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70th Couchiching Conference
August 9 to 12

In the Name of Governance
Sunday, August 12, 2001

Sylvia Ostry, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for International Studies
Elizabeth Dowdeswell, former Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme
Marc Lortie, Personal Representative of the Prime Minister for the Summit of the Americas
MODERATOR: Alan Pearson, Director, Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the bi-polar system, issues relating to global governance have become increasingly complex, as states are no longer the only actors in the global arena. This fundamental change in the structure of the international system has profound implications for governance because trust and participation in the political system have steadily declined while alternative actors have increased their power and voice. As Ms. Sylvia Ostry stated, "the period of permissive consensus is over;" citizens are no longer willing to blindly accept government policy on complex issue areas. Each speaker on the In the Name of Governance panel provided an overview of the challenges faced by a particular international governmental institution in the post-Cold War era.

Ms. Ostry focused her discussion on two institutions: the G7/8 Summit and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Both of these organizations were created in reaction to a shock to the international system. In the case of the G7/8, it was the break down of the Bretton Woods system. The creators of the Summit, former finance ministers, believed that only heads of state had sufficient power to address questions of systemic instability in the international financial architecture. After successfully mitigating the original crisis, the G7/8 Summit has evolved and has attempted to broker concerted policy in relation to the launch of new rounds of trade negotiations as well as the growing North-South divide. Consequently, the Summit is now an institution that confronts a vast range of comprehensive security threats. However, a dichotomy exists between the promises of the member countries and the reality of policy implementation. This divergence has caused the NGO community and the general public to regard the institution as ineffective. Following the violence in Genoa, many have questioned the extent to which the G7/8 is a democratic institution since it is controlled by men in suits behind closed doors, protected by steel barricades. The democratic nature of the WTO has also been questioned by civil society in their demands for a seat at the negotiating table. The major problem with the WTO is its lack of transparency and the perception that it is infringing on state sovereignty in its attempt to prescribe domestic regulation and legal policy. The North and South are also on opposite sides of the debate, each with their own self-interest and concerns, which are mutually exclusive. Ms. Ostry posits that in order for a new system of effective, democratic global governance to be created, concerned citizens and world leaders need "pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will."

Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell commented on some of the challenges faced by international environmental regimes in the post-Cold War era. The Stockholm Conference and the 1992 Rio Earth Summit provided the basis for establishing the principles of collective action for negotiating treaties. The legacy of Rio is that it has forever changed the role of civil society in the work of the United Nations. The more than 500 live international environmental agreements face the same problem as the G8 Summit in that rhetoric outstrips action. Regardless of the international legal regimes, there is still poverty of the majority and excessive consumption on the part of the minority. Stronger global governance is needed in order to challenge attitudes and foster behavioural change. Creating the necessary regime is difficult because of issues such as the debate over sovereignty versus the global commons as well as a lack of coherence and harmonization of regulations and treaties. Compounding this, there is also a lack of compliance and enforcement mechanisms. Moreover, not all actors are included, and of the ones who are, there are too many agendas and countries acting in their own self-interests. A comprehensive and coherent regime is needed in order to address all of the world's complex environmental concerns. The only way to achieve this is through innovative governance making the pertinent question: is our current system good enough?

Mr. Marc Lortie outlined the approach of the Canadian government to international governmental institutions by speaking of some of the challenges the federal government faced in organizing the Summit of the Americas. The first thing the government did was to define its objectives for the Summit, since Canada does not have a long history of involvement in Central and South America. Secondly, the government had to convince residents of Quebec City to host the Summit. Through this process, they began to learn how to engage citizens and how to share the agenda with necessary stakeholders in order to make the Summit relevant to people's daily lives. Over 125 NGOs were involved in establishing the agenda as the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade opened up its decision making process. The discussions attempted to build a consensus between the government and the NGOs, and resulted in DFAIT funding the People's Summit in order to be more accountable to citizens. It was Mr. Lortie's opinion that despite the tear gas in the streets, the Summit was a valuable process as substantial progress was made in the approach of the Canadian government to the pre-Summit preparation process, with a greater emphasis being placed on increased accountability and transparency.

Proceedings of the conference will be posted in due course. Audiotapes are available from Audio Archives & Duplicators Inc. at 905.889.6555 ext. 22, archives@idirect.com.

Synopsis by: Melanie Martin

Go to: 70th Couchiching Conference Index Page

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