Address by Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Canadian Council for the Americas Annual Awards Gala 2019


May 30, 2019 - Toronto, Ontario

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.

Let me start by acknowledging that we’re on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

Thank you to the Canadian Council for the Americas for hosting us tonight and to all of you for being here.

I want to first say what a privilege it is to share this evening’s awards with Ambassador Rishchynski, who has represented Canada with élan and professionalism for many, many years. Thank you, Guillermo. You are most deserving of the Lifetime Public Service Award. And I really liked what you said about the tremendous contribution that Canadian diplomats and trade representatives and trade negotiators make.

As Minister of Foreign Affairs and previously as Minister of International Trade, I have been tremendously privileged to work with a group of exceptionally talented, exceptionally committed and exceptionally patriotic Canadians. You guys are the secret sauce that makes Canada work in the world and it's really an honour to serve with you still a little bit longer and with all of your fantastic colleagues, some of whom are here tonight. 

Tonight, I would like to speak about a challenge that we all face and the work we are doing, here in our hemisphere, to address it: the weakening of the rules-based international order and the threat that resurgent authoritarianism poses to liberal democracy itself.

This challenge comes as a surprise to many of us. After all, it wasn’t so long ago, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War, that we were celebrating what Francis Fukuyama described as “the end of history.”

Now Fukuyama, in hindsight, has been kind of mocked for that remark, but he wasn’t arguing that history had ground to a halt. What he was saying was that the half-century-long competition between liberalism and authoritarianism had been settled and that liberal democracy had won. And that was such a seductive argument! I think we all wanted to believe it. I sure did. But today, it is all too apparent that there is nothing certain or eternal about liberal democracy and that history isn’t finished with us yet.

It may have once seemed that as authoritarian countries joined the global economy and grew rich, they would surely adopt Western political freedoms too. That hasn’t happened. Indeed, in recent years, some democracies have even gone in the opposite direction and slipped into authoritarianism, notably and tragically Venezuela. And some countries that had embarked on the difficult journey from communism to democratic capitalism have moved backwards. The saddest personal example for me is Russia.

Even China’s economic success in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, which is one of the great accomplishments of recent times, stands as a rebuke to our belief in the inevitability of liberal democracy. 

And within the club of wealthy Western democracies, we’re seeing homegrown anti-democratic movements on the rise.

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.

Now, the idea that democracy could falter or be overturned in places where it had previously flourished may seem outlandish, but other great civilizations have risen and fallen. It is hubris to think we will inevitably be different. As Robert Kagan argues in his book The Jungle Grows Back—this is one of my favourites, and if you haven’t read it, I urge everyone to do so, and it’s short—“[i]f the liberal order is like a garden, artificial and forever threatened by the forces of nature, preserving it requires a persistent, unending struggle against the vines and weeds that are constantly working to undermine it from within and overwhelm it from without. Today there are signs all around us that the jungle is growing back.”

It is time for those countries, like Canada, who believe in liberal democracy and the rules-based international order to fight back. Doing so is vitally important to our national interest. Canada—with 36 million people—could never thrive in a Hobbesian great power world where might makes right.

So that is why it is not only because of our values, but also because of our national interest, that Canada today is fighting really, really hard for liberal democracy and the rules-based international order.

And I would now like to talk about some of the specific ways that Canada is working here in our hemisphere to do that.

I am going to start with trade.

Rules-based trade does not guarantee peace between nations, nor does it make the multilateral system infallible, but it sure helps.

Last fall, Canada concluded negotiations on the new NAFTA with the United States and Mexico. In November, we signed the agreement on the margins of the G20 Summit in Argentina. And yesterday, the Prime Minister introduced implementing legislation for the new NAFTA in the House of Commons. We’re nearly there.

And I want to take a moment to thank particularly the Mexicans in the room here for that close partnership, which we’ve had for a long time. We heard from Guillermo about how long-standing those connections are, but the crucible of NAFTA brought us, I think, closer together than we have ever been. And that partnership really helped achieve a good outcome for all three of the North American countries.

Throughout our intense negotiations, we stayed focused on what really matters to Canadians—jobs, growth, expanding the middle class and supporting those working hard to join it.

We held out for a good deal, and that is what we got.

Despite this success, one major hurdle remained: the U.S. section 232 “national security” tariffs on steel and aluminum.

When the United States imposed tariffs, Canada immediately retaliated, imposing dollar-for-dollar counter-tariffs, and we stood firm in our position that these tariffs were not appropriate between two countries that are the strongest of national security allies and also, by the way, had a free trade agreement.

This story has a happy ending. Canada successfully negotiated a full lift of these U.S. tariffs two weeks ago tomorrow. As I said last week while visiting some of Canada’s steel and aluminum workers in Regina and Saguenay, here is why we succeeded: We knew the facts were on our side. We stayed united. We were patient. We were persistent.

And I think that approach—based on facts, being united, being patient, being persistent—represents a kind of core Canadian way of approaching the world. And I am just so proud of the way our country stayed united and hung on and got the job done. And there are a lot of people in this room, including my former Cabinet colleague, Scott Brison, and a lot of people from industries that are very closely connected to the NAFTA negotiation who were really part of this effort, and I just want to thank you all. It was a tremendous task that I think we did together as Team Canada.

Our government’s position was that it would be difficult to move ahead with the ratification of the new NAFTA while the tariffs were in place. Now that the tariffs have been lifted, our government is moving ahead. We know that having the new NAFTA ratified will provide economic certainty for Canadians and indeed everyone in North America.

Since 2016, when we established a partnership between Canada and the countries of the Pacific Alliance—Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru—we have been working hard to deepen that cooperation. We have free trade deals with all of the Pacific Alliance countries, and we want to work even more closely together.

We are also very proud of the CPTPP [Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership], our trade agreement with the Asia-Pacific, which counts three of our Latin American partners, Chile, Mexico and Peru, among fellow members. And when the U.S., the largest TPP member, withdrew, there were many questions about whether the remaining TPP countries would be able to move forward. We have. The CPTPP is in force today.

Last year, we launched trade negotiations with Mercosur, a trading bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Pushing back against rising protectionism in the world is an important part of our fight to maintain and renew the rules-based international order. But as Guillermo pointed out so eloquently, so is speaking up for democracy and human rights.

The world has watched with grave concern as Nicolás Maduro has systematically dismantled democratic institutions and violated human rights in Venezuela. The Maduro regime has created a political, economic and humanitarian crisis. Millions have fled the country. And millions more are suffering due to severe shortages of food, medicine and the basic necessities of life.

I want to be clear that the struggle in Venezuela is not a fight between left and right. It is not a question of national sovereignty in conflict with colonialism. This is about those who stand for democracy and human rights rising up against dictatorship and repression. It’s part of the bigger story I started with. And that is why it is so important for Canada, for our hemisphere and for the world.

Canada is a leader in the effort to restore democracy and human rights in Venezuela, working closely together with our partners in the Lima Group.

We agree that a peaceful transition of power needs to be led by Venezuelans themselves.

We are working to support the path outlined by the National Assembly and interim president Juan Guaidó, and the Lima Group clearly opposes outside military intervention.

The Lima Group is a real triumph of collaboration in our hemisphere. It is a powerful example of how, at a time when the rules-based international order is under great strain, like-minded countries can find new and creative ways to work together to resolve international issues.

On January 4, the Lima Group asserted that the electoral process of May 2018, under Nicolás Maduro, lacked legitimacy and reiterated its full support for the legitimately elected National Assembly. We then got to work rallying the world.

Today, more than 50 countries, including France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain and the United Kingdom, recognize Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela.

We in the Lima Group have met 13 times since our group was founded in August 2017, and we are meeting again exactly one week from today in Guatemala.

Two weeks ago I was in Havana to discuss the crisis in Venezuela and to explore whether we can work together to resolve it. And today, Prime Minister Trudeau and I discussed this very important issue with Vice President Mike Pence in Ottawa.

Venezuela is our hemisphere’s most acute crisis, but there are other problems.  

Canada is profoundly concerned by the situation in Nicaragua. One year after the violent repression of anti-government protests, we call on the Government of Nicaragua to take full responsibility for its human rights violations.

In response to the current democratic deficit and human rights abuses, the Canadian government has suspended direct aid to the Government of Nicaragua. We continue to provide support for projects that are implemented by international organizations, those that focus on the most vulnerable. 

And we’re working with our partners to champion human rights around the world.

We were honoured to play a leading role in global LGBTQ2 and intersex advocacy efforts over the past two years as co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition [ERC], along with Chile, and we look forward to working with the United Kingdom and Argentina, the incoming co-chairs.

To conclude and to return to Kagan’s garden analogy, we—the supporters of liberal democracy, and I think that includes everyone in this room—our first obligation is to ensure that our domestic democratic gardens are flourishing.

Around the world, we are seeing a resurgence of far-right nationalists, who build their popularity by stoking hatred of “the other.” We know where this can lead.

So often, those people who spread hateful and divisive rhetoric are the same people who like to claim that the rules-based international order and multilateral institutions—like Guillermo’s beloved UN, the WTO, the OECD, the OAS—and even liberal democracy itself are elite schemes designed to benefit a small minority while marginalizing everyone else.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When the jungle grows back, the weakest are the first to suffer.

But it is also true that in recent decades, capitalism has served the 1% much better than the 99%. And so, as we cultivate our own plots in the 21st century, we must take care that we are growing gardens whose fruits are harvested by the many and not just the few.

To do that, we need to address the legitimate concerns of our people, even as we make the broader case for liberal democracy.

I know that Canadians support immigration and diversity—after all, more than half of the people in this fabulous city of Toronto were born outside of Canada. Think about that for a minute. Incredible!

We know that immigration is an economic strength and that multiculturalism is a fundamental Canadian value. But Canadians also want to know that our immigration system is fair and that we control our borders. It is our job, as politicians, to ensure that.

Canadians know that climate change is real and that we have a responsibility to act. But Canadians also want to keep their jobs, and to be able to afford to drive their children to hockey practice. It is our job, as politicians, to ensure that.

Canadians embrace free and fair trade and technological innovation. But they want to be sure that the wealth these economic forces create is widely shared—and won’t leave them unemployed while enriching their bosses. It is our job, as politicians, to ensure that, too.

If we can do all of these things, we will win the fight for liberal democracy here in Canada, in our hemisphere of the Americas, and around the world.

Thank you.

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