Canada rode the soft power wave brought about by the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 – registering clearly in our 2016 Soft Power 30. Unfortunately, “The Trudeau boost” was relatively short-lived, and Canada has been slipping down the rankings since 2017. 2019 has been Prime Minister Trudeau’s most challenging year to date, hit by a political scandal and growing backlash over Canada’s climate change policies. The SNC-Lavalin affair ended in a ministerial resignation and questions over Trudeau’s judgement. Furthermore, the nationalisation of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would triple crude volumes moving from Alberta to the British Columbia coast once completed, sits awkwardly against the Government’s climate targets. Environmentalists and indigenous people alike have come out in force against the pipeline. The SNC-Lavalin affair paired with Trudeau’s contrary climate change policy has shaken the international view of both Trudeau as prime minister and Canada as a beacon of progressivism. Since 2016, the country’s soft power standing has seen a steady decline in the ranking, falling from 4th to 7th over the period.
Canada’s performance in the Digital sub-index is thanks in large part to the country’s efforts to close the digital divide, and prioritising internet accessibility. Minister of Rural Economic Development Bernadette Jordan released a comprehensive plan to connect every Canadian to affordable, high-speed internet and improve cellular access across the country. Combined with significant monetary commitments in the upcoming budget, this will continue to improve Canada’s performance in the Digital sub-index.
Since 2017, the Enterprise sub-index has pulled Canada down the overall ranking. Canada’s consistently poor performance can be attributed to lacklustre competitiveness and stagnant levels of innovation. However, Canada can apply the same principles used to improve its Digital ranking to growing domestic businesses and start-ups.
As Canada faces federal elections in 2019, the country should take this time to re-evaluate the source of its soft power – one that does not rely so heavily on Prime Minister Trudeau. Instead, the country can focus on how best to differentiate itself from the United States and its dissipating soft power. Canada has the opportunity to fill a significant gap left by the vacuum of traditional US global leadership and perhaps make the “North” the most attractive part of “North America”.