Address by Minister Gould at Massey College


January 10, 2020 - 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.

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 [Pierre Elliott] Trudeau, it is worthwhile 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 our international relations, 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 who argue we shouldn’t bother to do our part in dealing with the climate emergency. Since other countries aren’t doing their part, why should we change our way of life?

In fact, we saw this approach begin to play out, denigrating the United Nations and multilateralism, picking and choosing which human rights to defend, abandoning international commitments on the fight against climate change, snubbing our nose at the very institutions we, as Canadians of all parties, worked so hard to build through the postwar era.

Isolationism, populism and an inward focus are traits that haven’t been accepted by the majority of Canadians. They do not view our country’s role on the world stage as a hindrance but rather as 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 of 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 citizens of 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 fellow citizens 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 our foreign policy tool kit but as a defining pillar of what we are able to achieve on the world stage.

Pierre Trudeau understood this.

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

When I was parliamentary secretary for the minister of international development in 2016, I was at a conference in Nairobi [Kenya]. 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 or 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 of the image of Canada in the postwar era, in a time of broad international cooperation among Western countries, a united front in the fight against communism and the building of a rules-based international order with 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 when worldviews are confronting each other, and our story will be shaped by how we react.

This is true in the way that Jean Chrétien’s government responded in the wake of 9/11 or in the leadership and compassion of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern 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 with 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 or food security [among other issues], 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 for 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 are 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 had to respect her because she earned a good income. And, finally, how her daughter, who was 15, could see her as a role model and see that women could be self-sufficient and how her daughter was now in high school with the ambition of becoming a nurse.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights not only are essential in their own right, they also serve as catalysts helping us achieve our other development goals: 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 child care or don’t have control over their reproductive options. And yes, that includes access to safe and legal abortion.

CIDA became 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 UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Sadly, we are seeing major setbacks in women’s rights and human rights around the globe. We are witnessing an increase in attacks on human rights defenders, women and LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] activists, journalists and pro-democracy movements. Despite this, I have no intention of slowing down our commitment to human rights and women’s rights. Because as Hillary Rodham Clinton 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 Feminist International Assistance Policy was coming to terms with reality.

Less than 3% of Canada’s international assistance specifically targeted gender equality, close to 30% 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, involving 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% of global official development assistance 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, it is a sad reality that there are increasingly frequent attempts to roll back 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 for Migration, an achievement we should be incredibly proud of. Canada is a world leader in migration and refugee policy, with the creation of the World Refugee Council, which Lloyd Axworthy heads, and with the promotion of a new narrative on migrants and refugees globally.

In Canada, we continue to look for those difficult issues that will make a real and tangible difference in the lives of everyday people. There are two particular things that the government did in the last mandate that stood out to me as exceptionally bold, courageous and incredibly Canadian.

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

Canada did this because it was the right thing to do. Because we live our values and we lead on issues that other countries won’t.

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 not only 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.

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