Canada’s role on the world stage was the topic of discussion on January 26 at The Pilot Tavern. We heard from Dr. Alan Chapnick, Associate Professor at the Canadian Forces College, and Paul Kirkconnell, Managing Direct at The Kirchner Group as they covered a broad set of topics on the issue of the evening.
Both Dr. Chapnick and Mr. Kirkconnell delivered succinct summaries of their views. Alan summarized his thoughts saying that on a macro level there has been no major change in Canada’s foreign policies, though there are lots of micro changes. Paul summarized his thoughts by saying that foreign policy has little to no impact on business outside of legal and compliance implications.
At the macro level Alan pointed to a continuity of policy in Afghanistan as well as the chronic underfunding of our armed forces. He points to the fact that Canada is broadly engaged across the world. On the international development front, we have always had uneven and partially successful programs without fluctuating budgets. We had a relatively open immigration policy and we have never had strong environmental policies.
At the micro level there has been a lot of change. We now talk though – we no longer speak of “peacekeeping”. The tact we use in diplomacy has change – witness the interactions between Mr. Harper and Mr. Putin. On the development front, we no longer have the Canadian International Development Agency. Immigration rules have been tightened. On the environment we continue to do nothing.
Paul brought up interesting anecdotes and perspectives. Business people want to do business and are therefore not really fundamentally concerned with foreign policy. He sees that we tend to be broad and shallow in our support of Canadian companies. Rather than have a few excellent businesses we have many mediocre ones across many lines of business. At the international level business is done by building trust and through empathy. Human connections drive business rather than policies.
We had an excellent discussion covering topics such as the roles and potential moral responsibilities that members of the business community have. We discussed the tying of aid to various moral ideologies such as abortion. The audience brought up our role in Syria and Libya leading to a discussion about Canada’s engagement at the United Nations with respect to our foreign military missions. We learned that Portugal ran a 13 year campaign to win a security council seat that Canada did not win, where we only campaigned for two.
The emerging picture from the speakers was that Canada, while a wonderful place to live is not the center of world attention its citizens may expect or believe it to be. The issue raised might be summed up by asking: should we not focus on a few areas in which to excel?
Adam Chapnick’s Opening Remarks
Paul Kirkconnell’s opening Remarks