Canada's world

Written by  //  March 11, 2009  //  Canada, Foreign Policy, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Canada's world

11 March
Back on the Map: A New Vision of Canada in the World, the report of our national dialogue session, is now available!
2 March
There is a sad juxtaposition between the vision embraced by Canada’s world as laid out in the piece below by Shauna Sylvester, and the item in the Globe & Mail of the same date Tories prepare Ignatieff attack ads – wouldn’t it be refreshing if we added a fourth ‘C’ to the Canada’s world list – civility? Once again, the politicians are trailing the people who, according to the article, “[have] little public appetite for politicians squabbling during an economic crisis where people are losing jobs.” We wonder if the public has any appetite for the squabbles at any time.

SHAUNA SYLVESTER: We’re not waiting for our politicians to think globally

 Canadians are making up for political parties’ inadequacies and asserting a contemporary, revitalized role for Canada in the world. The challenge is for the federal government to catch up with its citizens, find its foreign policy voice and develop an equally compelling vision.

(Globe and Mail) It’s easy to believe that Canada is one of the best countries in the world when Barack Obama says it’s so. But, for years, Canada’s position in the world has been eroding.

The problem did not begin with this government, but the Conservatives have made the situation worse. On climate change, they withdrew from the Kyoto accord and isolated Canada in international forums by actively campaigning against global carbon reduction targets. They have muzzled diplomats, cut the policy capacity of the Department of Foreign Affairs and centralized power in the Prime Minister’s Office. And when times were good, rather than diversifying trade, they undermined Canada’s relationship with China.

The opposition parties have fared little better. During the past two election campaigns, there were few references to Canadian foreign policy in public debates or political statements. When the global economic crisis hit, the parties focused our attention on domestic issues, rather than looking out into the world and exploring Canada’s opportunities.

It’s odd that a country with one of the most globally connected populations in the world should be so parochial. But since we’ve been told that elections are about domestic issues, and successive minority governments have left us in a constant election-ready mindset, it’s perhaps no surprise that our political parties can’t seem to raise their sights beyond our borders.

So, rather than waiting for government to develop a compelling vision for Canada in the world, a group of Canadians are making the final edits to their own narrative. This narrative – developed under the auspices of Canada’s World, a collaboration of many universities, foundations and organizations – is relatively simple. It begins with the idea that what Canadians do at home matters on the world stage. Canadians want continuity between their domestic actions and international ambitions. They have abandoned the historic discourse of “peacekeeper and middle power” in favour of being a role model.

By focusing on Canada’s historical contributions, assets, values and interests, they have identified five key areas for Canadian action: advancing a green economy; fostering innovation; enhancing equality and human development; promoting good governance; and embracing diversity.

Canadians recognize that, in some instances, the gap between the aspiration to lead and the reality of the current situation at home is wide, and have identified strategies to bridge this gap. But they believe that, by building domestic capacities in each of these areas and by sharing experiences globally, Canada leverages its assets and demonstrates its credibility.

Canadians have also discarded the notion of the “three Ds” of foreign policy – diplomacy, development and defence – believing them to be too narrowly focused on government. To contend with all the new actors working internationally and shaping our role in the world, Canadians have suggested replacing them with the “three Cs” – coherence, collaboration and community.

At the core of this strategy is a federal government with the skills to convene diverse groups, the capacity to collaborate across sectors and the ability to build policy coherence among different levels of government. It also requires a government that recognizes and cherishes its membership in the international community, and lives up to the obligations and responsibilities that belonging confers.

Canadians know that, to truly lead by example, we need to invest and target our resources strategically. In Canada’s World conversations, they have defined the country’s major assets as people (including aboriginal peoples), the military, natural resources, education, the foreign service, civil society and the private sector. Canadians think creatively about the resources at their disposal – for example, they have offered a new way of asserting our Arctic rights, by advancing a code of responsibility based on aboriginal stewardship of the land, rather than by planting a flag, opening a port or sending patrol ships north.

In developing and articulating this new narrative, Canadians are making up for political parties’ inadequacies and asserting a contemporary, revitalized role for Canada in the world. The challenge is for the federal government to catch up with its citizens, find its foreign policy voice and develop an equally compelling vision.

Shauna Sylvester is fellow at the SFU Centre for Dialogue and founding director of Canada’s World. To participate, see

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