Not usually recognised as a powerhouse in its own right, Canada’s global influence has enjoyed a revival in recent years, boosted by this year’s global celebrations marking 150 years since Confederation. For those tired of the Twitter drama overtaking politics south of the border, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to make digital diplomacy look easy with his good looks and political savvy. Through the power of online, the public was given up close and personal access as the prime minister welcomed Syrian refugees, and have watched on with amusement as he established his own form of sock diplomacy. But following Canada’s slight decline in our international polling data, and with his approval ratings at home taking a hit, it looks like Trudeau fatigue could finally be setting in. An image revival is possible if Trudeau continues to assert Canada’s global influence, as he did so beautifully in teaming up with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to take on President Trump on the NAFTA deal. And as the White House signed off executive orders banning Syrian refugees, Canada began the year by declaring itself open to those fleeing war and terror. The difference could not be starker, and while Canada may not always meet the sky-high ideals the world expects of it, it proves that a consistent and understated approach to soft power can be cool in its own right – an approach keeping Canada firmly in our top-5.
Despite falling from the top spot in our international polling data, Canada remains one of the world’s most well-regarded countries. Its image has only been bolstered by a prime minister who trumpets the country’s commitment to openness and diversity at every opportunity. Also worth noting is a significant increase in foreign student applications to Canadian universities this year, another indication the world is paying attention to the country’s hospitality and openness.
While the Canadian government’s digital diplomacy efforts remain a case study for best practice – helped in part by Trudeau’s popularity – its fall from second to fourth in the Digital sub-index suggests competitors are catching up. Canada must leverage soft power gains made through positive global attention by implementing a more robust digital engagement strategy.
A divisive political climate in the US has handed Trudeau the mandate to position Canada as the alternative. Canada should avoid relying solely on the charisma and popularity of its leader, and should use any political capital amassed to invest in weaker areas of its soft power, including innovation and enterprise. As it repositions itself as a leader in tolerance, Canada should focus on finding the balance between projecting a stronger global voice while holding onto the adoration of the global population.