Sierra Club of/du Canada

Sierra Club of Canada’s Response to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s “A Dialogue On Foreign Policy”

From the text of the letter written to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bill Graham by Elizabeth May, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada

May 2003

Sierra Club of Canada wishes to commend the Government of Canada for significant decisions promoting true global security. The fact that these important steps were taken despite pressure from the United States Government to do differently, only enhances our appreciation of Canadian values as expressed through our government. We refer to the decisions to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and to remain outside the so-called “Coalition of the Willing.”

This Government has been involved in the promotion of the environment in a number of international fora. We commend the Government for this effort and offer encouragement to move ahead with full domestic implementation of our international commitments. We would like to acknowledge the leadership demonstrated by the Hon. David Anderson, PC, MP, during his term as President of the Governing Council of United National Environment Program (UNEP). His legacy will surely include an on-going commitment by the Canadian government to this UN agency and to active environmental diplomacy.

The Environment as Common Denominator

The discussion paper identifies environmental issues as having “growing prominence” in international policy. Globally and domestically, we are at a significant crossroad. The signs of wrong-headed decision making are more than ever present in environmental phenomena such as climate change, desertification, extinction, water shortage and food security. The Earth’s ecosystems are overtaxed and many are failing. We can no longer afford to consider the environment as a separate category of decision making in relation to foreign policy or the economy.

Canada’s foreign policy must adopt the environment as a common denominator to all decision making. The environment, for example, is the common denominator for all trade decisions since it is the source of all inputs.

Redefining Global Security

The traditional three pillars of Canadian foreign policy refer to security, prosperity and employment, and values and culture. In relation to security, Sierra Club of Canada supports the broader notion of security acknowledging environmental devastation as a source of destabilization and conflict.

Ratifying and implementing Kyoto, for example, is not a separate issue from global security. It is at the heart of global security. The pre-occupation with terrorism, a serious and dreadful threat, is blinding the world community to the reality that global climate change is a far greater threat to life, property and social stability than terrorism. The U.S. rejection of Kyoto will result in additional loadings of warming gases representing a threat to millions of people world wide. We need to raise concern for greenhouse gas emissions and the threat they pose to nations and peoples around the world to the top of our bi-lateral relationship with the U.S. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney did so with the acid rain issue, without jeopardizing the close U.S.-Canada ties. When a U.S. Ambassador lectures Canada about what it means to be a “neighbour” or “family,” awkward as it may be, it is a teaching moment for the people of the U.S. to understand that Canadians are disappointed that the U.S., with 4 % of the world’s population producing 25% of its greenhouse gases, has abdicated its responsibilities.

Canadian foreign policy must also be prepared to lead by example. A Canadian position on greenhouse gas reduction is not credible unless we address the currently unsustainable ecological footprint made by our unbridled energy consumption. The US and Canada are the third and fourth largest consumers of energy globally. The global adoption of this type of North American prosperity would constitute an environmental catastrophe.

Alleviating poverty in developing countries is also a more important goal, in the interest of global security, than new airport security measures and bio-terrorism defenses. Poverty and the environment are necessarily connected concerns. Poverty usually coincides with environmental problems such as lack of clean air and water, productive lands or the means of sustainable development. Canada is in an ideal position among the world community to enunciate these views. We urge the Government of Canada to re-position issues of environment and development as central to a global security agenda, instead of their usual position on the margins of policy.

Issues that were not mentioned in the discussion paper, but which play a key role in any sustainable planetary future, include population pressures, the need to meet the commitments of the Cairo agenda, the obligation to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples, and to vastly increase the development budget for improving health care, education, and economic autonomy for women and girls around the world.

Sierra Club of Canada strongly supports the need to work in new partnerships and alliances and would appreciate a greater emphasis placed on this need. While, the importance of good relations with the U.S. is not to be under-estimated, increasingly, it is Canadian alliances with the European Union, allies in Asia and sub-Asia that will provide and enhance global security. Canada’s continuing support for multi-lateral decision making is also key.

Given the challenge to the new government of Brazil to meet ambitious goals in alleviating child poverty and the unparalleled environmental protection opportunities of working in the Amazon Basin, a Canadian focus on partnering with Brazil would be timely.

Trade and Globalization

Canadians are unconvinced that globalization is connected with prosperity. They associate globalization with the concentration of wealth and resources, and environmental damage. It is incumbent on the Canadian government to “make the case” for globalization, especially in light of the massive global problems of poverty and environmental collapse. The discussion paper addresses many issues associated with the purported “benefits” of globalization, however, Canadian foreign policy must also address the “burdens”. All too often, the burden of Canadian prosperity has been born by others. Debt forgiveness (unmentioned in the discussion paper) and lessening of tariffs for lesser-developed countries is a step in the right direction.

The pursuit of rules-based system of global trading through bilateral, regional and multilateral trade agreements has brought international trade law and environmental law into potentially serious conflict. The Canadian government must take a leadership position in promoting multi-lateral environmental agreements and ensuring that all trade agreements are respectful of the objectives of international environmental laws and treaties. This is vital to the future health of the environment since many trade mechanisms either do not address environmental impacts or do so inadequately. For example, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund lending practices still have little or no meaningful environmental impact analysis.

Further, the mechanisms which facilitate international trade, such as trade agreements and international financial institutions, must be reformed to ensure that the environment protection is a global imperative and not an afterthought. Trade law must also not be allowed to undermine fundamental and respected principles of international law such as the precautionary principle and the principle of subsidiary.

The prospect of hemispheric integration threatens to replicate many of the problems of NAFTA. The FTAA (and NAFTA) must be revisited in light of lessons learned which include the need for improved dispute settlement, respect for environmental values and national sovereignty. The environment is often a casualty of international trade, especially when trade deals restrict the ability of democratically elected governments to regulate (through instruments such as Chapter 11 of NAFTA), or through proposed language in the new GATS agreement, requiring all regulations to meet a test of being undertaken in the least trade restrictive fashion.

The softwood lumber dispute, however, poses environmental issues of a different sort. Canada has been so busy denying U.S. claims, that we may have missed the reality that some of what US lumber interests say has some basis in fact. We have repeatedly asked that, in the development of Canadian positions on the softwood lumber dispute, a broader range of interests be consulted. First Nations and environmental groups has a significant contribution to make, but are never invited to participate.

Canadian Investments Overseas

Sierra Club of Canada strongly supports the stated position in the discussion document that Canadian foreign investment must be responsible in its social and environmental impacts. To this end, SCC remains very concerned about the funding through Export Development Corporation – funding that often evades any democratic review or adequate environmental assessment at home. Canadian governmental support for overseas CANDU reactor sales is often teamed with EDC secrecy. Recently, Sierra Club of Canada was forced due to financial pressures of AECL’s court costs to abandon a case we maintain had real merit and which would likely have established that the “sale” to China and the provision of $1.5 billion through the EDC to China to buy CANDU reactors was illegal. We maintain that these deals are not in Canada’s interests, exposing us to financial risk ($1.5 billion was the largest external loan in Canadian history), while spreading the risk of nuclear proliferation globally.

While the CIDA programme is generally a strong expression of Canadian values, the funding through CIDA, Inc is at odds with sustainability. Funding to assist a Canadian for-profit corporation, Fortis, Inc, to build an environmentally devastating dam in the threatened habitat of the Scarlet Macaw, jaguar and tapir in the Upper Macal River Valley of Belize, is just one example of unjustifiable funding.


Canada is a wonderful country in which to live. We prize human rights, tolerance, environmental protection and peace. We have a strong global reputation as a result of support for the Land Mines Treaty, the International Criminal Court, our role in peace-keeping and ratifying Kyoto. Your role as Minister has served to emphasize all the reasons we are proud and happy to live in Canada. Nevertheless, there is much that can be done to chart a more independent, multi-lateral course in world affairs. By stressing the need to redefine global security, to reduce our own military budget in favour of support for the world’s poor and for environmental protection, we would lead by example.

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