Member Commentary on Toronto branch events

CIC Toronto Meetings Provide Enlightenment on Ottawa Intrigue

The past two Toronto Branch CIC meetings provided a treasure trove of enlightenment in the nuances of formulating and managing international relations in Ottawa. At the micro level, John Mundy, last Canadian Ambassador to Iran and expelled by Iran in 2007, delivered a paper entitled Canada Departs Iran: Folly or Foresight?, at the Albany Club on 27 September. Davis LLP provided their facilities on the 60th floor, First Canadian Place, on October 10th for a more macro presentation on International relations policy formulation by Paul Dewar, the Official Opposition’s Foreign Affairs Critic.

Mundy’s presentation was to an eclectic group of about fifty persons delivered in the intimate setting characteristic of the Albany club. Many in the audience were Iranian Canadians keenly interested in the proceeding and making significant contribution to the discussion that followed a “from the heart” presentation. There were also a significant number of retired, seasoned Canadian Foreign Service Officers present with lots of frontline experience who sympathized with the views being expressed by Mundy.

The premise of Mundy’s presentation was that the government made a monumental mistake by suspending diplomatic ties with Iran. Doing so in the manner it did, being announced while the Prime Minister was in Russia, did not seem to be coincidental. The new Israeli / Canada relationship was discussed in the context of a nuclear threat emerging in the region and what role Canada could play. The consensus seemed to be that Canada should maintain communication channels with all parties and serve to provide the “go between” in such situations. Concern was expressed that the Prime Minister of Canada was not helpful to the President of the United States by so blatantly supporting the Israeli Prime Minister with regards to taking action against Iran. An “only in Canada” moment occurred when the story was told about members of the Iranian Bahá’i faith being allowed into Canada as “scholastic refugees.” These events transpired through Carleton University’s recognition of private home tutoring academic standards developed among the Iranian Bahá’i community. The Iranian centres of higher learning were being denied to members of the Bahá’i faith because they did not practise the Iranian version of Islam.

 

The true value of the CIC experience is in the conversations one has with participants following the presentation. At such an exchange the decision making process leading up to the pronouncement that Canada should suspend diplomatic ties with Iran was explored. The interface relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels was discussed along with possible timelines involved. Concern was expressed by some that Canada’s reputation in international relations was being overly influenced by Israel. There was general agreement that this decision came out of the blue and didn’t seem to involve professional assessment of the pros and cons in taking such actions. Retired Diplomat Hugh Stephens, visiting from Victoria BC who worked with John Mundy in Islamabad at a time when Pakistan was working towards becoming a nuclear state, suggested the government’s action may have been prompted by some intelligence information it can’t release. When asked if there will be an opportunity to review the briefing notes supporting the decision Stephens said, “When they are declassified; in about thirty years.”

 

The Davis LLP 60th floor venue provided an evening backdrop of the Toronto shoreline against a beautiful sunset for Mr. Dewar to describe how the “party of protest” is undergoing a metamorphosis into a “party of policy.” Close to a hundred Bay St personalities and some visitors attended this session. Mr. Dewar delivered a well crafted balanced presentation that offered recognition of possibly having to assume the reins of power one day. He was hard pressed to identify a trade agreement that the federal NDP supported. There was some discussion about the NDP’s alliance with organized labour impeding such logic. When questioned about the role of the provinces in international relations Dewar referred to Gary Doer, former NDP Premier of Manitoba, developing relationships with American State Governors as an example that the provinces should follow. He acknowledged the wisdom of Prime Minister Harper appointing Mr Doer the Canadian Ambassador to the US as a consequence of his leadership in US / Canada relations. Dewar was critical of the ceremonial alliances between Canada and the UK diplomatic services. It was acknowledged that technologies like Skype and satellite phones make many traditional diplomacy practises redundant.

 

Parts of Dewar’s presentation were reminiscent of 1980s Liberal rhetoric on “peaces keeping.” Seeming to prefer the Canadian “do-gooder” role, his presentation didn’t acknowledge that in our geopolitical, globalized economy nations are in a stronger negotiating position if they can demonstrate an ability to muster a credible professional fighting force. In this respect it is not clear how a NDP government would balance diplomacy and defence in protecting Canada’s interests in our maritime domain awareness world. He stressed a NDP foreign policy strategy would be global but with a focus towards the Pacific Rim countries; a region where many military rivalries are being played out. While he spoke with some gusto about Iran, Libya, Syria, Egypt and the 2011 spring Arab revolution he did not refer to the Israeli / Palestine imbroglio that defines the redline in all Middle East politics. When questioned about this omission after his presentation he said that it was the topic of an hour long speech he gave the previous night and would require more time to address than this occasion allowed. His reply was symbolic of the rubric of international relations topics that CIC meetings offer. Such events can be compared with attending a smorgasbord of the world’s finest delicacies, but having a small plate.

 

Tim Lynch

Freelance Journalist

Maritime Security and Law Enforcement

Send comments to tim@infolynk.ca

14 October 2012