Town Halls >> Reports on Town Halls >> Charlottetown
Minister Graham's Townhall Meeting
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Tuesday March 4, 2003
The Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, held a community Townhall meeting in Charlottetown, P.E.I, on the afternoon of March 4th, 2003. The University of Prince Edward Island hosted the Townhall and Roger Younker, of CBC Radio, acted as moderator. Approximately 200-220 people attended. The impending war with Iraq was a dominant topic of discussion, and a strong anti-war sentiment was expressed at the Townhall. Prior to the Townhall, the Minister stopped to talk to a group of about 15 anti-war protestors assembled outside.
Minister Graham began the Townhall by drawing attention to changes in the international system since the last foreign policy review of 1994-1995 (among them the changed security environment since the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the emergence of the U.S. as unchallenged superpower) that justify reexamining aspects of Canada's foreign policy. On the question of a war in Iraq, he emphasized that Canada has had a consistent policy of working through the multilateral system, drawing attention to the unique legitimacy of the UN. Canada's approach, he stated, is to keep the Security Council intact so that it is there in the future to address issues of international peace and security.
Kevin Hobson, a participant in the P.E.I. Foreign Policy Forum hosted that morning by Richard Kurial (Dean of Arts, University of Prince Edward Island), summarized the key points and recommendations of those discussions. On security, Forum participants expressed concern over security at our borders and ports and the security of our food supply. They suggested centralizing (and integrating) federal government decision-making on security issues. They also advocated increased spending on Canada's Armed Forces to increase size and upgrade equipment. Finally, they emphasized the need to focus on root causes of terrorism. On prosperity, they recommended that Canada take advantage of South American markets, increase immigration of skilled people, and consider the negative impacts of globalization, including the loss of rural identity (which has been experienced in the province). In promoting values and culture, Forum participants emphasized the need to respect diversity, foster multiculturalism, provide education about democracy, and increase funding for cultural exchanges and for the education and training of foreign students in Canada.
Participants in the Townhall were then invited to make their contributions, and the Minister responded to sets of comments. The Minister and the moderator urged participants to also make contributions to the Foreign Policy Dialogue through the web site (www.foreign-policy-dialogue.ca or www.dialogue-politique-etrangere.ca).
Participants in the Townhall expressed concern that Canada's role is changing from peace keeping to war: whereas Canada's foreign policy used to be founded on freedom, democracy, peace keeping, and multilateral approaches to international relations, now most of our energy is focussed on (military) security. There was strong opposition to a war in Iraq, with one participant declaring that the war is about access to oil, and Canada should do much more to promote and support the development and use of renewable energy. Another questioned spending on security and military actions when our health care and educational systems are in decline.
Some participants expressed concern that Canada is being pressured to support (and join) the U.S. in an (illegal and immoral) war against Iraq for fear of economic reprisals if we fail to do so. One participant felt that, in fact, the greatest threat to our security was from free trade agreements that restrict our independence. Participants stressed that Canada must maintain an independent foreign policy distinct from that of the U.S. One participant wanted to know how Canada could influence the U.S. position to dissuade Washington from war. Another asked what Canada would do if the U.S. unilaterally invades Iraq without Security Council authorization. Yet another asked what the consequences would be for U.S. President George W. Bush would be if the U.S. were to act unilaterally (in an illegal war). One participant questioned whether Canada was already involved in a war without Security Council authorization (and hence in violation of international law) due to the fact that Canadian warships were about to be sent to the Persian Gulf (both the HMCS Iroquois and the HMCS Fredericton were to leave Halifax for the Gulf the following day).
While Minister Graham agreed that education and health care were concerns for many Canadians, he stated that Canada needs a balanced approach to address its many concerns. He also noted that our security is also dependent on freedom and democracy in other countries (and that terrorism is bred in poverty and despair). That is why we also need to address human rights, democracy, and fair trade. The Minister disagreed with the notion that our participation (or not) in the war would have economic or trade repercussions, noting that Canada and the U.S. have disagreed before on foreign policy issues (eg: the war in Vietnam) and have still maintained friendly relations and a successful trade partnership. He further argued that problems over the Wheat Board, softwood lumber, and agricultural subsidies would not disappear if we were to support the U.S. if it is not in our interest to do so.
In terms of influencing the U.S. position, the Minister believes that Canada does have leverage on the U.S. position by grace of the respect we have earned around the world and our influence at the UN (he noted that our Ambassador to the UN had been invited to meet with the ten, non-permanent members of the Security Council). Minister Graham noted that both he and the Prime Minister have repeatedly conveyed the message that it is in the U.S.'s own interest to stay within the multilateral system. Canadian ships, he pointed out, are going to the Gulf region to provide support for Canadian action in Afghanistan. Finally, the Minister stated that if the UN authorizes action against Iraq, that Canada will support UN action.
Participants emphasized that Canada's foreign policy should focus on peace keeping and peace building, the promotion of democracy and good governance, and support for multilateralism. Another common theme was the need to address root causes of terrorism, with some participants recommending putting more money into Third World development. Another wanted to know what Canada is doing to ensure a peaceful resolution to the situation in North Korea. One participant felt that the public and politicians/the government were disconnected from what Canada's Armed Forces are doing. Finally, one participant opposed racial profiling at the Canada-U.S. border and the treatment of people from the Middle East.
The Minister agreed that conditions of poverty, huge income disparity, and discontent provide a breeding ground for terrorism. He noted that the Prime Minister has also expressed similar views. The Minister stated that he, too, is concerned about North Korea, and that is why Canada has opened diplomatic relations with the North Koreans and is trying to persuade them that the best way to solve their problems is by working through the international community. Further, Maurice Strong, a prominent Canadian, is working with the UN to try to address the humanitarian crisis in the country.
The Minister highlighted the Armed Forces' proud tradition of peace keeping, and told of his experience travelling in Bosnia where he personally heard the appreciation of local communities for the Canadian approach to peace keeping. The Minister responded that he was not aware of any racial profiling in Canada. He noted that Bill C-36 was a response to the need to ensure the security of Canadians, and that the Charter protects against abuse.
Participants noted that prosperity should not be defined as economic prosperity alone, and should not be equated with consumerism. Instead, prosperity should be thought of as having a stable world in which to live and a good quality of life (access to food, water, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work). Some participants called for Canada to increase foreign aid to meet the 0.7% of GDP goal. One participant felt foreign aid is too tied to Canadian interests. Another criticized a perceived shift in CIDA priorities from meeting peoples' basic human needs to promoting investment in private partnerships. Someone suggested that foreign policy commitments, including the foreign aid budget, should become constitutional commitments so that such commitments could not be over-ridden by changes of political parties in government.
A number of contributors voiced concern about the impacts of globalization and the expansion of trade relations on human rights and the environment, and in promoting exploitative labour practices in developing countries (such as unfair wages and the use of child labour). Participants suggested Canada should promote globalized environmental standards and fair trade. One participant felt that the multinational New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) opens Africa to a market mentality, consumerism, and to privatization.
Minister Graham agreed that Canada's foreign aid was too low, and for this reason foreign aid will be increased by 8% per year (and will double in 10 years). NEPAD, a response to the proposal of African countries themselves, directs more foreign aid to African countries to advance their development and promote good governance. He noted that, as an example of a changing approach by government, the Quebec Summit of the Americas was not just about trade, but about building better societies in Latin America by focussing on democracy, human rights issues, labour rights, health care and other such issues. Similarly, the Doha round of WTO negotiations is now being called the development round precisely because it addresses development concerns. Canada has also been working with Canadian corporations to promote good corporate behaviour abroad and corporate (social) responsibility. Finally, Canada has reduced tariffs and opened its markets to products of the thirty poorest developing countries.
Culture and Values
Participants reiterated that Canada's foreign policy should be based on Canadian values of multilateralism, human rights, democracy, good governance, and peace-building. One participant suggested using international student exchanges as a way to promote and share Canadian values abroad.