Speech Article from  Global Affairs Canada

Address by Minister Dion at Ottawa Forum 2016: Building a foreign policy for Canada's future

January 28, 2016 - Ottawa, Ontario

Check Against Delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with the Government of Canada’s communications policy.

Good morning.

I am honoured to open this year’s Ottawa Forum. 

I am here because I am impressed by this organization and the substance of your discussions today—the panels—are exactly the areas where the Prime Minister would like us to tackle some of our biggest challenges. Allow me to set out a few challenges for you as well as some direction.

First, we have a new government, which is perhaps why you chose the theme of “Building a Foreign Policy for Canada’s Future.”

If I may, I take some issue with the title.

Building a foreign policy suggests that we have not already achieved a lot in our history.

We have charted a tremendous legacy in foreign policy, from Diefenbaker to Pearson, Trudeau, Mulroney, Chrétien, Martin, to Trudeau again…Wait, I’m missing one…

The point is [leaders of] all political stripes have sought to position Canada in the world and to engage effectively in all of its institutions and with all of its players.

So, it is a mistake to assume that somehow we need to depart fundamentally from ourselves.

We have a strong legacy in human rights across political divides.

On forced marriage, all parties have worked diligently, and where there have been disagreements—for example, more recently in the Commonwealth, with Sri Lanka—governments have chosen to stay engaged, to great effect.

The point now is that we remember that legacy and re-engage with it.

Just this week, there has been much made of re-engagement in Iran, and even in Russia.

The point here is how does isolation help Canada’s cause; how does isolation help those among our Iranian and Ukrainian diaspora?

Canada has been at its most effective when we have engaged in even the most difficult circumstances: surely you have seen [the movie] Argo?

That said, engagement does not mean we go in blindly or that we forget ourselves.

On the contrary. In Iran, for example, when we project our values first and foremost, particularly on human rights, anti-terrorism and our steadfast support of Israel, we are better able to support regional security.

The only thing accomplished [through] the old way [of doing things] is that Bombardier may be out and Airbus is in. Result: Ontario and Quebec lose. Our oil and gas sector may be out. Result: Alberta loses.

What does staying out accomplish?

In Russia: if the Americans, Europeans and Japanese can impose sanctions for Russia’s despicable actions in Ukraine but still engage, why not Canada?

[Are there not] issues where it is better for us to be engaged? The Arctic [for example]?

If we are smart and we stand up for who we are, we can be stronger as a result of engagement and we can be there, where we should be, to protect human rights and to project Canadian values.

The world is not black and white. Some things are straightforward, but others are not. It is time we figure out how to figure in.

The alternative has not worked and is not the Canadian way.

With that in mind, your program has set out five specific areas of discussion:

  • the changing face of global governance;
  • capitalizing on our proximity to the United States and Mexico;
  • achieving greater global stability and ensuring the security of our citizens;
  • creating global prosperity: how do we grow the pie for everyone, everywhere?; and
  • building an environmentally sustainable world—not just for today, but also so future generations have the capacity to grow.

And let me be clear, this is not a speech designed to grab headlines. It is designed to stimulate some of Canada’s top minds into thinking about the big challenges we face.

So, first, on the changing face of global governance.

After the Second World War, Canada was there to help develop the institutions of the postwar world.

We were there in some of the darkest days of the Cold War, within which we were pivotal in drafting the Charter of Rights and the establishment of a number of Bretton Woods institutions, including the World Bank and the WTO.

We demonstrated through action and example that the Canadian way—pluralism, respect for one another, respect for our heritage (indigenous peoples), the very fact we speak the languages of the Commonwealth et La Francophonie, our ability to transcend difficult challenges in our own democracy through peaceful means: the Clarity Act—are the way forward.

We projected our values through engagement with these institutions and we made a difference.

Up until the more recent past, it was mostly within these bodies and through their mechanisms that global issues were addressed and resolved.

But today, there is competition and we have fallen behind.

These last 10 years have been a period of drift for Canada.

We sought a unilateral approach to issues, which was a departure from who we are and what we stand for.

Unilateralism is not the Canadian way. We do not need to follow the example of others: we need to believe in ourselves again.

We were the pioneers of the G-20 and can once again be the pioneer of the next generation of tools, models and institutions through which to engage the world.

Let me add a little more on what I mean by Canadian values.

Since the end of Communism, the protection of human rights on this planet has been the challenge of our time. But the root has always been the same, the struggle for freedom.

But this is a trite phrase. What does it actually mean?

For me, it means the triumph of freedom of religion over theocracy, freedom of speech over censorship, freedom of movement over restriction and freedom of thought over fear.

As Canadians, we are driven by the principles that human rights are universal (good for everyone), interdependent and indivisible (must reinforce each other).

It is this conviction that drives us and we will do what we must to protect these values.

We cannot do that in isolation. We must engage.

And that doesn’t just mean engaging with our friends: talking implies nothing but perhaps the opportunity for improvement. Trade, for example, can open the door to tough conversations in other areas.

Some have said that “Canada is back” is a return to some sort of “honest broker” status.

Over the last 10 years, the term has lost its meaning and is no longer a reflection of the realities we face today.

Canada must be strong, values-driven and results-oriented.

And, the hardest part of that definition [that is, protection of human rights] is the last two points: not forgetting our values—[not forgetting] ourselves—and always striving for real results.

I have already spoken of our values at length this morning, and results—well, they can only be achieved if you are present and engaged.

So, as you move forward in your discussions today, I hope you are mindful of what it really means for “Canada to be back.”

We can be effective and fix the major challenges we face by re-establishing who are we and putting that into action through engagement.

So, returning to your specific themes:

On global governance, I urge you to consider how we can regain ourselves to again become effective fixers and rational players.

When you examine how best to strengthen our relationship with the United States and Mexico, consider my trip to [the city of] Québec later today, where I will host U.S. Secretary of State [John] Kerry and [Mexico’s] Foreign Minister [Claudia] Ruiz-Massieu, and how we can strengthen the relationship, not just within North America but from it to the Caribbean, Latin America, even the world.

We can be doing more with each other.

In trade. In security. In climate.

On global stability and the security of Canadians, we all know, tragically, that attacks can happen anywhere, at any time.

Earlier this month, we tragically lost six Canadians to a terrorist attack in West Africa. One day earlier, a Canadian was killed in an attack in Indonesia.

These attacks—and all others like them—are a global problem. They touch us all.

Here again, to help eradicate the scourge of terrorism, we must occasionally engage with regimes whose values and interests run counter to our own.

In an interconnected world, there is simply no way around this.

To ensure that we do this effectively, however, we must remember our values and realize that dealing with difficult regimes does not take away from who we are.

Speaking to regimes we disagree with is necessary if we want to make progress.

To dislike a regime is one thing. To refuse to speak with it and still think progress is possible is a mistake.

With respect to creating global prosperity, sustainable growth is widely viewed as the easiest way to open doors in tough places and to keep them open in tough times.

Before he was prime minister, [The Right Honourable] Paul Martin was instrumental in convincing other G-7 finance ministers that the group needed to expand to include emerging economies.

[Emerging economies] joined so they could grow more sustainably. And, as Prime Minister Martin said in 2005, so world leaders could “move from a focus on crisis management to a focus on steady improvement in international economic stability and predictability.”

His leadership was vital to the creation of the G-20 as we know it today.

We must recognize that relations do not start and stop at trade deals. We need broader and deeper ties to key countries like China and India, as well as to other emerging markets.

And finally, to the environment—a good place for me to finish.

It is impossible to separate economic growth, or even security threats, from the environment.

They are all interconnected.

It is why Canada used the COP21 [the 2015 Paris climate conference] forum to urge businesses, financial institutions, civil society and governments—at all levels and in all countries—to take the necessary steps to transform the global economy in a way that both stimulates growth and reduces climate risks.

COP21 represented a new way to address the global challenges we face.

It was about developing countries.

It was about emerging economies.

It was about financial markets and global financial stability.

It was about security.

At any rate, I hope these brief remarks have inspired you in your discussions.

Allow me to close by saying that political leaders should be guided by the ethics of responsibility, as opposed to the ethics of conviction. Canadians have always taken a strong approach but it has been one guided by its values and tempered by results.

It is this approach that will guide us over the next four years.

I hope these words will guide you today so you may help us reach principled and consequential conclusions to some of our greatest challenges.

Thank you.


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