OTTAWA, Canada, CMC – Canada’s Conservative government is defending its commitment to Latin America and the Caribbean after eyebrows were raised during last week’s cabinet shuffle, prompting talks that the government’s vaunted “Americas Strategy” has run its course, according to reports here.
Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, said that he met Latin American and Caribbean ambassadors immediately after the shuffle to reassure them the region remains a top priority for the current administration, according to the Vancouver Sun.
A year after launching the “Americas Strategy” in 2008, aimed at reviving and expanding Canada’s presence in the region, Prime Minister Stephen Harper created a dedicated minister of state to the Americas.
The position was first held by Peter Kent and then by Diane Ablonczy. But, in a cabinet shuffle, the minister of state for the Americas position was quietly retired when Ablonczy was replaced by Lynne Yelich, who was named minister of state for foreign affairs, meaning that she covers the whole world.
Baird said having a minister of state for the Americas limited his own ability to focus on the region, adding “this is going to allow me to spend a lot more time on these files”.
The Canadian foreign minister said he will undertake a seven-country trip to the region next week.
“So I think we’ll be speaking loudly with our actions that the Americas not only will remain a priority, but even be stepping up our priority list,” he said.
But the Sun questioned whether Baird will be able to dedicate as much time and attention to the region as he optimistically predicts, given that he has the rest of the world to worry about as well.
“I think the Conservative government considers its agenda in the Americas is basically complete,” said Carleton University professor, Jean Daudelin.
“The core of their agenda was the trade file, and we’ve signed agreements with basically all the countries that are basically interested.”
University of Ottawa senior fellow, Carlo Dade, told the SUN that the government did “alright” with its Americas strategy by cementing ties with a number of key partners in the region, but a lack of resources and strategic thinking limited what could actually be accomplished.
Dade said the door to do more for the Caribbean has “essentially closed,” adding that the Canadian government is now turning to other parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia.
“We shouldn’t have just done well, we should have done fantastic. So where do we go from here. There’s not much more that can be done,” he added.