Statement of Professor John Kirton, University of Toronto,
on the Quebec City Summit of the Americas
to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade,
March 29, 2001

Thank You

It is a great pleasure to be here to discuss with you what can properly be called the "Democracy Summit" – taking place in Quebec City next month. This is a critical event for Canadian foreign policy and for Canadians as a whole. Its importance is now well recognized. But the broad benefits and opportunities the Summit offers Canada can at times be obscured by a few particular features of the event the Canadian media are currently focusing upon.

Today I would thus like to highlight some of these opportunities. My remarks flow from my work as a scholar of Canadian foreign policy, from my experience as Director of the G8 Research Group based at the University of Toronto, and from my work on trade and environment in several capacities over the years.


You may recall that its official Statement on Canadian Foreign Policy, issued on February 7, 1995 the Chrétien Government spoke, uncharacteristically for Canadian governments, of Canada's position of leadership in the Americas and the world. It concluded by boldly declaring, "Canada can further its global interests better than any other country through key international groupings, notably by hosting the 1995 G7 Summit and the 1997 APEC Summit."

It can now, quite properly, add the Quebec City Democracy Summit to that list. For the hosting of such plurilateral, institutionalized summits is indeed a uniquely powerful way for countries such as Canada to exercise international influence in the modern world. Moreover the Quebec City Summit offers Canada an outstanding opportunity to forward many of its core interests and values. Finally, it provides an occasion to take specific initiatives to effectively govern globalization in more ecologically and socially sensitive ways.

1. Why Summitry: The Value of Plurilateral Institutionalized Summits

Why is hosting Summits such a powerful instrument of influence? Six basic reasons stand out, especially for a country such as Canada, some of whose other capabilities are modest indeed.

First, such summits get attention -- from foreign leaders, their of their societies, their media and mass publics. They thus offer an unparalleled opportunity to send a message about what Canada and its colleagues in the community of the Americas want and represent.

Second, they give access to those foreign leaders. Having sustained contact at the highest levels, over three days, in a setting where one can mobilize other leaders immediately to change the minds of doubtful colleagues through peer pressure and personal bonding is something that no bilateral encounter or highly orchestrated, broadly multilateral meeting can do.

Third, Summits establish an agenda. They brings new subjects onto the table, highlight new priorities, force countries to discuss them collectively at the highest level and tell their publics and the world what their thinking is. Summit level communiqués are important instruments of transparency, and the accountability that follows.

Fourth, Summits set new directions. With a comprehensive agenda, and the unique authority of leaders to transcend and integrate the responsibilities of individual ministers, they establish new linkages, make tradeoffs and define far reaching new principles for future governance. The link between trade liberalization and the overarching value of democracy, or trade and environment, or debt relief and democracy are ones that leaders alone can authoritatively make. When leaders share a deep reservoir of common values, they can do much to set aside competing national interests to advance their shared goals. Here it is worth recalling that the G8 and the Summit of the Americas are Canada’s only two such forums with a comprehensive agenda where democracy is the common bond.

Fifth Summits take decisions. They usually produce a large number of timely, well tailored and ambitious agreements – occasionally with hard targets and timetables. Even when these are decisions that would otherwise be reached, summits hasten their conclusion, and thus ensure that they actually happen in a world where delay allows other things to crowd good intentions out.

Sixth, Summits produce real change. Their decisions are the commitments that count. For as the personal products of those at the highest level, they are difficult for others in national governments back home to subsequently ignore. Leaders knowing they will meet their colleagues again have personal incentives to be true to their word. Particularly when Summits have readily available international organizations to help implement their decisions, real change tends to result.

2. The Democracy Summit’s Promises: Advances Already Made

What can the Democracy Summit promise to deliver on these six dimensions, in light of the advances already made?

First, it will get exceptional attention, given its timing and location, the innovative televising of its opening session, and the large number of citizens who will come to express their views. The vigour and variety of their voices, and the restraint showed by the security forces in response, will be an eloquent message for, and from the hemisphere of what democracy is all about.

Second, the Summit offers access to otherwise unavailable but important foreign leaders at a critical time. Most notably, it gets the new U.S. President to Canada, a country to which not all US President’s naturally come. It engages President Bush in the Americas and the world, and does so in ways attractive to him. It can help Canada better manage its bilateral softwood lumber dispute with the US, and its regional jet dispute with Brazil.

Third it establishes an agenda, which highlights democracy as a fundamental value and one with real, pervasive force.

Fourth, it sets several new directions, by declaring that democracy is non-negotiable, that collective intervention to preserve democracy is legitimate, that trade liberalization should respect and promote cultural diversity (the vital preambular clause that Seattle’s failure stole from us), and the civil society inclusion in global governance is now a necessity.

Fifth, it will take hard decisions, notably by offering a comprehensive Action Plan, and by declaring, as a weighty north-south family in the aftermath of Seattle, that we do indeed want full free trade and want it fast, by the year 2005 at least.

Finally, it promises to produce real change, given Canada’s stress from the start on linking the Summit of the Americas process to the OAS, and Canada’s work over the past year with the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, to help ensure the necessary resources are there.

3. The Democracy Summit’s Potential

Beyond these existing advances, what more can our Democracy Summit be asked to do, even at this late stage of preparation, and recognizing the great diversity the community contains?

First, it can be used to get attention for some vital messages. One is that Canada cares about all the Americas, showing its solidarity, inter alia, by the $1.2 billion it pledged to Mexico and the $500 million it pledged to Brazil to help them with the financial difficulties they faced a few years ago. Being part of the family has real rewards.

A second message is that the pioneering trade-environment regime produced by NAFTA really works – for trade and for the environment, for the poorer as well as the richer members, and for civil society as well. Moreover, experience shows that trade sanctions to enforce environmental and labour standards are simply not necessary to make it work.

Second, the Summit can give even greater access by promising to convene more often as the degree of hemispheric cooperation deepens, perhaps meeting every two years as our Commonwealth and francophone families do.

Third, it can adjust its agenda by restoring to the first rank the fourth pillar of sustainable development that was featured at Miami, where the process began in 1994.

Fourth, it can set more new directions. Here, it can add to the FTAA preamble the NAFTA promise that this free trade agreement will be used to "strengthen the development and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations." And Canada can promise that the Quebec City advances – in civil society participation and democratic principles – will be used as a minimum platform when Canada hosts its G7/G8 Summit next year.

Fifth, the leaders at the Democracy Summit can take some hard decisions. They can start a process to develop a framework collectively to assess on an ongoing basis the environmental effects of the FTAA liberalization, a framework that reflects the distinctive ecological and social character of the hemisphere, and that is ready to be used when the FTAA arrives. It can promise to conclude that FTAA before the existing 2005 deadline and thus before we face another U.S. presidential election campaign and the delays that can bring. And Canada can help its Caribbean Commonwealth partners get ready now by removing, unilaterally, all barriers to all the products they wish to export to us.

Finally, to produce real change, we need innovative mechanisms for capacity building. Following the model of our G7 partners, we can invite the 1000 largest corporations in the hemisphere to donate to a new "sustainable development and democracy fund." We could have our governments pledge to match these contributions, at levels proportional to their wealth. And we could allow local communities or transnational citizens’ networks anywhere in the hemisphere apply directly to this fund and be awarded grants solely on the basis of need.

All Contents Copyright © 2000-2001 University of Toronto unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.