EnviReform Website, University of Toronto

Third Annual EnviReform Conference

Sustainability, Civil Society and International Governance:
Local, North American and Global Perspectives

Keynote address Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"Civil Society and Institutions of Global Governance"
November 8, 2002 (Version Française)

Picture of Bill Graham at Conference I'm pleased to be here to address issues of such critical importance in front of a distinguished audience in Canada and at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

Throughout a long political career, the American Congressman Tip O'Neill was known for his maxim "All politics is local." More recently, the American journalist Thomas Friedman has pronounced that "all politics is global." In a typically Canadian spirit of conciliation and diplomacy, my own suggestion to you is that both of them are right.

We live in an increasingly interdependent world in which it is amply clear that all politics is local and global at the same time. On virtually every level of every public concern, we can observe how problems and opportunities of global scope intersect with local realities.

Take two of this week's most prominent issues in the Canadian news, for instance: the proposed ratification of the Kyoto Accord and the treatment of Canadian residents at the U.S. border. In both of these cases, issues facing people in their daily lives intersect with environmental, economic and security conditions of global scope. In fact, domestic political issues today can seldom be addressed without considering the foreign context framing them.

Conversely, it is also clear that problems on a global scale can be tackled only by taking international strategies down to a national, regional and local level. Consider some of the most urgent crises now facing the world:

vast environmental degradation;

endemic poverty in Africa and elsewhere, contrasting with the great wealth we enjoy in North America and Europe;

health pandemics such as HIV/AIDS;

the existence of weapons of mass destruction; and

organized crime and terrorism on an international scale.

This daunting list points toward three issues I wish to address today. First, as I have said, problems of global scope are being felt locally around the world. The political burdens and challenges they create are local as well as global.

Second, such conditions of interdependence and complexity highlight the need for strong institutions of global governance, which alone are capable of guiding and coordinating efforts to address global crises. Events in New York and Washington last year, and more recent events in Bali, Moscow and the Middle East, have brought home a new awareness of the world's interdependence.

We all have a new sense of our vulnerability to forces and events beyond our borders and beyond our nation's control. In this critical area of security, as well as in others such as trade, health and the environment, Canadians are committed to a multilateral approach. We believe that working through global institutions is the best way to pursue a safer, healthier and more prosperous world both for ourselves at home and for people everywhere.

On the security front, we recognize that military and law enforcement capacity must be multilateral in order to be effective. We also know that we must work multilaterally to build institutions capable of addressing the social, political and economic instabilities that may fuel conflict and unrest. We need to explore ways to ensure our security with a long-term view--one that recognizes that where there is good governance, democracy and respect for human rights, we find stable, prosperous and secure states.

On the economic front, the Canadian government sees the same need for effective international rules and institutions in working to expand prosperity at home and abroad. While there may be disagreement over how equitably growth is occurring in the world today, it is clear to most of us that the benefits of an open, rules-based trading system far outweigh the disadvantages. We will continue to approach international trade issues with Canadian values, that is, we will try to help spread opportunities for growth so as to expand prosperity among our trading partners, including those in the developing world.

Here too, we see the benefits of multilateralism. Canada will continue to assign top priority to the World Trade Organization [WTO] and the new Doha Development Agenda. If handled properly, we believe the WTO can build relationships of trust so that developing countries can fully participate in both the process and benefits of the multilateral trading system. We sent a strong and appreciated signal to this effect at Kananaskis, when the Prime Minister announced unilateral reductions in most tariff items for least-developed countries.

We will need these tools and others as the international community begins to address the interdependent nature of economic, environmental and social issues. In order to promote international trade and prosperity, we will have to deal with issues such as governance, regulatory balance, competitiveness and environmental standards. We made a start last year in Quebec City, when the Summit of the Americas linked free trade to an agenda that also addressed broader concerns.

Now I would like to turn to the third point, the role of civil society both in supporting institutions of global governance and in fostering the climate of public opinion necessary for these institutions to succeed. At all levels of governance, the support of civil society is vital for ensuring the integrity and soundness of policy making.

In the area of Canadian foreign policy, for instance, I can assure you that the government takes seriously its obligation to seek out the best advice, information and resources that our citizens have to offer. We look to interested Canadians from all parts of the country--analysts, scholars and activists--to bring us new insights on a range of crucial problems.

Several years ago, we set up a new institution, the Canadian Centre for Foreign Policy Development, to consult our citizens about a range of international issues. When the Centre was created, its board decided not to limit its clients to traditional foreign affairs stakeholders such as academics and think-tanks. Instead, using Internet-based technology, the Centre reached out to groups that had not previously been much engaged in foreign affairs--youth, civic organizations, minorities, Indigenous peoples, and local officials, to name a few. The experience has been useful in learning about the concerns of a range of citizens and in developing a broader constituency for international relations. Prior to this year's G8 Summit, the Centre held a nationwide series of public round tables on African issues in order to hear from people interested in development, trade, multiculturalism and foreign policy.

I have met with several groups organized by the Centre to canvass them on topics such as Canadian-European relations and relations with Muslim communities both in Canada and abroad. These meetings tend to be with experts in the field, but I believe in searching for more representative voices as well. Meetings in my constituency office give me insights into the concerns of individuals, and I also meet with groups organized around a shared focus. Just last week, for example, I met with a group of Afghan Canadian women to receive their report containing recommendations on how Canada can best serve the interests of Afghan women and girls as we aid their country's reconstruction. Such meetings give me personal, concrete insights into far-away events that would otherwise be abstract and remote.

Looking to the future, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is preparing a public discussion paper that we will circulate throughout Canadian civil society to ensure that the government's foreign policy reflects citizens' values and interests.

Beyond the national level, it is also vital for civil society to be engaged in the international institutions that have been so painstakingly constructed since World War II. In this sphere in particular, we can see the truth of what John Kenneth Galbraith said some decades ago: "The worst policy is one made in secrecy by the experts." Civil society groups have always embraced this view in acting as the conscience to government, ensuring that its policies are decent, fair and representative.

In recent decades, however, the role of civil society has greatly expanded into more consultative and collaborative dimensions as well. As governments around the world are coming to realize, policies made in secrecy by experts cannot be substantively informed enough, or executed effectively enough, to succeed.

More bluntly, international institutions must move beyond secret meetings of experts if they are to be recognized as legitimate and effective. The increasingly vigorous protests at international meetings in recent years reflect a real need for these institutions to become more responsive to and less remote from the people whose interests they are supposed to serve. Current levels of popular disaffection are not surprising, given the secrecy, isolation and technocratic agendas that have characterized such organizations in the past.

That is why the Canadian government has been committed to invigorating institutions of global governance and making them more responsive to citizens' concerns about issues such as labour, the environment, culture and human rights. We have addressed what is referred to as the "democratic deficit" of these institutions on two fronts. First, we have supported the increased involvement of parliamentarians, who are the democratically elected representatives of popular interests. By involving parliamentarians in existing forums, and by creating new parliamentary assemblies to complement them, we can bring the concerns of ordinary citizens to bear more directly on the agendas of international discussions.

Second, the Canadian government also strongly supports increasing the participation of civil society and non-governmental organizations [NGOs] in the mechanisms of global governance. Their expertise and grassroots participation are also indispensable for reform.

In this effort at reform, parliamentarians and members of civil society are natural allies, who have no need for the turf wars that sometimes arise. Their respective functions and expertise--elected legitimacy, on one hand, and specialized knowledge, on the other--each contribute to the pursuit of goals they hold in common. As a result, we do, as often as not, work together.

Let me mention some notable steps recently taken in the direction of reform, often through the efforts of parliamentarians and civil society groups acting in concert.

At the Quebec City Summit of the Americas in April 2001, I was pleased to act as a parliamentarian in fostering communication between civil society groups and the government leaders gathered for the summit. As then-Chair of the House Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, I arranged for that committee to hold public hearings before and after the summit, in order to involve citizens and parliamentarians alike in the summit process.

In the lead-up to the summit, the government conducted extensive consultations with civil society groups such as Aboriginal peoples, youth, churches and the business community. These were not just Canadian groups, but representative voices from throughout the Americas. During the summit itself, there was a very constructive meeting between 60 or so Canadian civil society organizations and 15 ministers from the Americas. The civil society groups offered views about the summit's agenda, and the government's response at least partly addressed their fears about leaders' unresponsiveness to popular concerns. In the end, our Prime Minister put a three-inch-thick book of consultation reports on the summit table of each minister in attendance.

More recently, at this summer's G8 Summit in Kananaskis, International Cooperation Minister Susan Whelan and I attended the G6B [Group of Six Billion] forum in Calgary, an alternative gathering at which civil society activists discussed issues they felt were not being adequately addressed by G8 leaders. After meeting with the G6B representatives, I transmitted their thoughtful comments to the Prime Minister at Kananaskis itself.

At the meetings for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, Canada succeeded despite strong resistance from certain countries in having civil society representatives consulted by the negotiating group. This was a clash between cultures that view civil society with suspicion, as the opposition, and our own culture, which recognizes that NGO groups can be critical of government and yet be important in forming policy. I'm pleased to say that our own perspective on these matters is gaining influence in Mexico and other Latin American countries, where at first it was met with considerable hostility.

Of course, a real engagement of civil society presumes that it has genuine access and opportunity to participate. We therefore consider it a triumph for the increasing transparency of this organization that it now publishes the negotiating texts of its agreements, a practice that was initiated in Buenos Aires by my colleague Pierre Pettigrew, Canada's Minister for International Trade. At the Organization of American States, the creation of FIPA [Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas] has made that institution freshly relevant by engaging parliamentarians from member states in discussion of popular concerns such as health, democracy, human rights and the environment.

Last year, I was proud to be elected the first president of FIPA at its inaugural meeting in Ottawa, and I greatly appreciated the chance to share my constituents' views with parliamentarians from throughout the hemisphere as we discussed how to deal with the consequences of integrating the Americas. It was genuinely exciting to be part of this process of articulating a collective political vision of the hemisphere's future. As I have often said, the Americas is not just about free trade.

And at the World Trade Organization, Canada has worked with civil society groups to try to create a parliamentary assembly capable of ensuring that social, cultural and environmental issues are included on the WTO agenda. At Doha last year, I worked on this effort with colleagues from the European Parliament, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and interested NGOs. While the assembly still faces many challenges before it can become a reality, I am pleased to say that it was again Pierre Pettigrew who insisted that the parliamentary assembly be placed on the Doha Ministerial agenda.

I should also note that the initiative owes its genesis to Senator Bill Roth, who proposed it three years ago at the WTO meeting in Seattle.

At that time we had a meeting of parliamentarians representing some 60 countries, all of whom supported the idea. But originally the idea, and the impetus for this initiative, came from NGOs such as the World Federalists and others, who started working on it some time ago. Indeed, I can recall attending a meeting to discuss this idea at the Geneva Ministerial some years ago, and of the 60 or so people in the room only one or two of us were politicians. So NGOs and parliamentarians do collaborate effectively on such issues.

Looking back on all of this, I am proud to say that many small steps have been taken in the right direction. Canada will continue to promote these changes in global governance, and will continue to encourage all national governments to see parliamentarians and civil society groups as their allies in the ongoing process of reform.

If we turn from global organizations to particular issues of global concern, we see that many civil society partnerships have also contributed to human security initiatives in Canada's foreign policy. Both parliamentarians and NGOs have been crucial on issues such as landmines, the International Criminal Court [ICC] and the Kimberley Process.

For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross became an equal partner with Canada in the process to eradicate landmines. We worked closely together in the years leading to the establishment of the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel mines. Since then, the Red Cross has played an invaluable role in supporting initiatives such as community-based mine-awareness programs and medical assistance for mine victims. In turn, Canada has provided funding for mine action programs implemented by the Red Cross and other partners.

Another successful collaboration with civil society led to the creation of the International Criminal Court. The Court was itself a reaction by governments to popular demand around the world for an end to impunity for war crimes. As you doubtless know, Canada took a leading role in developing this crucial international instrument. Our country's parliamentarians were immensely helpful in the effort, promoting the ICC with their counterparts bilaterally and through forums such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Parliamentarians for Global Action. Many of our partners in civil society share in this landmark achievement, and Canada is committed to promoting civil society involvement in our ongoing campaign to ensure that the ICC gains universal acceptance and that it functions fairly and effectively in delivering truly impartial justice.

Just this week in Ottawa, we hosted a meeting of Parliamentarians for Global Action, which met to consider two items significant for the future of our global architecture: the ICC and a recent report on humanitarian intervention titled The Responsibility to Protect.

We are pursuing a similar approach with regard to the Kimberley Process, an inter-governmental effort, led by South Africa, aimed at keeping conflict diamonds out of legitimate markets. Canada hosted the most recent plenary meeting, which involved government representatives, the private sector and NGOs. We have also provided support to a Canadian NGO, Partnership Africa Canada, which authored a major study on conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone and is now undertaking a project on "just mining" practices.

Of course, the most important international organization for global governance today is the United Nations, and it is there that much of our effort to increase transparency, accountability and effectiveness is directed. I cannot stress enough the importance of securing the effectiveness of this institution. Like the other multilateral institutions I have mentioned, it cannot successfully undertake the reforms necessary to maintain its legitimacy and relevance unless it has support from all levels of civil society.

Finally, one last critical point remains to be made about civil society and international governance. Internationalism is a fragile thing. It depends on a foundation of cultural attitudes that make it possible for peaceful and inclusive dialogue to happen.

The Canadian government believes that we can make an important contribution on the world stage through the model we provide of a culture in which, by and large, internationalism works in a national context. As Janice Stein recently remarked:

Canada is a society of diversity whose members are nationalized through ties of kinship and attachment to every society in the globe. As Canada becomes a microcosm of the world, whether we can succeed in constructing a broad architecture of security within Canada will become a litmus test for others.

I do believe that Canada has something unique to offer the world: our experience in working and living together in a vast multicultural country and, in so doing, promoting mutual respect, understanding and tolerance. We are often our own most vocal critics, and that is of fundamental importance in a free and democratic society. But it is always striking to travel abroad and to realize that, by just about any standard, we are greatly admired as a truly vibrant and successful society.

When I travel abroad, I often tell the story of my own constituency right here in Toronto. I represent an area that includes St. James Town, where some 12,000 people speak 57 different languages. We wouldn't have peace, harmony, social justice and cooperation with one another in that area if we did not have respect for one another and a willingness to work together to solve our problems. And for me, my own riding and the people I represent are an illustration of our history as a country of immigration. Canada was originally populated by Aboriginal peoples, and the first wave of immigration was largely European. Successive waves of immigrants have come from all parts of the globe. In this respect we are like the United States, the country closest to us in values and culture.

And with each wave of immigration, Canada has grown stronger. Today, our cultural diversity is the hallmark of our national identity. It gives us strength in the world because, as has been said, the world is in us.

But in offering ourselves as an exemplar of global possibilities, we cannot afford to be complacent about the condition of our own society. Having the world within our borders means that when things get ugly abroad, we see the reverberations here at home. When Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to speak at Concordia University this summer, the riots that happened there were an alarming sign of how fragile a commitment to dialogue can be. They underline that we must all be vigilant to ensure that this type of conduct is not tolerated in our country.

Let us be frank: not all elements or tendencies of civil society are ones to be encouraged. As we keep in mind the urgent global problems facing us, as we try to strengthen and reform the multilateral institutions needed to address these problems, as we foster the involvement of NGOs and parliamentarians in that process--in all of this, we need to be mindful of the larger cultural context that will either promote or oppose the values of pluralism, inclusiveness, civility and mutual respect.

In saying this, I'm afraid I've only broadened the scope of an already-broad conference agenda, but the expertise in this audience is surely up to the task. I salute you in gathering to discuss such vitally important issues, and I thank you for inviting me to address you here today.

Thank you.

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EnviReform gratefully acknowledges the funding of SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada)

This Information System is provided by the University of Toronto Library and the
EnviReform Research/Web Group at the University of Toronto.

Please send comments to: g8@utoronto.ca
All contents copyright 2000-2001. University of Toronto unless otherwise stated.
All rights reserved.

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