Sunday, March 28, 2010

Canada and the world: Liveblogging the last morning at Canada at 150

8:31 AM: We're running a little behind on the last morning of Canada at 150 in Montreal, but I'm settled into press row and looking forward to a morning of interesting speeches as debate as the topic turns to foreign policy, and Canada's place in the world.

There's a number of interesting speakers on the docket this morning. First-up, and the one I'm most looking forward to, is Robert Fowler, the Canadian diplomat and UN special envoy who survived a harrowing kidnapping ordeal in Afghanistan last year.

Also interesting will be Derek Burney, our former ambassador to the U.S and, interestingly, a senior Conservative and the fellow that ran Stephen Harper's transition team when he formed government.

In other news, after two days of fruit and sticky buns for breakfast, the Liberal Party sprung for a full hot breakfast buffet on press row this morning. Bacon, eggs, sausage, potatoes, the works. You may scoff but trust me, a well fed press is a happy press. And this is a big day, with Michael Ignatieff's closing speech and presser this afternoon. Already, the media seems in a much happier mood... Although, CanWest's David Akin just wondered by and mentioned that the coffee and mentioned the coffee apparently ran out...

Still, much larger press turnout today, the hall is full and we're getting started with the morning program. It's online at, and live on CPAC today as well I believe.

8:46 PM: Robert Fowler says he won’t be mincing words and tells the non-Liberals in the room it won’t be him. He also says he is very grateful to the Harper government and owes it his life for getting him out of his kidnapping, but he’ll still call it as he sees it on their foreign policy.

He believes the Liberal Party has lost it’s way in policy terms, particularly in policy terms, and is in danger of losing its soul. It is willing to embrace anything in favour of getting power. It’s not the party that governed Canada during his time in public service, and hasn’t given Canada a coherent vision of what it’s about.

The Canada at 150 conference though he says does give him hope that things may be changing, it’s been a great conference, great discussions, he’s enjoyed being here, and presents hope we may be finding our soul once more.

8:52 PM: Fowler says Liberals and Progressive Conservatives did well in Africa, so it seems the Conservatives want to do something else to make their mark. Not that our hemisphere isn’t important, we can’t abandon Africa. Canada isn’t Liberal.

We’ll be seeking election to the UN Security Council soon; Fowler says our winning is far from a given. Indeed, he seems pessimistic. If we do win, it won’t be on our recent activities, but on our past reputation and on hope for what we may do in the future.

The world does not need more of the kind of Canada they’ve been getting, says Fowler. As the world has been getting smaller, countries have been turning inward and adopting me-first policies and attitudes.

8:55 AM: Most of the world doesn’t understand what we’re trying to accomplish in Afghanistan, says Fowler, including Canada. He says we won’t prevail there, we’re not willing to pay the price in blood and treasure it would take to colonize it and replace their culture with ours, because that seems to be what we want. We won’t outlast the insurgents/Taliban: we fight to go home to our families, they fight to die. With no vital interests at stake, we won’t pay the price. It’s time to leave, he says.

8:58 AM: When was the last time a Canadian idea made a difference on the world stage? Fowler says probably Lloyd Axworthy’s responsibility to protect initiative, with an assist, he notes, from Michael Ignatieff.

How about actions? He mentions Axworthy again in Canada’s push to band landmines. Also, the Canadian role in establishing the International Criminal Court.

How about leadership? Where are our Louise Arbours today?

9:02 AM: He’s on to the Middle East now, and speaking strongly against Israeli settlement construction, saying the government has sold out Canada’s international reputation for balance and fairness to lock-up the Jewish vote in Canada. He laments our “reckless posturing” in the region.

He says there will need to be a two-state solution, each with a piece of Jerusalem.

It didn’t begin with our present government, though, although they did ramp-up the volume. And it goes into the wider courting of ethnic constituencies, mentioning Liberals courting Tamils in Toronto, or all parties taking part in Sikh spring parades in Vancouver where photos of terrorists like the Air India bombers are displayed.

It’s a myth Canadians don’t care about foreign policy, he says. When its grounded in Canadian values, they will be behind it strongly. But when only given small-minded, mean-spirited, whatever the US wants, they’ll have little choice.

9:08 AM: Fowler notes after four budgets the Conservatives have clearly failed to live up to their commitments on raising foreign aid to a certain level and, to be fair, the Liberals did no better. Meanwhile, the billionth African will be born shortly, and in 2050 the continent will be 20% of the global population. The population is also increasingly urban.

9:17 AM: References work of Paul Martin done on African development helping African countries realize part of the way forward is encouraging investment and removing regulatory barriers to investment. We have failed though to live up to our development investment commitments.

A billion Africans depend on counties like ours to help them improve their break lives. They know we can’t do it for them, but they do expect our help. We need to renew our commitment to Africa, he says, and be long-term partner, and exits the stage to strong applause.

9:20 AM: Up now is Tim Gartell, former national secretary of the Australian Labour Party. He applaud Michael Ignatieff for having this event, noting there aren`t too many parties in the world that would invite people to come and speak to them, give them a pasting, and sit there and listen to it. And certainly not any right-wing parties.

9:24 AM: Felt the need to hydrate after Fowler’s interesting and hard-hitting speech, much of which I agree with, some of which I don’t. I thought he was a little off-base on Afghanistan and, while I do agree that both Liberals and Conservatives policies that are too one-sided on Israel with an eye to domestic political considerations, I felt his characterization of the conflict was incredibly one-sided the other way. There is lots of blame to go around, and it’s worth noting that the two-state solution Fowler called for has been offered and rejected by Israel as recently as Dayton, if I recall correctly, and was rejected and met with terrorist bombings.

Back to our Australian friend, though, now that I’ve gotten some water. Gartell is talking about differences and similarities between Australia and Canada, and how the countries see each other. Haven’t heard any jokes about speech plagiarism yet.

9:37 AM: Ah, here’s the mandatory speech plagiarism joke, as Gartell says he’ll now be quoting some excerpts form speeches by Australian prime ministers, which he understands is en vogue in Canada, although he’ll be only quoting labour PMs.

9:44 AM: Derek Burney is up now, wearing a suit and tie made in Canada. Thanks everyone for agreeing to listen to a discussion on foreign policy early on a Sunday morning, and thanks Michael for a great and important event.

He thinks Canada/US relations should rise above partisan politics which explains if you’re wondering, he says, why he’s here today (as a Conservative partisan speaking to Liberals.)

He says a single coherent voice for Canada is necessary, saying we have a unique ability to divide and conquer ourselves, which the US will exploit. We’re not served by a variety of voices at either the federal or provincial levels, he says. (I think he’s off-base here, is he telling opposition to shut it? And its not like US speaks with one voice, with their political system they’re way more fractious then us, Congress says one thing, White House another.)

Also, we’re not served by a frosty relationship with the US. Even if it may serve domestic interests, it’s counter-productive overall. We can disagree without being disagreeable. They’re the masters of grandstanding and spin, so they recognize it easily.

9:52 AM: Suggests the establishment of a new multi-national border commission that would streamline customs and border practices and remove barriers that are purely protectionist, not security. Give business stakeholders direct access to commission to air grievances.

He also wants harmonizing of manufacturing regulations, immigration policies, trade tariffs, and more policy cooperation on cross-border issues.

Says must be bi-national, not tri-national, because Canada/US issues are way different than US/Mexico issues, and we need to make sure US/Mexican issues don’t drive US/Canada border policy.

He wants NORAD expanded to land and sea, saying more security can make border entry easier.

9:57 AM: Climate and security is linked, and energy security is important. We need to act, even though cost is now and political benefit later, which politicians tend to prefer be reversed.

Back on his recommendations for harmonization in a variety of areas, I need to take issue. Our views and values on many of those issues, particularly immigration, tend to diverge widely from the U.S. But any harmonization is almost certainly to be on their terms, not ours. I’m not willing to sell out our values to the U.S. for expediency, and I don’t think most Canadian will be either.

10:03 AM: Says we need a more robust approach to the U.S., but accompanied by increased focus on trade and investment with Asia. Seems more opportunity there than trade with Europe, and says should begin building infrastructure for energy export to Asia.

Ends saying we need to bring the “own the podium” spirit to our foreign policy.

10:19 AM: Apologies for the long delay in updates, the Web has been acting-up again but it’s a break now, so I’m getting some bandwidth again. Lots of chatter in the halls about the Fowler speech.

As I write, Fowler is doing a Q&A with the Web cast audience, and just took a question on African development from a viewer in Italy. Cool.

10:34 AM: And the break is over, which means my bandwidth is also evaporating. So could be a bit before I get these updates online.

We have a panel now though on Canada’s presence on the world of 2017, where are the priorities? First, the panellists are asked to give one priority they’d give if they had 5 minutes with the PM.

Pierre Martin, a political science professor at Universite de Montreal, says as we reach out to emerging Asian powers we can’t forget the dominant reality of our relationship with the U.S. in our trade and life. Also, he’s disagreeing with Burney on the idea of Canada only speaking with one voice to the U.S. Martin says we don’t just have one line in hockey, we have many lines. In Copenhagen, who expressed Canada’s voice better? Not Jim Prentice I’m betting.

10:40 AM: Up now is Jeremy Kinsman, a former Canadian ambassador to the EU and high commissioner to the UK. We need to reconnect, the 21st century will belong to those who connect, and we need to reconnect on the issues where we have credibility. Conflict mediation and resolution is one example. We need to get back to what we’re good at. Also, think of ourselves, and don’t think that means becoming more American. Americans like big ideas, and it’s time we came to them with something other than complaints. Co-managing the border, climate change, let’s have big ideas and get the Americans onboard. Co-managing stewardship in the Arctic, he says the US would welcome strategic leadership form Canada on big issues that show we’re thinking of North American issues.

10: 45 AM: Janice Stein from the U of Toronto’s Munk Centre says it’s time to end some myths: we’re not a middle power, whatever that is, and we’re not peacekeepers. We need to leave the 20th century behind and look to the 21st. We need to use a serious of institutions, trade, development, NGOs, to connect to developing world. Also, must consider what does the digital world mean to our place in the world, and how can we use digital tools to help? Gives example of paying Afghan police digitally to their cell phones to reduce corruptions.

10:50 AM: Stein says Canada has a very poor record on development assistance and it’s not that we don’t spend enough money at it; it’s that we do a poor job of it. And there won’t be more support for development assistance form Canadians unless we get better at it.

10:58 AM: Kinsman says culture, and promoting our culture abroad, is fundamental. You have to tell people who you are. Creativity and culture is synonymous with innovation, and cutting promoting our culture abroad is just plain dumb.

11:06 AM: Kinsman says if we stand for human rights somewhere, we have to stand for human rights everywhere. But that doesn’t mean we don’t engage with countries like China; he says engagement helps human rights.

11:15 AM: Kids interested in foreign affairs today shouldn’t be diplomats, they should go into NGOs. NGOs are largely delivering our foreign aid today, that’s where it’s at, says Kinsman.

Stien disagrees with Fowler that Canada has no strategic interest in Afghanistan, but says she does agree we’ve accomplished none of out strategic objectives, and as we move toward 2017 it will be important to understand why.

11:21 AM: Stein says the biggest security challenge in the world today is unemployed adolescent young men with no prospects and no hope, and it’s a huge security issue we’re not addressing through our development policies.

Kinsman agrees on unemployed young men, but adds under-employment of women is another major global issue. Stein responds emphasis on women is overlooking a major and growing challenge around young men,

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CanadianSense said...


With all due respect Paul Martin embarked on a massive spending program in 2005 to campaign on.

The CPC did not cut many of the ideas they supported.

That includes defence spending and foreign aid.

The $5 billion annual cap was implemented under Brian Mulroney and was scrapped.

Same with a $ 6.4 Billion National Daycare Program.

Each new government is responsible for defunding or eliminating programs/policies or the previous administration.

Pandering to the ethnic community is not the same as turning a blind eye to illegal funding activities.

Thank you again for your participation in Montreal and your blog.

Lindsay Stewart said...

thanks for your coverage jeff! best i've seen so far. wish i had caught fowler he sounds like the one voice i'd most agree with so far. would like to see canada disentangle ourselves from the sinking ship of america. our politicians also need to stop kissing the israeli rear end and i heartily agree a two state solution with a stake for both in jerusalem is the answer. both sides of the conflict need to be held to full account for their crimes as both have acted with criminal disregard for human life.

Jay said...

Fowler was 100% spot on in his criticism. I agreed with everything. He it everything wrong with the Liberal party currently and why we cannot attract more voters. Indeed, people like myself are on the fence with who to vote for next time around. I may not vote at all. Liberals have no vision, and no policy. Whats to support? Everything I thought was liberalism has been thrown out. Its whatever gets the party that bump in the polls now. We can't elected only on the fact we have different leadership than the CPC.