Jan 20, 2014 | Event Summary

The Canadian International Council – Toronto Branch’s 2014 inaugural event, Making Canadian Foreign Policy, held on January 13th, was dynamic, stimulating and thought provoking. Attendees had the privilege of engaging with a panel of three distinguished individuals in the practical and theoretical realm: Mel CappeNeil Desai and Kim Furlong. Each speaker brought immense enthusiasm and insight to the discussion in both their remarks and rebuttals.

Neil Desai commenced the dialogue, and compared Canada’s foreign policy strategy before and after the government shift in 2006, discussed Canada’s defense strategies and our goals in development. Desai asserted that after 2006, Canada became more willing to articulate its foreign policy to its citizens and the rest of the international community. In speaking to Desai’s second and third focus, he informed the audience that Canada’s dedication to its mission in Afghanistan has expanded Canada’s ability to aid in development. To explain, he articulated that as a consequence of the Canadian government wanting to ensure that its military would be able to succeed in Afghanistan, we developed our military’s capacity to aid in development in the region..

Kim Furlong spoke second and maintained the enriched discussion with her comments on Canadian trade policy, foreign policy versus diplomacy and development. Furlong rebutted the assertion made by Desai that diplomacy and foreign policy are similar ventures. However, like Desai, Furlong also maintained that Canadians are not overly enthusiastic about Canadian foreign policy. It is positive to note Furlong’s view that there is a great deal of transparency and collaboration among political parties regarding foreign policy. In discussing foreign policy aimed at international development, Furlong expressed how difficult it is for the government to allocate its limited funds, as the government cannot support every cause and organization aimed at development.

Mel Cappe further developed the discussion as he covered a myriad of topics, from the role of the prime minister to the essentiality of engagement vis-à-vis foreign policy. Cappe began by articulating his view that any progress in the way of foreign policy and foreign relations is carried out by state leaders. His clarification that all ministries, even those that seem exclusively domestic, have both foreign and domestic branches was particularly pertinent. In his comments concerning the significance of the United States on Canadian foreign policy, Cappe addressed an issue he perceives as detrimental to Canadian foreign policy; that Canada cannot simply ‘condemn’ or express ‘concern’ for events that have taken place within the international community. He argued that this is particularly problematic in the absence of a statement of policy, as the expressions of concern and contempt become the policy.

It was reassuring to hear the consensus among this panel of practitioners with different party affiliations that Canada is a non-partisan team when it comes to foreign policy. Furlong mentioned the importance of foreign policy that is immune to party politics, and the need for party collaboration and informed and unbiased debate. Cappe also mentioned the importance of a well-informed government, to which Desai agreed.

Audience involvement and candid dialogue ensued during the Question & Answer period of the evening, which proved engaging and informative. During this portion of the event, the audience was privy to a number of thoughtful and curious comments, ideas, queries and rebuttals by Cappe, Desai and Furlong, as well as other audience members. One of the many highlights of this segment was a discussion concerning the ability to influence Canadian foreign policy. Furlong asserted that Members of Parliament can get involved in matters relating to foreign policy but that their ability to impact change is limited, to which Cappe agreed. Conversely, Desai suggested that many individuals in government could affect foreign policy, even those in informal positions. While all three speakers maintained that only a small portion of the population cares about Canadian foreign policy, they were very optimistic that citizens, particularly those from a younger demographic can influence policy.