Canada's Special Role at the United Nations
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 23 Jan 1986, p. 211-222

MacDonald, The Hon. David S.H., Speaker
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Item Type:
Seeing the history of the whole human community being forged in the context of the United Nations. The 40th anniversary of the United Nations. Profound repercussions in our lifetime, and the lifetime of those who come after, of activities of the United Nations. Why this is so, and how Canada is placed at a number of critical points. People's perception of the United Nations, as affected by what they see in the media. A review of the founding of the United Nations, and some aspects of its recent history. Canada's role and its developing role in the U.N. How Canada's role is perceived by others. How much is enough in terms of defence and security commitments. The kind of leadership offered by Canada, especially as bridge-builder. Stephen Lewis' role. The large questions that the U.N. deals with (peace, hunger, development of long-term collaboration among nations and peoples) and Canada's role in those dealings.
Date of Original:
23 Jan 1986
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Full Text
The Hon. David S.H. MacDonald, P.C. Canadian Emergency Co-ordinator/African Famine
January 23, 1986
The President, Harry T. Seymour, Chairman

Mr. Seymour

Distinguished guests, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: It is my pleasure to welcome as our guest speaker today the Hon. David Samuel Horne MacDonald, P.C., Canadian Emergency Co-ordinator /African Famine.

In December, 1979, insiders described our guest, who was then Secretary of State and Minister of Communications, as: "One of the three most powerful ministers in the (Joe) Clark cabinet. Not only does he sit in the inner cabinet, but he is chairman of the cabinet committee on social and native affairs, which parcels out financing for special welfare programmes among various departments. As well, he is likely to become (if he wants it and can decide which of his other duties can be shoved over to someone else), the new superminister in charge of social development, once that post is created in the new year. That post would bring him much of the responsibility for revamping long-term government priorities in the fields of social welfare, culture, and pensions."

Four years after his ordination as a minister of the United Church of Canada, David MacDonald was elected to the House of Commons for the riding of Egmont, Prince Edward Island, in the general election of 1965. He was subsequently re-elected in the general elections of 1968, 1972, 1974 and 1979.

Throughout his fifteen years as a Member of Parliament, he was one of Ottawa's most popular, active, and outspoken MPs. His outspokenness came to the fore in 1976 when Prime Minister Joe Clark briefly banished our guest from the shadow cabinet for opposing publicly the party's immigration policy.

Shortly after his defeat in the general election of 1980, Michael Kirby, president, appointed our guest to The Institure for Research on Public Policy as Fellow in Residence. Always active in human rights and cultural issues, David MacDonald focussed his efforts, at the institute, on developing recommendations regarding the direction of Canadian public policy in communications and culture.

In June, 1981, our guest was named president of an independent agency, The Futures Secretariat, whose task it was to make Canadians more aware of the Third World. Conceived by the then-External Affairs Minister, the Hon. Marc McGuigan, the Secretariat's mandate was not clearly defined and its financing was not guaranteed at the outset, with the result that it became extinct within a year.

To further recognize our guest's special talents, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops appointed him as Director of Logistics for the Papal Visit in September, 1984.

After a short respite of two months, David MacDonald was appointed to his current position, that of Canadian Emergency Co-ordinator /African Famine, in November, 1984.

He speaks to us today in place of Ambassador Stephen Lewis, who is attending an emergency meeting of the General Assembly called to discuss the African question.

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the Hon. David MacDonald, an outstanding designated hitter by any measure, who will address us on the topic "Canada's Special Role at the United Nations."

David MacDonald

Mr. President, distinguished head table guests, ladies and gentlemen: Listening to Harry give that very detailed introduction, I was thinking to myself that even my mother couldn't have done it better. It was like seeing my life flash in front of my eyes-the good, the bad, the exciting possibilities, the disastrous disappointments and some of the various way-stations in between.

However, as the President has already indicated in his remarks, all of my various religious and political activities have never before given me the benefit of enjoying a luncheon with The Empire Club. It took the intervention of the Secretary General of the United Nations to achieve that.

I was busy with other responsibilities in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, when I was called late Monday. I simply couldn't say no to an opportunity to participate in this very historic institution, both in this city and in this country.

I have had relatively little opportunity to become acquainted with The Empire Club and its traditions. I do know that it has been around for more than eighty years; that in most public libraries you will see the bound volumes of speeches given over the years and you will soon see the country, and other parts of the world as well, reflected in the various addresses. I was reading the guest book listing your speakers of the past few weeks, and I wondered whether this was a kind of political reunion, with Ontario Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander, Canadian High Commissioner to Britain Roy McMurtry, and Solicitor General Perrin Beatty, and others who have joined you at this table and addressed you.

It's been suggested that I'm going to deliver our Ambassador's message today. To protect both him and me, I should make it very clear that, while I'm certainly going to touch on some of the same themes as Stephen Lewis would have dealt with here today, I want to take total ownership for what I'm going to say for two reasons. First of all, because there may be some problem in Stephen fully accepting what I would say about the United Nations and Canada's special role, and secondly since I'm going to talk about him specifically. Therefore, I wouldn't want anyone to believe that, somehow or other, he had put these words in my mouth, because he then might have other difficulties to deal with when he next comes to Toronto.

I have known not only Stephen Lewis, but also his family for many years; I should apologise to at least two people in the audience today, whom I don't know personally, but who were on the elevator with me about an hour ago. We were all looking for this room, and I heard one gentleman say to the other: "Now we must get there, because we really want to hear what David Lewis has to say." I asked my colleague who was with me, "Should I break the news to them now, or simply wait until I get there?" However, now they know, I'm not sure whether they are still here, but I'll go ahead anyway.

The topic that was selected and indeed the individual who had been chosen to present it, if I can put it this way, absolutely crucial to an understanding of ourselves and where we are going in the international community today. It's only on occasions like this, when people have a chance to reflect, even momentarily, on our overall relationships apart from the immediate issues and crisis, that perhaps we can get a bit of a sense of the moving and shaping of history that goes on around us.

I will let you in on a little secret that wasn't in the introduction. Ever since my student days I have been fascinated by history. Not only by history that has already taken place, but the history that is still to be made, or, more specifically, the history that we ourselves are participating in, not just in some passive sense but in an active sense.

There is no place where we can see the history of the whole human community being more critically forged than in the context of the United Nations. I'm delighted that George Ignatieff is here today, because he has been an active part of that history. He has not only seen it close up, but he has also participated in it on our behalf. He has been a part of its changing and shaping.

A few months ago in this city, we marked the 40th anniversary of the United Nations. We listened to people like the Honourable Paul Martin and others remind us again of the context in which we are situated, because so much as occured in our lifetime. It is only in this century that the phenomenon of the United Nations could even possibly exist. I won't get into all the permutations and combinations of why that is so, but it is quite self-evidently true. When we complain, as we often do, about things that happen within, and because of, the United Nations, let us remember that it is a unique experiment. If you look at it in its totality, it is part of the League of Nations-United Nations experiment and it is a much more important result than those of most of the scientific or technological experiments to which we give a great deal of meaning.

I understand your speaker last week was astronaut Marc Garneau, one of our living Canadian heroes and rightly earned. All of what has happened within the realm of space fascinates us, excites us and makes us realize, when Neil Armstrong sets foot on the surface of the moon, that we are watching history being made. But the history that is being made, even at this hour, within the United Nations will have the most profound repercussions, both in our own lifetime and the lifetime of those who come after. Why do I say this? It is important to realize that where Canada is placed in all of this is really at a number of very critical points.

One of the things that fascinated me two or three years ago, when I was doing research on the issue of the evolution of contemporary human rights understanding, was that famous meeting that took place between (President Franklin) Roosevelt and (Prime Minister Winston) Churchill, when they met off Argentia, Newfoundland, and came up with the Four Freedoms, and the sense in which they created the basic agenda for what the United Nations was to become.

That was, in its own way, history, and it happened literally within the kind of ambiance, the milieu, of what was to become Canada. I noticed that (former Premier Joseph) Joey Smallwood once spoke here, and Joey will never let anyone forget that Newfoundland's participation in Canada is a relatively recent phenomenon. That, in itself, is a part of history. But from that transition point, we have seen, not just an institution, but a whole new set of political phenomena develop.

When people talk about the United Nations, by and large what they are talking about, is what they see on television occasionally, either in the General Assembly or the Security Council, or in some interaction between political leaders within the U.N. system. I suppose it's not an unfair analogy to say that that's somewhat similar to saying that the Government of Canada is what one sees every afternoon in Question period in the House of Commons. If I can say it this way, most of us would be appalled if we thought that Question Period was all there was to the Government of Canada, however one views its several responsibilities and activities. Because it is important to look, as I used to say when I tried to explain the House of Commons and all of its activities, Question Period and the House of Commons itself, is only the tip of the iceberg of a much more complicated political/ social/ economic/ cultural process, as is the United Nations,

There are such tremendous stories that can be told now after some 40 years of the multitudinous numbers of agencies, big and small, that every day act on our behalf to develop the kind of critical links that reach across political and other borders to allow somehow, not always very effectively or efficiently, the human community to function. Part of the problem for us in the United Nations is there are no very good road maps. There are no good precedents.

I believe we have a number of lawyers here today as members of The Empire Club. For lawyers, it's wonderful to have precedents when you are arguing a case or trying to develop a particular argument. But what possible precedent exists for us in trying to imagine an international community that is going to have to function in a quite dramatically different way, if we are going to survive. And survive is the critical issue. It certainly was the critical issue with respect to the basic founding of the U.N.

I wasn't very old at the time of the San Francisco meetings and I can't claim to have total recall of all that took place at the end of the Second World War, but I do know from listening to others and reading the documents that the founding of the United Nations took place in a kind of intense desire to see no more conflict of the type and scale that so terribly devastated Europe and parts of Asia, and had its impact around the world.

In those early years, there was an incredible sense of idealism about what could be achieved in the United Nations. I say in the earlier years, because, by the '50s, there was the increasing skeptimism and pessimism that as a peace-making body, as a peace-keeping body and institution, it would absolutely work. But still, the experiment when on through the '50s and into the '60s, and, in the centre of that, there was a critical role for Canada. I suppose it makes the point most clearly that Lester Pearson, first as External Affairs Minister and subsequently as Prime Minister, was so preeminently identified with the peace-making and the peace-keeping activities that were heart and soul of the United Nations in its founding.

As the '60s came and went, our sense of frustration and despair mounted. Increasingly we have seen the kind of unilateral attempts made-and sometimes these are regional unilateral attempts-to find other ways of preventing or isolating or frustrating or in some way controlling the conflict, and it has not been, we will have to admit, very successful. It was only indeed in the late '70s when in fact the United Nations could call a first-ever Special Session on Disarmament, even though for almost thirty years the world was going on willy-nilly, expanding its armouries at a killing speed.

Now, that has been one side, one aspect of recent U.N. history. But Canada, along the way, has gained this reputation for being in the forefront of trying to be the reconciler, the peace-maker, the peace-keeper. We have participated in so many of the peace-making attempts and initiatives of the U.N. Perhaps more than any other country in the area of peace-keeping, we have that kind of special niche. We have lived for quite some time on that reputation, but, in the '70s, it has not been a reputation that we have felt all that proud of, or indeed, have been all that anxious to identify as a kind of major aspect of our foreign policy. When in the late '60s, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced his foreign policy for Canadians, there really was almost a kind of arm'slength relationship about whether we wanted to carry on with that kind of relationship. We talked about other issues that seemed for us, in terms of our foreign policy, more important.

Yet, beginning in the '60s, and increasingly in the '70s and I think profoundly in the '80s, there is developing a role within the U.N. that is preeminently Canadian. Here, I want to be as specific as I can, because it is very important that we are all aware of it.

Just the other day when I received the latest report from the U.N. Emergency Coordinator in Africa, Maurice Strong, and Brad Morris, I looked at the tables of what had happened during the last year of response to the famine in Africa. I looked in particular at the table of aid that had been sent, r food aid. I was surprised to discover that, as a country, Canada was second only to the United States in the total volume of contributions to the African crisis. Second only to the most powerful country in the world. I was not really aware of that, and even though I am day by day, and hour by hour involved at the heart of the whole Canadian response effort, I'm sure most Canadians were not aware.

I've been thinking about that and reflecting on it in terms of what its significance is to us as a country within the continuing community of nations, and I am more and more convinced that it is not insignificant. It is not untypical of what, in fact, has developed quietly, without fanfare and indeed without notice-that Canada's role as a peace-maker within the U.N. system has gradually been, if not outdistanced, at least enhanced and enlarged. I believe it was Pope Paul VI, when he spoke to the U.N., who said, "The new name for peace is development." It's a catch phrase; development is the new name for peace. Some people, many people, have used it as a kind of easy slogan, but it may say something even more profound about what we are talking about when we discuss vital issues of security.

Ever since the Korean conflict, when there has been a gradual decrease, and-one has to admit it-a decrease in our kind of military relationships, responsibilities, there has been an uneasy feeling in this country. Reflected by many political leaders and others, there is a feeling that Canada has not been playing its fair share in maintaining the kind of security arrangements we have with close neighbours such as the United States, and with our allies in NATO and others. There has been, not a major debate, but sometimes issues and questions raised, "How much is enough?" in terms of our defense and security commitments.

If we look at our defense budget today, we will see that, while it has not grown rapidly, and in some cases has not even grown relatively to other allied countries, it is a significant amount of money. Much, much larger than we spend for any other form of foreign or international activity, and we regard that as our basic investment in security.

But, I believe, it is clearly reflected within the U.N. system, that our search for peace is not just, or even primarily, through systems of defense and armaments, but through a particular kind of leadership. If so, the kind of active intervention that we have played, not just in Africa, but in a great number of developing countries throughout the world.

Many months ago, a group of Canadian artists came together to record their own African relief song, "Tears Are Not Enough." There was a line in it that has stuck with me, that says even more than the title or other elements of the song. Do you remember the line? It goes something like this.

(I won't try to sing it, so don't worry.) It says, "We can bridge the distance." If there is one thing that seems to me to speak evocatively of what Canadians can do best and well, it is that role of bridge-builder. I have seen it close up. I have seen it at the level of government leadership and government representatives, in a series of countries in Africa that have been caught in the crisis of these past few years. I have seen it through voluntary agencies, in which in their own way, men and women from various parts of this country, on our behalf, worked with the people of the countries most severely affected. There is no question in my mind that this bridge-building, extending relationships, is crucial to the kind of world in which we live.

There is an incredibly cruel irony to our contemporary experience. Never have we had so many instruments of communication and mass communication that we can witness, even here in this room. Never has there been such a tendency for people to withdraw, to polarize, to focus their own positions in a way that reduces communication, reduces contact, reduces collaboration, creates misunderstanding, creates anxiety, creates division. The role of bridge-builder is one not to be underestimated in the world in which we live in the late 1980s.

I have to make a small confession here, Mr. President, even though I am doing a stand-in or a stand-up for Stephen Lewis. When Stephen was first appointed by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to the U.N., I was not sure that it was a good move. I have to confess that part of it was related to this terrible suspicion that partisan politics breathes into your soul once you've become an activist in the political war. I wondered how wise it was to appoint a person who had played such a prominent role in the leadership of another party to such a critical position as the representative of this country in the United Nations. I want to publicly apologise for the thoughts, which I fortunately didn't share widely at the time, and to say that, of all the appointments that this Government has made in its brief time in office, I can think of no one that has been more worthwhile and more important, not just for Canadians, but for the international community itself, than the appointment of Stephen Lewis as our Ambassador to the United Nations.

I have had the very good fortune to work closely with Stephen, and to have him with me on one of my missions to Africa. To see the role that he has constantly exercised at the U.N., in this country, in other countries. And if there is any danger, as I believe there is, it's in our missing an opportunity to play the critically important role at this stage, of creating a kind of international bridge. I think of no individual who can more effectively bring us back to the course that is so vitally needed than Stephen Lewis himself.

He had a very distinguished career in provincial politics in this province. He has also given leadership to the labour movement in this country, but I think all of that is prologue to the contribution he is making in the U.N. today. And I know, because I have listened to others who are at the U.N., how extensive and how rapidly the impact of his contribution and his influence has grown. I hope, even though the Secretary General caught him this week, Mr. President, he will have another opportunity to speak for himself, as he can do so effectively, and to speak for the kind of approach and leadership that he and his colleagues at the U.N. are exercising.

With respect to the issue for which I have been responsible these last few months, that of responding to the African crisis, there is, in my estimation, no one who has been more willing and more able to focus on the long-term concerns that we have with respect to Africa than Stephen. I say this because just yesterday when I was in Ottawa, I did an open-line radio program, as I have been doing a lot recently, trying to explain the situation in Africa, and trying to indicate the nature of our continuing response.

And at one stage, one of the great Canadians in this field, King Gordon, phoned up and said to me, "You know, David, there is only one thing that really needs to be said about all of this. It's not compassion, and it's not guilt. It is responsibility, and it is looking at the situation in realistic terms-what we're going to need if we're really going to get at the cause of famine itself in Africa, is a response similar in size and shape to the Marshall Plan in the recovery of Europe at the end of the Second World War."

It takes big people like King Gordon to have that kind of imagination.

I read a recent document from New York from some leading people in American public life who are also focussing on the big question of real recovery in Africa. The United Nations was created to look at the big challenges of peace, of hunger, of development of long-term collaboration among nations and peoples. In the last 40 years, we have been bruised and battered by the problems and the hostilities and the outright power grabs that have been taking place. But, the U.N. is still our best hope of surviving the 20th century, not with a diminished, but with an enhanced human community. We are still in the midst of that historic experiment. In its forefront, and in its own unique way, Canada has a role to play.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by BGen. Stephen Andrunyk, a distinguished Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Canada's Special Role at the United Nations

Seeing the history of the whole human community being forged in the context of the United Nations. The 40th anniversary of the United Nations. Profound repercussions in our lifetime, and the lifetime of those who come after, of activities of the United Nations. Why this is so, and how Canada is placed at a number of critical points. People's perception of the United Nations, as affected by what they see in the media. A review of the founding of the United Nations, and some aspects of its recent history. Canada's role and its developing role in the U.N. How Canada's role is perceived by others. How much is enough in terms of defence and security commitments. The kind of leadership offered by Canada, especially as bridge-builder. Stephen Lewis' role. The large questions that the U.N. deals with (peace, hunger, development of long-term collaboration among nations and peoples) and Canada's role in those dealings.