Ask Baird

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June 6, 2012
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A year ago, John Baird became Canada's minister of Foreign Affairs. Since then, Canadian troops have withdrawn from their combat role in Afghanistan, Canada participated in the Libyan intervention, Canada has spoken out forcefully against Iranian nuclear development, and Canada has moved substantially closer in its relations with Israel and China.

What does John Baird think about all this? And where does he see the country going next?

This is your opportunity to find out.

We asked Minister Baird seven questions you submitted. Below are his answers.

To watch the Minister answer the questions on video, click here.

Has Canada’s participation in Afghanistan increased our international influence outside of the mission?

There’s no doubt that Canada wasn’t carrying its full load, doing its part, accepting its share of the burden for many years within NATO and the West. I think there’s a real acknowledgement among all of our allies that Canada not only has done its part, but done more than its part. And members of the Canadian Forces have performed extraordinarily well. I think that’s earned us all a lot of great respect.

What can Canada do to help stop the violence in Syria?

Well, I think we want to take every single diplomatic action we can to try to stop the violence. We put a lot of hope into Kofi Annan’s mission, representing both the United Nations and the Arab League. I deeply regret that the situation on the ground hasn’t improved as much as any of us would have liked.

You have to take each situation, each country, each challenge differently. You can’t certainly do the same thing we did in Libya and just think it will work in Syria. Obviously we’ve been tremendously disappointed that the Security Council hasn’t had a more robust response to Syria. Even a clear condemnation of the violence of the Assad regime - and United Nations Security Council economic sanctions. Those would be two things the Security Council could do today.

How can Canada leverage its relationship with Israel to reduce the likelihood of a pre-emptive strike on Iran in favour of diplomatic and economic pressure?

I think we want to work constructively with our international allies, including Israel, to try to encourage Iran to back up from its nuclear program. The P5+1 talks that took place in Istanbul and will then take place in Baghdad are a positive first step. But I think whether its Israel, whether its Canada, whether its any one of the P5+1 – no one thinks that Iran should be rewarded, that we should end sanctions just because they show up at a meeting. Iran has come to the table, we appreciate that, and lets put our hopes that there can be a diplomatic solution to this.

If Iran is willing to back away from a nuclear weapons program, obviously that would go a long way to helping defuse the situation and prevent any military conflict – then or now.

Does our close relationship with Israel give us leverage in that?

I think that when Canada speaks with any of its friends or allies, particularly a close friend and ally like Israel, I like to think we can exert some influence.

What policies is Canada implementing or developing to promote women’s and gay rights internationally?

My role as foreign minister should do two things: one is to promote Canadian interests, and second to promote Canadian values. Let me take each of those issues separately.

Obviously women’s rights are important not just for equality, but they’re tremendously important for peace and security. For example, within the Arab Spring, in North Africa and the Middle East, the bigger role that women play in government and civil society, the more likely those societies are to be prosperous, the more likely those societies are likely to reject extremism. So that’s why we’ve been particularly engaged – whether it’s with women’s groups in Libya, whether it’s with women’s groups in Afghanistan – trying to ensure they can play a full role in those societies.

On the issue of sexual orientation, this has not been an issue that has traditionally been brought up in international forums. Increasingly, this is changing. Canada took a lead in the commonwealth, raising the criminalization and violence and persecution that gays face around the world. This has also been brought up at the United Nations, where Canada has stood with more than 80 countries on this issue. We’ve got to be cautious that we don’t take action that will hurt those rights, sometimes by naming and shaming countries aggressively in public and having the exact opposite effect. I think what we try to do is quietly and diplomatically in other circumstances be very clear that if some of these new proposal before various parliaments are adopted, there will be real and significant consequences.

Do you think it’s possible that Canada might one day have a stronger economic relationship with Asia than it does with the United States?

The United States will always be our closest friend, closest ally, biggest trading partner. Geography and history will determine that. Having said that, obviously we’re seeing a huge rebalancing in the world with growing economies in China, South Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam to name just a few. Obviously we want to ensure that we diversify our markets and take advantage of all these opportunities to help ensure Canada’s long-term prosperity.

When you look at the growth of these economies, and the more modest growth we’ve seen in Canada and the United States, it is absolutely critical to our future prosperity that we work with all countries, particularly those growing economies. And that’s not exclusive to the Asia-Pacific region. When you look at Brazil, when you look at Turkey, and other hotspots in the world.

You Asked: What are the implications for Canada of U.S. decline and what are our best policy responses?

I don’t agree we’ve seen a U.S. decline. What you are seeing is that no one country, whether it’s the United States, whether it’s NATO, can accomplish much on its own. What we are required are solid partnerships.

Take the mission in Libya. The United States provided great leadership, to bring that coalition together. NATO came strongly behind that mission, with Canada, the United Kingdom, and France playing leading roles. We made a partnership with Gulf countries, with Kuwait, with Qatar, with the United Arab Emirates, as well as Turkey, which is a NATO country. It was really instrumental in the success we had in the Libya mission. We’re seeing that in Syria, where Western countries including the United States and Canada are working with the Arab League.

So if you want to accomplish things coalitions and partnerships are absolutely central. Obviously, that’s tremendously important for Canada as well.

What can Canada do about technologies developed in western countries being used to suppress, monitor, and limit the online activity of citizens living under oppressive regimes?

Canada has strong laws on this issue. We’ve got to balance that with the bigger the Internet is, the more freedom there is. So it’s a very delicate balancing act. On national security, the Minister of Public Safety takes the lead and cabinet considers these issues regularly. We want to ensure our existing laws are followed and respected.

At the same time, the bigger the Internet is, the bigger the telecommunication system is, we often do see more freedom. So it’s a tough balancing act with ensuring we do the right thing as far as Canadian companies abroad. At the same time, if the Internet and communications are expanded there could be many bigger issues at play, which are helpful in spreading freedom.