2017 is a special year for Canada as it marks 150 years since a turning point in its history. As any occasion to reflect back and look forward, what are Canada’s main lessons of the past that have contributed to its international role and credibility in the international arena?
The Act of Confederation, which brought together in political union Canada’s original four provinces (Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick) on 1 July, 1867 represented – and still represents today – one of the boldest and most visionary political experiments in the history of nation-building. It united and made independent the largest British colonies in North America and in doing so, bound together in a new country, among others, English and French, Catholics and Protestants, Irish and Scots, our nation’s aboriginal communities, and freed and escaped slaves from the United States – which had just endured a bloody civil war (1860-1865).
The American Civil War had been an excruciating experience that Canada’s founding fathers looked upon with horror, and were determined should never happen in Canada. So our system, from the outset was a federal design that created a shared nation for a diversity of peoples, spread over a vast territory, blessed with some of the world’s richest natural resources, but beset by an often harsh natural environment. Holding a country like that together took some real political innovation, and the gradual evolution of national identity based on civic nationalism, and pride in shared ownership of a particular set of values, and an investment – generation upon generation – in a shared future.
That founding act of Canada, enshrined in the British North America Act of 1867 doesn’t make for the most stimulating reading. But I think being a little boring can be something of a virtue when it comes to organizing a society. Our constitution and our beginnings as a nation lacked the drama of grand pronouncements and revolutionary zeal seen in many other countries. We were, and we remain, an evolutionary society. The British North America Act stipulated that citizens of this new nation called Canada should be assured of having “peace, order, and good government.” In these three concepts lay the foundations of Canadian governance, and Canadian society throughout our history. We sought stability and harmony among ourselves, from the very beginning.
Looking back at how Canada has developed and pursued our foreign policy over the years, I would say there have been three constants:
First, it is the imperative that Canada be globally engaged. Because of our geography, the diversity of our population, our system of alliances, our ties to the Commonwealth and la Francophonie, and our economic interests, Canada cannot be selective in choosing where and when to be engaged, or with whom to foster our international relationships. We have a profound and enduring relationship with the United States, of course. Of this relationship, I think President Kennedy put it best when he addressed our Parliament in 1961 and said, “Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies.” At the same time, we are a country of the Asia-Pacific, with deep people-to-people and economic ties to Japan, Korea, China, and India. We try to advocate for, and have demonstrated a commitment to finding peace and stability in the Middle East. We are a particularly valued partner in both francophone and anglophone Africa, where Canada is not seen to come with ulterior motives, nor are Canadians burdened in Africa like others by a history of “colonial baggage.”
We are an Arctic nation, with 62,000 kilometers of Arctic coastline, making up a full 25% of the global Arctic. Canada’s Arctic makes up over 40% of our landmass and is home to more than 100,000 Canadians. And the Arctic is an essential part of our national identity. The high environmental stakes of the Arctic Ocean’s future for the entire globe means that we take the obligations of our Arctic sovereignty very seriously; and it also means that for the greater, global good we must maintain collaborative working relationships with the other nations of the Arctic – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and, again, the United States.
While we have global interests and a global foreign policy, there is and will always be a special relationship with Europe. Our own political system and most fundamental laws are based on European models. At the turn of the last century, great waves of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe – including, from Romania (particularly Bucovina) – settled in the Canadian prairies, working the fertile land and eventually making Canada an agricultural giant on the world stage. Twice in the last century, Canadians came to Europe, and fought and died in large numbers, to defend the continent against tyranny and totalitarianism. Canadians remain stationed in, and committed to European security today, through our NATO Article 5 obligations and through our active deployments and exercises. The European Union as a whole represents Canada’s second-largest bilateral trading relationship. So, while Canada is not in Europe, we are definitely of Europe … and that is part of what makes my job here in Romania so rewarding, and why I feel so much at home here.
The second consistent theme has been our support for multilateralism and a rules-based international order. Some of this may be in our political DNA, drawn from that “peace, order, and good governance” motif. But more broadly, we are nation of large geography, with a relatively small population, and which relies on a steady and predictable flow of international trade. We therefore thrive on transparency and predictability and accountability. Disorder and disruption in the international system is never good for Canada. So, whether it be in the realms of peace and conflict, international trade and finance, agreements to protect the environment and fight climate change – we are firmly of the view that there have to be rules. Rules that are fair, consistent, and humane. And those rules have to be followed and, sometimes, enforced. For this, we need and we feel compelled to support international institutions like the United Nations and its agencies, the World Bank and the IMF, the International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Court, just to name just a few.
Third, I would say that it is the Canadian commitment to universal human rights. We are committed to following a foreign policy that protects and promotes the dignity and the security of the individual – whether that is expressed though gender equality, the rights of the child, or LGBT rights. It was a Canadian, John Humphrey, who drafted the lion’s share of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The world saw the compassion and generosity of Canadians who opened their homes and communities to over 40,000 Syrian refugee families last year. Canadians work and volunteer all over the world, in global hotspots and in places of dire poverty to help advance the causes of peace, development, and the protection of human rights.
When people are surveyed around the world about the opinions they have about various countries, we find that most people tend to think of Canada as a kind and compassionate country. Personally, I can’t think of two descriptors, in any language, that I would rather have ascribed to my nationality than “kind” and “compassionate.”
What is your main message on Canada Day for the Canadian community in Romania, but also for the Romanians who love and admire Canada?
For Canadians in Romania, I’m proud that they represent the best of our country as they live and work in Romania – whether they are engaged in business, charity work, or the arts. As proud as I am of the diplomatic relationship between Canada and Romania, the people-to-people ties matter just as much. It is the expression of Canada, through Canadians who live and work here, that gives our country such a good reputation in Romania. For Romanians who love and admire Canada — we love and admire you too!
You took over the position of Canada’s Ambassador to Romania, the Republic of Bulgaria, and the Republic of Moldova, with residence in Bucharest last year. The time elapsed since then has brought lots of changes in the bilateral relationship, with the most representative steps being taken in the visa field and in the trade sector under the new EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).Can you provide us an overview of these two very important aspects for the bilateral relationship in terms of benefits for the two sides? What is the most noticeable immediate effect of these very important measures?
First, we are very proud of CETA and the fact that we were able to finalize this agreement at a time when protectionism seemed to be on the rise internationally. CETA is the most progressive and comprehensive free trade agreement ever signed by either the European Union or Canada. The treaty reflects our shared commitment to generate growth on both sides of the Atlantic through increased trade and investment. It is a progressive trade agenda that reflects and promotes our shared values and reinforces cooperation and strengthening of international norms and standards on issues of mutual interest such as: sustainable development and management, intellectual property, protection of ecosystems and endangered species, labour rights, and non-tariff barriers. CETA encompasses the full range of factors that now shape and influence trade in the global economy, and lays the foundation for greater voluntary cooperation between Canada and the EU.
CETA will create vast new opportunities across the EU and in Canada, opening new markets for exporters, generating high-quality jobs for workers, and forging closer links between Canadian and EU member states’ economies. As CETA takes effect, the potential for Canada-EU bilateral trade is expected to grow by 23%, EU exports stand to increase annually by as much as €17 billion, and EU annual GDP growth by as much as €11.6 billion.
For Romania, I would say that your country is particularly well positioned to benefit directly from all aspects of CETA — be it tariff reduction for trade in goods, limitation of non-tariff barriers, regulatory co-operation, ease of investment, access to government procurement opportunities, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provisions for greatly improved services and labour mobility, sustainable development, labour, and environmental protection.
The most immediate and notable impact will be the elimination of tariffs on almost all goods and services Romania exports to Canada. CETA will eliminate duties on 99% of all tariff lines, of which 98% will already be scrapped upon provisional entry into force. At present, more than 300 Romanian businesses of all sizes from all across Romania export a wide range of goods and services to Canada; some examples include: apparel and footwear, nuclear power equipment, electric machinery and cereals. The current value of Romanian exports to Canada is more than 200 million Euros with the potential for significant growth arising from CETA. Similarly, more than 40,000 Romanian jobs support those exports with opportunities for many new jobs. Besides tariff cuts, access to billions of Euros in public procurement projects and greatly facilitated movement of professionals and business people will help to drive increased exports.
Separately, I was very pleased that, so early in my mandate here in Bucharest, we came to a decision to lift the visa requirement on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens wishing to travel to Canada for periods of up to six months. That decision was based on the hard work of those who came before me, and on very strong technical cooperation between Canadian, Romanian and Bulgarian officials. As a result of that cooperation, we were confident that Romania and Bulgaria met the benchmarks required for us to lift visas.
Already, as of 1 May, eligible citizens from Romania and Bulgaria have been able to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), instead of a visa, to fly to, or transit through a Canadian airport. Under this initiative, Romanians and Bulgarians who have held a Canadian visa in the last 10 years, or who currently hold a valid United States nonimmigrant visa, can now apply for an eTA. Applying is a simple, inexpensive ($7 CAD) online process that usually takes minutes to complete. An eTA is valid for up to five years and allows people to fly to Canada as often as they want for short stays (normally for up to six months at a time) to study, transit through, visit, or do business. In most cases, the eTA is approved within minutes of applying.
On 1 December of this year – on Romania’s Day of Unification, in fact – we will lift the visa requirements entirely for all Romanian and Bulgarian citizens. At that point, they will no longer need a visa to travel to Canada, whether by air, land or sea, for stays of up to six months. (I should emphasize that, as with travellers from any other visa-exempt country, they will still need an eTA to board a flight to Canada).
How do Canadian investors see the opportunities offered by Romania? What do they expect from the business environment?
Canadian companies see Romania as having an inviting business environment. This is, I think, demonstrated by the significant number of Canadian companies of all sizes (close to 50) with important levels of investment in Romania, doing business across a range of sectors, from ITC (where we have a great deal of Canadian investment) to oil and gas, and from manufacturing to energy and retail. The attractiveness of Romania as a business destination can be further improved by more predictability in terms of legislation and the taxation regime and by a better co-ordination between government and business. Romania and its economy can only benefit from a more transparent relationship between its government, its institutions, and domestic and foreign companies.
How does the future of the Romanian-Canadian partnership look after your first year of mandate, and what are the perspectives of this partnership?
I’m really encouraged. Our bilateral relations are clearly moving from strength to strength – from our growing trade relationship highlighted by new opportunities coming from CETA; to the lifting of visas for Romanian visitors to Canada; to our military cooperation, both bilaterally and under the NATO umbrella. I think Canada’s profile, and the value of partnership with Canada, is very well understood and felt here in Romania, and vice versa.