Minister Graham launched his cross-country series of Townhall meetings at the University of Winnipeg, on Friday February 7, 2003. Approximately 200-250 people, many of them students, attended the Townhall (some of whom were in an overflow room with a television monitor). The moderator was Dr. Patrick Deane, Acting President of the University of Winnipeg. While more than half the questions focussed on the issue of Iraq, with the majority (often quite passionately) expressing opposition to Canadian involvement and demanding greater elaboration and clarity on the Canadian position, many addressed other issues such as Third World debt, barriers to free trade in agricultural products, and the challenges of multilateralism when Canada is in minority positions at the UN. Minister Graham began the Townhall with a short presentation, and then invited the participants to present their views. He responded to sets of questions (with some responses noted below). At both the beginning and end of the Townhall, the Minister drew attention to the opportunity for electronic participation through the Web site.
The Minister also gave a formal address at a Canadian Club luncheon, attended by approximately 225 people. In the morning, he also attended an academic round table at the University of Manitoba, where 12 academics, many of them from the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba, engaged the Minister in discussion and presented their policy recommendations.
1. Canada could provide leadership in identifying a ‘third option,' between peace and war in Iraq, that could include intensive blockades/tougher sanctions regimes.
2. The best route to security is through happiness and addressing the root causes of terrorism. To increase security, Canada should focus on rebuilding Afghanistan and cancelling Third World debt, and not on participating in a war in Iraq. (The Minister referred to Bhutan's Index of Gross National Happiness as an example of how we could be measuring or perceiving things differently. He also noted that Canada championed the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NePAD), has reduced Third World debt repayment, and has eliminated tariffs recently).
3. One participant saw the events of September 11 th as an excuse to infringe on civil liberties/rights, suggesting the need for constant vigilance to protect these rights.
4. Noting that many developing countries have not benefited from growing global prosperity, we need to redesign trade rules, particularly in agriculture, and ensure that international arrangements (including trade agreements) are founded on a platform of human rights. Some saw trade agreements as infringing on the Canadian Constitution. (The Minister supports opening our borders to developing countries' agricultural products, which would also result in reduced foreign aid transfers. He said the biggest problem is with the U.S. and EU subsidies in agriculture, as Canada cannot compete with the subsides the EU provides its farmers or the $100 billion subsidies in the U.S.).
5. Although Canadian policy favours multilateralism, our voice is sometimes in a minority at the UN, and we therefore need to consider/assess our approach to multilateralism when majority voices at the UN take positions or promote values with which we disagree. This theme was also raised at the Canadian Club luncheon, where concern was raised about the character of the UN, where many UN member states do not have democratically elected governments. (The Minister noted that we must still engage non-democratically elected governments such as China, stressing that we need to work with like-minded partners to bring states along, rewarding good behaviour where we can).
6. We need to support the Canadian Forces.
7. CSIS and the RCMP need more resources to monitor terrorists in Canada.
8. Canada needs to anticipate the future causes of conflict (such as conflicts over resources).
There was also general concern raised about the commitment of the Bush Administration post an Iraq war to support a democratically elected government in Iraq, about human rights after Iraq and the Canadian response to protecting human rights, and about the U.S. refusal to join/participate in the International Criminal Court. (The Minister noted that the U.S. is not monolithic, but contains a diversity of voices).
At each of the day's three events, the Minister defined the Canadian position on Iraq, noting that despite contradictory interpretations by the media, Canada's position has been consistent: the crisis in Iraq must be resolved through the UN system and based on the findings of the UN weapons inspectors. That being said, the Minister emphasized that it is not just a question of the UN - it is about Iraq's refusal to conform to international requirements. He also feels that the U.S. should be commended for engaging the Security Council: "the multilateral system is working, and it's that that ensures international security." Canada is not "wobbly on principles" but has sent a strong, clear message to the U.S. that Canada is a better ally when it acts as a principled ally, backed up with the democratic support of its people. Canada emphasizes that U.S. security is enhanced if the U.S. acts with the rest or the world, not unilaterally or with a small coalition. Without UN sanction, the U.S. is putting itself, Canada and the rest of the world at risk.
9. The U.S. is not the undisputed superpower, at least not when viewed against the combined power of the rest of the world. Canada has, in the past, accomplished good things without the U.S. (and sometimes in spite of it), and there remains an opportunity for Canada to act and ‘do good things" without the U.S.
10. There is an opportunity for Canada to be proactive (not reactive) in engaging Iran by working with and encouraging moderates in Iran.
11. Canada should put more pressure on both the Palestinians and Israel, in particular by getting the Palestinian leadership to change its rhetoric and stop supporting an education system that promotes hatred. Israel should be pressured to stop funding settlements. Similarly, an intervention at the Canadian Club luncheon focussed on the need for Canada to show leadership not just as a peacemaker, but as a ‘truth teller' by speaking out about the evil of Saddam Hussein and the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and their incitement of terrorism.
12. While Canadian positions often differ (sometimes starkly) from U.S. positions, Canada, unlike the EU, has the ear of the U.S. and should use that opportunity to present our disagreements/ position. The U.S. respects us for such an approach.
Participants also raised questions about the relation between the Defence review and DFAIT's, and whether and how they will converge once completed.