Who Shapes Canada’s Mid-East Policy?

Peyton Vaughan Lyon, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Carleton University, was a Rhodes Scholar, who obtained his D.Phil. from Oxford University. He served in the RCAF from 1940 to 1945 and held posts as Foreign Service Officer, Department of External Affairs in Ottawa, Canada and in Bonn, Germany. He was an author of five books on Canadian foreign policy, trade and defence. His experience makes him well positioned to investigate influences on our foreign policy. As part of the #MoralCover series, we present the following portion of an article (originally from 1992, updated 2010) that provides an excellent examination of a number of issues concerning Canadian foreign policy and the Palestine-Israel conflict.  Specifically, Lyon outlines his research on who influences Canada’s mid-east policy going as far as to quantify and rank the influence.

Who shapes Canada’s Mid-East policy?

Canada’s relations with the Arab/Muslim world are second in importance and difficulty only to its relationship with the United States. The one serious threat to Canadian citizens now stems from the mounting anger of Arabs and other Muslims, fomented largely by Israel’s long-standing occupation of Palestine. The Mid-East conflict has for sixty years been the principal issue on the agenda of the UN General Assembly, a body in which Canadians like to shine. Trade with the Middle East, while modest, is largely in manufactured goods, the sort favoured by Canadian exporters.

Canada’s foreign policy, however, fails to reflect these concerns. Its votes in the UN General Assembly and other international bodies are closer in support of Israel than those of any other nation apart from the United States and its five Pacific satellites. Prime Minister Harper’s personal statements are more biased towards Israel than those of any other leader(1) This imbalance does not accord with the advice of the men and women employed by Canada to determine and implement its interests in the Middle East. It is also opposed by an increasing number of churches, unions, and other bodies concerned with peace and justice in Palestine.

Who makes Canada’s Mid-East policy? A ranking of influence by a panel of foreign affairs officials placed the Canadian Jewish Community first at 5.85 compared to 5.40 for each of the Prime Minister and the Department of External Affairs. The Canadian/Arab Community at 1.80 was ranked 15th out of the total estimated influence inputs. (2) Although the Arab Community has become better organized in recent years, interviews with senior officials and case studies suggest that there has been little change in this ranking.

Ranking of Government Officials of Weight of Inputs (influence) in the Making of Canadian Foreign Policy in the Middle East (scale of 1 to 7)

Rank Group Influence Ranking (from 1 to 7)
1 Canadian Jewish Community 5.85
2 Prime Minister 5.04
2 DEA (now Dept. Of Global Affairs) 5.04
4 Israel 4.92
5 Cabinet 4.68
5 United States 4.68
7 Media 4.24
8 Public opinion 3.58
9 Business 2.92
10 United Nations 2.84
11 Arab States 2.76
12 Dept. of National Defence 2.58
13 Other allies 2.50
14 Dept. of Finance 1.88
15 Arab/Canadian community 1.80
16 PLO 1.52
17 Provinces 1.20

Source: Study by John Kirton and Peyton Lyon in the Journal of Canadian Studies, winter, 1992-3.

There is of course nothing illegal or immoral about lobbies, even those operating in the interest of foreign entities. A significant number of ethnic groups do in fact lobby for their countries of origin. (3) Canada’s Israel lobby is simply by far the most powerful and effective. It has become customary to refer to it as “the Lobby”, and I shall follow that practice. The Lobby claims to act on all Canada-Israel matters on behalf of an estimated two- thirds of the three hundred and fifteen thousand Canadians of Jewish origin.(4)

For obvious reasons, the American-Israel lobby is far larger, more powerful, and better known than its Canadian counterpart. (5) The biggest difference in the tactics followed by the two lobbies lies in their degrees of openness and use of threats. Because the role of Congress in making foreign policy is much greater than that of Parliament, and party discipline is weaker, the American lobby focuses on individual members of Congress, none of whom can take refuge behind a party line. Because cabinet solidarity matters more in Ottawa, the Canadian Lobby makes a greater effort to focus on every minister. Lobbying, moreover, is more acceptable in the American political culture and can be more open and hard hitting. A reputation for wealth, ruthlessness and success is in fact an asset whereas in Canada lobbies operate more discreetly and soft- pedal their influence. American elections are more frequent than in Canada; this makes raising funds more difficult, thus increasing the vulnerability of candidates to lobby pressure. Lobbying in the United States, however, is subject to greater legal restriction than in Canada. One authority goes so far as to say that, because of tighter organization, it is more effective in Canada. (6) All in all, lobbying in each country is probably about equal in effectiveness and elections afford each Lobby the greatest opportunity to exercise influence.


This except is from an article which is an update of a study of the Canada Israel Committee (CIC) published in the Journal of Canadian Studies, 1992-3. It benefited by extensive comments from Professors John Sigler, Joseph Debanné, David Farr and Diana Ralph, and Rt. Hon Robert Stanfield, Ian Watson, and Bahija Reghai. I have discussed the Israel Lobby with about 20 foreign affairs officials, 2 former Prime Ministers, 3 former Secretaries of State for External Affairs, 8 Members of Parliament, 6 Senators, and 3 officials of the Canada-Israel Committee.


Notes

  1. It does not appear that any other leader, apart from Israel’s, described as “measured” Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon in which over a thousand civilians were killed. Harper’s branding of all criticism of Israel as “anti- Semitic” appears to be unique.
  2. “Ranking of DEA Officials of Weight of Inputs (influence) in the Making of Canadian Foreign Policy” (scale of 1 to 7) from a study by John Kirton and Peyton Lyon in the Journal of Canadian Studies, winter, 1992-3.
Rank Group Influence Ranking (from 1 to 7)
1 Canadian Jewish Community 5.85
2 Prime Minister 5.04
2 DEA (now Dept. Of Global Affairs) 5.04
3 Israel 4.92
4 Cabinet 4.68
4 United States 4.68
5 Media 4.24
6 Public opinion 3.58
7 Business 2.92
8 United Nations 2.84
9 Arab States 2.76
10 Dept. of National Defence 2.58
11 Other allies 2.50
12 Dept. of Finance 1.88
13 Arab/Canadian community 1.80
14 PLO 1.52
15 Provinces 1.20
  1. Other ethnic groups that lobby include Haitian, Sikh, Armenian, Cambodian, Tamil and Lebanese.
  2. The latest census shows a drop in the number of Canadians claiming to be Jewish from 348,605 in 2001 to 315,120 in 2007. No explanation was offered for this10% drop. During this time, the size of the Jewish community dropped to 25th among ethnic communities in terms of numbers, down from 17 in 2001.
  3. John J. Mearsheimer and Steven M. Walt, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” Viking, Canada, 2007
  4. John Sigler “Canada and the Arab Conflict” in The Domestic Battleground”. David Taras and David Goldberg, McGill-Queens University Press, Kingston, 1989. John Sigler “Canada and the Arab Conflict” in The Domestic Battleground”. David Taras and David Goldberg, McGill- Queens University Press, Kingston, 1989.