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Canada Unveils Plan to Bolster Influence Internationally

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page A17

TORONTO, April 19 -- Canada's government said Tuesday it would beef up its military, bolster its diplomatic corps and overhaul its foreign aid in a bid to reverse the country's diminishing influence in global affairs.

"Our international presence has suffered," Prime Minister Paul Martin said in releasing a long-promised foreign policy review. "Now is the time to rebuild."

The proposals were promptly attacked as too limited and too vague by Martin's opponents, who questioned why the plan was abruptly announced just as speculation about a possible election was sweeping Ottawa.

"This is not the dynamic action plan we had hoped to see," said Belinda Stronach, a member of the opposition Conservative Party in Parliament. "There is virtually nothing new here."

Martin's ruling Liberal Party has been stunned by plummeting public approval following an influence-peddling scandal involving Martin's predecessor, Jean Chretien. A Conservative Party legislator, Stockwell Day, said at a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday that there "seemed to be a rush" to announce the foreign policy review to counteract the drop in the polls.

Martin said the plan fulfilled a campaign pledge to "redefine Canada's role in the world" in response to periodic hand-wringing over the country's perceived loss of status as a military and political power.

"You cannot have a robust foreign policy if all you're prepared to engage in is empty moralizing," Martin said.

The review proposes changes in the military that include instituting a central command, increasing the size of the 62,000-member active-duty military by 5,000, boosting the special operations forces, adding equipment, including helicopters and ships, and creating an emergency response team capable of dealing with disasters anywhere.

The plan, together with a five-year, $10 billion budget increase for the military proposed by Martin, "takes us to where we need to go," Defense Minister Bill Graham said Tuesday.

"I can't imagine they will be able to finance it," Conservative legislator Gordon O'Connor said.

The plan also calls for doubling foreign aid in five years but recommends paring the number of countries receiving it from 155 to 25. The shorter list of countries, mostly in Africa, would receive two-thirds of Canada's foreign aid by 2010 under the plan.

"We're not abandoning anybody," the minister of international cooperation, Aileen Carroll, told reporters. By "targeting" aid, Canada will concentrate on areas where it can be a main donor and "not the 15th donor in that country," she said.

The plan also urges strengthening the United Nations, increasing ties with the "new global powers" China, India and Brazil, and diversifying trade links with countries other than the United States, which now buys about 80 percent of Canada's exports.

Martin continued the tradition of walking a tightrope in relations with the United States. Canada would remain a supporter of NATO and "the great Western alliance," the prime minister said Monday, but it would not "be out there as the handmaiden of any country."

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