In 2015, Justin Trudeau declared that Canada was back on the world stage. Stephen Harper said the same thing in 2006. So did Paul Martin in 2003.  Is Canada an international player or has Canada been neglecting its global responsibilities? This course examines the foreign policy of our last six prime ministers and explores the impact of their decisions on how Canadians see themselves and their place in the world.

March 27: Pierre Trudeau, 1968-1984

The new Prime Minister pledges to re-imagine Canadian foreign policy and announces that Ottawa will recognize the People’s Republic of China. President Nixon forces Ottawa to reconsider the Canadian economy’s reliance on trade with the United States. Canada joins the G7. Trudeau returns, after a brief Conservative interlude, and launches a global peace initiative meant to promote nuclear disarmament.

April 3: Brian Mulroney, 1984-1993

Brian Mulroney pledges “super relations” with the United States, and successfully negotiates the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. The Cold War ends, resulting in a rare period of great power harmony and international activism. Canada emerges as an environmental leader, but the Department of National Defence is left in a sorry state.

April 17: Jean Chrétien, 1993-2001

Canada continues its activist ways on a limited budget. Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy’s human security agenda sees his country leading global efforts to ban anti-personnel landmines and to protect civilians caught in the midst of armed conflict. Canada clashes with the United States over softwood lumber and split-run magazines, but the two states cooperate in Kosovo. This lecture ends with the events of 9/11.

April 24: Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, 2001-2006

Jean Chrétien seeks to leave a legacy in Kyoto and Kananaskis. Canada says “no” to the second war in Iraq. Paul Martin says “no” to ballistic missile defence. In spite of these disagreements, Canada and the United States cooperate in Afghanistan and in efforts to launch a G20.

May 1: Stephen Harper, 2006-2015

Under Stephen Harper, Afghanistan takes centre stage. Canada withdraws from the Kyoto accord. The softwood lumber dispute is resolved, but the Keystone Pipeline issue is not. Canada becomes more outspoken in its support for Israel. The Conservatives launch an initiative to promote maternal, newborn, and child health. The Canadian Armed Forces intervene in Libya and against Daesh.

May 8: Justin Trudeau, 2015-???

Canada is back, but then Donald Trump arrives. NAFTA is renegotiated, but the process leaves bruises. Canada pledges to reinvest in national defence and to actively pursue its Feminist International Assistance Policy. Clashes with China and Saudi Arabia are noted and followed around the world. This lecture is subject to change…


Adam Chapnick is a professor of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada. He also serves as the Deputy Director of Education at the Canadian Forces College. He holds a BA from Trent University, an MA in International Affairs from Carleton University, and a PhD in History from the University of Toronto. He gave a popular GTLLI lecture in September, 2017.