With the Trudeau government at the United Nations General Assembly this week pressing for a non-permanent Security Council seat, and reminding world leaders of Canada’s international importance, it’s time to look again at how often Parliamentarians discuss the rest of the world.
In our second review of this type, The Hill Times used data from Open Parliament to analyze House of Commons debates and committee meetings during the 42nd Parliament—November 2015 to August 2018—to see which countries were most often on the lips of Canadian Parliamentarians. It builds off our previous analysis looking at the last Parliament, from May 2011 to October 2015.
Yet again, the United States was by far mentioned the most often, getting shout-outs 16,333 times—more than five times that of the next closest United Kingdom’s 2,976. The NAFTA negotiations are a near-constant focus of this Parliament, but some were surprised to see Mexico just squeak into the top 10 most mentioned nations.
The data can offer valuable insight, said Julie Savard-Shaw, a former member of the policy team in the Prime Minister’s Office focusing on feminist foreign policy, but it’s also in large part an indication of discussion influenced by outside factors.
“It demonstrates where the government is focusing its energy on,” she said. “It’s clear by looking at the countries, the government is focusing on trade issues, economic issue, conflicts, humanitarian issues.”
While nowhere near a complete picture—some of the countries not mentioned are likely to come up in internal conversations—Carleton University international affairs professor Stephen Saideman noticed far less discussion of Canadian military operations than one might expect.
Latvia, at 256 mentions, and Mali, with 249, barely make it in the top 40 for most-discussed nations.
“This speaks to the priorities of all the major parties—that the Latvia mission, for instance, is something that may not bother anyone—that it is a solid NATO mission that is hard to oppose and not so very visible in the media,” said Prof. Saideman by email.
Seeing other nations so low—like Libya (118), Bosnia (115), and Kosovo (73)—”shows that we have short memories about our past interventions.”
Pascale Massot, a former Liberal foreign affairs policy adviser, warned against drawing any conclusions from the data without qualifying the mentions further, such as whether they were made in a positive or negative light, for example, or were proactive or responsive and linked to a foreign policy event or policy initiatives.
When the Liberals formed a majority government in 2015 they represented 54 per cent of the 338 members, compared to 29 per cent for the Tories. But, that breakdown doesn’t translate to foreign affairs when counting total mentions that could be attributed to political parties. The Liberals represented 43.2 per cent of such discussions, just slightly ahead of the Conservatives’ 38.5 per cent, while the NDP accounted for 18.3 per cent of country references.
Zoom in on the map below to see how many times countries were mentioned in the House and committee between November 2015 and August 2018.
We focused on the names of the countries themselves, rather than words associated with nationality (i.e. “American”) but when a country could be referenced multiple ways, those searches were added to the total. That included the “United States,” for example, where we tacked on searches for “America” and “U.S.” and with the United Kingdom, where we also lumped in “U.K.” and “Britain.”
We also paid attention to cases where data might be skewed by other place or common names—for example, we filtered out any mentions of the U.S. city Atlanta when searching for mentions of Georgia, the Central Asian country, and removed the word “pig” when searching Guinea.
Some countries hovered on the border of regions, and so for our regional analysis, we kept with our past practice of labelling Central Asian countries like Afghanistan and Kazakhstan as Asian, while we put countries such as Turkey and Armenia in the Middle East and North Africa category.
We also searched for entities such as the European Union (and EU), Hong Kong, the Palestinian Territories, and Tibet.
While the approach isn’t perfect, we hope this is a largely accurate reflection of how often Canada’s MPs have mentioned different countries in the House and committees over the last three years.
Top of the pack: 25 hottest countries in House of Commons debate and committees
Bottom of the pack: 51 countries were mentioned 10 times or fewer in three years of House of Commons debate and committees
The 25 least-mentioned countries that have representatives in Ottawa
Total mentions of countries in major regions (excluding the U.S.)
Total mentions of countries by international groupings
Top six countries mentioned by Conservatives
Top six countries mentioned by NDP
Top six countries mentioned by Liberals
Top 10 countries in Africa
Bottom 10 countries in Africa
Top 10 countries in Asia
Bottom 10 countries in Asia
Top five countries in Caribbean
Bottom five in Caribbean
Top three countries in Central America
Bottom three countries in Central America
Top 10 countries in Europe
Top five non-EU countries in Europe
Bottom 10 European countries
Top 10 Middle East and North Africa countries
Bottom five Middle East and North Africa Countries
Top four countries in Oceania
Top five countries in South America
Bottom five countries in South America
Top 10 countries discussed in House of Commons debates
Top 10 countries debated in House of Commons committees
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