Address by Minister Freeland on Canada’s foreign policy priorities
[Slightly cropped and with emphases added by the FDR Foundation. Click the link below to read the full version.]
June 6, 2017 – Ottawa, Canada
…International relationships that had seemed immutable for 70 years are being called into question. From Europe, to Asia, to our own North American home, long-standing pacts that have formed the bedrock of our security and prosperity for generations are being tested.
And new shared human imperatives—the fight against climate change first among them—call for renewed, uncommon resolve.
Turning aside from our responsibilities is not an option. Instead we must think carefully and deeply about what is happening, and find a way forward.
…Since before the end of the Second World War, beginning with the international conference at Bretton Woods in 1944, Canada has been deeply engaged in, and greatly enjoyed the benefits of, a global order based on rules.
These were principles and standards that were applied, perhaps not perfectly at all times by all states, but certainly by the vast majority of democratic states, most of the time.
The system had at its heart the core notions of territorial integrity, human rights, democracy, respect for the rule of law, and an aspiration to free and friendly trade.
The common volition toward this order arose from a fervent determination not to repeat the immediate past.
Humankind had learned through the direct experience of horror and hardship, Mr. Speaker, that the narrow pursuit of national self-interest, the law of the jungle, led to nothing but carnage and poverty.
Two global conflicts and the Great Depression, all in the span of less than half a century, taught our parents and grandparents that national borders must be inviolate; that international trading relationships created not only prosperity but also peace; and that a true world community, one based on shared aspirations and standards, was not only desirable but essential to our very survival.
That deep yearning toward lasting peace led to the creation of international institutions that endure to this day—with the nations of Western Europe, together with their transatlantic allies, the United States and Canada, at their foundation
In each of these evolutions in how we humans organize ourselves, Canadians played pivotal roles.
There was Bretton Woods itself, where the Canadian delegation was instrumental in drafting provisions of the fledgling International Monetary Fund and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
…These institutions may seem commonplace now, Mr. Speaker. We may take them for granted. We should not. Seventy years ago they were revolutionary. And they set the stage for the longest period of peace and prosperity in our history.
…For a few lucky countries—like Canada and the United States—that feel protected by geography and are good neighbours, the answer is less obvious. Indeed, you could easily imagine a Canadian view that says, we are safe on our continent, and we have things to do at home, so let’s turn inward. Let’s say Canada first.
Here’s why that would be wrong.
First, though no foreign adversary is poised to invade us, we do face clear challenges. Climate change is by definition a shared menace, affecting every single person on this planet. Civil war, poverty, drought and natural disasters anywhere in the world threaten us as well—not least because these catastrophes spawn globally destabilizing mass migrations. The dictatorship in North Korea, crimes against humanity in Syria, the monstrous extremists of Daesh, and Russian military adventurism and expansionism also all pose clear strategic threats to the liberal democratic world, including Canada.
Our ability to act against such threats alone is limited. It requires cooperation with like-minded countries.
On the military front, Canada’s geography has meant that we have always been able to count on American self-interest to provide a protective umbrella beneath which we have found indirect shelter.
Some think, some even say, we should therefore free ride on U.S. military power. Why invest billions to maintain a capable, professional, well-funded and well-equipped Canadian military?
The answer is obvious: To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state. And although we have an incredibly good relationship with our American friends and neighbours, such a dependence would not be in Canada’s interest.
…Whatever their politics, Canadians understand that, as a middle power living next to the world’s only super power, Canada has a huge interest in an international order based on rules. One in which might is not always right. One in which more powerful countries are constrained in their treatment of smaller ones by standards that are internationally respected, enforced and upheld.
…Another key benefit for Canada from an international system based on rules, is of course free trade. In this sphere as well, beggar-thy-neighbour policies hit middle powers soonest and hardest. That is the implacable lesson of the 1930s, and the Great Depression. Rising trade barriers hurt the people they are intended to help. They curb growth, stifle innovation and kill employment. This is a lesson we should learn from history. We should not need to teach it to ourselves again through painful experience.
The international order an earlier generation built faces two big challenges, both unprecedented.
The first is the rapid emergence of the global South and Asia—most prominently, China—and the need to integrate these countries into the world’s economic and political system in a way that is additive, that preserves the best of the old order that preceded their rise, and that addresses the existential threat of climate change. This is a problem that simply cannot be solved by nations working alone. We must work together.
…Let us seize the great opportunity we now have to help the people of the world’s fastest-growing countries join the global middle class and the multilateral system that supports it. Peace and prosperity are every person’s birthright. The second great challenge is an exhaustion in the West of the belief among working people, the middle class, that the globalized system can help them better their lives. This is an enormous crisis of confidence. It has the potential, if we let it, to undermine global prosperity itself.
At the root of this anxiety around the world is a pervasive sense that too many people have been left behind, betrayed by a system they were promised would make them better off, but hasn’t.
Here’s the key: it’s true that the system is flawed. But international trade is the wrong target, Mr. Speaker. The real culprit is domestic policy that fails to appreciate that continued growth, and political stability, depend on domestic measures that share the wealth.
Admittedly, this is a complicated problem. If there were easy solutions everybody would be applying them.
But let’s be clear on this point: it is wrong to view the woes of our middle class as the result of fiendish behaviour by foreigners.
The truth is that the nature of work has changed because of profound, and generally benign, global economic innovation. This transformation, driven primarily by automation and the digital revolution, is broadly positive.
Managed fairly, it has the potential to increase prosperity for all—not just the global one percent. That means supporting families, supporting pensioners, and supporting education and retraining—as the Minister of Finance did in his recent budget.
By better supporting the middle class, and those working hard to join it, Canada is defining an approach to globalization that can be a model. At the same time, we strongly support the global 2030 Goals for Sustainable Development, Mr. Speaker. The world abroad and the world at home are not two solitudes. They are connected.
Likewise, by embracing multiculturalism and diversity, Canadians are embodying a way of life that works. We can say this in all humility, but also without any false self-effacement: Canadians know about living side-by side with people of diverse origins and beliefs, whose ancestors hail from the far corners of the globe, in harmony and peace. We’re good at it. Watch how we do it.
…In short, Canadian liberalism is a precious idea. It would not long survive in a world dominated by the clash of great powers and their vassals, struggling for supremacy or, at best, an uneasy détente.
Canada can work for better, Mr. Speaker. We must work for better.
Let me pause here and address the United States, directly. As the Prime Minister said last week: Canada is deeply disappointed by the decision by the U.S. federal government to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate.
That said, we will continue to seek opportunities for constructive progress on the environment, wherever we can find them, with our counterparts in Washington and across the great United States, at all levels of government and with partners in business, labour and civil society.
As I have said, we Canadians can rightly be proud of the role we played in building the postwar order, and the unprecedented peace and prosperity that followed.
Yet even as we celebrate our own part in that project, it’s only fair for us to acknowledge the larger contribution of the United States. For in blood, in treasure, in strategic vision, in leadership, America has paid the lion’s share.
The United States has truly been the indispensable nation, Mr. Speaker. For their unique, seven-decades-long contribution to our shared peace and prosperity, and on behalf of all Canadians, I would like to profoundly thank our American friends.
As I have argued, Canada believes strongly that this stable, predictable international order has been deeply in our national interest. And we believe it has helped foster peace and prosperity for our southern neighbours, too.
Yet it would be naive or hypocritical to claim before this House that all Americans today agree. Indeed, many of the voters in last year’s presidential election cast their ballots, animated in part by a desire to shrug off the burden of world leadership. To say this is not controversial: it is simply a fact.
Canada is grateful, and will always be grateful, to our neighbour for the outsized role it has played in the world. And we seek and will continue to seek to persuade our friends that their continued international leadership is very much in their national interest—as well as that of the rest of the free world.
Yet we also recognize that this is ultimately not our decision to make. It is a choice Americans must make for themselves.
The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course. For Canada that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order.
We will follow this path, with open hands and open hearts extended to our American friends, seeking to make common cause as we have so often in the past. And indeed, as we continue to do now on multiple fronts—from border security, to the defence of North America through NORAD, to the fight against Daesh, to our efforts within NATO, to nurturing and improving our trading relationship, which is the strongest in the world.
And, at the same time, we will work with other like-minded people and countries who share our aims.
Mr. Speaker, to put this in sharper focus, those aims are as follows:
First, we will robustly support the rules-based international order, and all its institutions, and seek ways to strengthen and improve them.
We will strongly support the multilateral forums where such discussions are held—including the G7, the G20, the OAS, APEC, the WTO, the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, the Arctic Council, and of course NATO and the UN.
A cornerstone of our multilateral agenda is our steadfast commitment to the Transatlantic Alliance. Our bond is manifest in CETA, our historic trade agreement with the European Union—which we believe in and warmly support—and in our military deployment this summer to Latvia.
There can be no clearer sign that NATO and Article 5 are at the heart of Canada’s national security policy.
We will strive for leadership in all these multilateral forums. We are honoured to be hosting the G7 next year, and we are energetically pursuing a two-year term on the UN Security Council. We seek this UN seat because we wish to be heard. For we are safer and more prosperous, Mr. Speaker, when more of the world shares Canadian values.
Those values include feminism, and the promotion of the rights of women and girls.
It is important, and historic, that we have a prime minister and a government proud to proclaim ourselves feminists. Women’s rights are human rights. That includes sexual reproductive rights and the right to safe and accessible abortions. These rights are at the core of our foreign policy.
…We are proud of the role Canada has played in creating a rules-based international trading order. We believe in the WTO and will continue our work to make it stronger, and more responsive to the needs of ordinary people in Canada and around the world.
We believe in progressive trade that works for working people. That is why we are very proud that this month, Canada will ratify the last of the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization.
In summary, we will be tireless in pursing our national interest, tireless in upholding progressive Canadian values, tireless in working to create a rules-based international order for the 21st century. Seventy years ago Canada played a pivotal role in forming the postwar international order. We are now called—by virtue of our unique experience, expertise, geography, diversity and values—to do this again, for a new century.
Mr. Speaker, these are ambitious objectives. There is no guarantee of success.
We set them, not in the assumption that success will come easily, but in the certain knowledge that it will not. We will venture, in noble and good causes. We will risk. We will enjoy victories—and we will suffer defeats. But we will keep working toward a better world, Mr. Speaker, because that is what Canadians do.
Let me conclude on a personal note.
A popular criticism today of the argument I am making here, is that all such ideas are abstract, perhaps of interest to the so-called Laurentian elite, or the media, or the Ottawa bubble, but not at all relevant to “real” Canadians.
That line of reasoning is the ultimate, elite condescension; it is nonsense. And in reply, I offer the example of my grandfather, John Wilbur Freeland.
He was born in Peace River, Alberta—the son of a pioneer family. Wilbur was 24 in 1940, and making a bit of a living as a cowboy and boxer. His nickname was “Pretty Boy” Freeland.
My grandpa was the opposite of an Upper Canada elite. But in the darkest days of the Second World War, Wilbur enlisted to serve. Two of his brothers, Carleton and Warren, joined up too. Wilbur and Carleton came home. Warren did not.
My grandfather told me they signed up partly for the excitement—Europe, even at war, was an exotic destination for the youths of the Peace Country.
But there was more to it than a young man’s thirst for adventure. My grandfather was one of a generation of Canadians who intuitively understood the connection between their lives, and those of people they’d never met, whose speech they couldn’t comprehend, who lived on a continent so far away as to constitute, back then, another world.
That generation of Canadians—the Greatest Generation, we call them, with good reason—had survived the Great Depression. They were born in the aftermath of the First World War. They appreciated viscerally that a world without fixed borders or rules for the global economy, was a world of strife and poverty. They sought to prevent that from ever happening again.
That is why they risked and gave their lives to fight in a European war. That is why, when they came home, they cheerfully contributed to the great project of rebuilding Europe and creating a postwar world order. That is why they counted themselves lucky to be able to do so.
They were our parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents. The challenge we face today is significant, to be sure. But it pales next to the task they faced, and met.
Our job today is to preserve their achievement, and to build on it; to use the multilateral structures they created as the foundation for planetary accords and institutions fit for the new realities of this century.
They rose to their generation’s great challenge. And so can we.