefit from a lesson in which they examine the change in Canadian positions relative to Canada’s more traditional role as peacekeeper, and to the outgoing government’s threat that there would be terrorism on Canadian soil if we ceased the air strikes.

NOTE: If you have not yet introduced your students to the subject of ISIS, see a Classroom Edition lesson plan (Social Studies) for the October, 2014 edition that addresses the questions: How does Canada justify its war with ISIS? What other kinds of responses to the crisis should Canada have considered? Note that since the lesson was published, Canada did, in fact, begin carrying out air strikes over Syria.

Action (lesson plan and task):

To better understand ways in which the recent Canadian election could affect relations between Canada and the United States, students will work in pairs to examine and explain selected excerpts from the article by Campbell Clark. They will use the Internet as needed (using their own or your preferred sources), to refresh themselves on Canada’s traditional peacekeeping policies.

Engage students in a short discussion about the election, recalling campaign promises made by Mr. Trudeau about Canada’s role in ISIS (he promised to end Canadian air strikes), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (he favours trade agreements but reserved judgment on the TPP) and on Keystone XL (he favours pipelines but only if they meet environmental and social criteria). You might discuss the legitimacy of accusations that Mr. Harper damaged relations with the U.S. in the way he attempted to win the necessary American approval for the project (Among other things, Mr. Harper said that he “wouldn’t take no for an answer.”)

Have your students first read both articles, or have volunteers read them to the class and then task them to work in pairs on this half-hour assignment.


For each of the following excerpts from the articles, answer the questions or complete the tasks that follow it. First, from the Campbell Clark article:

Washington wants Canada to stick with the mission fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

  • Describe Canada’s mission in Iraq and Syria under the previous Canadian government. What is Canada now contributing to the fight?
  • Why does Washington want Canada to “stick with the mission,” do you think?

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the President hopes to work with Mr. Trudeau on issues including climate change, but underlined Mr. Obama’s agenda: The U.S. hopes Canada will support the Trans-Pacific trade agreement – and wants Canada to carry on with the IS mission.

  • How might Mr. Trudeau’s position on climate change differ from Mr. Harper’s?
  • Why might this align better with the U.S. position, if it does?
  • Why is Canadian support for the TPP important to the U.S.?

For Mr. Trudeau, who has promised to warm relations with the United States, it is a sensitive challenge.

  • Why do relations between Canada and the US need to be “warmed”?
  • Why is this a sensitive challenge for Mr. Trudeau?

[Mr. Trudeau] didn’t say precisely when he’d withdraw Canadian CF-18s, only that it would be done in a “responsible” manner.

  • What might a more traditional, “responsible,” approach to support of the US look like? How has Canada contributed to these kinds of missions in the past, when it used to be described internationally as a “peacekeeper”?

It’s an issue that could complicate Mr. Trudeau’s efforts to show he has improved relations with the U.S., and end what he called “an era of antagonism” under Mr. Harper’s tenure.

  • Why might Mr. Trudeau have described Canada-U.S. relations in these terms? What kinds of things might have soured relations with the U.S. during the Harper era?

Both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Earnest, the White House press secretary, were at pains to stress the broad cross-border relationship, and to minimize the importance of the long-delayed[and now, denial of] approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

  • Why might Mr. Trudeau not be deeply disappointed with the President’s decision on the Keystone XL?
  • How might the decision affect Canada’s economy, in terms of exporting oil?
  • How might Mr. Trudeau be able to leverage the “loss” to his and Canada’s benefit, if at all?

Both also emphasized a potential shift on Canada’s climate-change policy…

  • Based on what you you think Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Harper have said to date on this subject, how might Canada now change its position on climate-change policy relative to that of the outgoing Conservative government?
  • Given that Mr. Obama justified his decision on the pipeline on environmental grounds, and given Canada’s new federal department that is tasked specifically with climate change issues, how do you think the pipeline decision might work in Mr. Trudeau’s favour, if at all?

An aide to Mr. Trudeau said the prime minister reiterated to Mr. Obama that he is pro-trade, but is committed ‎to holding a debate on the TPP in Parliament.

  • From what the White House reported about the exchange between Mr. Obama and Mr. Trudeau, what do you think the outcome of the TPP debate in Parliament will likely be?

From the second article, by Steven Chase and Paul Koring:

Barack Obama has formally rejected the Keystone XL pipeline project after seven years of review, saying that importing “dirtier crude oil” from Canada would tarnish the United States’ reputation for fighting climate change.

  • Why would Canada’s oil, in this case, be described as “dirtier crude oil”?

The U.S. President’s decision on the oil sands pipeline, while not unexpected, puts pressure on Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal government to rehabilitate Canada’s international image as a responsible energy producer and find new routes to get crude to foreign markets.

  • Why would it be necessary to “rehabilitate Canada’s international image”?
  • What possible “new routes” might be planned?

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said it was not helpful for Mr. Obama to disparage the product of Canada’s oil sands,

  • What was Mr. Dion’s position on climate change when he was the leader of the Liberal party a few years ago and how might this affect his attitude toward the President’s decision?

Finally, do you think these articles seems to favour any positions on any of the issues, or do you think they reported the issues in a fair and objective way? Give reasons.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Take the time you have left to discuss students’ responses to the prompts and questions. Note disagreements of interpretation and explore these, to see if any one position seems more informed or better thought out than another.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students are able to provide thoughtful answers to the question: How might Canada’s new position on the war against ISIS affect relations with the United States?

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on news items that relate to the ISIS mission, the TPP and changes to Canadian policy on climate change.