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The nations that Parliament sees

By Samantha Wright Allen      

A Hill Times analysis shows which countries, regions, and groups were most often on the lips of Canadian Members of Parliament.

This heat map of the world shows the frequency with which countries were mentioned in committees and the House since the Liberals swept to power in the fall of 2015. The Hill Times graphic created by Google Charts
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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.

View Larger Map


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.

Winners and losers

Top of the pack: 25 hottest countries in House of Commons debate and committees

  1. United States: 16,333
  2. United Kingdom: 2,976
  3. China: 2,831
  4. European Union: 2,665
  5. Australia: 2,245
  6. Ukraine: 1,569
  7. Russia: 1,547
  8. France: 1,506
  9. India: 1,401
  10. Mexico:1,294
  11. New Zealand: 1,242
  12. Iraq: 1,219
  13. Japan: 1,218
  14. Syria: 1,186
  15. Germany: 1,150
  16. Afghanistan: 910
  17. Iran: 771
  18. Israel: 744
  19. Norway: 478
  20. Myanmar: 468
  21. Saudi Arabia: 464
  22. Netherlands: 453
  23. North Korea: 424
  24. Turkey: 415
  25. Brazil: 391

Bottom of the pack: 51 countries were mentioned 10 times or fewer in three years of House of Commons debate and committees

  • Comoros, Mayotte, Reunion, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Azerbaijan, Montserrat, San Marino, Holy See, Micronesia, Samoa, Solomon Islands: never mentioned
  • Saint Lucia, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Togo, Anguilla, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Nauru: mentioned once
  • Gabon, Swaziland, Turks & Caicos Islands, Kiribati, Suriname: twice
  • Cape Verde, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Monaco, Pacific Islands, Tonga, French Guiana, Dominica: three times
  • Guadeloupe, Martinique, Andorra: four times
  • Papua New Guinea: five times
  • Bhutan, Palau: six times
  • Mauritius, Marshall Islands: seven times
  • Djibouti, Belize: eight times
  • Malawi, Maldives, Bahrain: nine times
  • Benin, Macedonia: 10 times

The 25 least-mentioned countries that have representatives in Ottawa

  1. Azerbaijan: 0
  2. Togo: 1
  3. Gabon: 2
  4. Ivory Coast: 3
  5. Lesotho: 3
  6. Saint Kitts and Nevis: 3
  7. Benin: 10
  8. Macedonia: 10
  9. Guinea: 11
  10. Guyana: 12
  11. Madagascar: 16
  12. Cameroon: 17
  13. Slovenia: 17
  14. Albania: 18
  15. Angola: 19
  16. Zambia: 20
  17. Slovakia: 21
  18. Chad: 21
  19. Croatia: 24
  20. Mongolia: 27
  21. Qatar: 30
  22. Senegal: 32
  23. Serbia: 35
  24. Trinidad and Tobago: 37
  25. United Arab Emirates: 37

Regions and groups

The Hill Times graph created by Infogram

Total mentions of countries in major regions (excluding the U.S.)

  • Europe: 17,294
  • Asia: 9,949
  • Middle East and North Africa: 6,104
  • Africa: 2,714
  • Central America and Mexico: 2,034
  • Oceania: 3,559
  • South America: 2,044
  • Caribbean: 1,004

Total mentions of countries by international groupings

  • G20 countries: 37,560
  • Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation countries: 29,003
  • Commonwealth countries: 10,369
  • La Francophonie countries: 4,874

Party Politics

The Hill Times graph created by Infogram.

Top six countries mentioned by Conservatives

  • United States: 3,302
  • China: 823
  • United Kingdom: 529
  • European Union: 464
  • India: 427
  • Ukraine: 389

Top six countries mentioned by NDP

  • United States: 1,714
  • European Union: 411
  • United Kingdom: 282
  • China: 256
  • Australia: 175
  • Saudi Arabia: 143

Top six countries mentioned by Liberals

  • United States: 3,860
  • European Union: 684
  • United Kingdom: 665
  • China: 617
  • Ukraine: 504
  • Australia: 475

Regional breakdown

Top 10 countries in Africa

  • Sudan: 261
  • Mali: 249
  • Somalia: 205
  • South Sudan: 195
  • Nigeria: 187
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo: 182
  • Burundi: 168
  • Rwanda: 168
  • South Africa: 149
  • Kenya: 137

Bottom 10 countries in Africa

  • Equatorial Guinea: 1
  • Guinea-Bissau: 1
  • Togo: 1
  • Gabon 2
  • Swaziland: 2
  • Cape Verde: 3
  • Gambia: 3
  • Ivory Coast : 3
  • Lesotho: 3
  • Mauritius: 7

Top 10 countries in Asia

  • China: 2,831
  • India: 1,401
  • Japan: 1,218
  • Afghanistan: 910
  • Myanmar: 468
  • North Korea: 424
  • Vietnam: 384
  • South Korea: 300
  • Bangladesh: 251
  • Malaysia: 231

Bottom 10 countries in Asia

  • Bhutan: 6
  • Maldives: 9
  • Kyrgyzstan: 13
  • Turkmenistan: 14
  • Tajikistan: 21
  • Laos: 21
  • Mongolia: 27
  • Uzbekistan: 31
  • Brunei Darussalam: 41
  • Nepal: 57

A heat map of Asian countries by mentions in the House and committee since the Liberals were elected, with yellow representing the fewest up to purple for the most. The Hill Times graph by Google

Top five countries in Caribbean

  • Cuba: 231
  • Haiti: 191
  • Barbados: 190
  • Bahamas: 75
  • Jamaica: 61

Bottom five in Caribbean

  • Saint Lucia: 1
  • Anguilla: 1
  • Turks & Caicos Islands: 2
  • Dominica: 3
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis: 3

Top three countries in Central America 

  • Panama: 211
  • Guatemala: 132
  • Honduras: 171

Bottom three countries in Central America

  • Belize: 8
  • Nicaragua: 46
  • Costa Rica: 72

Top 10 countries in Europe

  • United Kingdom: 2,976
  • Ukraine: 1,569
  • Russia: 1,547
  • France: 1,506
  • Germany: 1,150
  • Norway: 478
  • Netherlands: 453
  • Sweden: 366
  • Italy: 360
  • Ireland: 346

Top five non-EU countries in Europe

  • Ukraine: 1,569
  • Russia: 1,547
  • Norway: 478
  • Switzerland: 267
  • Iceland: 190

Bottom 10 European countries

  • Monaco: 3
  • Andorra: 4
  • Macedonia: 10
  • Slovenia: 17
  • Montenegro: 18
  • Albania: 18
  • Slovakia: 21
  • Croatia: 24
  • Liechtenstein: 24
  • Serbia: 35

A heat map of European countries by mentions in the House and committee since the Liberals were elected, with yellow representing the fewest up to purple for the most. The Hill Times graph by Google

Top 10 Middle East and North Africa countries

  • Iraq: 1,219
  • Syria: 1,186
  • Iran: 771
  • Israel: 744
  • Saudi Arabia: 464
  • Turkey: 415
  • Jordan: 230
  • Lebanon: 217
  • Yemen: 144
  • Egypt: 131

Bottom five Middle East and North Africa Countries

  • Bahrain: 9
  • Oman: 12
  • Qatar: 30
  • United Arab Emirates: 37
  • Tunisia: 40

Top four countries in Oceania

  • Australia: 2,245
  • New Zealand: 1,242
  • Fiji: 14
  • East Timor: 12

Top five countries in South America

  • Brazil: 391
  • Chile: 339
  • Colombia: 312
  • Venezuela: 307
  • Peru: 216

The Hill Times graph created by Infogram.

Bottom five countries in South America

  • Bolivia: 48
  • Paraguay: 42
  • Guyana: 12
  • French Guiana: 3
  • Suriname: 2

Top 10 countries discussed in House of Commons debates

  • United States: 4,975
  • European Union: 1,264
  • China: 1,058
  • United Kingdom: 717
  • Ukraine: 717
  • India: 649
  • Iraq: 623
  • Syria: 592
  • France: 535
  • Australia: 431

Top 10 countries debated in House of Commons committees

  • United States: 11,334
  • United Kingdom: 2,250
  • Australia: 1,811
  • China: 1,771
  • European Union: 1,301
  • Russia: 1,133
  • New Zealand: 1,044
  • Japan: 1,007
  • France: 966
  • Mexico: 959


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