By Jennifer Ditchburn, THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA: Political wisdom holds that Canadians don’t cast ballots based on what a party says about international issues, it’s all about what’s in front of them at home.

But with the ongoing mass movement of Syrian refugees, the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership in the offing and a major climate change conference later this fall, a debate tonight on foreign affairs appears to have particular domestic relevance and interest.

The refugee issue has come up repeatedly during the election campaign, and with it the related arguments around how to approach the civil war in Syria, immigration policies and international aid.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau of the Liberals have portrayed the refugee issue as one about Canadian values. Both favour taking a different approach to the conflict in Syria, rather than the bombing of ISIL targets.

NDP candidate Paul Dewar, the party’s former foreign affairs critic, issued an open letter calling on Canada to take on a greater peacekeeping role in the world.

“The neglect and withdrawal of Canada’s contributions to the international community over the last 25 years has weakened Canada’s reputation and influence,” Dewar wrote.

“The consequences are seen in our rejected bids for membership at the UN Security Council and the East Asia Summit. The policy of international disengagement is both irresponsible and ineffective.”

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has framed his party as the one best positioned to protect Canada from terrorism, both at home and abroad as troops carry out a military mission against ISIL.

Protesters in favour of bringing in more refugees are expected to greet the three federal party leaders when they arrive at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall this evening. They have promised to unfurl a list of names of the more than 20,000 who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to safety, or across the Mexico-United States border.

Russia’s role in the ongoing Syrian conflict has also come up. It has been building up its presence in the country militarily, and President Vladimir Putin said over the weekend that Russia supports the “legitimate” government of Bashar al-Assad.

President Barack Obama directly referenced the issue during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, saying he would work with Iran and Russia, but that al-Assad’s government needed to be transitioned out.

Meanwhile, international talks around the Trans-Pacific Partnership are coming to a head this week in Atlanta. Canadian negotiators have been hard at work, an unusual situation during an election campaign.

Canadian dairy farmers, the auto industry and the provincial premiers will be watching closely to see what sorts of compromises Ottawa makes in order to seal the deal.

Climate change, expected to be one of the debate topics, is an issue that crosses over with discussions around jobs, agriculture and health.

The next round of international negotiations on global climate change targets is scheduled for November in Paris. Harper has been accused of doing little to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and of mishandling pipeline negotiations by not demonstrating enough of a commitment on the environment.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May, who was excluded by the organizers of the debate, will be interjecting again through social media.

The Munk Debates, a charitable organization, is hosting the discussion, the fourth time the leaders have squared off in the campaign.


© 2015 The Canadian Press