By Sauvé Fellow Edison Huynh
On the back of a historic federal election, McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) hosted a particularly timely conference: ‘Canada on the Global Stage’. The Sauvé Fellows were invited to join in the discussions on key issues of our times led by experts on policy and public life. From its national brand and reputation, to the emerging challenges of global migrations, Canada is undergoing changes that will define its policy positions for years to come. Here are our main reflections.
Firstly, the ‘why.’ Why should Canadians care about our role on the global stage? Ian Smillie, Executive Director of Cuso International, argued that Canada’s global presence is not just about compassion and engagement in the world bt also simply “self-interest properly understood”. By this he meant to say that development and diplomacy should go hand in hand and so it is in Canada’s economic and security interests to engage meaningfully in the world. In this respect Melissa Aronczyk, author of Branding the Nation, reminded us of what a powerful brand Canada has. This brand had to be protected and also applied in the right way to ensure that its benefits– whether those be increased trade, tourists or FDI – can be built upon for years to come.
The second group of reflections concerns the ‘how’. How does Canada remain an influential player on the international stage despite its ‘middle power’ status? Many commentators at the conference paraphrased Churchill to summarise what Canada’s approach should be: “to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war”. Indeed, panellists referenced Canada’s failed 2010 Security Council seat bid as symptomatic of Canada’s failure in building international partnerships that went beyond traditional allies of the US, the UK and France.
Tony Clement, the Conservative Party’s Opposition Critic for Foreign Affairs, gave the example of the ‘pivot’ needed towards China, a country that is creating its own global organisational structures such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in opposition to the post-WWII architecture characterised by institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. In addition, an audience member reminded us all of the need to more proactively utilise Canada’s unique historic ties with both the Commonwealth as well as the Francophonie nations in order to strengthen international ties. Julia Sanchez, President of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), argued for a focused approached given Canada’s limited resources as a middle power. For example, looking at the new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Canada should focus on providing expertise where it truly can add value as a world-class leader, as it did when Canada spearheaded efforts to safeguard children in conflict zones.
Finally, our last set of reflections from the conference concern the ‘what’. What would a (re)engaged Canada on the global stage look like in 2016 and beyond? Prime Minister Trudeau recently gave a speech at Davos signalling a desire to portray Canada as not just a nation of resources but a “nation of resourcefulness”. Indeed, this human-centric approach builds upon Canada’s long-standing reputation for having built a successful, diverse society.
As Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, commented: “we don’t do it perfectly, but we do it better than anyone else”. Of course, Leanne Betasamo ake Simpson of the Nishnaabeg nation reminded the audience that to ensure Canadian credibility on the world stage, progress has to be made for First Nation peoples too. Indeed, the new UN SDGs depart from the old Millennial Development Goals in that they apply to both ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries. For Leanne, it was vital to challenge Canadians to reconsider the current colonial relationship between Canada and its Indigenous peoples. She eloquently spoke of the need to find a way to share knowledge across cultures and generations as well as to share Canada’s beautiful land, “without anyone leaving”. The personal stories she shared involving the prejudice that she and her daughter have faced touched many in the audience and were a highlight of the conference.
Canada on the global stage can only proclaim that it’s truly ‘back’ when there is recognition in all of our international institutions that “when the world does well, Canada does well” (Hélène Laverdière, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic and Montreal MP). As Sauvé Fellows from around the world, the conference provided insights not just into Canada’s future as an international player on the global stage but also into our own countries as well. Indeed, the above quote could arguably be applied to any of our home countries. We look forward to seeing how Canada shapes its foreign policy in the years to come.
For “Canada on the Global Stage” video presentations, click here.
*Photos taken during “Canada on the Global Stage” Conference on February 11-12, courtesy of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.