Let's make Canada relevant again on the world stage | National Union of Public and General Employees

Let's make Canada relevant again on the world stage

'To matter, Canada has to actually punch above its weight, not just say it does. The U.S. can just show up and be listened to. So can China. Canada has to do much more.'

By Dale Marshall
Climate Change Policy Analyst, David Suzuki Foundation

Dale Marshall, climate change policy analyst, David Suzuki FoundationOttawa (01 Oct. 2009) - The number of countries that wield influence in international affairs is clearly expanding. Though G8 leaders continue to meet annually, over the past few years even this exclusive club has included major developing countries, the so-called +5 countries of China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico. When the financial crisis hit last year, it was the G20 that was convened.

The G20 continues to meet regularly, as it is this week in Pittsburgh, to discuss, among other things, what financial support industrialized countries should provide to developing countries in their efforts to adapt to climate change and curb their global warming emissions.

This expanded sphere of influence should make Canadian leaders wonder about our role and relevance in globally important discussions. Canada's influence in terms of our population and economic position has always been at best as a middle power. Some have even questioned our inclusion in the G8. So where does this leave us in a club that has 13, 16 or 20 members?

The answer lies in being relevant in ways that go beyond our size. To matter, Canada has to actually "punch above its weight" – not just say it does. The U.S. can just show up and be listened to. So can China. Canada has to do much more.

Two avenues open

And Canada still can do that in two main ways. First, Canada should once again play the role of honest broker. International discussions often involve countries entrenched in different positions. In some instances, Canada can play a unique role – to mediate, to interpret different positions to opposite camps, and to look beyond its own narrow interests to try to find a way forward that can work for everyone. In the end, all countries can benefit, including Canada.

Second, Canada can also bring new ideas to the table. New ideas and approaches are the currency of international diplomacy, especially with respect to difficult and contentious discussions. These two roles, of course, are not mutually exclusive. New ways of doing things can also allow for solutions to be forged between what appear to be conflicting interests.

Canada has done this in the past. Canadians often point to Lester Pearson's legacy of proposing the use of UN-backed peacekeepers to resolve regional conflicts. Canada hosted and played a pivotal role in forging the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to phase out substances that deplete the ozone. Same with the landmine treaty.

But these are examples from our past. If we want again to be a positive voice and force in important international issues, especially in the context of emerging powers in the developing world, the Canadian government has to move away from the one-sided and unhelpful positions it has taken on issues as varied as indigenous rights, the Middle East and global warming.

No issue is more important and topical than global climate change. Now and for the next three months, we have a moment, a short but critical window to forge a fair, ambitious and binding international agreement on global warming. The UN summit on climate change in December represents a deadline for such an agreement.

Goal in peril

However, that goal is in peril. There is a low level of trust between industrialized countries and major developing countries. The sticking point is the issue of financial support and it is being discussed in Pittsburgh by Prime Minister Harper and other G20 leaders.

The Bali Roadmap, agreed to by the global community two years ago, was clear that action in developing countries – adapting to climate change and curbing global warming pollution – can only happen if rich, industrialized countries provide financial and technological support to developing countries. Since then, industrialized countries have put nothing on the table. Many proposals have been made. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed a $100 billion per year fund to be delivered to the developing world. Norway has proposed a mechanism to deliver substantial and predictable levels of financing. There are others, but nothing has been agreed to.

Canada, meanwhile, has been almost completely silent. The Canadian government agreed to do its "fair share" but nothing else. The government has made no commitments on the level of financing or how it would be delivered.

Yet here is an issue where Canada can again become relevant, can again play an important role, and propel momentum forward by joining climate leaders on the road to Copenhagen. Let's hope the Prime Minister agrees.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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