In a blistering speech that took aim at Canada's foreign policy, diplomat Robert Fowler said Sunday the government should refocus its efforts from Afghanistan to Africa, where instability poses a greater threat.

Addressing the Liberal Party's Canada at 150 conference, a policy summit in Montreal, Fowler said that despite 146 Canadian lives lost and billions of dollars spent, Canada "doesn't have the heart" to wage a long-haul, casualty heavy battle in a country where none of its vital interests are engaged.

"The bottom line is that we will not prevail in Afghanistan," Fowler said.

"We are simply not prepared to foot the massive price in blood and treasure which it would take to effectively colonize Afghanistan ... and replace their culture with ours, for that seems to be what we seek."

Fowler, who spent five months in captivity in Niger while working for the United Nations, said Canada does not deserve to be elected to the UN Security Council in several months' time.

He added: "as the globe has become smaller and meaner, Canadian governments have turned inward and adopted me-first stances across the international agenda, and Canada's reputation and proud international traditions have been diminished as a result."

After his speech, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff shook Fowler's hand and thanked him for "something his party needed to hear."

"I am very grateful to you," Ignatieff told Fowler.

Closing out the weekend summit, the Liberal leader pledged to create a "different version" of Canada by bringing together disparate opinions to help solve the country's lingering problems.

Though Ignatieff said that smart fiscal decisions need to be made in the coming years, he reiterated that raising taxes isn't the answer.

In fact, he said that the Liberals would put a freeze on corporate taxes, which would put about $5 billion back into federal coffers.

Ignatieff also spoke about pension reform, child care and a renewed climate change effort.

Foreign policy concerns

Though Ignatieff was given the last word at the conference, it was Fowler's speech which generated the most buzz.

"The world does not need more of the kind of Canada they've been getting," Fowler said.

According to Fowler, Ottawa's foreign policy has been hijacked by domestic political concerns.

He said the federal government's pro-Israel stance in an effort to "lock up the Jewish vote in Canada" has left it unable to take the lead in negotiations that could one day "offer the long-suffering Israelis and Palestinians the prospect of a durable peace."

Fowler lamented the dearth of Canadian diplomats making a difference in world affairs and wondered, "When was the last time a Canadian idea or proposal made a difference on the world stage?"

Fowler did not limit his criticism to the current government, saying the Conservatives and Liberals both suffer from the same problem.

"I believe that the Liberal Party has to a significant extent lost its way, at least in policy terms -- and of course, I mean particularly in my area of foreign policy -- and is in danger of losing its soul," he said.

"To this observer, it seems Liberals today don't stand for much in the way of principle. I have the impression that they will endorse anything and everything that might return them to power and nothing that won't, whatever the merits of either. It's all about getting to power, and it shows."

Before he began his talk, Fowler did acknowledge that the federal government "got me out" of captivity in Niger and admitted his remarks "may not sound like a terrific way to express my appreciation for the fact I'm alive."

He said he owed the Conservatives government -- and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in particular -- a debt for saving his life.