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Foreign Affairs

Canadian Club of Ottawa: Canada’s place in a changing world

Posted on September 14, 2009

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Ottawa, Ontario

Thank you.

I’m here today to talk to you about Canada’s place in the world—how we’ve lost it and how we can get it back.

The world is changing, and Canada has to change with it. Our identity as a people will be defined by the place we find in the world that is taking shape on the other side of this global recession.


Canada was born inside two Empires, the French, the British, and we have matured beside the most powerful nation in history, the United States.

What happens to our identity, our place in the world, when the centre of gravity shifts to Asia? When India and China become the powerhouses of the global economy?

We should have nothing to fear from the rise of these new powers. A new world creates new opportunities for Canada. Opportunities to trade, to learn, and to create the global architecture of security for this emerging new world. But only if we have leadership that seizes these opportunities.


What we do in the world helps define who we are. It reflects our personality. It reflects what we have to offer to make the world a better place. It’s an extension of who we are as a people.

By and large, Canadian politicians scarcely utter a word about Canada in the world on the hustings. It doesn’t seem important. It is.

After the last four years, it’s hard to remember how much Canada once mattered.

We helped create the major institutions that make up the architecture of the modern world: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, formerly the GATT, and NATO.

Multilateralism was the Canadian mantra. In 1956, Lester Pearson found a way out of the Suez Crisis and made peacekeeping our vocation. When he won the Nobel Peace Prize the next year, the Nobel committee said “he’d saved the world.” We cheered.

In the post-war era, we became the world’s leading peacekeepers. Up to 1988, there was not a single mission that we didn’t join. At the same time, we went to war in Korea, the Persian Gulf and Kosovo. We went to war when we had to. We kept the peace when we could. Blue helmets became an emblem of our identity.

In 1950, we were there when the Colombo Plan launched the first international aid program. Pearson was the one who suggested that the richest countries of the world should contribute point seven percent of their wealth to international aid. By 1975, we were halfway there. And in Kananaskis in 2002, we renewed our commitment to Africa.

An engaged, muscular internationalism was not the exception for Canada; it was the rule. It was us.

What we did in the world wasn’t about one party or one policy. Under both Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, Canada led proudly on the world’s stage.

Pierre Trudeau opened his arms to China. Jean Chrétien promoted Africa. Paul Martin championed the G-20. John Diefenbaker boosted international aid and Brian Mulroney firmly opposed apartheid in South Africa. In the past, the parties had reached a consensus about Canada’s role in the world.

Unfortunately, my friends, this consensus has vanished. For Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, the international scene exists only to score points on the domestic scene. And our international credibility has suffered because of it.

The Conservatives are giving up Canada’s place in the world.

We have a prime minister who thinks so little of foreign affairs that he changes foreign ministers the way he changes shirts. We’ve had four in just three-and-a-half years. They come and go with the seasons.

Our friends abroad see this revolving door. They note our silence in international councils and ask: Where is Canada?

Under Stephen Harper, we are no longer the world’s leading peacekeeper; we aren’t even in the top thirty. We are no longer among the world’s ten leading donors. Worse, the Conservatives have abandoned Africa.

When our foreign services are not being ignored or insulted, they are being muzzled. Our international budgets have been slashed. We’ve even dropped out of cultural diplomacy by failing to promote our artists, actors and authors abroad. This is our soul we are abandoning.

Stephen Harper has so diminished our stature that we are struggling to win a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations—the seat we’ve held every decade since the founding of the UN.

We don’t even defend the rights of Canadians abroad anymore. They are our fellow citizens. But if their name is Souad Mohammed, our government turns its back. What I’m saying, ladies and gentlemen, is that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

We were once the world’s great mediators. Now, in the Middle East, in Africa and in Sri Lanka, we have ceded our place to others.

Under the Conservative government, Canada renounced signing the Kyoto Protocol. And who can say how much lower we might sink if the Conservatives represent us at the next conference on climate change in December in Copenhagen?

Under this government, Canada is becoming the country that dares not speak its name.

We still have the world’s finest diplomats. Louis Guay and Bob Fowler remind us just how tough and courageous our best can be.

We still have the world’s bravest soldiers, one hundred and thirty of whom have died in Afghanistan.

Today, we honour the memory of Private Patrick Lormand, killed during a mission in Kandahar yesterday.

We still feed the hungry and treat the sick around the world.

Our diplomats, soldiers, aid workers—still distinguish themselves and our country every day, in every corner of the world.

They deserve a government that does the same.

Nothing seems to matter to this government—not the ascent of China and India, not the rights of our accused compatriots, not a seat in the United Nations, not the threat of global warming. Anything goes.

This is tragic. More than ever, Canada must see itself as a nation of the world, at home in the world. The world must live in Canada and Canada must live in the world.

To reach our potential our government must catch up to what Canada has already become: one of the most international societies on earth.

Nearly twenty percent of our people were born in another country. Nearly two million of us work and live abroad at any given time. We speak all the languages of the world.

Instead of lamenting these facts, instead of insinuating that someone who has lived overseas is somehow less of a Canadian, we should celebrate all our citizens. We should be more international, not less. More open to the world, not less. More adventurous, not less.

We need a government that catches up with the Canadian people’s own internationalism and inspires it to further heights.

This means asking more of our government and ourselves, not less. Raising expectations of our performance overseas, not lowering them.

Let me set out the elements of a Liberal strategy for a big Canada, an ambitious Canada, a Canada that leads by example.

Our Canada will champion an agenda of international governance reform. Our priority, as the host of the G-8 summit next year in Huntsville, will be to expand the G-8 to include the countries of the G-20.

And to ensure a truly inclusive global forum, we would offer to host and fund a permanent G-20 secretariat in Canada.

Our Canada will lead the world in rethinking financial regulatory reform. Our banking system, born of Canadian prudence, is the envy of the world. Our central banker, Mark Carney, is an exemplary public servant. We can take the lead here.


Our Canada will renew our relationship with the US. At a time when Europe is tearing down its borders, North America is raising fences between friends. The number of visitors to Canada from the United States has fallen to its lowest level in a generation. The impact on cross border trade will hurt the United States as much as it hurts us.

Our Canada will engage with the Americans in strengthening not weakening the North American economic space.

Our Canada will play a role in Afghanistan after 2011. A different role focusing on a humanitarian commitment to help rebuild the country and strengthen hard-won gains.

Our allies have appointed high-level envoys to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Stephen Harper has refused. We need to be fully part of the effort to restore stability. Our troops have done us proud. Now we must commit our full diplomatic muscle to the same ends.

Our Canada will reverse this government’s decision to refrain from seeking clemency for Canadians facing death sentences abroad. If we forego capital punishment in Canada, why should we accept such a sentence for Canadians in other countries?

Our Canada will assert our sovereignty over the Arctic, not only by bolstering our air and naval presence, but also by investing in Northerners—their communities, their economic development, their health and education.

We must re-engage with the Arctic Council and foster closer ties with all of the Arctic peoples. Military defense of sovereignty is not enough. We must partner with our Arctic neighbours to guarantee progress for our Arctic peoples, a concerted response to climate change and orderly development of northern resources.

Our Canada will take our place as a Pacific power. We will engage with China and India, where Stephen Harper has turned a cold shoulder. We will harness the strength of our own diversity to strengthen our ties. And a Liberal government will bring back the Team Canada Trade Missions—which were so successful under Prime Ministers Chrétien and Martin.

Our Canada will make ending poverty a top priority, which means returning our focus to Africa, which the Conservatives have deserted.

Our Canada will represent good governance in the world, capable of leading the way to peace, capable of teaching federalism and harmony among nations, capable of proposing codes of conduct and supervising free elections. To achieve this, we will establish a Secretariat of peace, order and good governance.

The responsibility to protect was, in part, a Canadian idea—and central to that vision is prevention. With our record in peace, order and good government, Canada can resume its leadership in conflict prevention.

These are only some of the things we will do to return Canada’s voice in the world.

It isn’t Canadians who are the problem. Canadians are out there. The problem is this government.

The Conservative government has lost faith. It no longer believes in international action.

But Canadians do. They are travelling and studying abroad in record numbers. They are signing up for international programs here and abroad like never before. Many are founders or activists in non-governmental organizations. Canadians are out there in the world, but their government is not.

Our lobstermen in Prince Edward Island want to sell their catch in Macau. Our forestry workers, farmers, and entrepreneurs want us to be conquering new markets in Asia. They are quicker and smarter than their government.

It is time that government caught up with them. It is time for the world to be at the centre of our national conversation, not the margins. It is time that we embraced a view of the world worthy of the country we love, the country I remember from my father’s time, the country we can yet be again.

We can do better – and we will.

Thank you.

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