The ‘CIC Experience’ Survey Zeroes In on the Value the CIC Can Offer
Earlier this year, members of the Canadian International Council (CIC) were asked to complete an on-line ‘CIC Experience’ survey. Amid such unprecedented international discord the idea behind holding the survey was to explore how our organization can make a difference. After all, our community counts some of the most committed citizens passionate about Canada’s role in the world. What impact could we have in helping our nation rise to the challenge of these uncertain times?
It’s also worth keeping in mind that the survey took place as the Covid-19 pandemic was unfolding and much has happened since. Public gatherings were quickly cancelled, which also meant no more lunch or evening CIC events. And, all of a sudden, many of us became quickly acclimatized to a new Zoom-based world, which frankly speaking has been a life saver for an organization that thrives on citizen engagement. Zoom has also allowed branches to hold events with CIC members ‘tuning-in’ from across the country, bringing our organization even closer together. Although we will eventually return to our regular pre-Covid CIC programming, no doubt Zoom is here to stay.
Returning to the survey, there were 21 questions covering a wide-variety of topics. Participants, for example, were asked what were the most important issues facing Canada in international affairs today. Another question asked if Canada should become more ambitious globally than it is now, less ambitious, or remain at the current level of ambition. Others requested participants to note their branch affiliation, country of birth, age-bracket, level of education, occupation, income, gender, and ethnicity. In total, 233 members answered the survey, which at the time was approximately 18% of the national membership.
Looking at the basic data, 94% of respondents reported having an undergraduate degree or higher and occupationally, came from a variety of backgrounds. Almost 90% identified as White or Caucasian and just over 75% were born in Canada. In addition, the majority of respondents were over 55 years of age. Perhaps somewhat telling of the impact that our members have as foreign policy influencers: 42 people reported having had an op-ed published online or in traditional media during the last five years! We were aware that many of our members are being published on a regular basis but were nevertheless pleasantly surprised by how many the survey revealed.
It was also clear from the survey that the ‘CIC Experience’ continued to offer members a significant opportunity to hear about, and be heard, when it comes to Canadian foreign policy and international affairs. But we wanted to go deeper, so we outlined three different ways in members might draw value an organization like the CIC.
One potential source of value we could have lies in the role we play in civil society – a meeting place for citizens to learn and exchange views with one another, not necessarily connected to any decision-making process in government. We asked members if they found it useful to be heard and listened to by other members of the public. 84% agreed, and more than two-thirds felt that the CIC provided real opportunities for this.
The more traditional role of a thinktank, of course, is to generate ideas that shape policies adopted by government. Naturally, 92% of members believe this is value and perhaps even more naturally, only 36% of members thought the CIC was doing a good job of this. It is hard to imagine a thinktank in Canada that would do well on this score, given the minor impact that thinktanks play in Canadian policymaking compared, for example, with the United States.
The most intriguing results concerned the third source of value. We were inspired by an attempt that Simon Fraser University had made in 2007 to involve thousands of people in determining a common narrative that Canadians could hold about our country’s role in the world. Rather than determine the specific policies that the foreign ministry might adopt on a given country, the goal was to shape public consciousness of what our nation can accomplish.
What astonished us about these results is that CIC members felt this was the most valuable role of all. Not only did 46% of members “strongly agree” with this, 97% agreed altogether. That’s not a result you often come across in polling.
Equally surprising, 81% feel that the CIC is already delivering this value. We may have stumbled upon the core of the CIC experience with this question.
Asked what were the most important issues facing Canada in international affairs, the general view was that globally Canada lacked influence and was too tied to the United States. Members also noted that Canada was too slow in responding to the challenges posed by climate change. Several respondents also wrote that Canada lacked a strategic foreign policy vision and had failed to adequately invest in its diplomatic, defence and development efforts. One member, no doubt with the failing international multilateral system in mind, added that “the global order on which Canada depends is eroding and it is not clear what will take its place.”
When asked what roles Canada should play in international affairs, overwhelmingly, respondents replied that Canada should look to position itself a global mediator and a convenor of like-minded countries on important international issues. There was also significant agreement that Canada should be more ambitious on the international stage. In particular, many members wrote down two words often mentioned when Canada comes to mind: honest broker.
When it comes to being a global convener, Canada has had a fairly good track record on the international stage. In 2017, for example, Canada hosted the 2017 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in Vancouver, where delegates from more than 80 countries and international organizations announced new pledges and discussed improvements to UN peacekeeping operations. In 2018, Canada also co-hosted, with Kenya and Japan, the first global Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi. Earlier this year, during the 33rd African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, the Prime Minister also convened a meeting for African heads of state, representatives of the United Nations and other multilateral bodies, to discuss ways to secure peace across the continent as a necessary condition for prosperity. These are just a few cases of Canada acting as a convenor of global partners. Nevertheless, the survey was clear that CIC members believe Canada should be doing more of this.
On the topic of UN peacekeeping, many respondents took note of Canada’s absence. Indeed, the number of deployed Canadian peacekeepers has fallen to just 10 civilian police officers and 25 military personnel today. It’s a far cry from the 3,285 Canadian peacekeepers overseas in 1992 and the lowest number since 1956. Several members also lamented Canada’s lack of global diplomatic presence around the globe in general and called for more foreign aid to the developing world.
On the question of what would you like to see the CIC do more of, quite a few respondents suggested that they wanted us to play a more active role in engaging with government, and providing policy advice. To this end, in October 2019, CIC and Global Canada jointly held a high-level conference called Canadians Changing the World: Mobilizing for Global Impact, where participants supported a proposal for nationwide citizen-driven deliberation on how to close the gap between a rapidly deteriorating international order and a Canadian foreign policy created for an earlier era. Since the October conference CIC has created the Global Ambition Project, staffed with volunteers who are in the process of making plans to mobilize, through regional and branch events, and a citizen dialogue process, a constituency of Canadians to identify where significant public support for foreign policy change exists.
Respondents were also keen to see the CIC increase its student membership base and youth mentorship programs. It’s also clear that the CIC needs to engage with new Canadians and focus on building diversity in the general membership and in leadership roles at the branch and national level. While Covid-19 has limited our efforts in reaching out, the good news is that a CIC nation-wide young professionals’ organization is being created and more information about the group will be available soon.
Some members also called for more local events and, in many ways, and as previously mentioned, Zoom has allowed us to share speakers across the organization. However, it’s clear that some branches are more active locally than others. Policy research and foreign affairs commentary was another area where respondents felt the CIC could do more and, in this regard, CIC has been recruiting a new group of research fellows, who will be announced soon. Fundraising has also been underway that will allow the CIC to re-start the website OpenCanada, which will serve as a major platform to further engage with our members and the wider Canadian and foreign public.
All-in-all, the survey provided some very valuable insights about our organization and the thoughts of the membership across a range of topics. The survey also came at an interesting time in our world’s history, a time when we were already questioning the declining state of global affairs. While CIC isn’t likely going to move mountains, in the coming years we will certainly try. And in an era of fake news and news waves, its our CIC events that allow us to actually take a moment and reflect on key issues. Reflection is often undervalued, but it is core to who we are and clearly what we need to do more of.
Chris Kilford is the President of the CIC Victoria Branch
Ben Rowswell is the President of the Canadian International Council