Beyond Rio: A New Role for Canada
By: Maurice Strong
Distinguished representatives of External Affairs and International Trade Canada, members of its alumni, ladies and gentlemen. I see many good friends and allies in this audience and I am delighted to see you all.
As an amateur in the field of foreign affairs, I consider it a great honour to have been selected to deliver this lecture by the professionals of the department with which I worked, in varying stages of co-operation and controversy. To be named the lecturer for this year is one of the honours that I will value most highly because of the fact that I value so much the friendship and co-operation that I have enjoyed with the distinguished members of that department.
They are among Canada’s finest servants, and, of course, there was no finer than Dr. O.D. Skelton. While I did not have the privilege of knowing him, I have read some of his writings, and, more particularly, I have had the privilege of knowing many of the people who were the product of his genius in picking the best Canadians for the department.
So, to all of you, my sincere thanks. It makes up for the time, some years ago, when I appeared at the Department of External Affairs with a deep fervour and commitment, seeking the personnel officer. I wanted to join the External Aid Office, but I was advised not to fill in an application because I did not have the minimum qualifications.
Some time later, I had lunch with one of the most distinguished products of the department, the Right Honourable Lester Pearson, during which he offered me the job of heading External Aid. I said to him, “Well, Mr. Prime Minister, I actually applied for a position in External Aid a few years ago and you were the Under-Secretary at that time, and they would not even take my application”. He said something about which I had not actually thought before: “Well, actually you are very lucky Maurice, because if you had had the qualifications you would likely have got in, and if you had got in, at your age, [I think I was 34 at that stage] no matter how well you performed, in our department you would not be any more than at the lower mid-levels and I could not possibly be offering you this job”.
So I did try to get in. And now I feel that I have really arrived with your giving me the very risky endorsement of the department in asking me to undertake this lecture today.
I also want to make note of another very, very distinguished person you mentioned in your introduction Hugh Keenleyside, one of the finest Canadians to ever serve our country and the world community who passed away recently. I had the privilege of knowing him for many years. We can all rejoice in the service he gave to his country and to the world community. And I join all in mourning his recent passing; he was a great Canadian and a great product of the Skelton era.
O.D. Skelton was one of that exceptional cadre of competent and committed people who shaped the quality and character of the Canadian public service in those dynamic and formative years in the development of Canadian nationhood, during which distinctive Canadian values and interests began to dictate Canada’s foreign, as well as its domestic policies.
And no one did more than O.D. Skelton to give our Department of External Affairs the unsurpassed reputation for excellence, quality and effectiveness, which it enjoys among its professional counterparts around the world. This has earned for Canada a respect and a credibility in international affairs far out of proportion to our size as a nation. And it has yielded both practical advantages and universal esteem, which are immensely valuable to our nation.
Those who have served internationally, as I have, perhaps appreciate this more than others for whom the complexities and sometimes the remoteness of diplomacy seem distant from their daily lives and concerns. In an era in which the interests of, and the prospects for, Canadians are more and more affected by what happens in other parts of the world community, our professional diplomatic service is an asset of inestimable importance to our country one that we need and must support more than ever.
I recently had the opportunity of participating in a historic process to which Canada made a singularly important contribution the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the Earth Summit which met in Rio de Janeiro just six months ago. There again, representatives of your department and of Canada made a contribution of which you can be proud. I am very pleased that one of the most distinguished of these is in this room: Ambassador John Bell, who led the Canadian delegation on so many occasions and who was senior adviser to the Prime Minister at the conference. He also performed such important roles as negotiating the tough financial issues.
Arthur Campeau, a newcomer to the field of foreign affairs, also distinguished himself. Arthur and John were a powerful team to support Prime Minister Mulroney in his presence at the conference.
It was, by any objective standard, a remarkable political event. Never before had so many heads of state and government come together. Unprecedented, too, was the broad engagement of people and their organizations in preparation for, as well as participation in, the conference and the accompanying People’s Summit at the Global Forum. The presence of more than twice the number of media representatives than had ever before been accredited to a world conference ensured that people everywhere were aware of what was happening in Rio and alerted to its importance for them.
In a little more than two years, the preparatory committee of all United Nations (UN) member states developed a broad range of measures that were put before the conference, and John can testify to the long nights of tough negotiations that looked, at many times, as though they would not yield a result.
A great deal of attention has been focused on the areas of controversy and disagreement, and they were many. But in the final analysis, leaders from some 180 countries at Rio reached agreement on the most comprehensive and far-reaching set of measures ever approved by the nations of the world. Despite some significant shortcomings and disappointments, the Declaration of Rio and Agenda 21 provide a framework and the essential elements for a new global partnership that can launch us on the pathway to a more secure and sustainable future.
The fact that these measures were agreed at the highest possible political level surely gives them unique political authority.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told a story recently of his first meeting with Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao. During a discussion on revolutions, he asked Chairman Mao, “What do you think were the principal results of the French revolution?” He reports that Chairman Mao replied, with a benign smile, “It’s still too early to tell, Mr. Kissinger.”
Just six months after the Earth Summit, it is clearly too early to tell what its ultimate results will be. This will depend on what governments and others do now to give effect to the agreements reached at Rio. And given the current preoccupation with issues more immediate and pressing, this cannot be taken for granted. It will require the continued commitment and leadership of all those who contributed to the results achieved at Rio, as well as the active interest and support of people everywhere concerned with the fate of our planet.
But if it is too early to judge what the response to Rio will be, it is not too early to reflect on the lessons that we have learned from the conference, the prospects for the realization of the new hopes it engendered and the new directions it set for our common future.
The Earth Summit was neither the beginning nor the end of the process by which the world community is having to confront the threats to its own future arising from the same processes of technology-driven change that have produced our industrial civilization.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 first put the environment issue on the world agenda. Twenty years later, the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro moved the environment issue into the centre of economic policy and decision making in virtually every sector of our economic life.
As a result, it is no longer possible to consider the environment as an issue separate from the economy or from issues of poverty and underdevelopment that prevent developing countries from dealing effectively with their growing environmental problems and co- operating environment.
Although progress was made after the Stockholm conference in many individual areas, and although many environments, particularly the industrialized countries, actually got better, little real effect was given to environment development in the policies and practices of governments and industry.
Of even greater concern is the fact that the underlying conditions driving the risks to the human future perceived at Stockholm did not fundamentally change in the two decades that separated Stockholm from Rio.
Some 1.7 billion people were added to the earth’s population during these two decades, almost the same as the total population of the planet at the beginning of the century. And most of this growth took place in the developing world.
Despite recessions the global economy more than doubled, but most of the growth accrued to the already rich countries. During this same time, the environment and natural resources of developing countries deteriorated at an alarming rate. You do not need to be a scientist or a statistician to know this.
As I travelled to every region of the world, retracing my steps of 20 years ago, the extent and the nature of this environmental degradation and its tragic human consequences were evident everywhere. The cities of the developing world, growing at rates beyond anything ever experienced, are now among the world’s most polluted, many of them headed for environmental and social breakdown.
The appalling destruction of natural resources, the loss of forest cover, erosion and degradation of soils and deterioration of supplies and quality of water are visible throughout the developing world.
Economic losses in agriculture, fisheries and tourism are tragically manifested in diminished livelihoods for already impoverished and struggling people, whose numbers continue to grow.
For example, I was particularly moved when I flew over the Tana River in Kenya, which 20 years before was an area of beauty and fertility. Nourished by the river, the watershed area supported many small African farms not prosperous ones, by our standards but decent farms out of which people were earning decent livelihoods.
Flying down to the beautiful white sands of Malindi, which I am sure some of you have experienced one of the great resort areas of Kenya 20 years later you see that the trees have disappeared, the soil has eroded and only a few farmers are now scrambling for a meagre living in what was a relatively productive area. The river itself is laden with soil, which has destroyed the river fisheries. Then, as you move out to the coast, you see a great red cloud of mud in the ocean. The formerly crystal clear water is no longer clear. The beaches are covered with a residue of brown mud that had once been productive soil.
So you destroy the farmer, you destroy the woodlands, you destroy the river fisheries and you destroy the tourist resort. Meanwhile, the population that claims those resources as their means of livelihood expands and grows.
This is a graphic picture of the developing world. There are some bright spots in it, of course, but this ominous drama is unfolding throughout the developing world, threatening a massive human eco-tragedy beyond anything ever witnessed. The grim portents of this can be seen in the recurring famines in Africa.
The pressures of population growth traditionally have been mitigated by migration, but today all the habitable places of our planet are included within the boundaries of nation states, most of which today are closing their borders to newcomers. Large-scale migration can no longer be seen as a solution to overpopulation or to accommodating refugees from conflict and economic crisis.
Yet the pressures for migration are increasing, and countries like Canada, with living space and stable economies, are inevitably going to have vast numbers of impoverished or dispossessed people knocking at their doors.
Developing countries today face environment and development challenges on a scale that the human community has never before confronted. They face these daunting challenges in a world in which their already serious handicaps and disadvantages are in most cases increasing.
As our industrialized societies move toward more sustainable patterns of production and consumption, there will be a relative decline in the need for some of the key raw materials and commodities on which developing countries’ economies depend so heavily.
The transition to sustainable development will not be without its costs and its difficulties, and, again, the developing countries are the most vulnerable to this. In a world economy in which knowledge applied through technology, marketing, design and sophisticated management systems has become the principal source of added value and competitive advantage, developing countries face the prospect that existing disadvantages could well deepen.
They are not the only ones who need our help. The countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern and Central Europe, in which the failures of centrally planned economies were accompanied by some of the worst environmental devastation anywhere, must now face the mammoth task of rebuilding their economies. It is important to them and to us that they do this on an environmentally sound and sustainable basis, in the course of effecting their transition to market economies.
We cannot divorce ourselves from the gathering crisis of the developing world or from the degeneration of the countries of the east, from the point of view of our own economic and security interests, as well as our moral responsibilities. Industrialized countries have an obligation to reduce the environmental impacts of their own economic activities and to leave space for developing countries to fulfil their development needs and aspirations.
What, then, are the prospects that some of these issues will be addressed effectively through implementation of the principles contained in the Declaration of Rio program incorporated in Agenda 21? and the ensuing action
It has to be acknowledged that the short-term signs are not particularly encouraging. There is a tendency to lapse back to business as usual, particularly in light of the immediate and pressing political and economic concerns with which virtually all governments are preoccupied. When the leaders of the world got back from Rio they found their “in baskets” full of “urgent” tags. Obviously they have had to respond to these, and at the Group of Seven (G-7) meeting, the World Bank meeting and some of the other meetings that have followed Rio, there has not been the degree of commitment to implementing the agreements at Rio that I had hoped.
In particular, the large-scale commitments of new and additional financing resources required for implementation of Agenda 21 will be difficult to come by. A number of donor countries have recently cut back on their official development assistance. I have to say that this includes Canada, which, at the same time, however, has announced significant support for implementation of Agenda 21.
The simplistic “jobs versus environment” rhetoric in the United States election campaign and resurgent parochialism in most industrialized societies tend to erode the political commitment to the environment at home and prospects for increases in foreign assistance. It clearly would not be realistic under these conditions to expect the kind of fundamental changes in the existing order called for at Rio to emerge quickly or easily from the current situation. However, the election of a new administration in the United States promises a renewal of its leadership, which was so much missed at Rio and will be so necessary for implementation of the agreements reached there.
Of course, we can move quite a distance without U.S. leadership. We showed that when more than 150 nations signed the biodiversity convention to which the U.S. took strong objection.
On the other hand, we all recognize that you cannot really have effective agreements at the international level without the United States in the final analysis. I was asked the other day where I see the most hopeful signs of leadership. Well, of course, I have to say right back here in Canada. But we also have to say that the new administration in the U.S. is probably, from the point of view of the issues we dealt with at Rio, the most hopeful thing that has happened. I think we are going to see some important and positive consequences from that.
In the longer term there is, in my view, a real basis for hope that the Earth Summit has laid the foundations for the changes in public attitudes and the political mind set necessary to achieve the transition to sustainable development.
If there is little encouragement to be drawn thus far from the response of governments, there is a great deal of promise in what is happening at the grass-roots level. Seminars, conferences and new initiatives in follow-up of Rio are proliferating. I have had literally hundreds of invitations myself, and I know that this is only a fraction of what is actually going on.
People throughout the world who came to Rio, or participated in this process, are going back home now, fired with the determination to keep the flame of Rio alive and to hold their leaders accountable for the agreements they reached there.
It seems that Rio has produced a broad and growing constituency throughout the world, committed to fulfilment of the hopes and expectations it engendered. I believe that this grass-roots movement will infuse the political process with new energies that will, I hope, lift us out of the politics of the status quo in which we are still largely mired.
The momentum generated at Rio must be maintained if the global partnership required to forge a new world order is to be realized. The main elements of this global partnership are, first, a new economic regime. Rio was a conference primarily on the need for economic change. The economic system that has produced such unprecedented levels of growth and prosperity for the societies of the industrialized world, which were the first to modernize, has also produced severe imbalances and disparities that are simply not compatible with a secure and sustainable world order.
The concentration of population growth and poverty in developing countries, and of economic growth in industrialized countries, is a recipe for deepening conflict and disorder. At a time when co-operation within and among societies has never been more imperative, divisions are becoming more entrenched. There is a real risk of growing rich/poor conflict, both within and among nations.
A new global partnership would not be viable without a new economic regime. Dr. Stephan Schmidheming and 48 other chief executive officers of some of the world’s leading corporations who formed the Business Council for Sustainable Development made it clear in their report to UNCED, “Changing Course,” that what is required is a veritable eco-industrial revolution. This is coming from leaders of some of the major corporations of the world community not wild-eyed environmentalists!
This new industrial revolution would be driven by the full integration of the environment into our economic life. Hence, it would involve the reshaping of our entire industrial system, in which efficiency in the use of materials and energy and in recycling and disposing of waste will be the key to success in both environmental and economic terms. Efficient economies are the most environmentally friendly economies.
Energy, I have to say, is at the very heart of the sustainable development challenge. Reorientation of our energy industry around principles of efficiency and conservation, and a major shift in the energy mix to more diverse, decentralized and environmentally friendly sources, are indispensable prerequisites for a successful transition to sustainable development. Far from being a drag on the economy, the transition to environmentally sound and sustainable development offers’ the prospect of revitalizing our economies and opening up an exciting new era of opportunity for innovation and creativity.
One of the most important things that governments must do in follow-up to Rio is to undertake an extensive review and reorientation of the system of incentives and penalties that motivates the economic behaviour of corporations and individuals, to ensure that it provides positive incentives for environmentally sound and sustainable behaviour. So many of the measures that now motivate our economic life were conceived of to meet other policy objectives and have the practical effect of providing incentives for unsustainable behaviour.
It is fully in accord with market economy principles that each product or transaction should internalize the costs to which it gives rise, including environmental costs. Internalizing environmental costs has special implications for international trade. When we in the industrialized world import products from developing countries at costs that do not reflect the destruction of their natural capital, we are exacting an environmental subsidy from them, which impoverishes their own resource base and contributes to global environmental deterioration.
Yet, when we unilaterally impose restrictions on their imports to meet our environmental requirements, we are inflicting immediate and often critical damage to their vulnerable economies. These dichotomies can be resolved only by international agreement, not by unilateral action.
All of this would add up to some very profound changes within our national economies. But these must be accompanied by equally far-reaching changes in the system of arrangements that guides the world economy, particularly with respect to the position of developing countries. For the poor and the weak, interdependence is not an unmitigated blessing in many cases it exacerbates their vulnerabilities.
A new economic regime must be designed to help developing countries gain access to additional flows of financial resources, both private and official, and to industrialized countries’ markets and technology, which they require to revitalize their economies on an environmentally sound and sustainable basis.
Also, as Rio reminded us, the majority of the world’s people continue to live in conditions of poverty that are an affront to the moral basis of our civilization and a threat to its future. A secure and sustainable economy cannot be achieved under these conditions. That is why so much emphasis is given in Agenda 21 to measures designed to address the root causes of poverty.
Indeed, in my view, these must be a central part of any new economic regime; the eradication of poverty must become a primary goal of the world community.
Some of you have heard some of the large figures that were mentioned for the cost of implementing Agenda 21. They are large. It is estimated that developing countries alone will require $625 billion per year to enable them to implement fully the provisions of Agenda 21. Some 80 per cent, or $500 billion, must come from redeployment of their own internal resources. It is a tall order. Approximately $55 billion of this could be available from existing Official Development Assistance, leaving a balance of some $70 billion.
Under today’s conditions I need not tell you that this will not be easy to come by. Certainly it would be unrealistic to expect it to be provided on the basis of simply more foreign aid in traditional terms although it is interesting to remind ourselves that it would be largely met if industrialized countries were to live up to the internationally accepted target of 0.7 per cent of the gross national product for Official Development Assistance.
Nevertheless, it is not on the basis of more foreign aid, but as an indispensable investment in our own environmental security, that it is in the interests of industrialized countries to ensure that developing countries do have the means to make the transition to sustainability.
However much developing countries need concessional financing, they would prefer to be able to earn their way through more fair and open access to our markets for their exports. It has been estimated that if they did have free access to our markets, they would earn something like three times more than the total amount of official assistance that they now receive.
Also, we have heard over the years, and we heard again at Rio, proposals for some form of international taxation, including taxes on international trade or energy, or fees for the use of the international commons by aircraft and ships. To date, governments have been unwilling to yield taxing power to any international authority. The combination of the substantial resources required for global environmental security and the reluctance of governments to meet these by simply adding to already overstressed national budgets may soon make such taxes possible. Indeed, at some point, in my view, they are inevitable. Initially they may come about through designation of a portion of taxes levied nationally, like the carbon tax now being developed in the European Community.
The second main element in a new world order is a new security regime. Economic interdependence both requires and contributes to continuance of world peace and security. Economic competition is emerging in the post cold war period as the principal source of tension and potential conflict among the major world powers. To be sure, it is not likely to lead to military conflict, but will nevertheless be vigorous and divisive, as we are now witnessing in the confrontation between the United States and the European Community with respect to agricultural subsidies.
But the demands on the UN to provide troops for peacekeeping and related purposes are proliferating, and the current ad hoc approach to mobilizing and financing forces to meet particular needs is no longer adequate, placing, as it does, disproportionate burdens on countries like Canada, which often contributes forces at its own cost. Here, the recent proposals of UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, I hope, will provide a sound and consistent basis for UN peacekeeping operations in the future.
I have also to mention, of course, that a new security regime must also embody a commitment to environmental security and redeployment of some of the resources presently directed to military security human skills and research and development capacities, as well as financial resources. People and nations have always been willing, after all, to give priority to allocation of the resources required to ensure their security. As the Earth Summit made clear, we have never faced a security challenge as great and pervasive as that we face today through our excessive impact on the earth’s environment and life systems.
The third main element of the new world order clearly has to be a new legal regime. In essence, this must be based on the extension into international life of the rule of law, together with reliable mechanisms for accountability and enforcement that provide the basis for the effective functioning of national societies, at least in the well developed, democratic societies.
We are a long way from this today. UNCED defined many of the needs for the continued development of international law, including the strengthening of existing instruments and agreement on new ones. But even this, I have to say, would move us only a limited degree toward establishment of an international legal regime that was truly effective and enforceable.
The conventions on climate change and biodiversity, despite their deficiencies, represent significant accomplishments, provided that they are now followed up by vigorous and continuing efforts to strengthen them while ensuring their full acceptance, ratification and implementation. I am pleased to say, and you should be proud, that Prime Minister Mulroney was one of the first to announce that Canada would sign the Convention on Biodiversity, knowing that the U.S. was opposed to it, and he urged others to do so. Both conventions were, in fact, signed by representatives of the more than 150 nations there.
The agreement at Rio to initiate negotiations on a convention on desertification is an encouraging step forward, particularly for developing countries. But the hard-won agreement on forestry principles was not accompanied by agreement to begin the further process of negotiating a convention.
Since the 1992 Stockholm conference, there has been a major increase in the number and range of new international legal instruments negotiated at regional and global levels, from regional seas to endangered species, toxic wastes and ocean dumping. But there has not been equivalent progress in the ratification, implementation and enforcement of these agreements. The Law of the Sea Convention has, for example, not yet been ratified by the U.S. and a number of other countries.
This whole process has, at the same time, placed severe strains on the capacities of many countries, particularly developing countries, which are likely to constrain further progress, both with respect to new negotiations and implementation of existing agreements. This underscores the importance of the capacitybuilding provisions of Agenda 21, because developing countries, and indeed a number of industrialized countries, are really up to here in their capacity to deal with the proliferation of international negotiations.
The Rio declaration and Agenda 21 are major new examples of soft law based on political agreement, rather than legally binding instruments. Although not legally binding, they do provide, in my view, a very important basis for voluntary co-operation, which enables the action process to proceed expeditiously and paves the way for negotiation of binding legal agreements.
We cannot and should not wait for binding legal agreements to begin the action process. After all, as long as we do not have an effective and enforceable legal regime at the international level, we must rely largely on political commitment as the primary basis for co-operative action in negotiation and enforcement of legal obligations, as well as in the voluntary measures that can precede and prepare the way for them.
Canada, as I have said, made an extremely important contribution to UNCED. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Mulroney was not among the first world leaders to announce his intention to attend the Earth Summit, he made that decision well ahead of President Bush, and his leadership at the Summit itself was extremely influential and much appreciated. It was greatly facilitated by the highly effective role of Canada’s delegations at the preparatory committee meetings and at the General Assembly led, as I have already said, by Ambassador John Bell. I hope you will take advantage of his presence here in this university to tap into the gold mine of experience that he brings from that role.
One achievement particularly relevant to Canada’s immediate economic interests is its success in securing agreement to hold an international conference on conservation of straddling fish stocks on the high seas. This will not resolve the immediate crisis confronting Canada’s east coast fisheries in particular. But it does offer the prospect of international co-operation to ensure the rebuilding of this important resource.
We confront this new generation of challenges of almost baffling complexity at a time of crisis in governance. Even the strongest and the most successful of industrialized nations today are reaching the limits of what their governments can do to deal effectively with these issues. Necessity, more than ideology, is driving a reduction in the role of governments, with increasing reliance on private action and initiative.
At the same time, there is a growing movement of responsibilities and jurisdictions, both downstream to local and state governments and upstream to the international level. For developing countries, this experience is especially traumatic, since governments in those countries have played a prominent role in shaping their societies and in unifying their countries.
Engagement of such unprecedented numbers of non governmental organizations and citizen groups in preparations for UNCED and at Rio itself provides the basis for continuing and deepening citizen concern and action on the issues that they see as critical to their own future. As I have said, it produced an explosion of awareness about these issues in all parts of the world, and I am greatly encouraged that we can now build a very substantial citizen network on this basis.
That is why I have joined in a new initiative for the creation of an Earth Council. It will help in the development of informed, aware and concerned global constituencies. It will ensure a continuing focus on the issues addressed at Rio, and will enable them also to work together more effectively for the implementation of its results.
The Earth Council Foundation was incorporated right here in Vancouver. An organizing committee has been formed and a secretariat established in San Jose, Costa Rica, in response to the invitation of the government of Costa Rica to host the headquarters of the Earth Council.
In the final analysis, at this point in our history we must recognize that the effectiveness of Canadian diplomacy at the international level must be based on Canada’s domestic performance. Canadians are custodians of one of the largest territories on earth, containing some of the earth’s richest, most diverse and, in some cases, most vulnerable natural endowments. The biggest single contribution that we as Canadians can make to global environmental security is to manage this endowment responsibly and sustainably. Our intentions are good in this respect, and we have made a significant beginning through such measures as the Green Plan and the establishment of national and provincial round tables on environment and development.
But let us, as Canadians, recognize that we are still among the greatest contributors on a per capita basis to such global risks as global warming and ozone depletion. We are a long way from managing our natural resources on the basis that meets sustainable development criteria. We still have not moved far enough toward managing our forests and our fisheries, for example, on a sustainable basis.
In the vital area of governance, Canada has always seen itself as, and been seen as, an example of a country that achieved its independence and has been able to manage its affairs and resolve its internal conflicts in a peaceful, civilized manner. That image has received a severe jolt from the results of the recent constitutional referendum.
One can question the wisdom of reducing such a complex and important issue as a nation’s future to a simple yes or no response. However that may be, we are now faced with picking up the pieces, and we cannot allow this to be taken as the last word in shaping the future of our country. We have to face the fact that, though we may be tired of the perpetual round of constitutional negotiations, they are an integral part of the Canadian reality, and we must learn to live with them, just as we live with our cold winters.
While we now need a pause before resuming negotiations, this is not something we can long put aside. It is wishful thinking to feel that we can simply put aside the constitution. This would, I believe, best be done, however, by moving negotiations into a new constitutional assembly composed of representatives of the provinces and territories, the federal government and other key interest groups. Proposals for such a constitutional assembly, of course, exist.
Such an assembly could, over a period of, say, five years, work out the modalities of a new constitutional accord, while government at its regular levels was getting on with the job of governing under the existing Constitution. In the meantime, some key issues could be worked out individually, such as agreement on Native self-government, on which there is a broad, though, I realize, not universal, consensus but a sufficient consensus, I think, to move on this issue.
Any new constitution must, of course, preserve and extend the common interests and values of all Canadians with respect to the national economy, national security, social security and fundamental human rights, protection of minorities and selfgovernment by Native Canadians while reinforcing, not merely accommodating, the aspirations of Quebec as a distinct society within the Canadian nation. We must reinforce and give strength to those aspirations. This would enable us to get on with the business of revitalizing the Canadian economy and preparing Canadians as a whole for the very different, the very much more competitive and the very much more challenging world that we will confront as we move into the 21st century.
Those Canadians who have, as I have, spent much of our lives in the international arena are perhaps especially cognizant of the unique and precious nature of our nation. What a tragedy it would be if we could not succeed in renewing it, but allowed it rather to slide into dissolution!
It would be a tragedy for each of us if we were to bequeath to our children a legacy of failure in the very things that have been the source of success and pride for Canadians and that have made us the envy of the world. Imagine failing in the very things that we have been most able to take pride in and in which the world has given us such special credit.
Our ability to build one of the world’s great nations and to contribute out of proportion to our numbers to the evolution of a more peaceful and equitable world order has made us the envy of the world. Let us make no mistake, Canada is much greater than the sum of its parts, and we would all be diminished by its demise. A failed Canada would diminish, too, the prospects for the realization of the vision of a more hopeful, sustainable future promised by the Earth Summit. We cannot allow Canada to fail.
But it is important to arouse ourselves from the squabbling and divisiveness reflected in the recent referendum and get on with the job of fashioning the new Canada in the context of the new world that we face. The Swiss confederation has demonstrated over a period of some 700 years how people of diverse cultures and languages can live together within a confederation in which the federal government has somewhat limited powers. The European Economic Community is moving, however haltingly, toward an economic and political union in which national governments of countries that have long zealously guarded their sovereignty and independence and indeed have waged many wars against each other are yielding, in many cases reluctantly, a high degree of sovereignty to what is, in effect, a new level of government.
Now, while neither of these examples offers a model for Canada, they do provide lessons for us. The experience of the European Community demonstrates that the achievement of new constitutional arrangements is difficult, but at the same time the progress made to date has also made it clear that the process of forging these arrangements can be an exciting and a creative one, releasing new economic and political energies. The same can be true for Canada.
Let us not just go back to the old drawing board in a mood of frustration and defeat. Rather, let us open a new chapter in our quest for unity in a spirit of adventure and determination to succeed. Let us use the process of fashioning a new constitution for Canada to set a new standard of nation building that will bequeath to future generations of Canadians a country of which they can be proud, and that will enable Canada to make a distinctive contribution to the development of a more peaceful, secure and sustainable world community. This would be in the tradition of the kind of Canada that O.D. Skelton and his colleagues helped to fashion in an earlier period of our history.
Constitutional negotiations, as we have seen, are not in themselves sufficient to build a nation. They must be accompanied by a series of other measures that bring people together in the pursuit of common interests and values. The agreements reached in Rio de Janeiro last June, I submit, provide the blueprint for the kind of global future in which Canadians could live more hopeful, more secure lives.
Canada at this time is in a position to make a unique contribution to fulfilling the promise of Rio by committing itself to be a model of sustainable development. It offers the prospect of revitalizing our economy, as well as our political life. It offers the prospect of uniting Canadians behind a new vision of their own future and a new generation of leadership internationally. It would open up a whole new arena of opportunity for Canadian innovation, creativity, and technological and industrial leadership. It would build on the best of Canada’s features and values a future in which Canadians would continue to be the most fortunate of people, in a world that they helped make more peaceful, more secure and more hopeful.
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