I had the opportunity to speak to the Honorable John Manley, a long serving Cabinet Minister in the Canadian Government, having served in key posts such as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, and Minister of Foreign Affairs – among others. John Manley is also known for having authored the Manley Report on Afghanistan in 2007 and having been Foreign Minister during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan.
We spoke on matters domestic, such as the ongoing Canadian Federal election and Canada's growing deficit amidst COVID, and international such as the situation in Afghanistan and the Canadian government's evacuation efforts.
The Honorable John Manley OC PC, 8th Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
When asked about the recent evacuation efforts in Afghanistan by the Canadian government, he said there was "ample time to make efforts to get Canadian aide, translators, their families and so on out of Afghanistan" and criticised them for having "tended to be very bureaucratic, sending lengthy forms in English, expecting responses and documents that might make sense in ordinary times but in this case simply frustrated the process of extracting people who have served Canada from that very dangerous zone", echoing the criticisms made by others that the Trudeau government wasn't doing enough.
On the question of whether the situation could've been avoided, John Manley highlighted how the Taliban had gained a reputation before 9/11 due to its "brutal ruthlessness toward women in particular, but other minority groups – some of the Shia communities within Afghanistan and Bamiyan in the north, and with their destruction of ancient Buddhas in the Bamiyan valley". He describes pre-2001 Afghanistan as a "lawless frontier where terrorists, particularly Al-Qaeda, were being given refuge"
John Manley, author of the Report on Afghanistan, with then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007
He described the time when, in November 2001, allied forces entered Kabul and the Taliban fled the capital, as the time where the aims of western presence in Afghanistan changed from "one of disabling Al-Qaeda to one of trying to find a way to provide...reliable governance for a very large territory in central Asia". Manley also argues the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a similarly watershed moment, saying that the Taliban had only returned after the invasion of Iraq. On whether things could have turned out differently, he argued that in hindsight there was many things that could have been done better. Manley argued that attempting to create a democracy had "put aside some of the effort around feeding and providing medical support for the population" and trying to create a federal state while misunderstanding tribal influences. However, he emphasised that in those 20 years, many women were educated and Afghans were able to create businesses and have international links – and a lot of that progress was overturned.
"There was a sense that this election was about Mr. Trudeau and it wasn't about the Canadian people"
The Hon. John Manley on the calling of a federal election.
When asked about the upcoming Canadian election, called by Justin Trudeau intent on getting a majority, Manley said that "Mr. Trudeau had no difficulty getting any of his Covid measures through parliament...where his campaign has faltered out of the gate is that he was having difficulty explaining why, with COVID and the ongoing fourth wave, and that the Canadian government should be preoccupied with extracting people from Afghanistan that he's decided to call an election." - in order words, that people were questioning why the Liberal government wasn't prioritising COVID and Afghanistan. He noted the unpredictability of the campaign and said was "difficult to see a majority emerging from this, for either the Liberals or the Conservatives" and that "there was a sense that this election was about Mr. Trudeau and it wasn't about the Canadian people."
"Yes, Canada is a rule of law country, but the law consists of not just judges, but also legislation"
The Hon. John Manley on the Extradition Act
On the contentious issue of the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, Manley, who joined with politicians, diplomats, and jurists of all stripes, discussed why he supported a 'prisoner exchange' between China and Canada. The Canadian government's claim that this would undermine the rule of law, he argued, is flawed, as it does not note the content of the Extradition Act, which gave the final decision to the Attorney-General, a member of Trudeau's cabinet. This detention has been particularly acrimonious for Canada-China relations and Manley argued that "This [was] an unusual extradition request, given that the alleged offences are corporate in nature – it's not normal for the US to seek the officer of a corporation in this context, and it should have caused alarm bells to go off."
"I don't think standing on the sidelines, wagging our fingers, is going to make much difference"
The Hon. John Manley some Western attitudes to China
On the larger question of the best way to take the lead on relations with China, a question which is becoming more pertinent here in the United Kingdom, Manley argued the need to engage in dialogue with China, as was Canada's historic international role. He argued that while there is much debate over relations with China and recent events, "Canada doesn't fulfil any purpose in the world if we don't talk to everybody.," and "I don't regard diplomatic recognition or diplomatic contact as some sort of approbation of the behaviour or values or attitudes of foreign governments – so I think it's very important for Canada and Britain to be fully engaged with China"
Manley cited how during the Cold War, Canada continued diplomatic relations with Cuba proved useful to the United States – something that was maintain by both Liberal and Conservative governments. "It was not just useful for us, but it was useful for the Americans – and they didn't disapprove of our engagement with Cuba, in fact they found it a source of valuable information"
"I would focus, if I were advising Mr. O'Toole, on the United Kingdom"
The Hon. John Manley on Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole's support for a CANZUK FTA
When asked about free trade and the Canadian Tories' proposal of supporting a CANZUK FTA – one supported by The Bruges Group – he disagreed with CANZUK on the basis that Canada was already in a free trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand via the CPTPP, something that both previous Bruges Group interviewees Todd Muller and Christopher Pyne have previously mentioned, and that Canada was in an FTA with the EU – with provisions extended to the UK. However, he reiterated the close relations between Canada and the UK, saying that "they are at a similar stage of development and there is not as much overlap."
"I see commitments on spending programmes that will not necessarily add to Canada's productivity or support economic growth – so I'm one that's a bit worried about the trajectory that we are on"
The Hon. John Manley on the Trudeau government spending priorities
I thought it relevant to ask Mr. Manley on the question of deficits and the threat of inflation, as a former Liberal Minister of Finance, and Manley said, "they've taken license from the COVID response to basically put aside any concerns over deficit spending". "To some degree, I don't think it's so much the budget being balanced as 'are you allowing your deficit to grow faster than your economy grows over the course of a full cycle of expansion or contraction?.' It's clearly going to grow faster during a contraction but then you have to begin paying it down during the expansion period, and I see no sign of that.", he said, speaking on Trudeau's spending commitments.
Manley was critical of overreliance on quantitative easing (QE) by Canada's central bank, the Bank of Canada, "If you finance a government borrowing to too great an extend through a Quantitative Easing approach, you can help but, in my view, to be debasing the currency – you're allowing the money supply to be growing faster than your economy." and described the Canadian government's spending 'trajectory' as "not...sustainable over the long term."
I was fortunate to hear from Mr. Manley and hear his insights on Canada, its diplomatic history, the potential economic potholes it faces, and the situation in Afghanistan, among other issues.