OTTAWA (Reuters) - Opposition leaders said that neither Russia nor the United States listened to Canada because of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s approach to foreign policy and what they said was an abandonment of multilateralism.
Justin Trudeau of the Liberals and Thomas Mulcair of the New Democrats said on Monday during a televised debate that Harper had marginalized Canada’s influence abroad. They face an election on Oct. 19.
Harper responded that he would press Canada’s interests in international trade negotiations and in discussions with the United States, and he also stressed the importance of standing up to terrorism and Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Both opponents accused Harper of souring relations with U.S. President Barack Obama by predicting Washington would eventually end up approving TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL oil pipeline to the United States.
“It’s very difficult to see how Canada’s superior interests were being served when Prime Minister Harper said to President Obama that it was a complete no-brainer, that the Americans had to approve Keystone XL,” Mulcair said.
Trudeau belittled Harper’s confrontation with Vladimir Putin at last November’s G20 summit when he told the Russian president to leave Ukraine.
“Canada has such a diminished voice on the world stage that Mr. Harper hasn’t noticed that Vladimir Putin didn’t listen to him when he told him to get out of Ukraine,” he said.
The Conservatives say they have taken the moral high ground in their nine years in power, shunning messy diplomatic compromises while resolutely backing allies such as Israel and Ukraine.
But many diplomats and Canadian experts say Ottawa has isolated itself through a combination of extreme positions and miscalculations.
Defending his party’s record, Harper said Canada has a good relationship with the United States.
“We work productively overall, but at the same time the responsibility of the prime minister of Canada is to stand up for Canadian interests,” he said.
The three parties have for much of the campaign been locked in a virtual tie, though in the last few days Mulcair’s New Democratic Party (NDP) fell several points behind.
Despite a few zingers from Mulcair, pollster John Wright said the NDP leader was overshadowed by Trudeau and Harper.
“Mr. Mulcair faded from the evening spotlight just as he and his party are fading from the national lead they once held,” he said.
One of the sharpest exchanges came during a session on the threat that groups such as Islamic State pose to Canada. Mr. Trudeau said the Conservative government’s new policy of stripping Canadian citizenship from those convicted of terrorism was a slippery slope.
“Are you seriously saying, Mr. Trudeau, we would never be able to revoke citizenship from somebody? Is that your position? Because we revoke the citizenship already of war criminals. And why would we not revoke the citizenship of people convicted of terrorist offenses against this country?” Harper asked.
Trudeau shot back: “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and you devalue, you devalue the citizenship of every Canadian in this place and in this country, when you break down and make it conditional for anybody.”
Reporting by Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Christian Plumb and Ken Wills