Canada is not usually recognised as a powerhouse in its own right, but its global influence enjoyed a revival following the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau continues to be an exemplary user of social media, making digital diplomacy look easy with his good looks and political savvy. However, Canada returned poorer performances in Digital, Culture, and Enterprise this year, falling out of the top five for the first time since the 2015 launch of The Soft Power 30. The good news is that Canada still performs well in Government, and is also the most trusted country in its approach to global affairs, according to the polling. This is a positive indication that Canada is seen as a force for good in the world. While the G7 summit may not have gone to plan for Canada, after President Trump pulled out of a joint communiqué, it presents critical opportunities for Canada to re-position itself on the global stage. Given relations with the US are at a historical low, Canada should seek to carve a more distinct role for itself and pursue engagements with like-minded partners across the Atlantic and Pacific. Trudeau will no doubt play an important role in driving further engagement, but fluctuations in his popularity suggest that other key figures in diplomacy should step up public diplomacy efforts. Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s visit to Bangladesh, and Canada’s ongoing efforts to address the Rohingya refugee crisis, for example, highlight Canada’s positive international contributions, and the country should ensure its initiatives in foreign policy, international trade, and humanitarian aid are matched with digital diplomacy efforts.
Canada remains one of the world’s most well-regarded countries. It is viewed globally as a top destination for tourism, work, and study, and enjoys high numbers of foreign student applications. It rivals the Nordic countries in its excellence in human development, individual freedom, and government effectiveness, posting a strong performance in the Government sub-index. Canada’s international image is further bolstered by the Prime Minister’s vocal commitment to openness and diversity at every opportunity.
Canada’s poorest performance in The Soft Power 30 index is in Enterprise, largely due to middling performances across metrics in competitiveness and innovation. While the Canadian government’s digital diplomacy efforts remain a case study for best practice – helped in part by Trudeau’s popularity – a continued fall in the ranks to seventh (after peaking at second) suggests that Trudeau cannot do it all on his own. Canada needs to get away from putting all of its digital diplomacy eggs in one basket. As competitors continue to catch up in the digital arena, Canada should aim to implement a broader digital engagement strategy making use of a broader set of key spokespeople and figures.
Canada has traditionally been seen as America’s close partner and neighbour, but that now seems to carry more risks than rewards. Canada would do well to make a clear separation from the US and reposition itself as a globally responsible leader, committed to peace, openness, and multilateralism. As it works to project a more distinctively Canadian voice, it should avoid relying solely on the charisma and popularity of its leader, and invest in broader engagement efforts led by other key figures in diplomacy. On the policy side, efforts to boost innovation and enterprise would help lift Canadian soft power.