Download interview transcripts: Part One (18 March 2013); Part Two (22 May 2015)
Biography: Segal, Hugh. 1950- . Educated at the University of Ottawa. Senior Aide to Ontario Premier Bill Davis in the 1970s and 80s. Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, 1992-93. President of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, Montreal, 1999-2006. Conservative Senator for Ontario, 2005-2013, during which time he acted as Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (2006-07) and Chair of the Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism. Member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, 2010-11. Fact-Finder for the Minister of Foreign Affairs on issues relating to human rights, democracy and core values across the Commonwealth in the lead-up to the Sri Lanka CHOGM, 2013. Master of Massey College, University of Toronto, 2014- .
SO: Dr Sue Onslow (Interviewer)
HS: Senator Hugh Segal (Respondent)
Transcript Part One:
[Click here to jump to Transcript Part Two]
SO: This is Sue Onslow talking to Senator Hugh Segal at the Royal Commonwealth Society in London on Wednesday, 13th March 2013. Senator Segal, thank you very much indeed for agreeing to talk to me. I wondered if you could begin by saying, in a general way, what has informed your views towards the Commonwealth in your political career.
HS: I’d say probably two things. When I was very young, Her Majesty came to my part of Montreal to open the St Lawrence Seaway. I would have been eight years old. It was 1959, Her Majesty was a young queen – I would say about thirty-three or thirty-two – and she looked very radiant. She came to speak in our small town hall in the northwest part of the city, and when someone – my father – explained to me who she was, what she did, what the Commonwealth was, that she was the head of the Church of England and that this was about everybody being equal under the Crown, that began my interest in what this sort of highly external force might mean in the life of an immigrant kid like myself, number one. Then, the politics really came from my association with the Conservative party. I joined the Conservative party when John Diefenbaker was Prime Minister, so we’re looking at 1963. I was thirteen, and my daughter now would say, “Dad, that’s the nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard about you.”
SO: I’m sorry, but I agree with your daughter!
HS: I agree! But I did that because Diefenbaker was very much a politician who was focused on – as many Conservative politicians are – what are our roots, what are our binding histories, what is the nature of our country. He had been a leader, for example, in the early battles to find a solution to how countries that were not realms of the Monarch could still be part of the Commonwealth, with Her Majesty as the head of the Commonwealth, and with them having their own heads of state. He brought in the first Canadian Bill of Rights. So, the whole notion of equality under the Crown, the notion of a pluralist frame of reference which reflected the best of Canada [and] the best of some of our international relationships, very much became associated with the Commonwealth in my mind.
As a young person, I was quite the Canadian nationalist. So, anything that was an association that didn’t involve the Americans or wasn’t an association that the Americans dominated was just – in a very simplistic way – very attractive to me. And, of course, the Commonwealth was one of those places where, while the dominant power was Great Britain in those days, the truth of the matter is [that] Canada was a relatively significant player. We were the number two donor; we were one of the original signatories. So, if you’re a nationalist, then the Commonwealth is much more attractive to you, for example, than the Organisation of American States, where everybody is a bit player by comparison to the United States. So, in the early days, that’s what attracted me to the Commonwealth.
SO: Senator Segal, your emphasis is very much on the identity of the Canadian nation with the Commonwealth because it has a pluralist society, a federal structure and it was a case of differentiating yourself from America. The Commonwealth offered, then, a forum in which Canada – as a united group – could play that much larger role.
HS: Yes. And Sue, I’ll give you an experience, if I may – I feel as if I’m imposing on you, but…In Grade Four, I’m sitting in my class in a small religious school in Montreal – a Jewish religious school. The wall was festooned with sketches of all the prophets and Moses and Abraham and Jacob and all the rest, and there, at the front of the class, on top of it all, is a picture of a very young Queen and Prince Philip. I remember asking my teacher what the picture of Her Majesty and Prince Philip would be doing with all these Biblical sketches. The lady’s name was Mrs Handleman. She said, “Hugh, it’s because we are all equal under the Crown that we’re allowed to have religious schools in this country. We are all treated equally under the law. That is the British tradition. Without that, we might not have the freedom to worship and attend schools in our own religious denomination.” When you’re very young, that has a huge impact on understanding the structure of the world. Then, of course, your commitment becomes as substantive as it is emotional.
SO: And that’s of particular importance. You made reference to your family’s immigrant status. So, was it again an affirmation of individual freedom as well as freedom of worship?
HS: Oh, absolutely, and the fact that Canada – this is before the Statute of Westminster – welcomed all kinds of folks from the steppes of Russia, where my people came from on my father’s side, or from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where they came from on my mother’s side, and they were welcomed into a society which said, “Come and be equal and do your part and pay your taxes and enjoy your rights and build.” That allowed my family, who were very much working class people – my grandfather on my mother’s side was the first European baker on the streets of Montreal, and my grandfather on my father’s side was a tailor in the needle and thread context of those words – they produced kids who went on to be University Presidents and the rest, and that’s because of the kind of place Canada was. And the British Commonwealth influence produced, in some measure, that kind of society of opportunity.
SO: You have set out very much your personal philosophy, in attachment to the Commonwealth. How important is being a ‘Red Tory’ in identifying with Commonwealth values in the Canadian context?
HS: Well, because a Red Tory – which you folks here [in the UK] would call a ‘wet’ – is very much identified with what I would call the balance between freedom and order…The neo-cons are about freedom, [whereas] traditional landed Tories might be more about order than freedom: sort of the ‘High Church’ Tories. But Red Tories are about the balance between order and freedom. Order includes things like equality of opportunity, freedom of expression, pluralism, rule of law and, of course, the freedom side are all the freedoms which we should never take for granted. The Commonwealth – as a global organisation which is non-military [and] non-treaty – seemed to be an organisation whose main mission was to try and help countries achieve the right balance in that context, relevant to their own culture and history. Not to impose – although the legislative structure and other things are very much of the Westminster tradition in most Commonwealth countries – but to assist countries through technical assistance, through Commonwealth scholarships, through a whole bunch of other initiatives to build their own proper balance. That’s the balance which produces civility, and that’s the balance which produces inoculation in terms of the two worst fears in the world. If you have an absence of freedom from fear or an absence of freedom from want, then you have the basis for societies coming apart. The Commonwealth has always been, in my view, about a balance between those two freedoms: facilitating the kind of investment, engagement and support. When I grew up, as a young man, our first foreign aid project in Canada of any substance under Mike Pearson was called the Colombo Plan. Just think about that in the context of where I’m headed in the next few days. The Colombo Plan was seen as a very serious investment to bring core infrastructure capacity to a part of the world that had none, and that’s where Canadians stepped up. So, in that context, [it’s] not just the British connection [but] the Commonwealth has always struck me – because it doesn’t have the hierarchy of a ‘Permanent Five’, because it doesn’t have any vetoes – as the place more likely to achieve some of that progress in constructive ways than might be the case elsewhere.
SO: On this particular philosophical approach toward the Commonwealth that you’ve outlined here, do you identify this as being particularly associated with the Red Tories, or is this reflective of political and cultural outlooks that are common across Canadian political parties?
HS: It is in the nature of how Canada emerged as an independent democracy. We did not have a revolution. We had a very modest revolt in the 1830s, 1840s, which is really less than “a whiff of grapeshot”, by any definition. We evolved from the King’s Council, the Governor’s Council, which had no democracy, to responsible government where our legislatures had control over spending. That process of evolution involved agents of the Crown. I particularly make reference to Lord Elgin, who was the Governor General, who signed the first democratically-passed bill from the legislature of Canada – with which he profoundly disagreed, but where he took the position that his job was to certify and not to approve what those elected by the voters had approved. This, by the way, interestingly enough, was a bill to provide reparations to French Canadians who had lost their homes because they’d been part of the Revolt of the 1830s, and the Anglos were desperately upset that these reparations had been passed. But the Governor, who said the British approach to government involves certifying democratic decisions, stood firm. So, in that context, you could see in Canada’s early days the British-designated Governor – a Tory, by the way – [serving as] the nursemaid to Canadian democracy without any serious shots being fired – without any serious revolution or civil war. So, there’s something about that, which says that the Commonwealth message, in its present form, can be a similar constructive force for good.
SO: In your own political career, when did Commonwealth issues start looming large?
HS: Probably when I was in the Young Conservatives, supporting Mr Diefenbaker, and your government set aside the Preferential Commonwealth Tariff in favour of the EEC. I think that’s…We’re now talking about probably the late 1960s, and Trudeau was Prime Minister. I think Ted Heath was your man here, if I recall properly?
SO: Heath became Prime Minister in June 1970, so this was in the run up to us signing the Treaty of Rome and joining the European Community.
HS: I remember that the [Canadian] Conservative Party’s position was that Heath and the UK were turning their back on us – that the preferential tariff is gone and this will radically change our relationship with Great Britain forever. Some of that was sour grapes on our part, some of that was us refusing to face up to our own hemispheric trade responsibilities with the United States, and some of that was a Conservative party that could not disengage from a kind of British tutelage which has been part of its history. We’ve outgrown that now – and so has the Commonwealth – but that was the first time it showed up as a dynamic issue in the politics of our country.
SO: Yes. And thereafter?
HS: Trudeau was very funny in the sense that he was, in some ways, quite mocking of the Crown and the Commonwealth, but in other ways he was very innovative – suggesting things like a private gathering of Commonwealth leaders to retreat without staff. He was very steadfast on apartheid in a way that was very constructive to the coherence of the Commonwealth. So, while he was busy removing any symbols of the Crown from things like mailboxes and, of course, the new flag, which removed the Union Jack from the corner…That 1963-65 fight over the flag was a very intense one, because it was basically a fight that said Canada was now sufficiently mature that we could remove the Union Jack from the corner of our flag, and nobody would die. Of course, it was in fact the absolute right decision. I opposed it as a young person. I was maybe part of the twenty percent of the Canadian population who was in favour of the old flag, in terms of young people. The vast majority of people were in favour of the new flag, and history tells us they were right, because the new flag says something about the country which is constructive. But that was… I remember driving around as a teenager with a bike festooned with Union Jacks and red ensigns, when all the other bikes in my part of the city of Montreal were festooned with red maple leaves.
SO: Were you ridiculed?
HS: A little bit, but it was also a little bit that the old Anglo-Saxons in town didn’t like the new flag, but the French Canadians and some of the new ethnic groups who didn’t have any prior association with the Crown – so, Greek Canadians, Portuguese Canadians and Italian Canadians, who are in some large numbers in Montreal – just liked the new flag.
SO: Speaking of Canadian opposition to apartheid, Prime Minister Trudeau was one of the most outspoken critics of both apartheid in South Africa but also the white minority regime of Ian Smith in Rhodesia. Did you start to play a particular activist role within Canadian moves towards sanctions towards South Africa, [or] towards supporting black majority rule in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe before 1980, and then South Africa?
HS: Yes. In the mid-70s, I was working as the Principal Secretary to the Premier of Ontario. So, Ontario is our largest province [and] the premier was a chap by the name of Bill Davis – very much a Red Tory Premier. He was in office for some sixteen years and was very popular. Ontario took positions in support of the federal sanctions because, in some cases, while the federal government can impose sanctions, the industries that were involved were regulated by the province under our constitution, Sections 91 and 92. So, Ontario had to do work in that respect, and that was one of the responsibilities which I had in the Premier’s office: to make sure that our Department of Industry, our Department of Commercial Licensing and all the rest were fully engaged and supportive of the federal sanctions.
So, I left Mr Davis in 1982. My wife and I had our first child, so I went into the private sector for a period of about ten years, but [remained] very much involved in the federal Conservative party [and] federal Conservative campaigns. I would have been one of those working on the polling and advertising side, [and] that underlined the point that when our Prime Minister – and now I’m talking about Brian Mulroney, in 1984 – took a position that was in opposition to Ronald Reagan or Mrs Thatcher but did so on something like apartheid, where he supported the Commonwealth and its sanctions against South Africa, his numbers… He would do it on a matter of principle – Prime Minister Mulroney was Irish, and very passionate about these questions – but his numbers amongst young people and women and French Canadians, his polling numbers, would go up, because the young people and women and French Canadians were never big fans of either Mrs Thatcher or of Mr Reagan. They viewed them as too ideological for the Canadian context. So, when Mulroney did the right thing on apartheid and was clearly divided from Mrs Thatcher and divided from Mr Reagan, that would produce substantial polling support amongst women, young people and French Canadians.
SO: So, it was attractive to his domestic constituents.
HS: Particularly in support of the municipal vote – the civic vote, the vote to the big urban municipal [institutions]. Tories [in Canada], not unlike in the United Kingdom, tend to do okay in the countryside most of the time, but in the big cities it’s a battle. So, this was very, very helpful.
SO: That sounds very familiar to the pattern of voting in the UK.
HS: It was very helpful to him to take those positions, but he did them as a matter of principle. Then I had the chance…I went on his staff, laterally. As I said over lunch, Canada would not desist on sanctions until we heard from Mandela – whatever the pressure from the Americans, the British or our own banks and mining companies.
SO: Did you attend the CHOGM in Vancouver in 1987?
HS: No, I did not. I didn’t join the Prime Minister’s staff until 1991, so I did not attend that meeting. I know of it, I remember the dynamic, I saw the coverage, but I wasn’t part of it.
SO: 1991, then, was after the release of Mandela, which was in February 1990. South Africa was embarking upon the equally troubled and tortuous road to constitutional democracy and black majority rule. It seems to me that the Commonwealth’s role in the run up to De Klerk’s extraordinary announcement in his national assembly speech, and Mandela’s subsequent release, is much more covered and better known than the Commonwealth Secretariat’s role and the role of individual Commonwealth countries from 1990 to 94. Would you agree with that?
HS: Yes, I would, because a lot of what the Commonwealth did – kind of [like] what Canada did – was not part of the public record. The fact that Mulroney used our International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which is set up for the purpose of measuring what kinds of development projects work the best and how do Canadian development projects around the world succeed or fail and what we can learn from that… He really used that as an instrument by which to provide funding and support for parts of the Mandela cabinet, so they might have the training – three week courses at places like Harvard or Cambridge, red bricks for that matter – so they could get basic core skills either in terms of fiscal policy literacy, defence policy literacy, [and] international affairs. When the Prime Minister asked Mandela, “How can we help?”, he said, “You can help this way”, and Mulroney said, “Done.” And as recently as a year ago, Trevor Manuel came to Canada – he’s now the Minister for Cabinet Affairs but he used to be the Minister of Finance [in South Africa] – and he told a story at a lunch in the presence of ministers and parliamentarians about how Mulroney had been helpful in the early days to Mandela through the IDRC, which was celebrating its fortieth birthday.
So, I think Mulroney – being very pragmatic and having a strong personal relationship with Mandela – said, “Tell me what I can do to help, what really matters.” He told them, and we did it. And also, with respect to the pressure from Canadian mining and other companies to get out of the extraction sanctions, to put back in and invest, I remember his position having been, “We will do that when Mandela tells us [that] De Klerk has gone far enough, or that majority democracy changes [have] proceeded sufficiently. And until such time as that happens, we’re not going to back down from any of our sanctions.” He was basically saying to the government, to the bureaucracy, to industry, “We don’t make this decision in some capricious way because it’s in our interests. We’ve stood with Mandela while he was in jail; we’re going to stand with Mandela now.” They became very, very close, and, in fact… Mandela became close with Mulroney: they talked on a regular basis; he was made an honorary citizen of Canada; he was given an honorary Order of Canada, which was our equivalent of the OBE. He came to Canada – by this point, Jean Chrétien was Prime Minister – and filled one of the largest stadiums in Toronto with literally 60,000 people who came to see him, all of which was very, very validating for the Commonwealth connection, because it had been through the Commonwealth that Canada had acted. It had been through the Commonwealth and the meeting you referenced, in Vancouver, where Canada had confronted the forces of complacency, I guess – or cynicism – and hung in there with the battle. I think Canada would have been of the view that we couldn’t have done that without the Commonwealth – that Sonny Ramphal, the Front Line States, were all critical elements of our capacity to make that happen. And because of where the Americans were standing, there would have been no other foreign policy network through which we could have achieved that and been part of the team that stood with the Front Line States and really assisted the peaceful transition to majority democracy in what everybody feared was going to be a horrific bloodbath.
SO: Absolutely. I remember the press reports very clearly, and there was effectively a civil war going on in KwaZulu Natal with the standoff between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party. Yes, very tense times indeed. As the Chief of Staff, did you yourself develop close relations with people around Mandela – the political advisors, bureaucrats or leading people within the ANC?
HS: Not that I can recall. Mulroney would be on those phone calls largely himself and he would have had a sherpa [i.e. leaders’ personal representative] designated to that file. The sherpa would be appointed about a year before every Commonwealth meeting, and that would usually be a senior bureaucrat, a senior deputy minister or a senior ambassador or high commissioner who had either been in London or elsewhere, and I would have been aware of the traffic but I wouldn’t have had a major role in that.
SO: Okay, so, did you go to Harare in October 1991?
HS: No, I did not, no. I had just joined the staff in August of 1991; I did not have a remit on foreign policy, so I would not have gone to Harare. I joined as a senior policy advisor in August of ‘91. I didn’t become Chief of Staff until January of ‘92, and stayed until April of ‘93.
SO: So, what were the specific areas on which you were giving Prime Minister Mulroney policy advice?
HS: I was a senior policy advisor – don’t forget my background from provincial government. We had a tough referendum coming [up] on the Charlottetown Accord – a constitutional issue with Quebec – so my remit would’ve been domestic politics and federal/provincial relations, which was a very big part of our government’s survival mixture at that time. I would not have been on the front line of the foreign policy position; certainly not in those early months.
SO: In between leaving the Prime Minister’s office as Chief of Staff in 1993 and then, when you were appointed to the Senate in 2005, did you develop particular Commonwealth interests or activities?
HS: Two things. I would have been a member of the Royal Commonwealth Society and I would have attended their meetings on a pretty regular basis. I would have spoken to various meetings and Commonwealth Day dinners across the country over that period of ten years. Otherwise, I would have had no direct contact or relationship with the Commonwealth [and] certainly no contact with the bodies here, in London. That would not have been part of my day-to-day job. I was, in fact, an advertising executive in the private sector for that period of time, and that would not have brought me into contact with Great Britain in any way, shape or form.
SO: When were you appointed chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee?
HS: I was appointed to the Senate in August of 2005. We did not form a government until September of 2006, and I was appointed chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee that fall because the government gets the right of appointment in a negotiation with the opposition parties. So, I then became chairman of that, and I served through until 2007. Our major effort at that time – which I think you referenced in your questions – was a major review of Canada’s foreign aid, CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency], and we produced quite a difficult report in terms of talking about inconsistencies in CIDA’s policy, a lack of value, undue bureaucracy in terms of how the services were delivered, the fact that – unlike DFID – ninety-five percent of our employees worked in Ottawa. Whereas DFID, AUSAID and USAID had a good chunk of their employees around the world in target countries, we did not. We talked about the amount of money going into Africa and the amount of money coming out of Africa through corruption. We dealt with some of the difficult issues. A lot of the government’s policies towards CIDA have now changed – particularly as related to Africa – but that report was quite a…It was not without controversy, but it was a very salient report in terms of making foreign aid issues part and parcel of the dynamic.
SO: As part and parcel of that critique, did you also pass comment on CIDA’s contribution or the Canadian government’s contribution to the funding of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and also the funding for technical development programmes via the Secretariat?
HS: I don’t believe we made a specific reference to ComSec. We talked about technical assistance per se, and we talked about the various… You know, Canada had a tendency of…Rather than funding a project on the ground, Sue, Canada would say, “Let’s just write a cheque to the government of Uganda.”
SO: Ah, so it was general budgetary assistance?
HS: Right. The reason we would do that is because our Auditor General said [that] when we used to fund individual projects, sadly, some of those projects would fail. [On] some of the projects, we would see people stealing money. So, it became easier for our civil servants just to write a cheque to another government for a development project: get a receipt, and that’s the end of the audit trail. But the fact that the government would then…God knows what they used the money for, or they would charge some kind of ‘pass through’ fee for the recipients, completely against Canadian policy. That didn’t seem to bother us at all. So, we exposed some of those weaknesses in the report I chaired, and suggested that we have to take a much more granular approach on the ground to making sure projects were real.
SO: So, unfortunately for your continued position as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, you then stepped down.
HS: Yeah, two things. Well, there’s the official story and there’s the truth. The official story is that my report was so controversial that they asked me to step down. It is not remotely the truth. The truth is – no one’s ever asked before, so thank you – the truth is that…It’s a little…I’ll just take thirty seconds [to explain].
We had a member of our Senate caucus by the name of Don Oliver – decent guy, happens to be a Caribbean Canadian, and he chaired the Justice Committee of the Senate. The government brought in new accountability legislation, dealing with previous Liberal [Party] so-called ‘scandals’: tougher spending rules, tougher expense rules, tougher disclosure rules for the government as a whole. Many of those pieces of legislation were rubbished in the Senate – the committee he was chairing – because he wasn’t there and the opposition had a majority. He was travelling: he was an IPU person – Inter-Parliamentary Union – [and also] Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, so he would miss a lot of meetings. When the Bill got beaten up so badly, the government decided to remove him as the chair of the Justice Committee. He was a senior Parliamentarian who had been in the Senate for fifteen years; I had just arrived. He went to our leader in the Senate and said – it happened to be March, which was Black History Month – he said, “Is it the Prime Minister’s wish to turn me into history in Black History Month? Why does young Segal, who just got here, chair the most prestigious committee and why do I now have nothing?” Marjory LeBreton, the Government leader in the Senate, asked if I would step aside to facilitate him taking the chairmanship. I said it wouldn’t be my first choice, but if that’s the wish, I’m glad to do it. I said, “But understand, Marjory, [that] the other parties have a majority on this committee. When I joined the Senate, there were seventy Liberals and fifteen of us, so you have my support but you’ve got to get the Liberals on side.” They would not support Don Oliver, so we ended up with a Liberal chair and me no longer chair of the Committee.
The Canadian media are so good at labelling. They say, “Well, this is because the government is a right-wing government and he’s a Red Tory and they had to move him out.” I know it says that. It’s just not the truth, but it doesn’t actually pay to work hard to change it because it doesn’t really matter, frankly. Aren’t you glad you asked?
SO: I am. I’m always fascinated by political manoeuvrings, which, in your case – and indeed your government’s case – actually backfired in terms of maintaining the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
HS: Right. Yes, it worked out completely unconstructively and for no purpose, and Don Oliver didn’t even get to be chair. So, the purpose of treating one of our visible minority people well didn’t happen either.
SO: No. So, lose-lose. You’re currently chair of the Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism. If I could just address this before we come back to contemporary Commonwealth issues… Has there been, in any way, a particular Commonwealth dimension to your work on anti-terrorism?
HS: There have been two parts to that. One is that, in the early days in that committee, I came to the UK to meet with security officials here, some of whom still can’t be named – senior police officers and inspectors who were involved with anti-terrorism activities – and we even arranged for some of them to appear by teleconference as witnesses before our Senate committee on terrorism, so we could learn from aspects of the British experience: both in terms of the management of home-grown terrorists amongst your own population, and with respect to the way in which anti-terrorist organisations gather intelligence and share information with one another. So, I came here, I had two or three working lunches with senior security officials, and then we sorted out who could actually appear on camera and talk about some of the issues we were addressing. Our agenda says it was about taking legislation which Mr Chrétien had passed after 9/11 to help the Americans feel more secure about their northern border. So, that legislation was passed with the perception that it had been made ‘Charter-proof’, which means that none of the provisions in the law would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As it turns out, it wasn’t quite so, and they lost quite a few court cases. So, when that legislation lapsed five years after 2001 – which was 2006 – we had to begin to renew the legislation, but with changes that were the result of decisions made by the courts around civil liberties, habeas corpus and various other critical British principles. The British were very helpful to us in some of the changes they had made to their own legislation, and we learnt from some of them about [that]. So, that was one area of activity. The other area of activity which soon followed involved some leading academics who had done research on home-grown terrorism, the alienation that that produced, the ways in which to deal with young people who became adrift in societies that were isolated from the mainstream, the way in which terrorist information, bomb plans and other plans were transmitted, the importance of the web in that whole process and what organisations could do within the framework of the constitution about that. So, there was a lot of help from them.
We also had a fair amount of help from India. We connected with and got advice from the Indians because they were facing different kinds of situations. But, remember, the largest terrorist event in Canada’s history was the blowing up of an Air India aircraft that took off from Vancouver over the Irish Sea. The bombs [which caused] the death of three hundred Indo-Canadians and others were placed in the hold of the aircraft in baggage in Vancouver, and there’d been a horrific failure – not unlike 9/11 but smaller, because it was a smaller event – of different parts of our security apparatus who had pieces of the puzzle before it happened but were so jealous of their various silos and not communicating with each other sufficiently that any hope of preventing this from happening was lost in the shuffle. We had a full public enquiry on that, and our committee learned from that in terms of things that now exist in Canada, such as the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC), which pulls together – this is not dissimilar from a British process in place – that pulls together army, navy, air force, CSIS, RCMP, criminal intelligence, plus linkages to all our allies around the world in a real time update of pertinent terrorist information, travel information, data sets, risk assessments, so that we’re on top of things in a way that’s coordinated. That did not exist before the Air India attack.
SO: Senator Segal, would you say that there is an unknown Commonwealth dimension to this? You emphasised the bilateral relationship between London and Ottawa when you were talking about coming here – linking up with academics, linking up particularly with…
HS: I don’t know that it would involve the Secretariat, no, but is there a process by which Commonwealth countries share information? Well, there is the so-called Five Eyes alliance, and Australia, Canada, New Zealand, [and] Great Britain would be four of the Five Eyes [the fifth being the United States]. That’s about as Commonwealth as you can get.
SO: I know the Americans, when they think about the Commonwealth, they think about the old Commonwealth and they think ‘Five Eyes’, as you say.
HS: Right, but that has now been expanded to involve work with our friends in India; we work with our friends in Singapore, [and] we work with South Africa. Now, are we working with them because they are Commonwealth countries? No, we’re working with them because we have information that is of value, that we can share with them and they can share with us. I think that’s what’s going on. I think it would be a bit of an overstatement to suggest that it’s the Commonwealth frame that’s driving that. I don’t think that’s the issue.
SO: A Commonwealth tinge. [Laughter]
HS: A bit of a tinge. And look, we’ve had Sir Malcolm Rifkind and his committee of parliamentarians on intelligence who have come forward and who’ve come to Canada and who have met with my committee, shared notes, met with some of our most secure operations so that they can benefit there. We are learning from their approach to restrained but coherent legislative oversight of the security services, which we don’t have in any way as concretely as you do here. So, I think the benefits are free-flowing and ongoing.
SO: Well, it’s a little known aspect of inter-Commonwealth collaboration and support. It doesn’t have formal structures and guidance channelled through ComSec at all.
HS: No, there’d be no ComSec face on that at all.
SO: So, before you were invited to join the Eminent Persons Group by Secretary General Sharma, had you already raised your profile on Commonwealth aspects?
HS: I think, on Commonwealth Day 2009, I made a speech in Saskatchewan to the Commonwealth Society at their annual dinner, and it was a very aspirational speech about what the Commonwealth could become – what it could be – that was more than it was as we spoke. I think, somehow, that got circulated. I didn’t [circulate it], but I think some people circulated it to ComSec and they circulated to other Commonwealth hands, so, when the government of Canada was asked to submit three names from which Sharma could choose an EPG member, mine was one of them. I must tell you, Sue, I don’t know why. I was asked if I’d let my name stand and they said there’d be other names and we don’t know how that will go. I said, “Sure, I’d be honoured to do that,” but I didn’t think anything of it, frankly. I didn’t think much would come of it, and I was stunned when I ended up getting a call from Sharma when he was in Ottawa, asking to come by for a cup of tea – which, I guess, was sort of a first-hand assessment of whether I was sufficiently ‘clubbable’ to be on the EPG! I must say, I was quite relaxed about it until they came running over from Foreign Affairs to put a Commonwealth flag in my office because the Commonwealth Secretary General was coming to call on my office, which is quite a modest Senate office. It wouldn’t be the most modest of Senate offices in Portcullis House or Lords’ offices or Members’ offices, but it’s relatively modest! He came by and we had a wonderful cup of tea and we talked about nothing in particular. Then, a few months later, I had a call asking if I would join the EPG. I think it was in June of 2010, and we had our first meetings in July, in fact.
SO: What about the dynamics of that group? I know that the Commonwealth works by consensus, so I’m very well aware that your principal foci were a Charter [and] the Commissioner on Human Rights, which you were aware would be contentious…
HS: The best way to describe the dynamics, Sue, would be [to say] that there are people who were for relatively radical reform – like Michael Kirby, whom we all adored and who had a very jurisprudential sense of what was necessary and required, and who was very strong on a range of human rights, not excluding gay rights – and then there’d be people like Sir Ronald Sanders, who had this long, ongoing tactile relationship with the Commonwealth that went all the way back to Sonny Ramphal, all the way back to his days as High Commissioner and chairing the sanctions committee during the apartheid proposition. Then you’d have someone like Tun Abdullah Badawi, who was a former Prime Minister from Malaysia, who I suspect the staff at the headquarters figured could be relatively easily guided and managed. They were deeply wrong about that.
SO: That was a miscalculation, since he was the chair!
HS: But I think they suggested him as the chair, so that the process could be more easily managed. Then they had… By the way, [it] ended up being [that] he wasn’t at all easily managed: he became quite a vociferous defender of our independence as a group. Asma Jahangir from Pakistan, a feisty, articulate human rights advocate. We could all talk about human rights; she would have been to prison three or four times in defence of human rights, so that made the discussion a little bit less theoretical, a bit more practical. Emmanuel Akwetey, this tall, stunningly articulate head of the Institute of Democratic Governance in Ghana. The woman from Jamaica, Patricia Francis, who headed the International Trade Council: also a person who was given to being pretty forceful and articulate. Sammy Kavuma,of Uganda: a young, determined advocate for young people’s interests and rights and freedoms in the process. So, it was quite a good group and we gelled remarkably well – surprisingly so – early on, and partially because we felt the Secretariat was trying to manage and direct the process in a very polite way. We benefitted immensely from Daisy Cooper, who was the sort of executive secretary of our operation: putting the meetings together and making them happen; doing the research in between; helping to draft the press releases after every meeting. Deciding to have a press release after every meeting was something the Secretariat did not like. They wanted the EPG to do the work, but they didn’t want the EPG to develop its own identity in the mix of the broader world. It became… We began to argue that we would do our own press releases, we would keep our own minutes, we would determine our own agenda, [and] in the end we would write our own report. We wouldn’t have a draft handed to us by the Secretariat, and we were all together on that. There wasn’t any slippage in the process between all of us who served on the EPG. My sense is that Kamalesh Sharma, who first thought we might be manageable, realised that that wasn’t on, and then tried to address the new reality, which was [that] this committee was going to head in its own direction, do its own thing, make its own choices and its own recommendations. I’m not sure all his staff accepted that quite as comfortably, but he did, and that made it easier for us to manoeuvre, quite frankly.
SO: Yes. Well, why was there the delay in publication? I know that that, in itself, is a separate chapter in the political story of the EPG.
HS: I would say there was the official story and then I’ll give you my honest view as to what really happened. The official story is that, when we submitted the document, which was end of July…And let me tell you how I know that. Rosemarie Brisson [PA to Hugh Segal] – who’s here with me and has been on this file from the very beginning – she and Sir Ronald Sanders were charged by the rest of us to do the final edited version. We did not want it done in the Secretariat. So, in fact, Jim Wright in the Canadian High Commission [in London] stepped forward, and the actual three or four days of final editing took place in the Canadian High Commission at Grosvenor Square, with Sir Ronald holding the pen and Rose doing the research and the patching and the filling and the pasting which is necessary in that process. It was then submitted [at the] end of July. We were not of the view that it had to be printed; they said it had to be printed. I think two weeks later [Sir Ronald] looked at the proofs. By this point, we are in the second week of August: there was no reason for it not to be distributed then. Then, from out of nowhere comes this notion that the Chairperson-in-Office – Kamla Persad, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago – and the incoming Chairperson-in-Office had decided the report couldn’t be distributed yet because it hadn’t been read by heads and by foreign ministers.
SO: Okay, that’s a bit different from the path of the EPG report in 1986.
HS: Big time. Huge! So, that’s when the light went on that, okay, someone is trying to manage this. Our determination, essentially, was [that] the Secretariat thought too many of the ideas were too bolshie and too radical, [and] that they didn’t want any public constituency built for those ideas before the [heads of government] meeting at Perth. In September, it finally got distributed in text form – about two weeks before the foreign ministers’ meeting in September. I was the designated hitter for the EPG to be at the front desk – the front table, the high table – to answer questions from the fifty-four foreign ministers in the room, at the UN. There were very few substantive questions. They were all someone like the foreign minister of Botswana saying, “So, how can we approve this? We just got this a few days ago.” Right? “Well, we’d actually finished it a month and a half ago.” So, to be fair to Kevin Rudd, Rudd said, “Please be assured that when we get to Perth, I’ll make sure that foreign ministers have a good two days to work through this report. So, you don’t have to hold it up now because you just got it.” Had he not said that, the report could have been shelved even as we speak – even at that meeting in the UN – because that’s where the mood of the room was going. A few ministers like Lord Howell, our own minister John Baird, Rudd, Malta, Mauritius, [and] Barbados spoke in favour of moving ahead with it, but a whole lot of others spoke in favour of stopping it because they hadn’t had a chance to read it. I think part of what often happens when a bureaucracy doesn’t want change is they manage the document so that the people who can actually authorise the change don’t get the document early enough to be able to come to a rational decision upon it.
SO: That’s controlling information with a vengeance.
HS: Yes. So, we knew right then and there that we had a core problem. I then went – it was before that meeting, in August – I went with Sir Ronald to Trinidad to have a forum on the Eminent Persons Group report. Part of what we had agreed to do was [that] we would travel around the world, to different parts of the world, [and] have public meetings and/or [meetings] with legislatures about the principles in the EPG report, get their response and then do the final draft based on the consultation. So, Sir Ronald and I were designated the Caribbean and we went to Trinidad. We spoke at a forum, we did media, we spoke at a university, we spent time with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. And then to find out that Persad, the Prime Minister – who didn’t see us because she said she had dengue fever – had ordered that this not be made public, and that Julia Gillard had said she would not disagree with that so as to keep peace in the family. We were going to be heading into a meeting in October without the actual report being public, [and that] simply infuriated us.
SO: How do you account for Persad’s resistance?
HS: I think she got called by the Secretariat and told what to say. I don’t think you can have a view in the world on it. Not a view in the world. And Gillard, I think, was just looking not to have a shootout with Persad, as the host of the coming meeting. So, that produced this remarkable press conference in Perth on the Friday. The meeting opened in the morning. The foreign ministers had been terrible about the report – tearing it apart on Thursday, except for the CMAG changes, because that was foreign minister-recommended. Then we were really saved by Her Majesty, who, in her opening comments, said something to the effect that she had read the EPG report, found it to be a remarkable and encouraging document and looked forward very much to hearing from her first ministers what progress had been made on its important and helpful recommendations. What do you think of that? That’s what she did. No, she was great.
SO: A very timely intervention by Her Majesty, registering her concern and interest.
HS: Yes. That meant that the first ministers, when they met, tried to slough this off, but there was now a cadre who said, “Look, Her Majesty said something very important.” And, in fact, on that Friday, they worked through [the document] all day. Then, on the Saturday, the Prime Minister – my Prime Minister, who was supposed to leave at noon because our aircraft requires stopping at a little French atoll somewhere in the Pacific to refuel – he stayed four hours longer because there wasn’t sufficient progress on the document. He got it to the point where there were thirty approved out of one hundred and six recommendations: thirty approved outright, forty approved in principle pending further analysis, another 40 approved pending financial analysis. But it began to be a more positive picture than would have been had Her Majesty not said what she said and had our Prime Minister and the Australian Prime Minister and some others engaged to move the ball ahead.
SO: So, a political attempt to kick it into the long grass was effectively thwarted.
HS: Yes. In my speeches back home and my reports back after Perth, I said we have to form lawnmower committees across the Commonwealth to keep the long grass from subsuming this document so it’s never seen again. Then, of course, I was dispatched by my government to actually make the case in various places. So, in the EPG principles process I went to the Caribbean and I went to South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya, and then in the post-Perth process, to advance the progress of the document through further stages, I went to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore and Malta. All for particular reasons in terms of their areas of influence.
SO: So, if I could just ask you a wrap-up question, because I’m very conscious of your next appointment. In your time since acting as Chief of Staff for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the early 1990s to here, in 2013, has there been a consistent Canadian attitude of engagement and involvement in the Commonwealth? Or has it ebbed and flowed?
HS: It ebbed during the Chrétien period. As I mentioned at lunch, Chrétien was caught up with La Francophonie; he was [also] caught up with the Tony Blair-driven Third Way, as you may recall. He was caught up with the further negotiations of NAFTA with the Americans, and those were just more important. He didn’t have a view of foreign policy as an instrument for global values, or [for] the promotion of Canadian values. He had a view of foreign policy as an instrument through which he would advance commercial values. So, he had a series of trade missions – Team Canada trade missions – around the world, but they were rarely about politics. They were always just about trade and commerce and I think his view was that Mulroney on free trade, on tax reform, on apartheid, on the Middle East and a whole bunch of other areas had been far too aspirational and far too ambitious. Mulroney would say, “Well, that’s the difference between a Tory and a Liberal on these sorts of issues.” So, we did go through a period of some somnolence on the matter, where Canada’s participation was at best limited and perfunctory and in some cases, I think, profoundly unhelpful.
SO: Senator, I’m going to stop there. Thank you very much indeed and I look forward to talking to you again in future.
HS: I’ll make sure if you’re ever coming in our direction, we can chat again.
[END OF AUDIOFILE PART ONE]
Transcript Part Two:
VOICE FILE NAME: COHP Hugh Segal (Part Two)
SO: Dr Sue Onslow (Interviewer)
HS: Senator Hugh Segal (Respondent)
SO: This is Dr Sue Onslow interviewing Mr Hugh Segal, former Senator, member of the 2010-11 Eminent Persons Group and currently Master of Massey College, University of Toronto, by Skype on Friday, 22nd May 2015. Sir, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for a second time as part of the Commonwealth Oral Histories project.
As a member of the Eminent Persons Group reporting to the Perth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2011, I would be grateful if you could comment on the post-Perth period. Secondly, I’d like to ask you about your role as Special Envoy to the Commonwealth and your fact-finding tour of Sri Lanka in 2013. I’m aware that you gave a detailed report to your Parliament’s Sub-Committee on International Human Rights after your return to Canada. What were your recollections of the politics around that particular visit, and also Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision not to attend the Sri Lanka CHOGM? I know that you endorsed Mr Harper’s stance. Was there also any fallout associated with Gambia’s decision to withdraw in the October of 2013? Overall, I’d be grateful for your views on whether it is possible to speak of ‘Commonwealth values’.
HS: Well, let me start by focussing on what happened after the meeting in Perth – after that meeting and [after] a very significant confrontation which took place between the Canadian Prime Minister and the Secretary General. When the EPG was invited in to make its presentation, which we did in front of all the heads of government, the Secretary General was silent on our core recommendations. So, the Canadian Prime Minister said to the Secretary General, “You have not given us your views on the recommendation around a Special Commissioner for Human Rights, the rule of law, etc.” The Secretary General responded [that] he did not think it would be helpful or constructive. This was a position he had never once expressed in all the previous months of meetings with the EPG, as this recommendation had been raised, tossed about, discussed and shaped. Now, our Prime Minister’s desire was to make sure that everything was up on the table for everybody to see, including the fact that the Secretary General and his staff had been lobbying against this most central of recommendations, which was a unanimous recommendation of the EPG.
SO: For a Commissioner of Human Rights – drafted by Michael Kirby, yes.
HS: Correct. So, that became, if you wish, the basis of our understanding that for the rest of the recommendations which had been accepted by the heads of government – [there were] various categories, some that needed further clarification, some that needed some financial clarity – we were going to have to campaign quite extensively to make sure that we got them through the various processes that would then ensue, one being the subsequent Foreign Ministers meeting in September, adjacent to the UN General Assembly, and the other being a process by which, by virtue of silence in response to a specific question, the recommendations are deemed to have been approved. So, that saw the government appoint me as Special Envoy to the Commonwealth, and there my mission was to go about the countryside making the case for broad acceptance of those recommendations, because they were consistent with what we thought to be at the time Canadian foreign policy, Australian foreign policy, British foreign policy, and the foreign policy of a majority of the Commonwealth nations.
SO: Sir, there were 106 recommendations in the report the EPG put to heads. Was there a particular emphasis within Canada’s foreign policy and national interest within those recommendations, or was there a general embrace of the totality of those recommendations?
HS: Well, there was a general embrace, Sue, but to be fair, the one about rule of law, human rights and a Commissioner for that purpose was seen to be central. The feeling, frankly, was that the Commonwealth had stepped out of that jurisdiction. They had stopped engaging on that front, which is a very different Commonwealth from the Commonwealth that had engaged on apartheid, for example. The feeling was [that], in several areas – the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the issue of gay rights in Africa – the Commonwealth was stepping back at the precise point where it should be stepping up. That situation was made more intense by the refusal of the Secretariat to consider moving the meeting scheduled [to follow] Perth in Colombo to another venue, even though one or two other countries had offered to host. The Secretary General wouldn’t hear of it. That put the Secretary General – something I spoke about publically – in the position of, essentially, shilling for what was very much a shell game that the Sri Lankans under the previous administration were pursuing: i.e., pretending to respond to recommendations from various bodies but actually doing nothing whatsoever, and in fact, increasing some of the reprehensible activities with respect to ‘white vanning’, with respect to the disappearance of journalists, with respect to using rape as a measure against various people who are being kidnapped, and the continued military occupation of the north in a fashion which left no room for economic development for the Tamil population in that state.
SO: And that was in addition to the treatment of the Chief Justice.
HS: In fact, the issues connect very directly, Sue, in this way. When the Justice and her Court ruled that a decision around the removal of taxation powers from the provinces was ultra vires – was not constitutional – and of course, that decision was made by the Rajapaksa Parliament, because they did not want what was going to be a newly elected Provincial Council in the Northern state, which was the Tamil state, to have real taxation powers. They brought in a law that did away with the taxation powers for all the provinces, which was not constitutional, and when the Chief Justice ruled with her fellow Justices that it was unconstitutional, that’s when they impeached her. So, the issues connected very directly, and in fact, when I was in Sri Lanka – I was invited by the Foreign Minister to visit Sri Lanka and “see for myself”, which I was glad to do – I was under instructions to meet with the impeached Chief Justice who was too afraid for her life and her family to accept me as a visitor at her home. We then arranged for a telephone call to convey the best wishes of my Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to her, [to] extend any offers of assistance through an odd code we had to construct because of her fear, and because phones were being audited. Even though I was there at the invitation of the government, when we travelled across the country to see whomever we wished, we were being minded by government minders all the time. It was sort of like visiting China.
SO: Or North Korea.
HS: Or North Korea. It had very much that feel to it. So, to get back to it, Canada was very keen on that particular proposition; [it] remained disappointed that it has yet to be embraced, and remains very disappointed that the administration then in place in Sri Lanka was basically endorsed by the rest of the Commonwealth continuing with CHOGM in that location. At least one country – Mauritius, and [also] Malta – had offered to host, if that was necessary. Then, of course, we got into the notion of, “How low would our delegation be?” So, we sent a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister who represented Canada at the meeting, and he did a few things about human rights. He went to the North [and] various other things – as did Prime Minister Cameron, to his credit, who I think didn’t sit at the meeting for more than about ten minutes. He had a photograph taken then went to the North to make a statement, which was very well done by the British. He had a bilateral with Rajapaksa and he left. And the fact that Her Majesty chose not to attend, for whatever reason – she will be attending Malta this coming November, with her entire family – was an important signal. Now, it may have been because she doesn’t travel quite as far for quite as long anymore, but we’re not aware of any prior circumstance – except when Mr Heath was selling arms to the South Africans – that Her Majesty chose not to attend a Commonwealth meeting. So, as she is our Queen, we were encouraged by that symbolic gesture on her part.
SO: Sir, the Indian government also chose to absent itself, to a degree.
SO: Was there, as far as you were aware, a degree of coordination between the government of Canada and the government of India?
HS: There was quite a bit of engagement through the various High Commissioners in both countries, and we were aware of their decision before it was announced, as we were aware of the decision of Mauritius before it was announced. In fact, what was interesting [was that] Mauritius was to be the next host of CHOGM, and when they indicated they wouldn’t be going, the Secretary General said, “Well, of course, then you can’t host if you’re not attending,” and they said, “That’s fine with us. The principle is more important than the hosting proposition.” If you look at the actual numbers in Colombo, they were the worst ever.
SO: Sir Ronald Sanders has made exactly this point, saying that it was the most extraordinary ‘stay-away’ heads of government meeting.
HS: Yeah, and while some people indicated why they were staying away, others just didn’t go. So, that had the net effect, I think, of – perhaps not in Colombo, but at least for the broader Commonwealth – indicating the discomfort with that particular proposition in that location.
SO: Sir, you said that you had had this discussion with the Commonwealth Secretary General, who had lodged his opposition to the possibility of a Commonwealth Human Rights Commissioner…?
HS: Now, Sue, let me be clear. He did that in a room full of heads of government in Perth. There were several meetings in Perth. One was just the Foreign Ministers, which was a shirtsleeves operation about various recommendations, and, for example, the recommendation to strengthen the role of CMAG came from the Foreign Ministers, from the Foreign Ministers’ Taskforce. They embraced it; we embraced it. It was all the right direction and the right decision. But the full EPG report was discussed at a full meeting of CHOGM, and it was at that full meeting when our committee was invited in to make its presentation. Tun Abdul Badawi, our Chair, made the presentation and Emmanuel Akwetey, who was the EPG member from Ghana, head of the Institute for Democratic Governance in that country, made the particular presentation on the Commissioner for Human Rights, Rule of Law and Democracy. That’s when the Prime Minister of Canada asked the Secretary General if he had a view on this matter. So, it was in a room full of other CHOGM heads, and it was in that room that the Secretary General said he didn’t think it would be helpful.
SO: Do you recall, sir, if there was a degree of endorsement from other elements of the Commonwealth in opposition to the idea of creating a Commonwealth Human Rights Commissioner? After all, it could be said that it replicated the UN Commissioner’s role.
HS: Right. The view was, frankly, [that] the British, the Australians, the New Zealanders and the Canadians were very much in favour of that new Human Rights position. There was also support that emerged in places like Malaysia, in Asia. There was support for it – there was no opposition to it – from India. There was support in Tanzania; there was support in Ghana. There was actually quite a broad base of support. There would have been some normative issues: what are the terms of reference and how does it relate to the role of the Secretary General? All of that legitimate discussion, but what would’ve happened after the Secretary General expressed his view is that that would have pretty well coalesced the developing states in their opposition to it, because what the banter back from places like Sri Lanka, of all places, had been was that Human Rights, Rule of Law and Democracy are kind of Western values, and this is going to be another instrument for the Commonwealth to dictate to developing countries what appropriate western values they have to [adopt]. So, it’s a new form of colonialism. That was part of the narrative that was being addressed at those of us who were proponents thereof. Our view was that, well, if it’s a new form of colonialism, it was at the very base of what the Commonwealth has been about since the early 1950s.
It wasn’t new at the time of apartheid, when a whole bunch of African Front Line states, India and Canada stood united against some of the old Commonwealth members in opposition to apartheid and in favour of strong sanctions against apartheid. So, the notion of this as some new imposition – a new kind of neo-colonial value set – is both odd and without substance. That was part of what the Secretary General was encouraging, and we knew – because there are no secrets – that the Secretary General was meeting with the developing countries separately, without the other members of the Board of Governors present, on an ongoing basis to organise against this particular proposition. So, we were aware of all that going on, and the good thing is that the Prime Minister, by asking the question for Canada, forced the Secretary General to actually make his views known publically, as opposed to continuing to advance the negative campaign sotto voce. That was helpful both in terms of understanding the dynamic and helping us understand some of the frame of reference issues that have to be addressed at the end of his term.
SO: Obviously this was of prime importance if the Commonwealth was, indeed, to claim Commonwealth values as the basis for the Charter, as a values-based association. Were there other critical aspects of the recommendations that generated a lesser degree of animosity and antipathy elsewhere within the Commonwealth?
HS: We’re looking at, essentially, 85 of the recommendations that were accepted. The sorts of other recommendations that didn’t pass the test are recommendations around a much more robust Commonwealth youth initiative, the notion of moving Commonwealth offices – to have the Secretariat not being quite so concentrated in London, to have Commonwealth operations in places like Africa and Asia, in the same way as we have the Commonwealth of Learning now based in Vancouver. The more presence throughout the Commonwealth – throughout the 52, now, countries of the Commonwealth – of Commonwealth bodies and organisations, the stronger the presence would be. So, those sorts of things were the sorts of things about which Foreign Ministers quibble, but none of them were substantive in the sense of running right to the core of the recommendations which the EPG had unanimously provided. The one that went right to the core was the one about Human Rights and Rule of Law. I remember that it was Tun Abdul Badawi who recommended the Charter to begin with. His response, by the way, in the meeting when the Secretary General indicated that he was not supportive of the Commissioner’s proposition, was to express – unlike him, because he’s a very moderately tempered guy – intense anger and frustration, and a sense of betrayal that this would be raised now when it could’ve been raised on many prior occasions.
SO: Indeed. The opportunity had certainly been there.
HS: And Tun Abdul Badawi did that as a former Prime Minister of Malaysia in front of a room full of people, including all the other heads of government who were present in Perth, which was quite a substantial number.
SO: Sir, did you pick up an undertow or a sense that to have a Commonwealth Human Rights Commissioner would also be a particular financial burden on the Commonwealth at a time when individual countries were facing straightened circumstances, and the Secretariat itself was under pressure? Well, it’s consistently under pressure, given that the demands on its time and energies always outrun its financial resources…
HS: Sue, we are just coming to the third year in which the Commonwealth Secretariat had underspent its allocated budget by four to six million pounds. So, the notion that this was about money would be odd. They themselves – the Secretary General and some folks who work with him – were talking about what the constraints had been to spending the full budget, and that they were looking to be far more robust on a go-forward basis. This EPG had asked, “Why are we not spending our budget in areas like human rights, like development, like other sorts of things?” Of course, what then happens is that governments like Canada say, “Okay, they don’t want to be serious anymore about human rights and the rule of law. They’re not spending the budget that’s being allocated. Why would we allocate the same amount of money on an ongoing basis, just to have it sit in their bank account when we could be spending it in other ways ourselves?” And by the way, one of the things that happened was that Canada stepped up in a very big way to John Major’s committee, Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee Foundation. Canada made the largest commitment of any country to those Jubilee Scholarships, which were matched. I think our total number between the private and the public sector here in Canada was close to £20 million. So, that is a very substantial contribution. It wasn’t about Canada not wanting to spend in support of Commonwealth goals and purposes, but it was about Canada deciding, after Perth and prior to Colombo, that allocating the same amount to the Secretariat when they either couldn’t spend it or wouldn’t spend it on the purposes for which the Commonwealth was established made no sense.
SO: Indeed. So, also part of the ‘back-story’ in your minds – even if it wasn’t necessarily articulated, because the prime focus was on Sri Lanka – was the issue of the Maldives, which has been presented in the Commonwealth story as a success story under Don McKinnon. Yet to be honest, the processes of democratisation and supporting the country’s transition to normative values of democracy and human rights has started to go backwards.
HS: Yes. Let me say three things about the Maldives. First of all, it’s important in terms of what’s coming up between now and Malta in November. Baroness Scotland, who is a member of the House of Lords, was retained by the Maldives government to render a legal opinion about why the Commonwealth had no standing whatever with respect to matters of human rights, rule of law and democracy. That’s a matter of public record in the British press. She was, I think, brought before some committee – I’m not sure now which one – of the House of Lords as to whether or not that was ethically appropriate or not, because she did accept a fee for so doing. I visited the Maldives with our High Commissioner – who was our same High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Shelley Whiting – and Rosemary Brisson, Lead Research Director in my office, and I think I was the highest-ranking Canadian ever to visit the Maldives for official purposes. I had extensive meetings with the Supreme Court, with the Electoral Commission, with the President at the time, [and] with the candidate who had been pushed out, so to speak, after having won the election.
SO: Mohamed Nasheed, yes.
HS: That’s right, Nasheed and his party and the other parties as well. We made some very strong recommendations which were taken to CMAG by our Minister at the subsequent meetings. But the Secretary General was arguing very much in favour of a status quo, of no suspension – none of the things that were done, for example, with Pakistan and others where there was a deviation from democratic procedure. I think part of what we’re seeing now was contributed to by the lack of coherence and the lack of a sharp end, if you wish, in the Commonwealth position. I think former Secretary General McKinnon did a superb job. He worked extremely hard and I think achieved a fair measure of consensus and restraint, but in the end, we are where we are, and I think that’s because the powers that be paid no price whatsoever in terms of their international standing. They got support from Sri Lanka, of course, under the Rajapaksa regime, and of course the Chinese are always mucking about. Any country that is veering off the path of democracy [and] which also has developmental opportunities for the Chinese is usually in their radar scope: a place for them to invest, support and encourage. The less democracy in place, the happier they happen to be.
Now, the only good thing about the Maldives is that we always felt strong support from our Indian Commonwealth brothers and sisters. They have a very strong stake in the Maldives because of its geography and because of the demography of that country. They remain engaged, and I’m led to believe – I’m no longer in the Senate or in the public service – but I am led to believe that that engagement continues.
SO: Sir, did you have a particular political or informed view of the Gambia’s decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth in October of 2013? I appreciate that by then you had stepped down from the Senate.
HS: Well, our assessment was simply that that was an idiosyncratic decision by a leader of the Gambia, looking to blame outside forces for internal difficulties. I guess there’s still always an anti-British, anti-imperial narrative available to some leaders in Africa when it suits their purposes, but we didn’t see that as particularly germane either to the salience of the Commonwealth in Africa or what the disposition of the Commonwealth had been on development or other programmes in Africa. There is an undercurrent, as soft as the expressions have been on the issue of homosexual rights – and I think that the Secretary General’s expressions have been very soft and far too mild – but as soft or mild as they have been, it does offend a certain narrative in parts of Africa. You are aware, I guess, of the whole US evangelical presence in places like Uganda and elsewhere: how, having lost the battle at home, they’re more than delighted to fight the battle with gobs of money in sub-Saharan Africa on the same front. So, that is one of the forces with which moderates in government and elsewhere in South Africa and other part of sub-Saharan Africa have to deal with.
SO: Sir, that’s a very interesting point. That aspect does not feature prominently in the press when there are discussions on the majority of Commonwealth states for whom homosexuality is on the criminal statute book.
HS: Yes. I mean, it was only the last twenty years under Mr Trudeau that the criminality associated with homosexuality in the past was addressed. But in many, many, many countries, it’s been on the books as the old British anti-sodomy laws, but there was no enforcement. As long as consenting adults were going about their business in a private way, nobody cared terribly much. It’s re-criminalisation and the reinforcement of old anti-sodomy rules which is being encouraged by the US evangelicals on the ground, [and they] have built quite a middle class following in places like Uganda and, to a lesser extent, Nigeria. And that’s problematic. That’s exactly the kind of place where a UN Human Rights Commissioner – who, for example, perhaps was an African, who knows – could be on the ground saying, “There’s another view here.” He could be arguing or could be advocating on behalf of the Commonwealth, not in a way that threatens anybody’s sovereignty, but just makes the contrary case, in the same way as the UN does on various other issues in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. So, the notion that we would have one too many voices on the side of human rights and democracy strikes me as odd.
SO: Indeed. So, in the run-up to the Valletta meeting this November, do you think it is possible to talk again of ‘Commonwealth values’? I know a lot is riding on this forthcoming heads of government meeting.
HS: I do think Commonwealth values will become a core, underlying thematic of the debate around the choice of the next Secretary General. The issue will not be, “Who’s for Commonwealth values and who’s not?” I think that’s simplistic. The issue will be, “What is the instrumentality by which we advance Commonwealth values with due respect to the different cultures and histories of the various diverse countries that form the Commonwealth, and with a high regard to the way we work in diplomatic and other ways to achieve certain outcomes?” I would argue that that makes the case for a seasoned Commonwealth diplomat who has taken a strong stand as part of the EPG, as the best way to go forward. Sir Ronald is guilty of many things, but being less than subtle or being obtuse, or being insensitive to local democratic and other pressures, would not be those things about which he is guilty. He would be superb, because we need someone with that kind of skill set but who had the will to engage. I think the present Secretary General – who I still think is a pretty decent fellow – just didn’t have the will to engage. [He] was at a point in his career, and in the cycle, where he just didn’t see it as worth his effort.
SO: May I suggest a different scenario? I think this is germane to the future position of the Commonwealth Secretary General, that there is the necessity of the SG to be an enabler, a facilitator between heads, rather than simply responding to the heads’ mandate. So, it requires a degree of proactive diplomacy, not simply to raise the profile of this unique association but which places particular demands on the political skills and energy of that individual.
HS: Right. And it raises the question, if you have a club that is based on certain core values [and] certain principles, is there any sanction when a country chooses specifically and consistently to violate those values and principles? If the answer is “No” – which is what we could have said was the case for Sri Lanka – then the question is, well, why have the values and the principles? And then, in a world of many, competing inter-governmental organisations that seek money, effort and investment of time from our leaders, what would the relevance of the Commonwealth be, if it’s not prepared to stand up for those things? It’s not a defence organisation; it’s not really a trade organisation. It’s not a security or development organisation, purely laid out. It has aspects of all of that, but the bottom line is that it is an association of like-minded countries with a common parliamentary heritage, who are trying to defend certain values in a constructive and cooperative way. [If] they’re not going to defend those values, if there’s not going to be any instrumentality around that, why would we have the organisation? What’re the chances of the organisation surviving Her Majesty if it has no other apparent purpose?
SO: I wanted to ask you, sir, about the question of the headship and your view of the contribution of the existing head, and the position of the headship going forward.
HS: Canada’s view – and I share it – is that the contribution of the existing head is seminal [and] remains seminal. In a host of different ways, the substantive nature of that is indicated by the Palace in ways that make a great difference. At Perth, the opening ceremony – if you don’t have it, you should get a video of it – Her Majesty steps forward and says, “for better or for worse,” she has benefitted from the advice contained in the report of the Eminent Persons Group, and she awaits with great interest news of that report being passed and put into effect.
SO: Well, considering the delay on the publication of the EPG’s report, that was a particularly pointed opening remark.
HS: And remember, the Secretary General had conspired with the Australian Prime Minister – who I don’t think understood why – and Madame Kamla Persad, the outgoing Chair from Trinidad and Tobago, not to publish the report sufficiently for it to gain any kind of public granularity prior to the meeting. And despite that, Her Majesty said what she said. The fact that Charles was dispatched to Sri Lanka as opposed to Her Majesty going, all of these are very important, seminal pieces, and the attraction of leaders from around the world to come and meet with Her Majesty as part of this is a very important part of the glue that holds it together. Canada’s position is that – and I think it is Sir Ronald’s position – the headship will, on the sad day of her passing, transmit to her heir and to the next King of the United Kingdom, monarch, period, full stop. There are a few other views, but I don’t think the other views have any real traction.
SO: Sir, thank you very much indeed. Do you have a view, given the political tensions around the Scottish referendum last September, on a possible breakup of the United Kingdom and whether that would in any way affect the Commonwealth?
HS: Well, aside from expressing my joy as a Red Tory [in] the outcome of your general election, I think I should probably not have a view on the internal dimensions, except to say this: there are lessons to be learned from Canada. The 1992 general election saw the election of the official opposition as a separatist party from Quebec, which had 53 seats in the House of Commons – the second largest number. Yet Canada, under both Conservative and Liberal Prime Ministers, found a way to manage that process and treat those elected people with all the fairness that they deserved for having been elected under the operating system of Canadian democracy, but to have a risk to the country’s survival no more intense today – as you and I speak – than it was back in 1992. So, if we could find a way to do that with our very modest history, the notion that the United Kingdom would find a way to do that does not strike me as farfetched.
SO: Sir, thank you. Just as a concluding question, what do you believe has been the utility of the Commonwealth? Do you see it surviving and thriving going forward?
HS: The core utility of the Commonwealth is to say that across many different cultures, many different languages, many different faiths, there is in fact a kinship based on core values – a belief in democracy and development and the mobility of ideas – that makes our continued association worthwhile, and that there are other reasons for countries to associate with one another, other than simply trade and defence. That is an important idea, because it talks about civility as a kind of global concept, and the notion that that would be associated with the evolution of the British Empire into something more democratic and diverse is probably quite appropriate in terms of who has contributed what in this particular anniversary of the Magna Carta. So, I’m of the view that that is very important. It’s very important to Canada: it was when we were an emerging country in the post-1931 period, when we just got our own rights around foreign policy. [The] global connections for Canada really were Commonwealth connections. Our engagement in World War I was because of the British connection, and the notion that other emerging countries develop this international network of which they are instantly a part, when they are part of the Commonwealth, I think, is a huge value. It’s a huge benefit.
And the fact that there are also scholars going back and forth, and that there are other relationships that exist on a cultural basis, and that nurses and doctors and teachers and people in all other aspects of life are connected through Commonwealth associations, we think [this] is of huge value.
SO: Sir, thinking of the difficulties, though, for the Commonwealth going forward, I don’t have to remind you of the intensity of the debates about migration which are taking place in this country, and the issue around the tightening of visa regulations which are affecting those very Commonwealth professionals that you have mentioned.
SO: It seems to me that there are a number of disparate forces that are posing possibly insupportable strains upon the Commonwealth, and perhaps its day is done, because the big issues of the day are not addressed in the Commonwealth. It is a quintessential ‘soft power’ organisation, and that very civility that you point to is coming under increasing pressure from different quarters.
HS: Well, Sue, let me say this: inertia does not generate engagement and support. The present leadership of the Commonwealth [at the] Secretary General’s level has been dynamically inert, in a way that is very problematic. I wouldn’t want to forestall what the implications might be of a Commonwealth summit on migration. If nobody tries it, if no one attempts to achieve another forum for fresh ideas and new thinking, then it won’t happen. That’s exactly what the Commonwealth should be doing. It’s on those very issues – which divide up, in a way, that are North/South, for example – that the Commonwealth, because of its bridges and legitimacy, should be attempting to build a new path, to suggest a new way through that might not have occurred otherwise in organisations which are either stultified by the veto, as in the case of the UN, or tied up on a kind of left/right ideological premise, as might be the case with respect to the AU or NATO. The Commonwealth doesn’t have those burdens, and the issue is, what does it do with its opportunity? If the answer is what it has been in the last eight years – which is, essentially, very little – then I think your prophecy will become reality. But if it engages fully? The only way that will happen is if we choose a Secretary General who’s prepared to engage.
SO: Indeed, sir. I think that’s an excellent note on which to conclude. Sir, thank you very much indeed. That was an extremely energetic and eloquent interview.
HS: Keep up the great work, Sue. We all appreciate the important contribution this will make to a greater understanding of the institution.
[END OF AUDIOFILE PART TWO]