Five questions with… humanitarian Nicolas Moyer, head of the CCIC

With a summit on Canada’s global leadership taking place next week, Moyer explains why the recent election campaign was a ‘wake-up call’ for the humanitarian sector and what Canada’s priorities on the world stage should be.

By: /
November 22, 2019

When Chrystia Freeland, then foreign minister, and Marie-Claude Bibeau, then minister of international development, gave their visions for Canada’s “feminist approach” to global engagement in June, 2017, it marked a clear change in tone from the previous government. It set out, at the very least, new language that would define many elements of Canada’s foreign policy for the next two years.

This week, a cabinet shuffle shook up foreign affairs-related roles. Freeland moved into intergovernmental affairs, with François-Philippe Champagne taking over as foreign minister, Karina Gould took over the international development file, and Jonathan Wilkinson replaced Catherine McKenna as the minister of the environment and climate change.

The shuffle comes after an election campaign that saw global issues take a backseat to concerns over domestic divisions. One notable mention, however, was Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s proposal to reduce Canada’s foreign aid spending by at least 25 percent.

Despite Justin Trudeau’s win over Scheer, Canadians may have been left with a weakened image of what Canada’s international engagement may be going forward. A minority government also leaves some uncertainty over policy priorities. Will there be a distinctive shift in focus under this new cabinet? What were the lessons learned on international affairs from the election campaign? And where does Canada’s “feminist foreign policy” fit into the agenda going forward?

Nicolas Moyer
Nicolas Moyer

Such questions will be addressed next week in Ottawa, when members from a cross-section of sectors interested in Canadian foreign policy will come together for the Summit on Canada’s Global Leadership, which calls itself the first of its kind. Speakers will include Gould, in her new capacity as minister for international development, Margaret Biggs, former head of the Canadian International Development Agency, Stephen Cornish, head of the David Suzuki Foundation, former CSIS director Richard Fadden, Bob Rae, Justin Trudeau’s recent advisor on the Rohingyas, and many others.

OpenCanada reached out to Nicolas Moyer, head of one of the summit’s organizing partners, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, to discuss the need for such a meeting, what he is hoping it will accomplish and the future of Canada’s engagement with the world.

1. The CCIC is calling this the first ever summit on Canada’s global leadership. What makes it special? And why is this kind of summit needed now?

What is new about the summit is the convening of leaders and thinkers from all sub-sectors of Canadian foreign policy. CCIC is not the only organization behind the summit. We are proud of working with important partners to bring this event to life: the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development, the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Despite decades of economic growth, innovation and social progress, ongoing international pressures are posing critical challenges, which call for solutions that go well beyond the international development sector. Climate change, access to strategic resources and rising economic inequality are contributing to mass migration and increased insecurity around the globe. The rise of populism, trade protectionism and human rights violations are but some of the most pressing global challenges. The effects of these trends are already being felt in Canada and have implications for the prospects of both domestic and international success.

Canada is a respected global player, recognized for historic and continued contributions to a rules-based order and to a fairer, more sustainable and safer world. Collectively, Canadian interests in trade, diplomacy, aid and security reach nearly every corner of the globe. Viewed together, these interests, resources and networks offer a powerful vehicle for contributing to global change. But, more often than not, they are considered, debated and addressed separately.

Following a federal election that all but ignored international policy, and nearing the 10-year mark to reach the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, this summit provides an opportunity to elevate discourse about Canada’s role in the world. The summit will serve as a jumping off point towards achieving more integrated approaches to Canada’s global cooperation priorities and enhance collaboration across sectors and with the Government of Canada.

2. You released a vision statement for Canada’s international engagement, with seven core elements that should guide it. Which of these are most urgent?

Summit organizers, including the CCIC, felt it was appropriate to provide participants with an initial forward-looking vision for Canadian foreign policy to which they could react. This Initial Vision Statement was defined by a group of outstanding Canadian foreign policy thinkers, but it is only a starting point. It is fully expected for participants at the summit to critique and debate elements of the statement and for them to contribute to a summit outcome document which can represent a more comprehensive view of what Canadian foreign policy should look like — and a broader set of specific actions for a government to consider.

"What is perhaps most urgent is the need for Canadian leaders to formulate a more comprehensive and ambitious foreign policy which is adequately resourced."

It is likely impossible to include all foreign policy priorities in two pages. The Vision Statement provides the core elements that the contributors felt were key to ensuring impact and relevance for Canada on the global stage. Conscious of difficult choices that will need to be made, it does not select defined thematic areas of focus. Missing from the document for example is something CCIC holds dear: a robust commitment to building on Canada’s leadership in championing women’s rights and gender equality.

The core elements of foreign policy in the initial Vision Statement include comparative advantages, investing in a global rules-based order or building and diversifying partnerships. While these are not new, they do need to be repeated to underscore the choices that Canada needs to make. What is perhaps most urgent is the need for Canadian leaders to formulate a more comprehensive and ambitious foreign policy which is adequately resourced (I can’t emphasize that point enough) and can withstand changes of government to contribute to a world in which our country can do well as others do well.

3. There is a great diversity of speakers on the agenda for next week. Are there any voices you think aren’t being heard enough in this space whose work Canadians should know, or that you are looking forward to hearing from personally?

As a representative of civil society, I value inclusion and diversity for all the richness it provides. On that score, we will be privileged at the summit to hear from youth leaders and Southern voices, corporate executives and security experts, experienced diplomats and humanitarians, and many more. I am thrilled that the summit will be joining those voices to uncover the common ground which exists between all stakeholders in Canadian foreign policy.

As the CEO of the CCIC, I advocate daily for more and better Canadian contributions to international assistance. The current prime minister has the lowest ratio of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Gross National Income of any in 50 years — 0.28 percent — a figure which is also well below the OECD average. We have much more to do as a country. But I also know that there is no path which leads towards increased federal commitments to ODA which can exist without a strong ambition for Canada’s role in the world. We need champions in other sectors that also want an ambitious and impactful foreign policy.

It’s why I am looking forward to discussions at the summit, for example between Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance and Canada’s Ambassador for Women Peace and Security Jacqueline O’Neill. I am also excited to explore the intersections of climate change and immigration and their impacts on Canadian strategic policy decisions. In truth, with 25 sessions, we’ll have much to learn and take away from this summit.

4. What are you hoping to see from Trudeau’s new cabinet? What did the previous cabinet do well? Where was it lacking?

In its first mandate, the Liberal government demonstrated a desire to engage and consult with civil society partners. Despite room for improvement, overall this was done well and generated impressive outcomes — first among which was a Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) that has been widely celebrated by civil society as a marker of Canadian ambition and leadership for a better, fairer and more inclusive world. Add to this the creation of an Equality Fund and major commitments to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and a first mandate was one of noteworthy progress on foundational themes of engagement, inclusion and gender equality.

However, the same government oversaw a drop in ODA as a percentage of GNI to levels not seen in 50 years. Landmark commitments to core principles inscribed in the FIAP are undermined by inadequate funding commitments. With a minority government, we are keen to work with the new cabinet to build on the progress made so far and to deliver global change which meets with the ambition of the FIAP. To that end, we are emboldened by the Liberal Party’s stated international priorities and those of many of the opposition parties (see federal party positions here).

With the prospect of another election within two or three years, the opportunity is now to deliver the change our sector is looking for.

5. Finally, what are the CCIC’s priorities for the next few months? Did any challenges come to light during the election campaign that made any specific goals seem more urgent?

The recent election generated important lessons for our sector and was a wake-up call on many fronts. Two were of particular significance for the over 2000 organizations in Canada that work in international development or humanitarian relief.

First was a Conservative proposal to cut ODA massively, using language and messaging that distorted the reality of how ODA is allocated and leveraged a simplistic “Canadians-first” narrative. Unused to being discussed in an election, our sector was caught off guard. We must wake up to the implications of this shift; of the polling data that may have informed the Conservative proposal and of the need to better explain and defend the importance of international assistance. With over 81 percent of Canadians supporting international assistance, we are in a good place to build out more effective advocacy.

Second was the obvious depth of shift in Canadian expectations and demand for action on climate change. Our sector is intimately aware of and grappling with the impacts of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable populations. Adaptation and mitigation are deeply imbedded in international development programming. Our sector and the CCIC can and should leverage the heightened awareness of Canadians on the impacts of climate change to support increased action in Canada and globally. Better links are possible there.