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Final Report


A Dialogue on Foreign Policy: Report to Canadians

A Dialogue on Foreign Policy: Discussion Paper

What Canadians Said
About this dialogue
Directions for the future
What Canada stands for
Human Security and Human Rights
Relations with the United States
Effective Multilateralism and Governance
Sustainable Development
Coherence and Capacities
The Three Pillars
Ensuring Global Security and the Security of Canadians
Toward a broad vision of Shared Global Security
Capable Armed forces
Peacebuilding, Disarmament, and Conflict Prevention
Multilateral Cooperation and International Law
Promoting the Prosperity of Canadians and Global Prosperity
Global and Regional Opportunities
North American Economic Partnership
A Fairer Global Economy
Effective International Assistance and Development Cooperation
Globalizing Sustainable Development
Projecting Canada's Values and Culture
Sharing our Values and Experience
Promoting our Culture and International Education
Making Canada Better Known to the World
Strengthening Canada's International Voice

Final Report


A Message from the Honourable Bill Graham,
Minister of Foreign Affairs

June 2003

The future of Canada's foreign policy lies in building on our distinctive advantages in a time of great change and uncertainty. Our diverse population makes us a microcosm of the world's peoples; our geography and population give us broad global interests; our economy is the most trade-oriented among the G7 nations; and our relationship with the United States is extensive and deep. With these and other assets, Canadians recognize that we have a unique basis for asserting a distinctive presence in the world. They also believe that in these times of enormous change, Canada must take stock of how we want to approach new and continuing international challenges. To represent the values, interests and aspirations of Canadians as we confront these challenges, our country's foreign policy must draw as broadly as possible on the views of our citizens.

To this end, I launched A Dialogue on Foreign Policy in January in the form of a public discussion paper and an extensive program of consultations. The first result of the Dialogue consists in this report, which presents a summary of what we have heard from Canadians across the country over the past months. The views and expertise that citizens have shared have been extremely valuable in informing me and my government colleagues of citizens' concerns, their priorities, and how they want Canada to act in making a better world for ourselves and for others beyond our borders. These perspectives will inform the discussions I am having with my Cabinet colleagues and departmental officials as we proceed with the work of policy development, and our commitment to set out foreign policy directions and priorities for the years ahead. In presenting this report to Canadians, I am grateful to the thousands of people who took time to contribute.

During the consultations, my own activities included leading town hall meetings across Canada, a session of the National Forum for Youth, and many expert roundtables. I also appeared before the House Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which has produced a significant contribution to the Dialogue as well as a report on the future of North American relations and a forthcoming report on Canada's relations with the Muslim world. Through additional community discussions and written submissions, views were received from parliamentarians, provincial and territorial governments, academics, civil-society organizations, business organizations, and individual Canadians from across the country. On the Dialogue Web site, thousands of visitors downloaded the Dialogue Paper, submitted their views, participated in interactive discussions, and read weekly summaries of submissions.

The advice we received reflects both the far-reaching scope of the consultations and the heightened interest of Canadians in foreign policy, particularly amid the months of international tension surrounding the war in Iraq and its aftermath. Views differ, of course, on this and many other major issues noted in this report; yet there is also much common ground. A large majority of participants strongly believe that the best way that Canada can advance global security is to continue working within the framework of the United Nations to strengthen a multilateral system based on the rule of law. Yet Canadians also call for reforming international organizations, including the United Nations, in recognition of the need for effective multilateral institutions to serve our own long-term interests and to realize the shared global goods of security, prosperity, justice and environmental sustainability.

Most Dialogue contributors also stress that Canada's position as long-standing friend, neighbour and ally of the world's only superpower makes close relations with the United States a fundamental foreign policy priority. Views diverge about how best to preserve our sovereign ability to act in accordance with Canadians' values and interests while realizing the advantages of North American ties. However, citizens recognize that skilfully managing Canada's occasional differences with the U.S. must be part of a long-term commitment to strengthening our continental relationship in ways that advance the many shared goals of our two countries.

The following report reflects the guiding impetus behind the Dialogue itself: that Canada's foreign policy must be informed by public advice fully representative of our country's diverse population and regions. This conviction informed our consultations, and it is reflected in this report as well. In synthesizing the very large volume and variety of advice we received, we have aimed to give a balanced and accurate account of what we heard from Canadians. While not every suggestion or perspective could be represented here in this report, they will all contribute as we proceed to develop Canadian foreign policy in the months and years to come.

It has been a privilege for me to learn from the knowledge and experience that Canadians brought to the Dialogue discussions. I have been particularly struck by certain themes raised repeatedly across the country. In the new security environment in which we live, Canadians strongly endorse a broad notion of security—one that sees our own security at home as dependent on the stability, order and prosperity of the global community, and with the human rights and democratic development of people around the world. They want to see Canada active abroad in ways that reflect the realities of global interdependence, the complex nature of the threats facing us in the 21st century, and the need for an integrated approach in which diplomacy, defence capability and development assistance work together in advancing Canadian goals.

Across the country, I have heard Canadian voices urging that the benefits of globalization must be shared more widely within and between countries in order to fulfill the promises of market economies, democracy and free trade that have so reshaped the global order in recent decades. Both our values and our long-term interests in prosperity and stability, citizens have told me, require Canada to be more active in ensuring that millions of people around the world come to share in the rewards of the new global economic system.

I have also been struck by the strong desire among Canadians to make our country better known abroad in all of its diversity, opportunity and expertise: through educational and cultural channels, through trade promotion and diplomatic outreach, and through the concrete achievements of a reinvigorated foreign agenda. And finally, the widespread engagement in town halls, on the Web site and in written submissions reaffirmed for me how strongly Canadians believe that direct citizen involvement must remain central to sound government, in the making of our country's foreign policy as well as in the reform and renewal of multilateral forms of governance.

The advice summarized in this report will be vital to the work of policy development that will proceed in the months ahead. At a critical time in global affairs, your contributions will help guide our foreign policy and strengthen Canada's voice abroad. I am grateful to everyone who participated in the Dialogue, and look forward to pursuing further conversations with Canadians about our country's engagement in the world. Our democracy and our foreign policy are stronger and healthier because of your participation.


About the Dialogue

It is a great opportunity to have a say as a Canadian. This is one of the many benefits of living in a free democratic society. In responding, I have felt like I can express my views and feel like someone is listening.
- Dialogue participant

A Dialogue on Foreign Policy was launched on January 22, 2003 with the publication of a Dialogue Paper, which reviewed key developments since the Government's last foreign policy statement in 1995, outlined the three "pillars" of security, prosperity and values, and culture, and posed 12 questions for discussion. Also launched was an Internet site ( where visitors could download the Dialogue Paper, submit on-line responses, access information resources, and participate in an electronic discussion forum.

Public consultations were conducted in a wide range of forums:

  • Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham participated in 15 town hall meetings across Canada attended by more than 3,000 people.
  • More than 12,000 copies of the Dialogue Paper booklet were distributed, and on-line access to the paper was provided throughout the process, with more than 60,000 visits to the Web site and 28,000 copies of the paper downloaded from the site. Contributions responding to discussion questions or referring to other comments could be sent by e-mail or mailed in. Several thousand responses were received, and nearly 2,000 people registered to engage in the on-line Web forum.
  • Nineteen expert roundtables were convened in different parts of the country on subjects related to the Dialogue. Material from these was posted to the Dialogue Web site, which also provided on-line access to weekly summaries of contributions, as well as video interviews with experts.
  • Meetings were held formally for the first time with provincial and territorial governments, some of which also submitted reports to the Dialogue. All welcomed their inclusion and emphasized the need for continuing recognition of their role.
  • Parliamentarians played an important role in the public discussion through meetings held in individual constituencies. Hearings by the House Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade resulted in a contribution to the Dialogue as well as Partners in North America, a major report on Canada's relations with the United States and Mexico; a report on Canada's relations with the Muslim world is forthcoming.
  • Written submissions were received from a wide variety of interested individuals, civil-society organizations and business organizations. Those submitted in electronic form are accessible from the Dialogue Web site.
  • Reports were submitted from community discussions on foreign policy held in some cities.
  • In addition to Minister Graham, Ministers Pettigrew, Whelan, McCallum, Anderson and Augustine participated in meetings on issues related to trade, international assistance, environment, defence, and interfaith relations. Ministers Whelan and Anderson also participated in town halls.
  • A National Forum for Youth was held in March on the theme The Next Canada: The World We Want.

Several aspects of the Dialogue, notably the Minister's town halls and the Dialogue Web site, were innovations new to Canadian foreign policy consultations. The scope of the Dialogue was criticized by some contributors who called for broader and deeper reviews over an extended time frame; other respondents called for combined foreign, defence and security policy reviews, more focus on different regions of the world, or more sensitivity to regional concerns within Canada. However, most contributors did recognize and welcome the unprecedented opportunities the Dialogue offered for direct citizen involvement in foreign policy development. In order to reflect these contributions, excerpts are presented in italicized quotations throughout this report.

Directions for the Future

Questions the Dialogue Paper asked:

  • Which values and interests bear most fundamentally on Canada's foreign policy? How can Canada's foreign policy better reflect the concerns and priorities of Canadians?
  • Amid recent global changes, should Canada continue to endorse a "three pillars" approach to its foreign policy objectives, or should the current balance be adjusted?
  • Canada is a member of many international organizations, including the G8, NATO, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Arctic Council. Should our participation in any of these be strengthened, or adjusted?

Dialogue participants framed much of their advice against the background of international circumstances now facing Canada as it sets its foreign policy priorities for the coming years. Some of these circumstances reflect recent or emerging trends; others represent persistent or cumulative challenges that call for attention just as much as headline events. Many millions of people around the globe live in extreme poverty or violent insecurity, and Canadians recognize that behind sudden international crises—September 11, 2001 being the most dramatic example in this new century—are long-standing and complex underlying conditions. Hence, a sound foreign policy approach must be one which, by making far-sighted investments in global security and prosperity, contributes to the security and prosperity of Canadians at home.

Another much-discussed theme among Dialogue respondents is the phenomenon of globalization, which many associate with issues of distributional equity, democratic governance and ecological sustainability. Others note that expanding markets, advances in communications, and more open societies can bring immense benefits to the lives of millions; and growing global interconnections promote knowledge and facilitate transnational networking of many kinds, including media and civil-society activism. On the other hand, borders increasingly open to the spread of ideas and goods may also provoke social tensions or fuel concerns over the erosion of political and cultural sovereignty. Moreover, global openness and interconnections also enable the spread of new forms of terrorism, criminal activity, infectious diseases and economic instability. As Canadians recognize, the resultant blurring of conventional distinctions between "foreign" and "domestic" matters requires foreign policy approaches to be updated and adapted accordingly.

In addressing the overall shape and effectiveness of Canadian foreign policy, some Dialogue participants urge that the "three pillars" currently used to conceptualize foreign policy directions be redefined, or that they be reconceptualized to highlight their integration. Dialogue contributions indicate an underlying desire for a more integrated foreign policy framework that clearly articulates Canadian values and interests, that is capable of achieving core objectives, and that is fully cognizant of Canada's international situation and responsibilities. Some respondents challenge current assumptions, arguing for the inclusion of currently neglected agenda items. However, there is a large measure of agreement with much of the broad thrust of Canadian foreign policy since 1995. Criticisms of weaknesses or gaps rarely suggest that Canada should play a lesser role or radically shift direction; to the contrary, many worry that Canada is losing influence, and want our international role strengthened. Many contributors call for Canada to establish and sustain a more substantive international presence, to work on implementing stated principles, and to improve policy coherence.

What Canada Stands For

Our domestic values of multiculturalism, bilingualism, federalism, and our commitment to strive—even though we often fall short—toward tolerance as a society, are ones that we should be proud of internationally. These values translate well into what I believe should be Canada's primary underlying value in foreign policy, which is the value of multilateralism and the development of international institutions for security, human rights, environmental protection, and fair trade.
- Dialogue participant

Almost all participants state that Canada's foreign policy should be strongly grounded in a complementary basis of values and an internationalist vision of our country's long-term interests. Peacebuilding, human rights, socio-economic justice, sharing with those in need, environmental stewardship, democratic pluralism and cultural diversity are among the commitments often mentioned in this respect. As many respondents observe, these are long-standing and broadly shared Canadian commitments, which underpin many international institutions and agreements. In this light, Canadian values should be considered not only a "third pillar" component projecting Canada's identity abroad, but a fundamental underpinning of our foreign policy as a whole. The values articulated through our international actions, some respondents urge, must reflect the diversity of our democratic society, must not be imposed on others, and must be applied with equal consistency to our domestic and international performance. As one respondent puts it:

In order to claim the moral high ground in our international relationships, we must secure our commitment to these ideals at home. We must practice what we preach.
- Dialogue participant

Most participants see the pursuit of values and interests as being complementary: taking principled stands is in Canada's long-term best interest as a responsible and respected member of the international community. However, some participants emphasize that the values and interests Canada espouses abroad need to be informed by a realistic appraisal of our international position and capacities for action.

Human Security and Human Rights

Global developments in the last decade, underscored by events of recent months, confirm that our national economic prosperity cannot be achieved nor sustained in isolation and without parallel attention being paid to the promotion of human security in the world. It is appropriate that Canadian foreign policy reflect Canadian beliefs in the respect for human rights, gender equality, economic and social justice, and environmental sustainability. Canadians care about ensuring that people in other parts of the world enjoy improvements in living standards, freedom of expression, and peace and security. And increasingly, they recognize that these are public goods—without improvements elsewhere, the well-being of Canadians is diminished.
- Dialogue participant
Canada should endorse and actively champion the principle that it is only by unequivocally and consistently embracing the full range of universal human rights standards that governments will provide true and sustainable security for their people.
- Dialogue participant

Dialogue respondents strongly urge that the security of individuals as well as states should be an ongoing priority of Canadian foreign policy. They recognize that Canada already has a significant international record in human security, notably through the campaigns for a ban on antipersonnel landmines and for the creation of the International Criminal Court. A broad conception of security as a human-centred protection of basic rights resonates strongly with Canadians, and respondents often urge Canada to act vigorously in the cause of international human rights and democratic freedoms. They also emphasize that the security needs and rights of women and children must be given special attention.

Many contributors stress that the defence of human security and rights should go beyond civil and political protections (peacekeeping forces, police, etc.) to address underlying socio-economic, cultural, environmental and other conditions associated with serious rights violations and violent instability in some regions of the world. There is broad support for Canada to be active in helping to bring about the development of stable democratic civil societies.

Relations with the United States

Canada is dependent on our closest ally, and yes these strong ties should be maintained.
Canada must, however, remain true to the values and beliefs of its own people.
- Dialogue participant

Most Dialogue participants recognize that our relations with the United States are a fundamental foreign policy priority in virtue of our geography and the countless social, economic and security ties binding our countries. Views diverge on the extent to which Canada should support U.S. positions internationally or chart a more distinctly Canadian course. Views also diverge on how much "margin of manoeuvre" is needed to maintain our sovereign capacity for choice—though Canada's choices should not be defined either as simply following U.S. policies or diverging out of a specious independence.

Most participants recognize that our two countries share many cooperative goals within and beyond North America, and there are many occasions when our two countries' values and interests coincide; but there are some issues (examples frequently cited were the Kyoto Accord and the International Criminal Court) on which Canada must set its own course. Many contributors express confidence that the close Canada-U.S. relationship can cope with occasional disputes or strains as long as differences are clearly and respectfully presented; this point is especially emphasized by private-sector and provincial government respondents, who express concerns about economic access and security issues.

Some participants raise concerns about the degree of Canada's dependence on U.S. markets, and about military and other aspects of continental integration. Others argue that Canada should use its geographic position to build a North American partnership that can be an influential asset in wider aspects of international relations.

Effective Multilateralism and Governance

Canadians, in orientation, as well as increasingly in demographics, are internationalists. ... it is essential that Canada work with others to enhance multilateral frameworks and institutions, both contributing energetically to the further development of global norms and investing in renewed institutions. The first priority is to restore the credibility and effectiveness of the UN and its agencies.
- Dialogue participant
Canada, with its multilateralist credentials and potential to influence the United States, is uniquely placed to redefine the basis for "collective action" in the 21st century.
- Dialogue participant

Another topic attracting much comment from Dialogue participants is the strained state of the international order and multilateral institutions following the tensions over the Iraq crisis—particularly the United Nations and the NATO alliance. While Canadians are strongly in favour of multilateral approaches and institutions built on foundations of international law, many believe that existing organizations need major renewal and reform. Concerns focus on the UN Security Council and the UN Commission on Human Rights, but are also directed at international economic organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Some participants urge Canada to provide leadership, as a mediating middle-power country, in efforts to renew the multilateral system and make it more effective in addressing global problems that have only collective solutions.

Sustainable Development

If foreign policy is, in part, a statement about the kind of world we want to live in, then surely sustainable development is at the core of it.
- Dialogue participant
Canada should, in future, commit more firmly to promoting international agreements aimed at protecting the environment. I am thinking more specifically here of agreements protecting biodiversity. So economic promotion, yes, but in an environmentally friendly manner.
- Dialogue participant

Many participants see environmental and sustainable development issues as central to the future of both Canada and the global community, some to the extent of calling for sustainable development to be a "pillar" in its own right, or even the overarching principle of Canadian foreign policy. The promotion of sustainable patterns of production and consumption in developed and developing countries, attention to climate change and ratification of the Kyoto Accord, conservation of biodiversity, and management of renewable resources and risks to human health are all strongly advocated in Dialogue submissions. Some respondents also urge Canada to be more active in supporting clean technologies and other practical sustainable development solutions.

Coherence and Capacities

In today's complex and interdependent world, security, prosperity and culture all impact each other. For instance, countries that cannot provide their citizens with a decent standard of living or regimes that refuse to do so are often among the most physically insecure and war-prone. It is time to acknowledge these interdependencies by using a new metaphor: perhaps that of a "lens" through which we view interlocking issues.
- Dialogue participant

While the 1995 statement Canada in the World described the three pillars as "interrelated and mutually reinforcing," many Dialogue participants urge that foreign policy integration be taken further, both in understanding international challenges and in improving coordination of governmental and non-governmental partners within Canada, as well as internationally. A significant number of contributors also call for increased investment in diplomacy, defence and development assistance in order to strengthen Canada's capacities to act effectively and significantly in the world.

  • Current: What Canadians Said
  • Next: The Three Pillars
  • Promoting the Prosperity of Canadians and Global Prosperity
  • Projecting Canada's Values and Culture