Canada’s Role In A Global Era (March 2008)

Notes for remarks to the Chance Conference, University of Toronto


Canada has become a magnet to people from around the world. We have transformed in a relatively short period of time into the most cosmopolitan and diverse society in human history. And because of our accident of geography ─ vast spaces from sea to sea to sea ─ we have a huge potential to transform even further.


What does it mean to be Canadian when we come from everywhere?


How do we forge a shared national purpose among people who have never shared anything before and who come from every corner of the globe?


What does community mean when people come from around the world – where former enemies meet as friends, or at least as neighbours, where the first language of a significant and increasing number of Canadians in our urban centres is neither English nor French?


How do we provide a sense of direction, a road map to our street in the global village ─ something that emotionally connects with Canadians?


We need new poetry, something once again to inspire us, to fire up our collective imagination.


Canada has become a magnet to people from around the world. We have transformed in a relatively short period of time into the most cosmopolitan and diverse society in human history. And because of our accident of geography ─ vast spaces from sea to sea to sea ─ we have a huge potential to transform even further.


By 2050 the population in the developing world will increase by over 2 billion people; already approximately half the Arab population, and 54% of Iranians, and 52% of Pakistanis are under the age of 20   (compared to 25% in North America and Europe).


The forces of globalization will create both incredible wealth, but also suffering on a global scale. We will experience enormous environmental challenges and massive population shifts, as modern-day nomads disregard borders and seek a means of livelihood and an escape from dreadful poverty, wars, and sicknesses.

Canada is on the leading edge of this population shift. The world is coming to Canada.


More and more Canadians are now global citizens, exploring the world or staying connected to our countries of origins more instantly, more easily, and more inexpensively than ever before.


A recent study shows that three quarters of Canadians have traveled outside the country, and one half is closely connected with one or more foreign countries and is following international events closely.


Mobile telephones, the Internet, wireless devices ─ these are our passports to a world without borders.


Canadians, new and old, do not define themselves by their ethnicity, religion, language or their province. Nor do we define ourselves with material things – not the cars we drive, the houses we own, the areas in which we live.


We do not define ourselves with borders.


We are Canadians without borders, looking outward to an exciting future.


We have come together to continue to build a progressive, vigorous multi-ethnic democracy.   We are prepared to embrace the responsibilities that have been thrust upon us because of our unique place in the international community.


For Canada to be a global leader, as we can and should be, Canada’s strength must come from a unity of purpose – our ability to pull together our huge and growing pool of exceptional human talent, to build a better world for our children and grandchildren.


Our destiny must be to show that Canada can be a model for a troubled world increasingly challenged by religious and sectarian friction, and environmental catastrophes.


We have a mission to export the type of pluralistic, creative, modern society we are building in Canada.


And we have every right to be proud and assertive, not weighed down by “middleness”, diffidence, the all too typical Canadian “Excuse me, sorry to bother you” attitude.


Our national purpose must be to improve the quality of life both in Canada and elsewhere, to promote a common sense of humanity, good government and good citizenship around the globe, to collaborate globally to ensure that economic prosperity coincides with environmental preservation.


We must remember that Canadians choose Canada because of the opportunity, both economic and social.


With some exceptions, most notably the extraordinarily unacceptable third world conditions among aboriginal Canadians, Canada represents the best of universal values ─ justice, equality, diversity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, equal rights, non-discrimination, and a chance to live in peace and humanity.


Canada provides a safe haven, and a base from which to reach out to the troubled areas of the world and teach what we learn in Canada ─ how people with different religions, ethnicities and values can live together as full citizens in free societies, exercising the mutual responsibilities that go along with the rights of citizenship.


Almost every aspect of our daily lives has a global dimension. All the serious challenges we face whether climate change, dreadful poverty, wars, sicknesses, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, all require global cooperation and global solutions, but also decisive national leadership at home.


The longer we fail to act coherently and effectively, both nationally and internationally, the narrower our options and the greater the potential for catastrophe.


The success of Canada therefore also lies not only in ensuring our diversity remains our strength, but also in demonstrating that we can have bold and visionary national leadership in a dynamic federation.


Indeed Canada’s influence and effectiveness on the international stage depends on maintaining our internal coherence and stability, and strengthening our commitment to greater equity, economic and social justice, sustainable development, environmental preservation.


We must have our act together at home, and implement domestic policies which attract world-wide respect, if we are to have credibility and a knowledge base from which to act internationally.


We need bold and visionary national leadership to inspire us to confidently take on our complex world, and convey a sense of forward motion, leadership that convinces Canadians once again to believe that those in public life can translate rhetoric into action.


We need bold and visionary national government that brings forward national initiatives with clarity and conviction.


Our prime minister and foreign minister, in particular, must provide clear directions for national and international action.


But what is the reality?


We have foreign policy going off in potentially 10 or 12 different directions. With Quebec’s proliferating delegations, critical cutbacks at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Canada’s voice in the world is confused.


We are too defensive with respect to the United States, there is too much promotion of mediocrity, and our federal government is risk averse and indecisive, most notably with respect to the crucible issue of our time, global warming.


With so many of us active outside Canada and globally-connected, Canadians must demand a clear Canadian voice on the world stage, and coherent national government at home, to inspire us to pull together for the common good.


We must demand national leadership that governs for the Canadian people, not the provincial premiers. Canada is not Quebec. Canada is not Alberta. Neither Jean Charest nor Ed Stelmach speaks to the national interest. Nor is it their job to do so: that is the job of the prime minister.


We must find and elect national politicians able and willing to defend Canadian values at home and abroad with dignity and determination. We need our politicians to move beyond petty politics, power plays, outdated ideologies, seducing voters with ill-conceived tax cuts, and commissioning useless opinion polls to gauge, not important matters, but merely the popularity of the government.


Let me turn briefly to a particular discussion of what we need to do to ensure that our diversity and our increasingly intense global connections remain a source of strength.


Our diversity as a society is a great responsibility. Our ability as a nation to accommodate our diversity, to respect justice and equality, is the central issue of our time. Too often we sit back and think that different languages and cultures will simply come together without effort, and there is no threat to liberal democracy.


It is the responsibility of all of us to fight to ensure that our diversity does not lead to exclusion.


It is not enough to provide rights, although rights are the bedrock of our society.


It is not enough to be tolerant, although tolerance is essential.


People are not knocking on Canada’s doors because we are “tolerant”. Our welcome mat does not say: “please come here and as long as you do not bother anyone, no one will bother you.” Tolerance cannot be an end in itself. We owe each other more than tolerance.


New Canadians do not arrive in Canada wishing to pay $600 or more a month to send their children to faith-based private schools, and seal themselves off in an enclave. This undermines Canada’s internal strength and global potential.


The kind of society we must build is based on responsibility, our duty to each other – to respect each other, to help each other.


We have to inspire and demand from ourselves the discipline to understand, celebrate, and protect what makes each of us unique. Preserving the dignity of our neighbour preserves the dignity of us all.


One of our most serious collective responsibilities is to ensure that immigrants to Canada have real equality of opportunity. The evidence is clear that the latest wave of immigrants, while perhaps better educated than their predecessors, face more difficulties with respect to employment, reuniting their families, proper housing and health services.


The huge mismatch between the skills of new Canadians and what they are actually employed to do here is jaw dropping.   It seems that newcomers are now seen as a source of low-income workers, not as a solution to the much-needed upgrading of skills in both the manufacturing and knowledge sectors, and as much-needed new professionals.


No less than 41% of immigrants with university degrees are now in chronic low-income categories, compared to only 13% in 1993, before the immigration laws were changed to encourage more educated immigrants to come to Canada. Especially among the young, there is a real sense of exclusion as the disaffected lash out against a society that fails to give them equal opportunity in practice.


Canadians, particularly employers in Canada, must identify what barriers are preventing many new Canadians from advancing their careers, and then address those barriers with positive action. According to a recent report of the Conference Board of Canada, “although Canadian organizations say they value diversity, they have not yet fully committed their policies, practices and resources to embedding diversity in their operations.”


We need to solve the foreign credential problems once and for all, and provide adequate infrastructure to help new Canadians maximize their potential – language training, settlement services, internship programs that provide work experience, expeditious certification mechanisms to recognize foreign credentials.


We also require much more public investment in education and training, sector by sector, so that we stop shedding so many valuable middle-income jobs that traditionally have allowed workers to climb the income ladder, and so we can really focus on keeping people employed, instead of warehousing those laid-off.


Wouldn’t dramatic national action be great for a change? Like offering free employee training to employers who locate or expand their operations in Canada?   Like free college tuition? For that matter, why not free public transit?


Instead, in yet another forgettable federal budget, we have absolutely nothing really significant for training and post-secondary education (Sure, Millennium Scholarships ended, another grant and loan scheme introduced, just a rearrangement of the deckchairs on the Titanic). And we have yet another provincially-administered unaccountable trust fund pretending to relieve the pain of the closure of significant industries in particular communities.


It is particularly shocking to think that we already have the technical know-how to operate our vulnerable fisheries and forest industries on a sustainable basis, retrofitting our pulp and paper mills to reuse mill residue and so forth – we simply lack the political will to ensure the needed investment in the factories and plants, as well as in upgrading our workers’ skills.


Let me turn now briefly to planetary survival – now the most important concern of the 21st century. The greatest consumer generation in history has to learn how to live intelligently and frugally, not wastefully, and to learn this very quickly.


The issue of the global environment must be the central organizing principle of the world community. And it should command the attention of our national leadership.


Our goal should be nothing short of making Canada the greenest country on the planet, with a minister of the Environment on a par with the minister of Finance, so that ecological principles are integrated every step of the way into our budget, investment and planning processes.


Yes, there will be some tension with the economic development plans of the province of Alberta.


But there should be absolutely no hesitation in implementing a carbon tax on a national basis, including a levy on gas at the pump, and using our taxation power to change polluting behaviour and significantly reduce our footprint on the environment.


We can then provide substantial dedicated funding for a wide range of initiatives designed to increase energy efficiency, conservation, and develop new sources of clean renewable energy including a national electricity grid. The additional national revenues can also contribute to a reduction in personal income taxes and ensure that business and investment taxes remain competitive.


Unless we can preserve the quality of life on our planet, everything else is secondary.


But what do we have in Ottawa? One of the most divisive governments in Canadian history that appears incapable of taking any serious action on the environment.


A government that for partisan political purposes reduces the one tax that is capable of having an influence on our over-consumption – the GST, and then transfers much needed national revenues to provincial coffers via the ecoTrust and the Community Development Trust, with little or no accountability for the expenditures,


One of my favourite authors/commentators is Jared Diamond (Collapse, and Guns, Germs and Steel). He has calculated that the average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metal, and produce waste like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America than in the developing world. If the entire world achieved North American-level consumption rates, it would be as if the world population ballooned up to 72 billion from the current 6.5 billion. Only the most optimistic among us think that our planet can eventually manage 9 billion!


We must lower our consumption rates – they are unsustainable. Much of our consumption is unrelated to our living standards and is plainly wasteful. Western Europe per capita oil consumption is half the U.S. and yet the standard of living is higher, measured by life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools, support for the arts etc.


Now, as Canada searches for its role and purpose in the 21st century, especially on the global stage, we must ask whether we are content to be a neutral broker here and there with mixed success, or do we want to achieve something more concrete and vigorous?


Once again, bold and visionary national leadership is desperately needed.


All liberal democracies, big and small, need to participate in networking and international agreements that result in effective cooperative action on global problems of energy security, economic inequality, ethnic conflicts, regional militarization, pandemics and global warming.


In the foreseeable future, national power will no longer depend primarily on military, or even economic, might. It will depend on social stability, access to safe, clean sources of energy, clean air and water, a good healthcare system and adequate national preparedness to enable a nation to withstand a pandemic.


Even the United States appears slowly to be learning the lesson of Iraq the hard way: that even a powerful state such as the United States in a currently unipolar world, gains an advantage by supporting, and operating within, an international system of rules and institutions.


In the near future, hundreds of millions of poorly educated young people around the world will lack the necessary skills for employment, and find very few employment opportunities except in the informal economy. They are living in the crowded mega-cities and will be attractive recruits for radical groups, alienated from the global economic, social and political system, and who consider the U.S. to be simply the supporter of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graib. The young men in particular will rebel wherever they find themselves, whether the banlieus of Paris, or the streets of Somalia.


Such mass poverty is the greatest moral challenge/moral dilemma of our time. Undoubtedly, fundamentalists and extremists of all religious and ethnic backgrounds draw support from alienated and angry citizens of developing countries – alienated from a world of excessive consumerism and waste; angry with the inequality of opportunity and growing inequalities of income and wealth.


The international community must be fully engaged, for example, in supporting international initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals, established in 2000. Canada at the very least must increase our foreign aid level from the current pathetic 0.28% of GDP to the 0.7% promised back in the 1960s. We must instill a sufficient sense of hope and progress in developing societies so that despair and anger do not send more masses into the arms of extremists.


But at the same time as ramping up international development initiatives, we must deal firmly with the corrupt self-interested regimes, in too many developing areas of the world that rule by fear and threats, and siphon off aid intended to advance the local social economy. They are guilty of manufacturing poverty to enhance alienation and anger for their own political ends.


Crises in states from Sudan to Afghanistan are potential threats to security at home here in Canada. Destabilizing civil wars are much more common than they were 40 years ago. As Rwanda and now Darfur demonstrate, the potential for horrific genocides is all too real. And rants by the president of Iran, advocating the elimination of the nation of Israel, are ominous.


We need a forceful Canadian presence at all the bargaining tables around the world – in Afghanistan, Rwanda, Darfur, to the ongoing Kyoto conference negotiations, to the World Trade Organization, to the United Nations, and so many more.


We must support and encourage the many many Canadians involved outside Canada in business, education, arts and culture, sports, the foreign service, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and our military.


Our military in particular is now at the forefront of forging new means of civil-military cooperation – using our military strength to make possible the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance in the growing number of complicated conflicts worldwide.


We must invest the necessary resources in our peacekeeping capacities, our military, our international activities, and our defence of North America. Our international reputation and influence is a source of pride, but is never something to be taken for granted. It is something to be earned and maintained through hard work and, at times, great sacrifice.


When Canadians have put their shared values into action, whether in the cause of landmines or in the negotiation of the recent global convention to protect cultural diversity, we have proven our worth as global citizens and have won respect around the world.


One particular area that requires renewed effort by Canada is the very serious nuclear threat and the goal of the abolition of nuclear weapons. The nuclear non-proliferation regime is on the verge of collapse. The United States is mumbling about “usable nuclear bombs” (bunker busters, mini-nukes, reliable replacement warheads (RRWs)) and continues steps that are leading to the weaponization of space.


The five original signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 – the U.S., Russia, France, Britain and China – are still committed to giving up nuclear weapons.


But now there is India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and possibly Iran. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria have all told the International Atomic Energy Agency that they now intend to develop nuclear power programs. And as events in Britain regarding the poisoning of a former Russian KGB agent demonstrate, much more controls are required on radioactive fissile materials.


The growing dangers of our nuclear world must force us to recognize how little the international community has accomplished in more than half a century in terms of the abolition of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear Armageddon. It is clear that we must redouble our efforts in this area especially as the pressure increases to greatly expand nuclear energy as a way to reduce global warming and too much reliance on fossil fuels.


Another area in which Canada can play a significant role is in confronting religious fascism or extremism.


Around the world, the vast majority of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and others, all believe in religious tolerance, openness to others, the fundamental values of democracy, liberty, and equality. This is certainly the situation in Canada.


But there are religious extremists of all backgrounds who pose an ongoing serious threat to world peace.


We must make it perfectly clear that all persons must respect the universal principle of the sanctity of human life, whatever our religious, ethnic or national background. We must go beyond the condemnation of violators of human sanctity, to action. We must especially appeal to the moderate members of all religions.


For example, you have the right to practise the faith of your choice. You then, however, have a responsibility not to express prejudice and incite hatred and discrimination against those of different beliefs. Religion must not be a weapon; it should be a positive force that helps us explain our mortality, our significance in the universe, how to distinguish between right and wrong, how to establish a peaceful community life and discharge our responsibility for our fellow human beings.

Canada and Canadians can and must play a leading role in our global village in the pursuit of greater peace and humanity, a narrowing of inequalities across developed and developing nations, and greater respect for our fragile ecosystems and planetary survival.


With bold and visionary national leadership, our increasingly diverse society, our Canadians without borders, can reach out to the forces of moderation in other countries and help strengthen nascent civil societies in many ways and through many networks.


We have to grasp the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. We must call on all Canadians to pull together in the national interest, and promote a new wave of political activism by ordinary citizens.


We must demand that our national leadership boldly develop a blueprint to make us the greenest country on the planet, to ensure we have a respected voice in global affairs, and to build a vibrant sustainable social economy in the most diverse and cosmopolitan society in human history.


There should be no doubt that with clear global vision and decisive national leadership, Canadians are uniquely positioned to be in the front ranks of a world without borders.