Address by Foreign Affairs Minister to the German Heads of Mission Meeting


August 27, 2018 – Germany

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Canada and Germany have a long history of working together in multilateral institutions. For example, we helped create the International Criminal Court, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. We are allies in the fight against climate change and in our support for the Paris Accord—a fight lent fresh urgency by the fires this summer in Potsdam here in Germany and in British Columbia in my own country.

One of the things that Heiko [Maas, Germany’s minister of foreign affairs] and I discussed over supper last night was how we could work together to defend liberal democracy and reform and renew the postwar multilateral order and confront the threat of resurgent authoritarianism.

I would like to continue that discussion today.

I would like to start on a personal note. In the late 1980s and 1990s, I studied and worked as a reporter in what was, first, the U.S.S.R. and, while I was living there, became independent Ukraine.

My experience of watching from the inside as this vast, mighty authoritarian regime crumbled profoundly shaped my thinking. For you, Germans, part of whose country was a member of the Warsaw Pact, I am sure that transformation was even more consequential.

Indeed, I was living as a foreign student in Soviet Ukraine in 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down. It was a euphoric time and one when it was tempting to imagine that liberal democracy was both inevitable and invulnerable. As Francis Fukuyama put it, we seemed to have reached “the end of history.”

Fukuyama wasn’t, of course, arguing that history had ground to a halt. Rather, he was saying that the half-century-long competition between liberalism and authoritarianism had been settled and that liberal democracy had won.

What a seductive argument!

There was a broad consensus that the Atlantic economies, plus Japan, led an international system of rules and institutions — the WTO, the IMF and their brethren — that had allowed our peoples to thrive and would continue to do so.

Critically, this was built as a system that other nations — emerging powers — could join.

And join they have. Countries in the global South and Asia joined these institutions and accepted their rules. This shift has delivered ever-higher living standards to their people.

Here in the EU, eastern and southern friends have been welcomed into the European Union­­—one of the world’s closest, strongest and most essential multilateral institutions—and prospered as a result.

But there was one assumption about this shift that turned out to be wrong. This was the idea that as authoritarian countries joined the global economy and grew rich, they would inevitably adopt Western political freedoms too. That has not always happened.

Indeed, in recent years, it has been alarming to watch as some democracies have slid into authoritarianism—notably and sadly Venezuela.

And it has been worrying to see countries that had embarked on the difficult journey from communism to democratic capitalism move backwards. The saddest example for me is Russia.

While it may seem outlandish to suggest that democracy could falter or be overturned in places it had previously flourished, we must remember that other great civilizations have risen and fallen. It would be hubris to suggest that we would inevitably be different.

Liberal democracy is also under assault from abroad. Authoritarian regimes are actively seeking to undermine us with sophisticated, well-financed propaganda and espionage operations. They seek to suborn smaller countries, those wavering between democracy and authoritarianism.

And in the club of wealthy Western democracies, we also face threats from within—from homegrown anti-democratic movements, including neo-Nazis, white supremacists, ‘incels,’ nativists or radical anti-globalists.

Which brings me to what continues to be one of the greatest challenges we face: the hollowing out of the middle class.

When people feel their economic future is in jeopardy, when they believe their children have fewer opportunities than they had in their youth, that’s when they are vulnerable to the demagogue who scapegoats the outsider, the other—whether an immigrant at home or a trading partner.

The fact is, middle-class working families aren’t wrong to feel left behind. Median wages have been stagnating; jobs are becoming more precarious, pensions uncertain; housing, childcare and education harder to afford.

These are the wrenching human consequences—the growing pains, if you will—of the great transformative forces of the past 40 years: the technology revolution and globalization. Of the two, technology is having the greatest impact. But even free-traders like me need to recognize that globalization has contributed as well.

So what’s the answer? I think we are agreed that it is not, as the Luddites unsuccessfully proposed at the start of the Industrial Revolution, to stop the march of technology. We all love our smartphones too much!

When it comes to trade, we need to introduce labour standards with real teeth, as Canada and the EU have done with the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement—CETA.

With strong provisions in areas such as labour and environmental protection, CETA will deliver economic opportunities for people on both sides of the Atlantic.

For Germany, ratifying CETA is an opportunity to show a clear commitment to, and leadership on, open and progressive trade and the rules-based international order, especially at a time when transatlantic relations are challenging.

As former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt once said: “Markets, as well as parachutes, work only if they are open.”

We also know it is long past time to bring the WTO up to date with the realities of 2018 and beyond, and to seriously address non-tariff barriers to trade and forced technology transfers.

Canada has convened a small group of WTO members, including the EU, to develop and advance realistic and pragmatic proposals to strengthen and support the WTO.

While these are, indeed, positive developments, the chief answer to the legitimate grievances of the middle class lies in domestic policy. The middle class and people working hard to join it need the security that comes from education in your youth, health care for your family, good jobs for your children, and dignity in your retirement.

We need to think about what the jobs of the future for our citizens will be and ensure that those jobs will pay a living wage and that our people will have the skills to do them. Perhaps most importantly—and this is work that would benefit from international cooperation—we need to ensure that in a 21st century in which capital is global but social welfare is national, each of our countries has the durable tax base necessary to support the 99%.

But setting our own house in order is just one part of the struggle. The truth is that authoritarianism is on the march—and it is time for liberal democracy to fight back. To do that, we need to raise our game.

One device strongmen use to justify their rule is the Soviet trick of “whataboutism”: the strategy of false equivalency that holds that because democracies are inevitably imperfect, they lack the moral authority to criticize authoritarian regimes.

We must be smart enough to see through this species of cynical rhetoric.

It’s possible, indeed necessary, for liberal democrats to acknowledge that our democracies aren’t perfect. The record of my own country’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, for example, is one of tragic failure.

But admitting our mistakes doesn’t discredit us. On the contrary, it is one of the things that make us who we are.

Germany’s own postwar experience is an example. You are a strong and admired ally and partner today in part because you have grappled with your difficult history as we all saw, yet again, when Heiko visited Auschwitz last week. We have much to learn from you.

Sobered by our own imperfections, but not cowed by them, we all need to summon [Irish poet William Butler] Yeats’ oft-cited “passionate intensity” in the fight for liberal democracy and the international rules-based order that supports it.

Assuming a UN Security Council [UNSC] seat in 2019-2020 will give Germany a unique opportunity to do just that: both speaking up for liberal democratic values and defending the United Nations and the multilateral system it underpins.

Canada congratulates Germany on obtaining that seat.

Should Canada manage to do the same in 2021, Germany will have no more effective nor like-minded a country to succeed it on the UNSC.

Since the end of the Second World War, we’ve worked together in an effort to build a system that promoted prosperity and prevented smaller and regional conflicts from turning into total wars. We’ve worked to build a system that championed freedom and democracy over authoritarianism and depression.

One of the hard-won lessons of the bloody 20th century was the recognition that the protection of human rights is a prerequisite for peace. That dearly earned realization led to the creation of one of the documents that underpins the rules-based international order, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose first article states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

That is why Canada will always stand up for human rights, very much including women’s rights—even when we are told to mind our own business or that matters such as these should only be discussed in private, behind closed doors and even when speaking up brings consequences. We count on and we hope for Germany’s support.

In the New York Times last month, the Israeli politician and former dissident Natan Sharansky, wrote about the bold idea championed some 50 years ago by another dissident and human rights activist, Russian Andrei Sakharov, who believed that “those of us lucky enough to live in open societies should fight for the freedom of those born into closed ones.”

One of the great stories of liberal democracy has been the expansion of human rights to an ever-wider group of people.

To the commoners and not just the nobility. To workers and not just landowners. To ethnic and religious minorities. To women. To LGBTQ people.

We have all prospered as a result.

Our societies and our economies are stronger when everyone is fully included. Then, our diversity truly becomes our strength.

Building a successful diverse society is rewarding, but it is also challenging. One reason Canadians are broadly supportive of our multicultural country and our high levels of immigration is that they are confident we control our own borders—that it is our country’s choice who becomes a new Canadian. So we are very sympathetic to the acute political challenge Germany, and indeed all of Europe, has faced because of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Canada believes this is a global issue, not a regional one or a European one. That is why, as one of our first decisions in government, we chose to welcome more than 50,000 Syrian refugees.

Many of these new Canadians are already setting up businesses and creating jobs—not to mention learning how to skate!

But we recognize that the challenge Germany faces, following your country’s generous decision to welcome more than one million Syrian refugees, is much, much greater than our own.

In addition to expressing my admiration for Germany’s hospitality, perhaps you will allow me to share a supportive message. It is this: today, more stridently, perhaps, than at any time since the 1930s, there are those in our societies who argue that ethnic tribalism is humanity’s destiny, that we can only live peacefully alongside those who share our religion, our skin colour, our ancestry and our mother tongue.

As a counter-argument, let me offer the example of the city I have the honour of representing as an MP [member of Parliament]: Toronto, where more than half of the population was born outside of Canada and fully three-quarters of the population was either born outside Canada or have parents born outside of Canada. And Toronto works! Diversity can be a tremendous strength and my city is living proof of that.

The multilateral order arose from the chaos and rubble of two world wars. It was built on shared values and standards, a commitment to pluralism, human rights and the rule of law and the collective pursuit of a better, safer, more just and more prosperous world.

Seventy years later, it is not unreasonable to ask if the wisdom behind this multilateral order is still relevant today. I am certain that it is and for some new reasons.

Today China produces nearly 20% of the world’s GDP, and in our lifetimes its economy is set to become the world’s largest. The U.S. economy stands at just under one quarter of the world’s. Together, the EU, Canada and Japan account for just a little bit more.

The rise of the rest has been a chapter in the story of our own increased prosperity. And it is only natural that the 85% of people who live outside the rich, industrialized West should, over time, account for a greater and growing share of the world’s wealth.

Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing. North Americans and Europeans are much wealthier and healthier and live longer than our grandparents did.

But that shift leaves the traditional powers with a dilemma. How shall we behave in a world we no longer dominate?

One answer is to give up on the rules-based multilateral order, to give up on the Western alliance and to seek to survive in a Metternichian world defined not by common values, mutually agreed-upon rules and shared prosperity, but rather by a ruthless struggle between great powers governed solely by the narrow, short-term and mercantilist pursuit of self-interest.

Canada is the world’s 10th largest economy, but we know we could never thrive in such a system—nor, I think you will agree, would you.

The far wiser path—and more enduring choice—is to reform and renew the multilateral order that we have built together. And in doing so to require that all states, whether democratic or not, whether large or small, play by common rules.

This is the difficult truth: as the West’s relative might inevitably declines, now is the time when, more than ever, we must set aside the idea that might is right.

Now is the time for us to plant our flag on liberal democracy and the rules-based international order—so that the rising powers are induced to play by these rules, too, and so that their people may be able to thrive and be free as ours are.

Canada believes, as Heiko argued in [the German newspaper] Handelsblatt last week, that: “It is not enough just to complain about the destruction of the multilateral order, we have to fight for it.”

We recognize that this is a hugely challenging task. But already, working together, we are learning how to take the lead and get things done in this new world. That is why, as a final, small—but encouraging—example, let me tell you the story of the White Helmets.

Heiko and I were together at the NATO summit in Brussels last month. There, over supper, as Croatia and England played their World Cup match, we realized we shared a grave concern for the White Helmets. Jeremy Hunt, the freshly appointed U.K. Foreign Secretary, agreed.

And so, working together with France, the Netherlands and Sweden, with essential support from the U.S., Israel and Jordan, we were able to rescue more than 400 brave White Helmets and their families and offer them asylum.

Set against the ongoing tragedy of Syria, this is a small number—but it is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. That is what we did.

We must be energetic, ambitious and creative in finding more ways to work together, in finding ways for like-minded liberal democracies to act act on our values and fight for the multilateral order.

I am counting on you, our fantastic, dedicated diplomats, to help us meet this new challenge.

Thank you.

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