Foreign Policy as a Canadian Act


22 October 2009

Well Dr. Brown, Dr. McGillivray, Senator MacEachen, Senator Murray, Dr. Stewart, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted not only to be here myself, but that so many of you are. I'm told that on a royal visit to Canada back so long ago that Allan MacEachen was young, the then mayor of Montreal, Camillien Houde, was on the platform outside city hall in Montreal with Her Majesty. There was a wonderful, large, enthusiastic crowd. He turned to Her Majesty and said "Queen, some of this is for you." Allan, some of this is for you.

I must say that enough time has passed - you'll see in my notes later tonight, that I can't quite forget the events of December 13th 1979 - but enough time has passed that I'm able to not only take advantage of this opportunity but to express my admiration of Allan MacEachen's skills both domestically in parliament, which I know only too well, and the tradition of which he has established and upheld as I have tried to do as Canada's representative internationally. It occurs to me that, in a sense, had events turned out a little bit differently I might have been able to get here on my own. My family, the MacDonnell family, the MacDonnell part of my family was settled, I can't remember how many years ago, at St. Andrews and my great great great something or other grandfather had the very good sense when his time came, to be buried at Nine Mile River. Now that was important because I was, as it was noted, a candidate for election to the House of Commons in Kings-Hants and I was accused of being from away. But I was able to make the point that my family had been in Hants County longer than almost anyone else because Nine Mile River where he is planted is very firmly there.

This crowd is particularly appealing, interesting to me because once you leave public life, you know, people forget who you are. You don't have the normal adulation that you've become accustomed to. I can recall in the early 90s after I left politics the first time, Maureen and I were home in Calgary and this most extraordinary thing happened - the telephone rang. And I picked it up and there was a female person on the other end and she said "I want to speak to Mr. or Mrs. R. T. Hon". And I said, I'm sorry, there are no Hon's here. She said, "Sir, this is your telephone company. This telephone is registered to Mr. & Mrs. R. T. Hon." Well, I finally figured out that she was talking about my title, the Right Honourable, but being a polite soul from St. Andrews, I decided to ask what was it you wanted to say to the Hon's? And she said, we wanted to acquaint them with the privacy positions of Alberta government telephones.

I'm here, as I mentioned, with my good friend Senator Lowell Murray who turns out to be one of the most durable things I ever did as Prime Minister of Canada. One of my wiser decisions was to cause him to be summoned to the Senate. And I am honoured that he's been able to show me around St. F. X. today. He's a little rusty on where things are. He's pretty good on where things were but he is after all, a senator. He had suggested that my theme tonight should not in fact be this high-minded theme but that I should consult my notes and my record and repeat tonight the speech he encouraged me to deliver in the election campaign of nineteen hundred and eighty in Inverness. Now it was a wonderful speech. Allan, I spoke extensively of you, never kindly at that time. But I decided that instead of revisiting, that even I would speak tonight instead in what I suppose could be called the Coady tradition and to speak about the impact which Canada could have in a complex and changing world. I want to be clear about the domestic base of Canadian foreign policy. The specific and tangible Canadian interests which must be advanced and protected internationally. Most foreign ministers spend most of our time on trade irritants and consular cases and softwood lumber, and the fishery, and softwood lumber. Those are the staple issues not taught at schools of international diplomacy. But the issues which define a country, which add to its weight in the world and to its sense of worth and purpose at home reach beyond narrow definitions of interest. The serious pursuit of those larger issues reinforces significantly our capacity to make progress internationally on our domestic agenda. The more respected we are in the world, the more effective we can be in advancing our national interests.

Now, I don't want to gild the lily too much about diplomacy. I have to tell you that shortly after I became foreign minister I was sent down to represent Canada, lead our delegation to the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations. And like all very serious international meetings, this one started with a cocktail party. And there was a particular foreign minister, I won't name the country, who'd been preparing for this cocktail party pretty well all day, and was in pretty good shape by the time it began. And he sort of hove into the room just as the lights went down and the music went up. And he spied across the room as what he described as a vision in red. And he made his way over to that vision in red and said 'would you dance with me?' And that person said no and for three reasons. First, I don't dance. Second, that music is our national anthem. And third, I am the Archbishop of Montevideo.

Now, before Allan MacEachen and I became statesmen, we were partisans. Sometimes attacking policies we really believed made some sense. Sometimes bringing down young governments which should have been given a chance. We were each deeply involved in the two national political parties which alternated in office in Canada. And in our different ways, parties would share a mandate to reconcile the whole and diverse Canadian community. I will let Allan describe what has happened to the Liberal Party. He will do that at a time of his choosing. I'll make only one observation about what was once my side of the isle. In my view, the fundamental problem of the Conservative party today, and I say this seriously and reluctantly, is that they are a private interest party in a public interest country. That may change. But I raise it tonight because it pertains directly to Canadian foreign policy because so much of our international role involves reconciling different interests towards common purposes. Foreign policy is rarely an election issue in Canada, in part because we are a middle power able to influence events but not to drive them. And in part because foreign policy has not yet become a populist issue here, except occasionally (once, conscription, perhaps now Afghanistan). Most international initiatives which came to define Canada were set by ministers and then accepted by parliaments and usually, publics. That was the case with the commitment to international development. First I have to say, in the establishment of the external aid office by the Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker, well ahead of CIDA through to peacekeeping through to the fight against apartheid and the landmines treaty. There is resistance these days to top-down processes but in fact, top-down processes have accounted for almost every significant Canadian initiative, domestic or international, from the CBC to Medicare to free trade. The corollary is that such leadership succeeds only when it builds a constituency for change. That support need not be enthusiastic. On international questions it often won't be enthusiastic because local issues are almost always more pressing than international issues.

I recall that after the 1988 election I convened a meeting of Foreign Service Officers, naturally enough, in my constituency in Jasper. And some of my constituents came in to meet the diplomats and one of the diplomats trying to be as helpful as he could to the minister said to one of my constituents, "you must be pretty proud to have the foreign minister as your member of parliament?" This fellow said, “we'd be a lot better off if he was the minister of public works.” I'm not entirely sure that distinction is understood by constituents of Allan J's because I think he'd probably functioned in both roles, whatever it was that he was doing.

But I make that simple point about top-down leadership for a couple of reasons and a constituency for foreign policy for two reasons. First, building a constituency in Canada for international initiatives, in my view, is now more necessary than it has been for a long time. Second, Canadians interested in international affairs are not accustomed to building a broad constituency. We're accustomed to speaking instead to ourselves. A secret in my view of the so-called golden age of Pearsonian diplomacy is that the small cadre of gifted public servants of that time didn't have to worry much about public opinion or parliamentary scrutiny. On many of Canada's international initiatives, in my government, and in Brian Mulroney's government, the key alliance was between the foreign minister and the prime minister. Generally speaking, if we agreed, the cabinet agreed. And parliament either agreed or let it go. The famously taciturn Mr. MacEachen, may never tell us if that was the case in his cabinets but I expect it was. There's a very different dynamic now: with well-funded interest groups, with minority parliaments, with a media focused on the sensational and the short term, with a preoccupation on business and security agendas and with the displacement of professional diplomats from their traditional leadership role in the government of Canada. The late British economist Barbara Ward once called Canada 'the first international country.' That is still our reputation but we have become much more inward looking. That's ironic because in fact Canadians are now more exposed to the world than we ever have been before. We are no longer far away. We are no longer the remote North, coloured in pink on old maps. Or safely bounded by a super power on one border and three oceans - one deemed impenetrable. Instead, SARS strikes here. Refugees come here. Pollutants pollute here. And close relatives of Canadians die in virtually every conflict in the world. For years, the front line of the world's threats, that front line was always far from us. It was, to use a phrase, 'from away.' Today, a frontline on global warming - to name one issue - is in our north. On our Arctic border. On our turf. Canada's interests are not narrowly a border or merely things within our sovereign control. We have a profound interest in a world that works. I hope to persuade you tonight that we also have assets, distinct and valuable Canadian assets in the world which is taking shape. And we need to put those Canadian assets to work.

Three changes in international relations offer unusual opportunities for Canada. First, power among nations is shifting inexorably in what Faheed Zakaria calls the 'post American world.' Second, the most serious conflicts now flow not from ideology and not simply from poverty, but from culture and identity and faith. And third, non-state actors, like the environmental movement, like non-governmental organizations, like organized crime, like technology, forces which are not governments are playing an increasing role and that role will grow.

I think it’s worth noting in that context some spending patterns in Canada. There are three departments in the government of Canada with explicit international vocations. They're ranked according to the government's published spending reports for 2008-2009. Those three departments are national defence, which accounts for 8.29% of federal program spending; the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA, which accounts for 1.39%, largely because of G8 commitments made by previous governments; and third, Foreign Affairs and International Trade which currently accounts for 1% of federal program spending. Here are the spending trends. Compared with 2007-2008, the Department of National Defence budget increased by close to 8.4%. CIDA increased by a whopping 0.68%. The budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade dropped by 17.96%. Foreign Affairs estimates that this decline will continue for at least the next two years and that by 2010-2011 its budget will decrease by another 13.38%.

Now, other countries had also cut spending on development and diplomacy but that is yesterday's news. Many of those countries have now begun deliberately to invest again in development and in diplomacy. Because they believe it to be in their national interest in this changing world. That was Hilary Clinton's first announcement on her first day in office as US Secretary of State. But look also at the diplomatic strength of Brazil and of China. Look at the high priority paid to diplomacy by among others, Singapore and Norway. Norway is consistently undertaking the kinds of initiatives once associated with Canada. Look at interesting new players, new entries like Qatar. Look at the strength and diplomacy and development as usual of the United Kingdom and of France. To the Harper government's credit, Canada has significantly increased defense spending. Arguing that for too long we had let other countries carry an increasing share of our defense burden. But understand this: our diplomatic and development resources are being run down now as steadily and as certainly as our defence resources were run down then. So, a question arises, why is Canada more prepared to accept our share of the military burden than we are of the diplomatic and development burdens? More particularly, why should Canada do that now when our diplomatic and development credentials are more valuable than ever before?

I'd like you to think back to the last great change in international relations, the end of the Cold War. That change overturned the fundamental dynamics of foreign policy in western countries. Despite high hopes, the new priority did not become a peace dividend or international development. Instead, it became trade and economic growth. Governments chose to believe that trade would combat poverty. That market models would release energies which were inherently democratic and that military force would contain local challenges and disorders. Well, the twin failures of the military intervention in Iraq and the collapse of the global financial system demonstrate the limitations of that faith. And more than that, they demonstrate the end of a period, a long period, when countries of the west could control the international agenda. The shift in power among nations is not just economic, it’s cultural. It is political. It is military.

In his book The Post American World Fareed Zakaria makes the essential point that this change is not about any nation’s decline. Rather, it reflects the rise and the assertion of new forces, some of which are nations, some of which are not. Perhaps the most notable change in this modern world, is in where conflict comes from. The most serious conflicts now are rooted in culture and identity and faith. Just as clearly, those conflicts cannot be resolved by mere military power nor by the magic of the market. They require a much greater reliance on political talents. The ability to draw differences together, to manage and respect diversity, and to earn and generate trust. Those qualities, always valuable, have now become indispensable international attributes. And they'll continue to be for the foreseeable future. They are also among the traditional and genuine signature qualities of Canada, rooted in our own history, rooted in our own present as a strikingly successful multi-cultural society. And, rooted in our traditional conduct and our reputation in the world. Mediation and respect and reasonable compromise are at the heart of the success of our own diverse, dynamic country. And they are an integral part of our international reputation and identity. More than that, they are a credential, a credential which few other countries can claim. Why do we not treat that credential as a leading Canadian asset? Think of this if you will in another way. If our international policy continues as it is now, to concentrate narrowly on trade and security, where will that take Canada?

Goldman Sachs: I apologize for raising Goldman Sachs here, but in addition to the other things, they do undertake some very interesting projections of trends. Goldman Sachs has published a careful projection of the changes in world economic standing by 2050. This slide indicates the largest economies in the world now, 2007. Note, that the OECD countries, the western countries, the traditionally wealthy countries, dominate the ten largest economies now. Look at 2050. The BRICs, BRIC is short for Brazil, Russia, India, China and others, will dominate by that time. Canada is marked in red. No one is surprised about the figures about China but look at India. Look at Brazil. Look at Indonesia. Look at Mexico. Look at Turkey. Turkey, ahead of Japan. Interestingly in the context of the current debate in the European Union, ahead of France, ahead of Germany. Look at Nigeria. Look at The Philippines. Look at South Africa. Look at Vietnam. So, in this world of shifting power, how long would Canada have a place at the table of a G8 summit, if there was still a G8 summit? Would we make the cut of a G20 summit? In other words, would we keep our seat in the inner circle of countries which define international trade and military and economic and diplomatic and development policy? In my view, no, if we focus narrowly on trade and economic policy or define our international presence and profile by military means alone. But the odds are, that we could increase our influence as a country were we to renew our trusted, activist, diplomatic and development credentials. Just think about this for a moment. We're proud of our growth, we're proud of our innovation, we're proud of our great economic accomplishments but for all our growth and innovation, Canada can have relatively more influence in politics and diplomacy than we do in trade and economics. Economic power reflects size; diplomacy depends more on imagination and agility and reputation. Canada's political strengths have more currency again if we choose to use them.

There is, I believe, another growing advantage for Canada if we look at the emerging world with fresh eyes. Because the shift in power in this world is not simply among nations, it is from nations to other forces. Some of the most decisive sources of change in the modern world are not nations at all, but movements which arise and operate beyond the control of nation-states. That includes the critical threats to international order now which are rooted in culture and identity and report to no capital. But it also includes some of the most profound improvements in the modern world which have been stimulated by initiatives from outside formal governments: stimulated by the environmental movement, stimulated and represented by the Grameen Bank, by the Internet and other transformations in technology; stimulated by enumerable NGOs, stimulated by the Gates and comparable foundations, stimulated to some degree by the new commitment to corporate responsibility. Taken together, these constitute a powerful new source of innovation and experience. They're imaginative, they're respected, they're not bound by protocol, and they’re not bound by national interests. Yet, here's the rub. For all these private or non-governmental initiatives, for all of the imagination and progress they represent, this is still an institutional world. Sovereign states still make the crucial decisions. The decisions to cut or increase budgets, to respect or break treaties, to send or withdraw troops, to pay or withhold their membership contributions, to confront or to ignore crises. So the challenge and the opportunity now is to marry mandate with imagination. To combine the creativity of these independent forces with the capacity to act of institutions. That's very familiar territory to Canadians because partnerships like that are what happened in the commonwealth campaign against apartheid, in the negotiation of the landmines treaty, in the negotiations of the international criminal court and in a wide range of other less publicized initiatives.

May I refer specifically to Allan MacEachen and one of his roles as Secretary of State for External Affairs? In the late 1970s, the North-South dialogue was initiated in response to a demand by developing countries to create more equal international trade arrangements. A group of western countries - led by The Netherlands and by Norway - formed what was called a like-minded group to address that concern and to find reasonable compromises. Britain joined but then drew back. Canada - that's to say MacEachen and “Pierre Who” - joined and stayed. We were the only G7 country to add our weight to that initiative. As usual, Allan MacEachen was not a passenger, he was an active and leading player. A clear example of the bridging role between the developed and developing worlds where Canada's nature and Canada's reputation can make a difference. Ladies and gentlemen, that role is needed now. That opportunity exists now more than ever before.

We all know that the world is changing. We all understand the instinct within most nations to see things narrowly or to see things defensively: don't do that to us - let's back off. We also know that despite the real divides of wealth and of rhetoric, there is growing consensus on some important issues including the increasing threat of environmental degradation, including an interest in limiting nuclear weapons, including the importance of transparency in international transactions, including even the role of markets. But it is one thing to find consensus and another to give it affect. So we also know the need for decision-makers from different perspectives to find a place and to find an incentive to try what Mr. Gorbachev in an earlier era called 'new thinking.' I had the privilege of speaking last week to the Center for Conflict Resolution in South Africa, our partner once in the campaign to end apartheid; our partner now in the new Group of Twenty. I raised some questions there which we might consider here. Is there a special role for countries like Canada and South Africa which combine great cultural diversity with serious commitments to social and individual equality? Another way of putting this, is South Africa enough on the edge of the south, is Canada enough of the edge of the north to be influential together in bridging those differences and managing those conflicts?

The BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation, regularly publishes an international survey which is carried out by the international polling firm, the Canadian firm called GlobeScan. It lists several countries and then it asks a broadly based international audience, a sample, a carefully selected sample of 28,000 respondents from around the world. It asks those individuals if each of those countries had "a mostly positive or mostly negative impact in the world?" Their most recent poll was in January 2009. The best ratings in the poll went to Germany: 15% negative, 61% positive. I can't explain that but what is interesting is not only that Canada is next but that in all the polls up to this post, Canada has been in the lead. In this case, Canada was next at 13% negative, 59% positive. I think those are very interesting figures. They're public opinion, what does one know? But this polling now has been going on for 4 or 5 years and there are trends.

In the long catalogue of my sins it was admitted that I was a Minister of Constitutional Affairs. May I put this in another context? I believe that an effective Canadian foreign policy is not only good for the wider world, it is good for us at home. In my view, Canada has always been an act of will. We didn't come together naturally. We haven't stayed together easily. Confederation was an act of will. So was Medicare. So was Equalization. So was the Charter of Rights. So was free trade. One reality of our country is that we have to keep proving our worth to our parts. We are a wealthy, lucky country. Increasingly self-absorbed, it is easy to take our good fortune for granted or to see ourselves principally as Albertans, or Nova Scotians, or Quebecers, or environmentalists or simply taxpayers and thus, to become smaller than our whole. So we need to look to issues and aspirations that reach across the lines which might otherwise set Canadians apart. And we need to look to characteristics which distinguish us legitimately from comparable societies. International engagement is that issue. A sense of international vocation has helped define Canadian national identity since at least the end of the first Great War. It has been expressed through our soldiers, our development programs, our foreign policies, our instinctive and generous response to tsunamis or famine and most of all, through the legions of Canadian missionaries and teachers and entrepreneurs who routinely change lives around the world. We should treat that international vocation as an asset just as we treat our energy resources as an asset, or our literacy as an asset, or our ingenuity as an asset, or our diversity as an asset. That would provide both a resonant instrument of Canadian identity and a substantial contribution to a turbulent and needy world.

Thank you very much for your attention.


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