Social media- in particular Twitter, has become an increasingly powerful force for political communication as we hear almost daily media reports on tweets from the President of the United States.
Last year, here in Canada, a tweet came from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that stated:
“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada”
This tweet has been frequently referenced as a catalyst for a large increase in illegal immigration across Canada's borders
More recently a tweet from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called out Saudi Arabia for imprisoning human rights activists resulting in a significant reaction from Saudi Arabia.
Within days of the tweet, Saudi Arabia announced intentions to withdraw roughly 16,000 students from Canadian post-secondary institutions, expelled the Canadian Ambassador from Saudi Arabia and withdrew the Saudi Arabian Ambassador from Canada.
In addition, Saudi Arabia placed a freeze on all new trade and investment transactions with Canada, suspended all flights to and from Toronto and Saudi Arabia and is transferring all Saudi nationals receiving paid medical treatment in Canada to hospitals in other countries.
It has also been reported that the Saudi Central Bank is in the process of selling off and divesting all Canadian related equities, bond, and cash holdings. There are also reports that Canadian agricultural products will no longer be purchased along with other actions
The total cost financially is unknown to date.
It is estimated that Saudi Arabia has invested close to $6 Billion in Canada and that the loss of Saudi students may account for roughly $500 million in lost revenue annually to Canadian post-secondary institutions.
It is difficult to comprehend that Canada’s relations with Saudi Arabia could become so stressed over the use of social media and Twitter however Minister Freeland and the Liberal Government stands by the tweet calling out Saudi Arabia for serious human rights concerns.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of this situation is that to date none of our allies, including the United States, have stood by Canada.
Countries such as Egypt and Jordan have stated they are siding with Saudi Arabia in what they view as an intrusion by Canada into domestic affairs.
I do not believe the Liberal Government intended to provoke this reaction from Saudi Arabia, as very few could have predicted this level of response. Likewise I believe it is a long standing tradition of current and previous Canadian Governments to raise human rights concerns when and where they exist.
Where I will fault the Liberal Government is using Twitter as the tool to convey these concerns.
Canada has a long standing history of having a world class diplomatic sector and using the services of skilled diplomats offers many benefits.
There is a growing concern where the Liberal Government has used tweets that have helped to create situations that adversely impact others as this current situation with Saudi Arabia demonstrates.
My question this week;
Are you concerned with the growing reliance of using Twitter diplomacy as opposed to traditional diplomacy by the Liberal Government?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.