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Town Halls >> Reports on Town Halls >> St. John's

Summary Report

Minister Graham's Townhall Meeting

St. John's, Newfoundland, Monday, March 3, 2003

The Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, held a Community Townhall meeting hosted by Memorial University, in St. John's, Newfoundland, on Monday March 3, 2003. Approximately 200 people attended. To begin, the moderator invited representatives of the St. John's Campaign Against War to present the Minister with a petition on behalf of the people of St. John's who oppose a war with Iraq. Minister Graham began the Townhall with a brief overview of the changes that have occurred since the last foreign policy review, highlighting the need for this dialogue process. The moderator, Dr. Arthur May, President Emeritus of Memorial University, invited participants to address all three pillars in Canadian foreign policy. The majority of the contributions on security focussed on Iraq, Canada's position on involvement in a potential war, and how Canada might influence the U.S. on Iraq. Discussion on prosperity highlighted the need for greater resources to address some of the root causes of terrorism (poverty). Advice to project Canadian cultural identity abroad and to improve post-secondary educational opportunities for the poor in developing countries figured prominently in the discussions on culture and values.


According to one participant, Canada's small population and large geographical expanse mean that we cannot defend ourselves against attackers, and we should therefore consider a move toward official neutrality. This would remove pressure for Canada to participate in dubious military activities, and would release us from having to meet any quid pro quo arrangements with the U.S., for example those that link our participation in a war on Iraq with a potential impact on the softwood lumber dispute. Other contributions also addressed a possible link between Canada's role in a war (or not) and potential negative impacts on bilateral relations with the U.S. A representative of a Catholic organization voiced his unqualified opposition to war in Iraq. Since the U.S. does not need us for military purpose, but needs us more for moral affirmation of its actions, Canada would simply be a pawn in the U.S. strategy. One participant expressed the view that Canadian foreign policy is indecisive and that Canada "flip flops" on issues such as its participation in a war on Iraq and on whether to sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Canada needs to take a clear stand, and take decisive actions.

Minister Graham noted that few Canadians have suggested neutrality, and doubted that neutrality is an effective way of dealing with terrorism and asymmetric terrorist methods. He noted that Canadians have a tradition of standing up for what we believe in, as we did in the two World Wars, Korea and Afghanistan. Diplomacy must be backed up by force - as a last resort. The Minister also disagreed with the notion that if Canada were to join the U.S. in a war (without UN authorization) that disputes over softwood lumber or the Wheat Board would disappear. He noted that Canada and the U.S. have differed before, as they did on the war in Vietnam, and yet still maintained friendly trade relations. The Minister said that there has been a consistent, persistent message on Canada's position on Iraq: Canada and others should deal with Iraq through multilateral channels, and any decision to go to war must be made through the Security Council. Canada's approach is to keep the Security Council intact so that it is there in the future to address issues of international peace and security. Like other countries, Canada must respond to the different reports and findings of Dr. Blix and the UN weapons inspectors.

One participant noted that, as a middle power, Canada's accepted international role seems to be that of mediating and bridge building. Does this prevent Canadian introspection to define and select a role of our own choosing? The Minister responded that Canada is a committed multilateralist, and that is why we work in the G8 and other multilateral institutions to make the world more reflective of our values.

Some felt that Canada is not having an impact on American foreign policy, and that we need to do more to make our interests known. Although the U.S. seems to expect that a war in Iraq would be over in 2 to 3 months, it is quite possible that it could last for 5 to 7 years, suggesting this is one area in which Canada could influence the U.S. to consider the implications of a protracted war. Other participants proposed that war causes terrorism, violence begets violence, and hence U.S. policy will result in terrorism. This highlights another area where Canada should use its influence to convince the U.S. to change its course of action. Minister Graham proposed that although Canadian influence on the U.S. may not be on the media's radar screen, representatives of other countries approach Canada to intervene with the U.S. precisely because the intimate nature of our relationships with the U.S. does give us influence. Minister Graham agreed with the argument that violence begets violence, and therefore military action must be a last recourse. At the UN, Canada has presented a credible alternative position. Canada has provided an independent voice on the Iraq issue, by arguing that the U.S. needs the international community to address the problem of Iraq, and prompting the U.S. to continue to work through the UN rather than to try to resolve the problem of Iraq by itself.

An Afghan native studying political science at Memorial University noted that while there is international concern about Saddam Hussein having used nerve gas against his own people, the warlords who now largely control Afghanistan also have documented histories of killing their own people. How we can ensure the security in Afghanistan and prevent it from becoming a breeding ground for more Saddam Husseins? The Minister agreed that the warlord phenomenon is a concern, and for that reason Canada, through CIDA, allocated $100 million to Afghanistan last year for good governance and human rights.

The limited resources allocated to our Armed Forces means that we must decide what role the military will play, whether this be an "old style" military role, or as a dedicated international intervention force, or to continue to carve a niche as an "exit strategy group" such as we have done in Afghanistan where we act as mediator. Another contributor ventured that the role of the military should be to build on its established role in the UN as a peacekeeper, for which we need highly trained personnel not just in peacekeeping, but also in negotiating, in religion, civilian mediation and other skills. Minister Graham invited people to give their views on the role of the armed forces to the dialogue web site.

The moderator encouraged people to go to the web site "it is well done, well used and interesting to see the discussion." (The web site can be found at: or


Reducing the causes of terrorism requires a genuine multilateral effort and the allocation of more resources to deal with global problems such as poverty, HIV/AIDS and lack of access to health care for the poor in developing countries. There has been a failure to present an alternative to the dominant New Right agenda elaborated by the conservative Chicago school. Canada could play a role in elaborating such an alternative path or vision. Minister Graham expressed concern over the disparity between rich and poor, and cited Prime Minister Chrétien's initiative in advancing NEPAD. Further, Western tariffs on developing-country goods approximately equal their foreign aid receipts, which has prompted Canada to reduce its tariffs for some least-developed countries' products. The Minister noted that the AIDS crisis is related to weak governance structures, lack of openness and education about the causes of the disease and how to prevent its spread. That is why last year Canada allocated approximately $200 million to Africa to promote good governance and education programmes.

Noting Canada's high dependence on trade with the U.S., one participant wondered if we should diversify our trading partners. The Minister noted that while the government can't tell people where to do business, it is continuing to establish a framework through the negotiation of trade agreements that will create opportunities for new markets.

Values and Culture:

One participant felt that Canada fails to project its cultural identity (focussed on humaneness, multiculturalism, and excellence) outside the country. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) should spend more time and allocate more resources to promoting and projecting this identity. On a related issue, our public broadcaster (the CBC), an important cultural institution, has been subject to severe funding cuts. What is the role of public broadcaster in the current international environment? The Minister acknowledged that DFAIT does not have a large budget for the promotion of culture, and that we do not invest as much in this area as the French and Germans, for example. The Minister also agreed that the CBC contributes to Canadian identity, to our values and allows citizens to understand our international position.

One participant asked what we are doing to deal with anti-American sentiments in Canada. Minister Graham agreed that negativity towards the U.S. is a problem. He reminded participants that the U.S. is a huge society with a great diversity of people and views.

If democracy is fostered by well-educated groups in society, what is Canada doing to support post-secondary education for people (especially the poor) in developing countries? In a similar vein, a member of the International Student Centre (who came to Canada to escape the economic, social and political problems in his native Colombia) emphasized the need for the globalization of education, perhaps by giving the poor from outside Canada the opportunity to come to Canada to study and take back what they learn (for example about human rights) to their home countries. The Minister agreed that educating foreign nationals in Canada is one way of exporting our values and culture, but noted that, because education policy is under Provincial jurisdiction, decisions about accepting foreign students are made at the provincial level. As a former professor, he said he is very interested in the topic. We need to see what we can do to help foreign students come to Canada and/or learn about Canada.