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Town Halls >> Reports on Town Halls >> Halifax

Summary Report

Minister Graham's Townhall Meeting

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Tuesday March 4, 2003

The Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, held a community Townhall meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the evening of March 4th, 2003. The Townhall was hosted by St. Mary's University with Don Connolly of CBC Radio as moderator. Panellists Dr. Edna Keeble of St. Mary's University, Neville Gilfoy of Progress Magazine and President-elect of the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, and Dr. Dennis Stairs of Dalhousie University briefly presented introductory views on the Security, Prosperity, and Culture and Values pillars (respectively). Participants were then invited to make their contributions, and the Minister responded to sets of questions (with some responses noted below). The Minister and the moderator urged participants to also make contributions to the Foreign Policy Dialogue through the web site ( or

Minister Graham began the Townhall by drawing attention to changes in the international system since the last foreign policy review of 1994-1995 (among them the changed security environment since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the emergence of the U.S. as unchallenged superpower, and the possibility that Canada is becoming more a nation of the Americas) that justify reexamining aspects of Canada's foreign policy. He stated that the current situation with Iraq brings to the fore many of the issues with which Canada is now concerned: our relationship with the U.S., how we can influence the U.S., and the role of multilateral institutions (among other issues).


Introductory Views on Security: Dr. Edna Keeble, St. Mary's University

In contrasting Canada's approach to security with that of the U.S., Dr. Keeble observed that while Canada builds on a sense of working with the like minded, focusses on addressing the root causes of conflicts (such as economic marginalization) and cares about the global (not just national) good, the U.S. will work with a coalition of the willing - if they are there, but otherwise it will go it alone. The U.S. demonstrates unilateralist, exceptionalist tendencies, and is willing to use military force for national ends and to make preemptive strikes.

The impending war with Iraq was a dominant topic of discussion, with a strong anti-war sentiment expressed throughout the Townhall. One participant proposed that war does not lead to security and that peacekeeping is a poor way to promote security. Canada should uphold the UN Charter and human rights, and money should be directed to international development to address poverty and inequality - not to (military) security. Another participant called attention to the millions of Iraqis who have died as a result of the sanctions, while another still wanted to know how Canada planned to address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq (both in its current form and as it would emerge after a war).

One participant argued that using the presence of weapons of mass destruction and violation of Security Council resolutions as justifications for a war against Iraq raises questions about what approach to use with other countries, such as Israel, that also have weapons of mass destruction and have also violated Security Council resolutions. This participant argued that the different treatment afforded Israel is viewed by the Muslim World as a double standard and hypocrisy. Security Council resolutions should be applied uniformly to all countries. One participant wanted to know what the consequences would be for the U.S. if it were to act unilaterally without UN Security Council authorization (in an illegal war). Another questioned whether Canada was already involved in a war without Security Council authorization (and hence in violation of international law) due to the fact that Canadian warships were about to be sent to the Persian Gulf (both the HMCS Iroquois and the HMCS Fredericton were to leave Halifax for the Gulf the following day).

A couple of participants expressed concern that in economic, military and broader security terms (for example in its immigration, racial profiling, and inland security policies) Canada is becoming increasingly integrated with the U.S., to the extent that some fear that bilateral relations with the U.S. will cause Canada to abandon its traditional "Middle Power" and multilateral approaches to international relations. Many participants stressed that Canada must maintain an independent foreign policy distinct from that of the U.S.

Minister Graham emphasized that Saddam Hussein's past behaviour (of invading Kuwait and Iran, and using weapons of mass destruction against his own people) demonstrates that he presents a danger. This danger, however, is being managed by the UN, a world body with legitimacy. He agreed that the impacts of the sanctions on civilians were troubling to all, but argued that the imposition of sanctions was a difficult decision mandated by the UN. The Minister observed that unilateral action by the U.S. could undermine the UN and marginalize the Security Council and its governance role. The Minister said that Canadian ships are going to the Gulf region to provide support for Canadian action in Afghanistan. Finally, he stated that if there is Security Council authorization for military action against Iraq, Canada will support UN action: "if there is a UN-mandated operation, Canada will be there."

Minister Graham agreed that there is a tremendous need for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, he noted that while Canada has been working towards promoting resolution of the conflict, a solution cannot be imposed, but must be reached by the conflicting parties. The Minister argued that peacekeeping is an important and respected role for the Canadian military, and told of his experience travelling in Bosnia where he personally heard the appreciation of local communities for the Canadian approach to peacekeeping. He noted that we also supply supplemental police, train judges, and make other contributions to peacekeeping. The Minister responded that he was not aware of any racial profiling in Canada. He noted that Bill C-36 was a response to the need to ensure the security of Canadians, and that the Charter protects against abuse.


Introductory Views on Prosperity: Neville Gilfoy, Progress Magazine and President-elect of the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce

Mr. Gilfoy reminded the audience of the great economic importance of Canadian exports to the U.S. The close economic integration between the two countries means that the Prime Minister needs to be an effective relationship builder. He emphasized that Canada needs to be seen as the U.S.' most influential and trusted advisor, and we need to gain more influence in Washington so that we can have greater influence on the direction of U.S. policies. Further, we need to show Canada as a tolerant, resource-rich country laden with opportunity, that is attractive to immigration.

Participants noted that prosperity should not be defined as economic prosperity alone, but should be thought of as having a stable world in which to live, with access to food, water, shelter, health care, education, and other necessities of a good quality of life. There were calls for Canada to increase foreign aid to meet the 0.7% of GDP goal, and to forgive the debt Third World countries owe Canada.

Much of the discussion on prosperity focussed on the impact that globalization, neoliberal trade agreements, and the expansion of trade relations with developing countries has in terms of enriching transnational corporations at the expense of the developing countries. One participant felt Canada had lost its independence because of trade agreements, and another expressed the view that NAFTA has been bad for Canada. Participants also voiced concern about the impact of such trade on human rights and the environment, and in promoting unfair wages and the use of child labour. One participant wanted to know how we could ensure that trade agreements (including the Agreement on Investment Promotion and Protection) promote fair trade and do not abuse human rights or degrade the environment. Another expressed the view that the U.S. conveniently ignored the OAS democracy clause and hence did not believe that the attempted August coup in Venezuela was illegal. The participant concluded that the OAS democracy clause is merely a "club with which to beat Cuba."

A final participant wanted to know why, with the recent $100 million payment to six African countries, none went to Eritrea?

Minister Graham agreed that Canada's foreign aid was too low, and for this reason foreign aid will be increased by 8% per year (and will double in 10 years). Further, he noted that Canada is trying to advance the development agenda of African countries through the multinational New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and through foreign aid that promotes good governance. Finally, Canada has reduced tariffs and opened its markets to products of the thirty poorest developing countries. The Minister noted that, as an example of a changing approach by government, the Quebec Summit of the Americas was not just about trade, but about building better societies in Latin America by focussing on democracy, human rights issues, labour rights, health care and other such issues. Similarly, the Doha round of WTO negotiations is now being called the development round precisely because it addresses such development concerns. He said that Canada has been working with Canadian corporations to promote good corporate behaviour abroad and corporate (social) responsibility. The Minister emphasized that he does not believe that Canada can influence the U.S. simply by doing what they want us to do. He noted that Canada and the U.S. have differed before, as they did on the war in Vietnam, and yet still maintained friendly trade relations.

Culture and Values

Introductory Views on Culture and Values: Dr. Dennis Stairs, Dalhousie University

Dr. Stairs questioned whether Canada's foreign policy ought to ensure that Canadian intellectual, academic and cultural achievements are exported, and noted the decline in funding for this aspect of our foreign policy. He also noted that foreign aid, a manifestation of our values, has (until recently) been subject to repeated funding cuts. He (wryly) observed that while Canadians seem to think that their foreign policy should be a manifestation of Canadian values, this implies that other countries do not pursue a foreign policy based on values, but rather on something base like interests.

Participants emphasized that Canada's foreign policy should reflect our commitment to multilateralism, democracy and human rights, our compassion for others, and to providing all people access to food, water, shelter, health care, education, employment, and a say in their own future. One participant felt that culture and arts were not emphasized enough in current foreign policy.

The Minister noted that our system of advocating culture is not just about promoting cultural products, but about promoting our values such as good governance, tolerance for diversity, and perhaps the use of our federalism and our Charter as possible models for others.