Magazine article Behind the Headlines

CIIA at 70

Magazine article Behind the Headlines

CIIA at 70

Article excerpt

I thought I might share with you some reflections on the role of the CIIA on the occasion of its seventieth anniversary.

In its earliest days, the Institute, through its branches in various parts of Canada, looked at the world from a much different perspective and with a different level of enthusiasm. International affairs was something new and profoundly relevant to Canada's future as a nation. Foreign policy was the purview of the Foreign Office in London. World War I and the `new world order' which followed it, not to mention the Statute of Westminster, changed all of that. Canada had begun to play a role in the world, and its interests had to be identified and pursued. The Institute was an important contributor to that process.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the debate was often hot and heavy. Everyone recognized that we had interests. Issues of how and where we expressed them - through an Empire foreign policy or a uniquely Canadian one - were often at the centre of the debate. Events conspired to settle the argument as Canada began to establish its international presence and to make its unique contribution to World War II and, in particular, to the establishment of the international institutions which followed. It was a world ripe for Canada and Canadians, and for the CIIA - the original player in the business of examining issues and identifying Canada's interests through informed public discussion. The centrality of the CIIA to discussion of international issues was a perception broadly shared by the Canadian establishment, in those days a fairly cohesive group. In early years, Escott Reid and others, and in later years, the distinguished presence of John Holmes, highly respected in academic and government circles, helped to underline the pivotal role of the Institute in anything to do with international affairs.

In the post-World War II era, Canadian thinking on international affairs was strongly influenced by the nuclear threat as well as the emergence of new countries from old empires. There was a sense of responsibility in Canada for the future of developing countries, largely expressed through participation in the Colombo Plan because of our Commonwealth connection. Later, the establishment of la francophonie also played a role.

As I was growing up and in my university and early working days, there was a sense of immediacy in all of this. It wasn't remote; it was real. Most adults lived through two wars trying to protect our democratic traditions and institutions, and we were determined to maintain them in the face of totalitarian threats. We had also come of age in the international arena and wanted others to benefit from freedom of action and independence. We were prepared to do our bit to help. The alternative seemed to be international chaos or even failure in the cold war. Personally, I had a strong sense of the devastating consequences of this for Canada, over and above humanitarian or global betterment views. I doubt that I was alone.

The anti-Vietnam War protests, however, challenged the broad acceptance of policies designed to counter the enemy, whatever the cost. The story of those protests is one for another day, but they did register a strong, global note of support for humanitarian considerations over ideology. That phenomenon, coupled with the Trudeau years in Canada with the greater focus on human rights and social policies (for all the ballyhoo over the `third option'), portrayed Canadian foreign policy as increasingly issue-oriented, with strong humanitarian overtones. …

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