Karina Gould on Pierre Trudeau’s legacy

Canada’s international development minister spoke about the prime minister’s father and why we should ’enthusiastically’ embrace liberal internationalism
International Development Minister Karina Gould responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 10, 2019 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

On Wednesday I noted that amid a general slow operating tempo for the re-elected Trudeau government in Ottawa, International Development Minister Karina Gould was preparing to speak to a conference at the University of Toronto on the legacy of the prime minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau. Gould’s office was not happy, and, in response, sent me a copy of her remarks for the conference. I thought I’d pass them along. 

Gould was born three years after the first Prime Minister Trudeau retired. I offer her remarks without context, except to note that One Campaign Canada, a branch of Bono’s global charity, has noted that “Canada has never reached the target” of 0.7 per cent of gross national income devoted to international development, set by Pierre Trudeau’s predecessor, Lester Pearson. “In fact, in the most recent years, we have been moving away, and in 2018 spent only 0.28 per cent of our GNI on ODA. The last four Prime Ministers (Trudeau, Harper, Martin, and Chrétien) have struggled to reach even the halfway mark of Canada’s ‘fair share’.”

Here are Minister Gould’s prepared remarks, lightly edited for spelling and punctuation. — Paul Wells

First and foremost, thank you for inviting me to participate in today’s conference. The topic, “Liberal Internationalism, then and now,” couldn’t be more timely.

As we celebrate 100 years since the birth of the original Prime Minister Trudeau, it is worthy to reflect on what has changed since his time in office and what remains the same, and where Canada’s current approach to the world is going and should go.

This is such an important conversation to have as we face a challenging and uncertain world. But let me lay out an argument for optimism and for being dogged in our commitment to the Canadian way.

There are some in Canada who are arguing for a more realist approach to Canada’s international affairs. For abandoning our steadfast commitment to the rules-based international order, and for not always playing by the rules. Nobody else does, why should we?

There are those that argue we shouldn’t bother to do our part in the climate emergency. Since other countries aren’t doing their part, why make changes to our way of life?

In fact, we saw this approach begin to play out under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a denigration of the United Nations and multilateralism, picking and choosing which human rights to defend, abandoning international commitments on climate, snubbing our nose at the very institutions we as Canadians of all parties, worked so hard to build through the post-war era.

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Then we saw the current Leader of the Conservative Party doubling down on his predecessor’s narrow vision by campaigning this past fall on reducing our international assistance by an astounding 25 per cent! Isolationism, populism, an inward focus, are not just happening over there… it appears, they have taken root in our country as well.

However, this narrow self-interested approach hasn’t been accepted by the majority of Canadians. They do not view our nation’s role on the world stage as a hindrance, but rather an opportunity.

As a scholar of International Relations, I’ve always identified as a liberal internationalist, and probably seemed at times a little naive to my more realist professors and peers. But as I take on this new role as Minister of International Development, I am reminded of why optimism and a commitment to a better, more connected world is a defining feature of Canada’s foreign policy.

As Canadians, as a middle power, we understand too well that our own self-interest lies in a more peaceful, stable, equitable world. The events in Iran these past few days and the tragic loss of so many Canadians are a stark reminder of this reality. We are not insulated from the instability in the Middle East.

To achieve a more peaceful, stable, equitable world, we must go beyond diplomacy and defence and ensure a strong commitment to development. We need to start seeing development not just as a tool in the foreign policy toolkit, but as a defining pillar of what we are able to achieve on the world stage.

What better occasion to highlight this idea than in recognition of the man who understood this better than most: Pierre Trudeau.

While the idea came about under his predecessor, Prime Minister Pearson, Pierre Elliot laid the table for Canada’s emergence onto the world stage as a credible, compassionate, fair and reliable partner. The creation of CIDA and the International Development Research Council (IDRC) are two legacies of Mr. Trudeau.

When I was Parliamentary Secretary for International Development in 2016, I was at a conference in Nairobi. I must have met with over a dozen heads of state and foreign ministers from different African countries, and all of them, without fail, had a fond connection to CIDA and each shared with me a story of education, health service provision, research or women’s rights advocacy that was enabled because of Canadian development assistance.

Because of Canadians commitment to a better world. These stories continue when we meet the hundreds of former IDRC scholars and grantees around the world who are now leading their countries and international organizations.

And that is the image that Canadians hold dear. It is the story we tell ourselves of our commitment to a better, more peaceful world, and it is what we are continuing to try to achieve.

As Minister of International Development, I am confronted by the juxtaposition between the image of Canada in the post-war era, in a time of broad international cooperation amongst western countries, a united front in the fight against communism and building a rules-based international order, and the image of Canada we want to project today, in a fractured western world, where populism and isolationism are rearing their heads in the politics of some of our closest allies.

So why should we enthusiastically embrace liberal internationalism in a time of global turmoil and uncertainty? Wouldn’t we be better off retreating into our own quiet corner of the world?

For me, it is a resounding “No.” And in fact, I think we need to double down on our efforts to project our values and work with allies and partners to protect and improve those institutions, systems, and rules that ensure our collective prosperity and security.

I just came from a portfolio where one of my primary responsibilities was defending our democracy against malicious foreign actors. The threats are real. We are living in a moment where worldviews are confronting each other and our story will be shaped by how we react.

This is true in the way that Jean Chretien’s government responded in the wake of 9/11 or through the leadership and compassion of Prime Minister Arden following the attacks in Christchurch.

Because the rules-based international order is under threat, we, as Canadians, need to live by and lead with, our values. Not just because it is the right thing to do around the world, but because it is the right thing to do for Canadians.

I understand that for some, this is an uncomfortable concept, placing our development work and agenda within our own self-interest—but it is crucial for us to see it this way. Because the issues we face here at home will not be solved through diplomacy or defence alone—development is the key to unlocking these challenges.

Whether it is climate change, migration and refugee flows, global health pandemics, food security, etc., the world is a connected place. We cannot ignore the changes on the horizon, and if we want to shape the response and we want to protect what we have here at home, we must be active players globally, particularly in development.

This means building on the long-standing Canadian traditions of standing up for human rights, for justice and for democracy. For working on the hardest issues that many choose to avoid, in the toughest places and being Canadian about it, so that we can reach those most in need.

This is why I am so proud to be able to implement Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, launched by Marie-Claude Bibeau in June 2017. We are transforming the way we do development. In fact, Mark Lowcock, the Head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, stated, in response to our gender-focused humanitarian assistance, “Canada has set a standard that many others around the world should seek to emulate.”

Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy is, I believe, the single most important innovation in Canadian international cooperation since the creation of CIDA and IDRC.

It forces us to tackle the root cause of poverty and instability: inequality. And it grounds our development programming in the fundamental belief that all people—regardless of gender or sexuality, race, religion or creed—have the same inalienable human rights. And that we cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we leave half the world’s population behind.

Even more importantly, we cannot aspire to gender equality if we ignore sexual reproductive health and rights. A woman’s right to choose and her ability to access family planning and safe abortion services is fundamental to achieving a more equitable, more peaceful and more prosperous, world.

In August 2017 I took a trip to Ethiopia. I was in a small village outside of Mekele, and we stopped at the local health clinic. There were a half-dozen women there to greet us.

We talked about the vaccination program and nutrition for children and how these have made significant health improvements in their community. And then the talk moved on to birth control.

And one woman talked about autonomy over her body and her reproductive life. And how it transformed the power dynamics in her marriage. How she became the community health practitioner and contributed to the family income. How her husband has to respect her because she earns a good income. And finally, how her daughter, who was 15, can see her as a role model and see that women can be self-sufficient and how her daughter is now in high school with the ambition of becoming a nurse.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are not only essential in their own right, they also serve as a catalyst helping us achieve all of our other development goals of food security, economic development, improved health outcomes, and better education.

You can support women’s economic empowerment but all the programming in the world will not make a difference if women aren’t actually participating in the economy, because they can’t access childcare or don’t have control over their reproductive options. And yes, that includes access to safe and legal abortion.

Under the first Prime Minister Trudeau, CIDA was known around the world for its commitment to women’s rights. In 1976 they launched the first policy guidelines in Women in Development and in 1999 CIDA launched the Gender Equality Policy. Since 2017, we have reignited Canada’s full commitment to women’s rights globally. This is particularly exciting in 2020.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Gender Equality and the 20th anniversary of UNSC resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Sadly, we are seeing major setbacks in women’s rights and human rights across the globe. We are witnessing an increase of attacks on human rights defenders, women and LGBTQ activists, journalists and pro-democracy movements. Despite of this, I have no intention of slowing down our commitment to human rights and women’s rights. Because as someone famously said in Beijing, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”

As you all know, the world has changed in the last 25 years, let alone the last 50 years. The way we do development has also changed. Canada needs to catch up and once again be an innovative, cutting-edge leader, doing development the right way.

But the first step in crafting the Policy was coming to terms with reality.

Less than 3 per cent of Canada’s international assistance specifically targeted gender equality, close to 30 per cent of our programming was completely gender blind, and we spent what could be graciously described as token amounts supporting women’s rights organizations in the global south.

This is what we sought to change. The policy gives us the framework to do just that.

Another exciting innovation is The Equality Fund. This collective between the Government of Canada and feminist organizations will leverage over $1 billion in philanthropic and gender lens investing to provide predictable and reliable funding to women’s rights organizations around the world.

Until now, less than 1 per cent of global ODA actually reaches women’s rights organizations. Canada is changing this by helping to build the civic space that allows new, empowering structures to be constructed.

Unfortunately, there is a sad reality that there are increasingly frequent attempts to rollback the progress that has been made in relation to women’s rights and gender equality.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us to help protect the progress we have made, and to do what we can to contribute to the empowerment and advancement of voices that have been traditionally marginalized.

To do this, I need your help. It’s all well and good for us to sit here and discuss the merits and virtues of liberal internationalism and why Canada absolutely must remain committed to our international institutions, our rules-based order and doing our part to respond to global crises, man-made or otherwise. But we have to convince Canadians that this is also the right thing to do. With populism, isolationism and individualism knocking at our door, it cannot be left to the government alone.

Take for example the critical role that civil society played in bringing governments forward to ban landmines. This is why we believe so strongly in supporting and working with civil society organizations.

I think of the pivotal leadership role that Canada played in bringing together the Global Compact on Migration—an achievement we should be incredibly proud of. Canada is a world leader in migration and refugee policy, the creation of the World Refugee Council, which the Hon. Lloyd Axworthy heads, and changing the narrative on migrants and refugees globally.

And yet, we have Canadian politicians who peddle ludicrous conspiracy theories that sow division and fear here at home by using an international bogeyman for their own crass domestic political gain. We must win the battle for the hearts and minds of Canadians and we must stay true to our Canadian values.

That doesn’t mean we do everything the way we did it before. That might not make sense in a changing world. But it does mean that we continue to look for those difficult issues that will make a real and tangible difference in the lives of every day people. There are two particular things that we did in the last mandate that stood out to me as exceptionally bold, courageous and incredibly Canadian.

The unwavering support we provided to the White Helmets in Syria and the subsequent work to bring many of them to Canada, and the quiet work we did to bring LGBTQ activists to Canada as refugees.

Neither of these acts have caught the imagination of Canadians and we didn’t do it for political accolades. We did it because it was the right thing to do. Because we live our values and we lead on issues that other countries won’t.

Sounds like something that Pierre Trudeau would be proud of.

As a Liberal internationalist and a feminist, I am proud that Canada is now a leading donor globally for gender equality and women’s rights organizations, and the leading donor globally for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights. But for all you foreign policy experts in the room, I want you to think of these achievements as Canadian foreign policy achievements.

So as we, Canada, look to the future and our ability to play in the world arena, we must continue to be on the vanguard of advancing human rights, upholding justice and defending democracy. We must do our part to address looming global challenges, particularly when it comes to Climate Change and protecting our environment and continue to build on the vital work defending migrants and refugees the world over.

Humanitarian needs are deep, and we will continue to support the poorest, the most vulnerable. We will do it, guided by our Feminist International Assistance Policy. Ensuring it is anchored in human rights and gender equality.

These are complicated times we live in, absolutely. In my humble opinion, that just means we continue to pursue a more just, a more peaceful, and a more prosperous world in our Canadian way, adapting to the changing landscape.

I hope we can count on you to challenge, question and push us to be better, but also to stand with us when our values and our commitment to liberal internationalism and the rules-based international order need to be defended.

Thank you.