Text of John's Speech at Dalhousie University "Citizens of the World: Canada and the Challenges of Global Politics in the 21st Century"


The Government is fond of saying that Canada punches above its weight, particularly when it comes to the military. In fact, we are quite diminished in our role and influence in the world is greatly diminished and Stephen Harper likes it that way. From Foreign Affairs to CIDA to the Canadian Forces, our voice is not welcome in many spheres of influence and is greatly diminished in others.

Let me highlight a number of issues:

Foreign Affairs


We have turned our back on the UN and the UN has turned its back on us. Last year, Stephen Harper, while in New York to accept an international statesmanship award at the ritzy Waldorf Astoria, decided to skip the UN General Assembly which was convened merely a few blocks away. He took the opportunity to belittle the UN saying that the Government endeavors to make decisions “for the wider interests of humanity” and "that is, of course, not the same thing as trying to court every dictator with a vote at the United Nations, or just going along with every international consensus, no matter how self-evidently wrong-headed." As Stephen Lewis noted, this was “a real lost opportunity” for Canada to present its foreign policy vision to the world and to explain why we decided to cut off diplomatic relations with Iran just as dialogue has become paramount to the avoidance of a possible catastrophe  (Times Colonist: Sept 28, 2012).

It was painfully obvious that the UN has turned its back on us when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird gave a speech to a largely empty UN chamber, citing that the UN spends too much time navel-gazing rather than dealing with the world’s problems. It is a pity that we spend more time criticizing the UN than working to strengthen it and more time belittling than engaging. It is said that the UN is dysfunctional – newsflash – the world is dysfunctional – that’s why the UN exists. There is little wonder why Canada was not successful in its latest bid for a seat on the Security Council, a historic first for our nation. We didn’t just lose our bid; we worked hard at losing it. As a result, Canada will be without a seat at the most influential council in the world for a long while.


The mutual pettiness is extraordinary. All members were asked to contribute to the Mali effort. Canada ignored the UN request, yet responded to the French request. Here is a skill testing question for you: Can you name our UN Ambassador? (Guillermo Rishchynski)

Our foreign policy shortcomings become evident quite quickly. Contrast Bob Fowler’s assessment and recommendations on Mali and the Sahel region’s Islamic terrorist threat with Mr. Baird’s press releases. No wonder he doesn’t want to get into a debate with a former Ambassador, he’d get clobbered. Agree or disagree, Bob Fowler is clear, principled and realistic. The Conservative Government just wants to duck out of our responsibilities to engage international terrorism.


It would have been helpful and intellectually honest had the Government framed its response to Libya within the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect and the Responsibility to Intervene. However, you would never find the phrases passing form the lips of Government officials.


Middle East – International Policy – Israel good, everyone else bad. As a consequence, we have no standing in any other nation’s capital. We may not have had much influence before, but as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pointed out “if you are such a good friend of Israel, perhaps you can convince them to stop killing us”. Even the US demands more of Israel than do we. It’s an open secret that President Obama and President Netanyahu don’t like each other, a mutual antagonism made worse when Netanyahu indicated during the 2012 Presidential election that he preferred Mitt Romney. Another news flash – don’t get too far in front of the Americans – don’t get too far behind them.


I just recently returned from Myanmar where the Government of Canada rightly supports the “Democracy Project,” a great idea that needs support. After the press releases, photo ops and visits, Canada’s reengagement in Myanmar consists of a desk at the British Embassy with a flag on it. Our new representative in Myanmar has no budget, no independent communication and is trying to find cheap space. This represents a lot of talk, but not much more.

By the way, if you ever get an opportunity to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, grab it. She is a woman for whom English language superlatives are inadequate. In addition to being brilliant, wise, courageous, graceful and beautiful she is also very realistic. She saw the West as naïve and Asian countries as more realistic. When asked what Canada could do to help the democracy project, she said force your companies to adhere to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. She had no expectation that the least transparent nation in the world would share the wealth of the country with its citizens.


Which brings me to CIDA – a subject near and dear to me. A few years ago, I had a strange thought that our aid should be for poor people – not our business interests – not our diplomatic interests – and not even in the interests of Canada. Aid money is for poor people, so I authored the Better Aid Bill which said three things:
1- Aid is for poverty alleviation
2- It must be consistent with Human Rights standards and;
3- There has to be consultation with the beneficiaries.

Strange idea, I know, but we did get it passed and now it is the law and CIDA’s only legislated mandate. Unfortunately the Government routinely ignores it and marches on its own merry way. Now our aid money helps out Canadian mining companies. Julian Fantino was perfectly clear when he said, “we’re here to support [mining companies], we’re here to enable them to succeed – obviously, provided all of the checks and balances are in place, but at the very same time, I think what we want to do is seek their assistance, their help and support, to lift these countries out of poverty.”

This is a policy of all checks (cheques) and no balance. The government has no mechanism to bring a company behaving badly to account. Based on ideology rather than evidence, the Government is so enamoured with its own rhetoric that it thinks that a public-private partnership of industry, NGOs and CIDA will alleviate poverty. No one has asked the people most affected what they think. NGOs, having watched many of their fellow NGOs get defunded for speaking out; “go along to get along.” They figure that since there is no funding to be had out there anyway, they might as well take the CIDA money.
Beware of deals with the devil. There are unconfirmed rumours that NGOs that have not entered into P3’s have seen their funding dry up. They are also bought and paid for. If you, as an NGO, witness a human right abuse or environmental problem, it’s not likely that you are going to say anything because it’s your partner and you are dependent on the money. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. The P3 policy is deeply problematic and is a way for the Government to say we are doing something while downloading Corporate Social Responsibility to someone else.


In 2007, all the stakeholders in the CSR community got together and in an unprecedented show of unity tabled a Round Table Report with 6 recommendations; the most significant of which was a CSR Ombudsman. It was an acknowledgement that Canada has a problem, a big problem. There was no response from the Conservatives so they re-tabled the report. There was still no response so I tabled C-300 which picked up on a number of these recommendations.

It simply said that a Canadian company convicted of a serious breach of internationally-recognized environmental or human rights standards would no longer be eligible for support from the Government of Canada through CPP, EDC or extra-consular activity. According to the industry, this was the end of western civilization as we know it. Two years later, after much ill-informed debate and a lot of media, it died by a margin of 6 votes. Subsequently there was much commentary on the effectiveness of lobbying. Perversely, the death of the Bill reinforced in the minds of international observers that Canada is an outlier and unwilling to regulate its own companies.

It does not make us popular in the developing world. It would be speculative to query whether the C-300 vote had anything to do with the UN vote but when combined with CIDA’s withdrawal from a number of African nations – that’s a lot of votes to kiss goodbye.

Sunshine Bill

Last week I tabled a bill titled “An Act Respecting the Promotion of Financial Transparency, Improved Accountability and Long-Term Economic Sustainability through the Public Reporting of Payments Made by Mining, Oil and Gas Corporation to Foreign Governments”, or as we like to call it, the “Sunshine Bill”.

It is modeled on the Cardin-Lugar amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act which says that a company that obtains a mining concession has to tell the Securities and Exchanges Commission how much it paid, who it paid, the currency it paid in, ect, in order to obtain and retain the concession, failing which the company will be delisted from US stock exchanges. It is a serious sanction and designed to get the industry’s attention.

This is a worldwide effort. The US, the EU and UK are keen on this kind of initiative but thus far the Government of Canada has stonewalled the efforts of the G-8 to expose international corruption in the extractive sector.

It’s actually worse than that – it’s the appearance of doing something while taking initiatives that vary from the marginal to the counterproductive.

On the CSR front it has killed the Ombudsman’s office, set up an ineffective Counselor’s office, killed C-300, will kill C-474 – stonewalled the G-7, will stonewall the G-7 in Britain in June, introduced S-14, minor tweaks on corruption legislation and would be helped by C-474 and spent $25 million on a CRS center of excellence at UBC which is as good as far as it goes except that it doesn’t go very far. It is hardly a body of work to be proud of and some might say that it is actually counterproductive. Instead of real legislation with real consequences the government has chosen shambolic legislation with faux consequences.

Canadian Forces

Finally, the military. This is where the government loves to brag about their love for the men and women in uniform and show they have rescued our military out of the “decade of darkness” into what I now call the “decade of debacles”. There is little doubt that we have a highly capable military, unfortunately civilian oversight has been minimal to non-existent. We have a Minister who loves to play soldier, loves the hero photo-ops but can’t or won’t get his head around the core responsibilities of his ministry – ie procurement, protect your budget, develop a strategic plan. Why is it that this minister does not inspire confidence?

Maybe it has something to do with the 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy being ridiculous in the first place. Announced with great fanfare and vigorously defended by the Minister it was to end the so-called decade of darkness. “Our strategy is designed to provide a solid basis for defense planning over the next 20 years.”

In reality, the Conservatives served up a fantasy $490 billion shopping list with no coherent attachment to fiscal reality and a tactical plan masquerading as a strategy.

Or maybe the lack of confidence has something to do with the lapsing of funds previously budgeted for military spending. Between 2004 and 2009 spending was scheduled to increase by $12 billion yet the Minister let $7 billion of it go back to the treasury.

Or maybe it has something to do with the F-35 fiasco which the Minister also defended with great vigor and even fought an election on half-truths and misleading information rather than admit he was wrong.

Kevin Page, Canada’s highly esteemed Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), has been one giant pain to this Minister and this government. Unfortunately for both the Minister and the Conservatives Mr. Page was spectacularly right and the government spectacularly wrong on the F-35s. Regrettably the F-35 fiasco was only symptomatic of the larger issue that virtually every procurement is either late or over budget or frequently both.

Many of these procurements were festooned with announcements, re-announcements and photo ops until the Prime Minister got so fed up that he removed military procurement from the Minister’s portfolio and gave it to the Public Works department.
In keeping with his mandate of speaking "truth to power" Kevin Page, has now pointed out that the Government has underestimated the cost of supply ships by more than $1.5 Billion.

The acting Minister of Defence, also known as the Minister of Public Works, now says that she is going to engage "experts" to advise her on the procurement. It begs the question: what has the Minister been doing for the last 6 years?

My modest suggestion is that she saves taxpayers a lot of money and engage the services of the PBO so that we could all have confidence in the numbers.

Or maybe it has to something to do with General Leslie’s thoughtful and detailed 2011 Report on Transformation.
The PM told Minister MacKay publically at General Lawson’s inauguration as the Chief of Defence Staff that he wanted “more tooth and less tail for the money,” exactly what General Leslie has called for.

General Leslie, now retired and not feeling confined by previous obligations, has taken to the media to criticize the plan to reduce revenues – the 2011-12 Public Accounts showed a $475 million rise in administrative spending despite a 22% cut to the army – exactly the opposite of what his report recommended.

Said General Leslie: "This has a direct impact on our troops. It's going to result in lower levels of readiness, it's going to mean our troops are not as well trained.”

When the PM is none to subtly telling the Minister to change course, the PBO has just released another damning report, the Auditor General is unhappy, and a former Lieutenant General feels compelled to go to the media, it’s always a good idea to have a new strategy – any new strategy.

“This was always the intent with a long term plan … there is a necessity to adjust and synchronize that document with realities of both operational tempo and of course the fiscal realities,” said MacKay.

Apparently the “solid basis for defense planning over the next 20 years” is not so solid.

Were there no fiscal realities in 2008? Was there no anticipation of change to “operational tempo” in 2008? Perhaps the Minister could be forgiven when it is recalled that the Stephen Harper said in 2008 that "this country will not go into recession next year.”

It’s not something to inspire confidence nor should it. We are well into the “Decade of Debacles” with a Minister doing a passible imitation of a dead Minister walking.

If the Minister is to restore any semblance of credibility he should jettison the CFDS (the 2008 version), adopt General Leslie’s 2011 Report on Transformation and release a realistic plan to achieve General Leslie’s strategy in 2013.
So having disaggregated the Conservatives handling of the 3 portfolios what would the Liberals do?

Starting with Foreign Affairs, we would re-build the capacity of the Department. We would replace the kids and google maps with real diplomats like Bob Fowler. We would also unplug Mr. Baird’s fax machine. We would stop the UN bashing. Our first symbolic and substantive gesture that Canada is back would be to replace our UN Ambassador with a senior, articulate and well recognized person.

While trade and diplomacy feed off each other, trade should not drive diplomacy. The first question would be what is in Canada’s best interests rather than what’s in our businesses interests.

Clearly there would have to be a rebalancing of our relationship to Israel. We do neither Israel nor the interests of peace any favors by running our foreign policy according to narrow cast domestic interests.

Sri Lanka

Largely the Prime Minister instincts have been correct; however he needs to have a more nuanced application of pressure. On Sri Lanka, we think that before Prime Minister Harper boycotts the Commonwealth meetings he should advocate for a change of venue while holding the threat of boycott for the time being.


It is a simple fact that we have drawn down our resources in Africa. Out of the 54 countries in Africa, we currently only have offices in 23, with only 13 of them being fully fledged embassies. We would reverse that trend.


Adopt or respond to General Leslie’s report. It is the only roadmap out there. Budget, train and equip in reference to his report.


Every file is a mess. For a procurement to succeed you need 3 things. 1, A Realistic Statement of Requirements; 2, Truth in costing-project an estimate, a budget, an inflator and an accuracy projection; 3, A reliable industrial strategy – Jenkins Report may be useful.

We would also give considerations of a stand-alone procurement agency.

A military doctrine rooted in conflict prevention, R2P, Responsibility to Intervene driven by and beholden to a foreign affairs strategy.


Rigorous adherence to the Better Aid Bill delinked from Canada’s business, economic, political and diplomatic interests. We need to develop a metric showing adherence to the criteria.

We need to reengage the faith communities. Recognition that policy based on evidence is preferable over policy based on ideology.

So let me close with an anecdote.

“In this country it would be better if you told people that you are from the United States.” Many Canadians are shocked and discomforted by that anecdote but when you think about it we should not be too surprised.

Our brand has been steadily eroding over the last 6 years. We were looked to as the voice of sanity in a cacophony of insanity. No more. We are marginalized, shunned, out voted and given fossil of the year awards.

We don’t punch above our weight, in fact we’ve been dropped from the light heavyweight division to the flyweight and no one cares.