Canada and its Federal Government can make a difference

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

  • Margaret Mead

Whenever someone tells me that the Federal Government cannot make a difference, I am reminded of the Ottawa Treaty. For those who don’t know, the Ottawa Treaty was the climax of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) effort to make the world a better place. The ICBL is a “global network in over 100 countries that works for a world free of antipersonnel landmines, where landmine survivors can lead fulfilling lives.”

To understand why Canada was necessary to the completion of this Campaign, one only needs to look toward Lloyd Axworthy. Between 1996 and 2000, he was the Minister responsible for the Foreign Affairs portfolio. It was he who spent his political capital on the World Stage to make the Ottawa Treaty a reality. In fact, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (1997) for his effort.

Mr. Axworth, A Liberal, understood that Canada’s responsibility was not only to itself but to the world. For it was through our actions in World War II, that we helped to spread democratic ideals. It was through the actions of Lester B. Pearson – a Canadian and a Liberal – that we brought the idea of peacekeeping to the world. It was because of our selflessness that we encouraged a more peaceful and interactive vision of the world. Through courage and commitment, with military force and open diplomacy, the modern world has recognized Canada’s commitment.

Now some might say that the Ottawa Treaty is not perfect. It does not include China, Russia and the USA, nor it does not include non-state actors. However, think about this: Eighty percent of the world’s states have joined the treaty. Even though they are not legally bound by it, “many are in de facto compliance with the treaty.” As the ICBL points out on their website: “the USA is basically abiding by the treaty in practice: it has not used mines since 1991 nor exported since 1992. It has destroyed part of its antipersonnel mines stockpile and is the world’s largest individual contributor to mine clearance efforts.”
Consequently, even though landmines were first widely used in 1939, during World War II; more than seven decades later Canada played a large role in setting a new international norm.

Through Canadian Action, the world is a very different place. As of 2008, eleven countries have cleared all known mined areas from their territory: Bulgaria, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Macedonia, Malawi, Suriname, Swaziland, and Tunisia. A total of 83 participating countries have declared that they do not retain any antipersonnel mines, including 27 states that stockpiled antipersonnel mines in the past.

So Canada can make a dramatic difference in the world. Without violent revolution, we caused the passage the Statute of Westminster: an act which provided the legal justification for statehood for all British Dominions. Unlike China, the US or Russia, Canada has consistently changed the world without using military power. The Ottawa Treaty and the evolution of Peacekeepers is evidence of that. Ideas have always been Canada’s strong suit. That and our ability accomplish them. We learned from the actions of George Brown and Sir John A. MacDonald that the best political leadership is that which is driven by Objective Evidence and Pragmatism and not by Ideological Determinism or Dogged Political Partisanship. We learned from Trudeau that while Strength of vision is strong, the means should be just and take into account the needs of the majority, while the ends should be fair to individuals and minorities. This visionary nature is what means to be Liberal and it can allow us to go beyond the present polls held by the NDP or the Conservatives. This vision is what I hope to bring to bear over the next couple of posts because this is what being Liberal means to me.

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