For decades, Canada has been perceived at home and internationally as a world leader. Our reputation as one of the most caring countries evoked notions of a champion of dignity for all, human equality and sustainable world peace. Our willingness to sacrifice Canadian resources, most notably precious lives in theatres of conflict such as Afghanistan, as referenced in our Remembrance Day poem “In Flanders Fields”, built our self-concept as a model for what is possible when one nation reaches out to help humankind without fear or favour.
A list of other values associated with Canada would include rules-based multilateralism over unilateralism; human rights for all; the rule of law and well-functioning and independent courts; support for the UN and its agencies; achieving the U.N. Millennium Goals by 2015; multi-party democracy; reconciliation, non-violence and compromise in both intra-state and inter-state conflicts.
Regrettably, our reputation has suffered over the past 15 years. On our longtime role as the world’s leading peacekeeper, for example, I believe the numbers now place Canada in 34th place in terms of contributions to global U.N. peacekeepers.
International institutions in which Canada has played key roles, such as the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, are becoming less significant as new players move to the centre of the global stage. Canada’s influence with the United States has fallen for various reasons. One well-known example of our failure to adapt effectively to changed realities was our recent failure to win election to a 2-year seat on the UN Security Council.
The report on the External Voices Project, done several years ago by the then Canadian Institute of International Affairs, cited three essentials missing from our contemporary foreign policy approach: a willingness to make clear choices; a consistency in those choices over time; and a determination to build world-class assets in the spheres in which we choose to lead.
One reality shrieking for attention today is climate change. As Jeffery Sachs points out, approximately 36 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are being emitted around the world yearly now, with about 81% coming from fossil fuels and 19% from deforestation. Canadians and many others worry about the global warming caused by greenhouse gases. Carbon concentrations in the atmosphere have increased exponentially since 1960. Can anyone doubt that this is the principal reason why 11 of the 12 hottest years worldwide on record occurred between 1995 and 2005? Moreover, is the rise in CO2 not increasing ocean levels, habitat destruction, disease transmission, and causing significant changes in agricultural productivity and water availability?
Canada should take a lead at home and abroad on climate change, with a range of initiatives on:
- Deforestation: Modest economic incentives could reduce the turning of forests into pasture both across our country and in, say, the Amazon regions of South America and forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Deforestation appears to be one of the easiest processes to slow or stop.
- Electricity (32%): How about effective incentives to encourage more non-fossil-fuel-generated electricity from wind, solar, hydro, geo- and bio-thermal? I understand that the Pembina Institute has studies concluding that with existing affordable technologies Canada could switch from coal-generated electricity to renewable sources without the need to `go nuclear`. Alberta could then phase out its coal-powered facilities, which currently produce about 70 percent of the province`s electricity, over perhaps twenty years. Why not build a series of much cleaner and relatively inexpensive natural gas-powered power plants in Alberta?
- Automobiles (18%): Much increased distances per litre have become feasible through technology combining the use of gasoline and batteries, which can be recharged at residences when the grid is off peak. To reduce carbon emissions, electricity for recharging must come not from coal-fired electricity plants, but from power produced by renewable sources or plants that capture and sequester carbon. Through regulation and modest tax incentives, our country could move to a leadership role in this area.
- Industry (22%): A relatively small number of sectors, including oil refineries and petrochemicals, emit most of the carbon from industry. Fortunately, some of the larger facilities have the capacity to capture and sequester CO2 at affordable cost, although I`m told they are seeking taxpayer subsidies to do so. Some could use electricity from the grid, which is better, provided it is produced in a low carbon manner, possibly in the near future from hydrogen fuel. Again, Canadians should be taking the lead through incentives and intelligent industry regulation.
The book Green Oil by Satya Das of Edmonton deals with the opportunities and challenges of Alberta`s oil sands, the largest hydrocarbon deposit on earth, contending that a far-sighted use of the deposit and vast revenues it generates can give Albertans and other Canadians a leading role in moving to a clean energy future at home and abroad.
The daily world consumption of oil today is 85 million barrels. Alberta’s largest customer for oil, the U.S., is importing 12 million barrels daily, or, as President Obama has put it, Americans are borrowing money from China to buy oil from Saudi Arabia. Are they not also borrowing from China to pay for oil bought from Canada? How much longer can this lunacy continue? Das wants the tyranny of oil to end and thinks prudent stewardship of the oil sands will allow Canadians to develop a clean energy economy and technologies, which can be shared profitably by green entrepreneurs with the world.
It is timely to stress that the case for developing Alberta`s oil sands with good stewardship is strong. Here is what Patrick Brethour of the Globe and Mail wrote in the October issue of the Literary Review of Canada:
“We need to be equally clear-eyed about the benefits: thousands of jobs and prosperity, including for swathes of Canadian society that would otherwise be mired in the the misery of permanent unemployment; billions in government revenue to pay for social services enjoyed by the entire nation; geopolitical stability, in the form of lessened dependence on Middle East oil; safety, when compared to the perils of deep sea drilling; and the ability, if not yet the propensity, to use that wealth to speed the move to a fossil fuel-free economy.”
Who can reasonably disagree?
Making a Difference
Canada has made a real difference in areas in which it committed herself fully. Our courageous stance on the tragedy of landmines was fundamental to the drafting of the Landmines Treaty by the United Nations. We also forged new norms for the international human security agenda with our Responsibility to Protect concept, which holds that regimes who abuse their own people can no longer hide behind national sovereignty. The problem remains that without a U.N. Security Council resolution, which in many cases has proved impossible to obtain because of self-interested-only permanent members of the Council, it is still essentially a flawed remedy in international relations.
During the `90’s, Canada was probably indispensable in the world-wide effort to bring Apartheid to an end in South Africa. Canadians used our influence with the G7, the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, connected with international leaders, and engaged the African National Congress and the South African government with governance and development assistance during the transition to an authentic democracy. Today South Africans and others across the continent say our values are needed more than ever and we should be present on the continent more than ever--not effectively abandoning some of its peoples.
Canada in the post-Cold War period was also instrumental in laying the groundwork for regional and international trade agreements, most notably NAFTA and the WTO. We showed that economic integration can c0-exist with political independence. Protection of employees and the environment, however, must be central features of any future trade agreements, including the proposed one with the EU. There is concern about how effectively these issues are dealt with in Canada`s existing trade agreements with Chile, Colombia and Panama.
The sovereignty of nations is today defined in part by a framework of human rights agreements and multilateral engagements. When national governments disregard U.N. directives, the multilateralism and rules-based international order Canadians support is undermined. If the U.N. cannot get governments to obey its directives peacefully, international law and the potential for multilateral solutions are thwarted, especially when most countries do not have the capacity to compel a regime to desist, for example, from systematic human rights abuses against its own people.
1. On making clear choices, Canada needs to improve the protection of our sovereignty and continental defense. A long term commitment should be made to our military in both resources and political support. We must be seen in the international community as willing and ready to share the load. This includes doing our part when it comes to our homeland and backyard, which will require a strong and capable coast guard and interdiction capabilitity.
2. In international security, Canada could make a real difference in the world if we focus on a few key areas: niche diplomacy. Three voids need filling: an air mobile brigade with stand alone capability; police and security training with open society values; and post-conflict reconstruction. Canada is seen as having a unique position suitable for involving itself in related situations in which other international players cannot do as well for political or historical reasons. The patterns established by Norway are ones to consider.
If Canada wants to be seen as a legitimate supporter of human rights and security, we must match our assets with our attitudes; Canada can no longer maintain a credible global and human security attitude without effective human security assets.
One of our greatest strengths, which many Canadians seem to underestimate, is that Canada is loved by many and disliked by relatively few. The goodwill which many around the world hold towards us is a key asset we must nurture. Canada is seen in many lands as approachable; and if we devote the time and resources that are necessary, we can build up our reputation as a credible multilateralist that is both willing and able to help when needed.
Yet it is the idealism of a country that makes for greatness. Another sphere in which Canada can offer much is as a healer. We could also dedicate ourselves to improving the lives of millions of people condemned to a life of disease, poverty and misery in the most difficult parts of the world by way of better health care (malaria eradication, clean water, reproductive health, etc.) and much improved education.
The focus of Canada as a healer would capture the hearts of a new generation, such as shown by the Free the Children ‘We Day’ change makers (www.weday.freethechildren.com ), who want something better from their country and the world than business as usual.
So many lives have been lost and so much has been spent on wars. If even some of that money had gone into Africa, Latin America and elsewhere to improve the lives of the people there, Canada would have made a lasting and enduring contribution to all humankind.
Canadians have the ability to be the country which hears the cry of a hungry child somewhere in the world and responds to it. Our people can sense the hopelessness in a young man with no future and bring hope and a better future. We are able to be attentive to the desperate plea of a young woman in a desolate place and fight for her rights. That is the essential goodness of Canada that has yet to find full expression in its foreign policy and would truly set it apart from most other nations.