When the U.S. and four European countries decided to issue a joint condemnation of Hamas’s attacks in Israel and a warning to others not to join in the fighting, nobody called Canada.
That’s an omission. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone. This country just doesn’t have that kind of influence.
The five countries – the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy – are members of the Group of Seven, but without Canada and Japan. These five, called the Quint, have for years held calls and meetings without the other two, and taken common positions on hot spots such as Syria or Lebanon.
That’s not new. But there is still something here worth noting.
Canada was never invited into the Quint, not even years ago. But if anything, it’s further from getting such an invitation – and missing out on new ones.
More and more, groups of countries get together informally to collaborate on issues or crises around the world. And Canada is getting left out more often.
This time, it sparked a lot of questions. Canada has a large Jewish diaspora with many personal ties to Israel, and a sizable Palestinian community. Two Canadians were killed and one more is presumed dead, officials said. Three are missing, and Ottawa is sending hostage-negotiation experts. Hundreds are seeking help to leave Israel, and roughly 70 cannot leave Gaza.
Canada has some skin in the game. Yet it didn’t get a call.
That has sparked some criticism for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But in foreign policy terms it is not a real blow.
“There’s this Canadian hypersensitivity when we are not invited,” said Thomas Juneau, a University of Ottawa expert on the Middle East and Canadian foreign policy. Not being in a Quint statement, he said, “is not a big deal.”
This was a statement of major Western powers quickly issuing a caution – to Hezbollah, to Iran, to others – not to get involved. When leading Western powers want to deliver a heavyweight warning shot, what does Canada add? It’s not a major player in the Middle East, in global security, or NATO, or any relevant power dynamic.
“Italy barely makes it,” said Mr. Juneau. “A country like Canada is simply not a player at this level.”
There was some high-level Canadian diplomacy. Mr. Trudeau called leaders of Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly called Mideast counterparts to emphasize the conflict must not widen. She spoke with “the White House,” she said. But she did not speak to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Let’s face it, Mr. Blinken has more urgent priorities.
Japan typically is cautious about Mideast politics, so perhaps a G7 statement would have been less muscular, or take longer. But the explanation provided by a Canadian official in a background briefing Wednesday is simple enough: The Quint leaders happened to be talking among themselves and issued a statement.
Canada wasn’t excluded. It just wasn’t there.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters that’s all because foreign leaders “don’t take Justin Trudeau seriously.” But the Quint has been meeting without Canada and Japan on and off for more than a decade.
That was so when Stephen Harper was prime minister – for example in 2014, when Quint leaders had a conference call in April about Ukraine, another in July about Ukraine and Gaza, and a third in October about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. There were others, in person and on the phone, before and after.
The Quint is, in a sense, a U.S.-Europe confab without smaller European countries. But it is informal. It’s not as structured and extensive as the G7.
Yet it offers a reminder for the future. Informal groups of countries are increasingly formed, and often based on shared values and historic ties but on more transactional interests.
Canada often gets left out. “I think it is getting worse,” Mr. Juneau said.
In 2017, Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. revived the Quad, which is focused on security in the Indo-Pacific. Canada wasn’t invited. Canada wasn’t asked to join the AUKUS, the Australia-Britain-U. S. maritime security group in the Pacific. What does Canada, with a stretched navy, offer? Getting invited now depends more on what you can contribute.
Canada never made it to the Quint table. But that should serve as a reminder that getting invited sometimes depends on what you offer. More and more, it will depend on the instruments of international influence that Canada has neglected for a long time. In the future, it will be left out more.