Why we’re creating the Canadian International Council

National Post

October 18, 2007

The days are long gone when Canadians could believe they lived in a fireproof house, insulated from world events. A glance at the front pages of this newspaper most days is enough to confirm that we are global citizens living amid dangerous, deep-seated problems -- including those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and the Congo, to name only the bloodiest; to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Janjaweed, the most murderous; to HIV-AIDS, malaria, avian flu, climate change and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the most insidious. Last summer, thousands of Canadians in Lebanon and Israel suddenly found themselves in a war zone, caught up in an unexpected conflict as cluster bombs and rockets rained down, needing rescue in what was to become the largest evacuation in Canadian history. Canadians are neither immune nor, in most cases, remote from the harm such conflicts can cause. Rarely has it been so important for us to understand the world, and to engage it.

The good news is that the world has never been richer, technology has never been so powerful, medicine has never been so advanced, people have never been better educated and Canada has never been wealthier. We are the best-informed generation in history. Yet knowledge is slow to translate into policy and action, especially when it comes to the changing global order.

My conviction that Canada is uniquely positioned to bridge the disconnect between human achievement and global challenges motivated me to endow both the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a five-year-old think-tank based in Waterloo, Ont., working on global issues, and the new Balsillie School of International Affairs. These institutions are attracting some of the best minds to Canada from around the globe to collaborate, propose solutions and educate the next generation of international policy makers.

Now, to complement these two international initiatives, and to create a research base on Canadian foreign policy, I have spearheaded the creation of the Canada-wide Canadian International Council (CIC). The Americans have their powerful Council on Foreign Relations, which offers non-partisan analysis of international issues and integrates business leaders with the best researchers and public policy leaders. The British have long depended on the Royal Institute of International Affairs for the research that has assisted that nation to punch far above its weight. Similar institutions exist in Europe, Latin America, Asia and in many developing countries. George Soros has been instrumental in the creation of the European Council on Foreign Relations, which will be launched in November. The CIC will be the Canadian player in this global network of foreign relations councils.

It is vitally important that we Canadians understand the world if we are to protect ourselves, and others, from its dangers, and profit from its opportunities. The objective of the CIC is to generate the best Canadian research, develop the finest Canadian analysts and train Canada's most promising future leaders. A partnership between CIGI and the Canadian Institute for International Affairs (CIIA), the Canadian International Council will be housed at the University of Toronto. Taking advantage of the nationwide branch network of the CIIA to help mobilize and boost Canadian capacity on pressing global problems, the CIC will be a research-based, non-partisan vehicle. Applying expert and fact-based research to complex issues is the essential foundation for creating effective policy.

Business leaders have an opportunity to play a transformative role for Canada by supporting CIC research fellowships. The CIC will create co-ordinated research clusters of excellence among universities and think-tanks across Canada on the most pressing global issues that matter to Canadians. And it will ensure that future leadership debates and elections in this country never again ignore the world and the opportunities and dangers it presents to us.

So far, my first dozen or so overtures to corporate leaders have been uniformly favourable; the CIC is well on its way to establishing an important program. To further

raise awareness and generate support, AGF president Blake Goldring and I will be hosting a gala inaugural dinner for the CIC on Oct. 25 in Toronto. We hope that this will become an important annual Canadian event, attended by national and international policy, academic, media and business leaders. Next week, we will confer our first Globalist of the Year Award to Angel Gurria, the Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, who has held many high-profile positions in Mexico, including finance minister and president and CEO of Mexico's national development bank.

Our commitment is to build a strong council that will advance Canadian interests, promote Canadian values and provide a badly needed Canadian perspective on the border-less issues of our time. Building this capacity is not just good business. It is also good citizenship.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.

About the Author

In addition to his commitment to CIGI, Jim Balsillie is the founder of the Balsillie School of International Affairs, the Centre for Digital Rights and the Arctic Research Foundation, and co-founder of the Council of Canadian Innovators.