Town Halls >> Reports on Town Halls >> Saint John
Minister Graham's Townhall Meeting
Saint John, New Brunswick, March 5th, 2003
On March 5, 2003, the Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, held a community Townhall meeting in Saint John, NB. The Townhall was hosted by the University of New Brunswick Saint John and moderated by Anne-Marie McGrath. Approximately 150 people attended. 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 (www.foreign-policy-dialogue.ca or www.dialogue-politique-etrangere.ca).
Minister Graham introduced some of the changes that have occurred 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., our commitment to multilateralism, and the need to engage in a dialogue with Muslim countries to build peace (among other issues).
The impending war with Iraq was a dominant topic of discussion, with a strong anti-war sentiment expressed throughout the Townhall. A group of children from New Brunswick's Salisbury United Church expressed their concern for the world they will inherit, and presented the Minister with bags of rice to 'feed our enemies, not wage war against them.' One participant opposing war argued that we are a peacekeeping nation, and warned that the present course of the Americans could open a Pandora's box. Some participants expressed concerned about the consequences of war, especially the human toll on Iraqi civilians. One participant wanted to know what Canada is doing to protect the humanitarian rights of prisoners of war, siting the example of the prisoners held at Guantanamo as examples of how the U.S. has failed to honour the Geneva Conventions and to respect the human rights of prisoners. Another argued Canada should join France and Germany and say no to the war. While one participant endorsed the Canadian Compromise presented to the UN, another did not agree with the March 28th deadline that Canada set in its proposal to the UN Security Council, feeling that the imposition of such a short time frame simply "fuels the fire."
One participant saw direct links between U.S. policies and terrorism, and feared that should Canada resort to "warmongering," we too could experience terrorism on our soil. There was a strong sense that Canada is being pressured to support (and join) the U.S. in an (illegal and immoral) war against Iraq for fear of economic reprisals if we fail to do so. Canada must maintain an independent foreign policy distinct from that of the U.S.
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. Canada should work at the UN to achieve the full implementation of all parts of resolution 1441 and its application to all countries in the region. Participants noted that addressing and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would go a long way towards solving problems in the Middle East. North Korea and West Africa were other regions identified as areas that contain some of the same apparent conditions for a pre-emptive war/intervention. In both Charlottetown and Saint John, participants wanted to know what Canada is doing to ensure a peaceful resolution to the situation in North Korea to prevent a repeat of the situation we currently face with Iraq.
Eslie Wayne, M.P. (Saint John) called for more money for the armed forces, and asked the Minister to fight for the military in Cabinet. Another participant, however, felt any increase in funding should be used for peacekeeping, peace-building, infrastructure, and education.
The Minister addressed many of the common themes raised. First, he emphasized that Saddam Hussein is dangerous to peace, and that he has ignored Security Council resolutions. He stressed that Canada is working within the multilateral system, and is trying to keep the U.S. within the multilateral system to moderate their position. While the goal is to get Saddam Hussein to disarm without force, even the French recognize the use of force is required if he does not comply and disarm. However, if the Security Council authorizes military action against Iraq, Canada is committed to taking action in the right circumstances. In terms of maintaining independent policies from those of the U.S., the Minister stated that Canada will not influence the U.S. simply by doing what the Americans want us to do. He disagreed with the notion that our participation (or not) in the war would have economic or trade repercussions, noting that Canada and the U.S. have disagreed before on foreign policy issues (eg: the war in Vietnam) and have still maintained friendly relations and a successful trade partnership. He further argued that problems over the Wheat Board, softwood lumber, and agricultural subsidies would not disappear if we were to support the U.S. if it is not in our interest to do so. Trade disputes will be resolved through trade negotiations. Furthermore, in terms of influencing the U.S. position, the Minister stated that there are a diversity of views and voices in the U.S., and a great many people with whom we can work.
The Minister said that he, too, is concerned about North Korea, and that is why Canada has opened diplomatic relations (through our embassy in Beijing) with the North Koreans. Canada is trying to persuade North Korea that the best way to solve their problems is by working through the international community. Further, Maurice Strong, a prominent Canadian, is working with the UN to try to address the humanitarian crisis in the country. 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 highlighted the Forces' proud tradition of peacekeeping, and told of his experience travelling in Bosnia where he personally heard the appreciation of local communities for the Canadian approach to peacekeeping. The Minister recognized that the Department of National Defence (DND) had to bear a lot of the cost for actions to support foreign policy (for example in Afghanistan), and he agrees that foreign policy has to be backed up with credible force. DND did receive the $800 million they asked for in the February 2003 Federal Budget.
Another common theme raised by participants was the need to address root causes of instability, insecurity, and terrorism. Participants stressed the Canadian values of human decency, and argued that the world would be a safer place if everyone had access to clean water, food, and dignified work. As one participant noted, "the devil has work for idle hands." While we might not be able to do much to get rid of terrorism, we can try to eliminate its support. Participants recommended that Canada increase its foreign aid in order to direct more money into Third World development and poverty eradication, and to help ensure universal access to food, clean water, shelter, and meaningful work.
The Minister agreed that conditions of poverty, huge income disparity, and discontent provide a breeding ground for terrorism. He noted that the Prime Minister has also expressed similar views. 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.
One participant felt that Canada's trade was too dependent on the U.S., and that efforts should be made to expand trade with countries in the South in a fair and equitable way. The President of the Canadian Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce said Canada needs to embrace immigration as the solution to prosperity, and should help Iraq's neighbours to help stabilize the area.
Culture and Values
Much of the discussion of values was raised under the issue of security, where participants highlighted the values that Canadians place in multilateralism, promoting human decency, human rights, democracy, human security, good governance, peace-building, disease prevention, medical care.