Biography: Clark, Charles Joseph ‘Joe’. 1939- . Member of the Canadian Parliament (Progressive Conservative Party), 1973-1993, 2000-2004. Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, 1976-1983, 1998-2003. Prime Minister of Canada, 1979-1980. Secretary of State for External Affairs, 1984-1991. Chair of the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on Southern Africa, 1988-1991. President of the Privy Council, 1991-1993. Special Representative to the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Cyprus, 1993-1996. Professor of Practice for Public-Private Sector Partnerships, McGill University, 2006- . Vice-Chairman and Member of the Global Leadership Foundation.
SO: Sue Onslow (Interviewer)
JC: Joe Clark (Respondent)
SO: This is Dr Sue Onslow talking to the Right Honourable Joe Clark, former Prime Minister and Secretary for External Affairs of Canada, in London on Tuesday, 23rd April 2013. Mr Clark, thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me. I wonder if you could begin by saying how did you see the Commonwealth at the beginning of your political career?
JC: The first acquaintance I remember with the Commonwealth was by way of Commonwealth Scholarships at the University of Alberta in 1958-59. I came from a very Anglo-Saxon part of my home province of Alberta. I had never met a black person, to my knowledge, until I ran into some Nigerians who were Commonwealth Scholarship students. At that time, a number of Commonwealth Scholarship students came to Canada. My consciousness of what I considered a “British connection” came earlier. My home is in the ranch country of High River and about 22 miles west of us was the Edward Prince of Wales ranch – the “EP Ranch” – that was the western retreat of the [former Prince Edward VIII]. As a 3 year old, we and other families were invited to visit the ranch to meet the Duke of Windsor. I was wearing short pants and we walked through fields of stubble. I have pictures of my bleeding legs.
JC: So we had those connections that I think disposed me to a sense of the realm and, by inference, the Commonwealth. Many of those ranches had been started in the late 1800s by so-called “remittance men” from the UK who, I later learned, retained close connections with their British families. It’s germane to note that this British connection was a more dominant part of the Canadian experience, generally, when I was growing up than what it became later, as the Canadian population grew significantly more multicultural. British practices established a lot of the framework of the wider world for my part of Alberta because the families of these “remittance men” continued and conveyed their sense of standards and culture. I will never forget a couple who, in their early 30s, had bought a very good ranch, but he became severely arthritic and was able only to manage the books and planning, so his wife did the farm work, the ranch work. And that was hard work. But every second Friday she had a full dress formal dinner in her house at the ranch. What was interesting was not just that she did it, but that there were enough of the Brits in the neighbourhood that she always found guests who knew what to wear, what fork to use – all of these civilized European customs, out literally in the wilds. So that’s where I grew up, and we had a sense, consequently, of a British – if not a Commonwealth – connection.
SO: But the Commonwealth you’re describing – that you knew as a child, that sense of a wider British world – was a different British Commonwealth to the Commonwealth post-1949.
JC: I’m really speaking about the connection with British practices and institutions which were, of course, an elemental, essential connection with the Commonwealth. My perception broadened at university where I met students from the wider Commonwealth. But I expect that, in many Commonwealth countries in the 1940s and 50s, that sense of a British connection pre-dated and led to a sense of a Commonwealth connection. Recall that the instinct to act more independently but remain a part of the British “family” and institutions took root in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, where Canadians and other Empire soldiers fought valiantly and were widely ignored by the British on critical issues when it came to fashioning a peace. A combination of pressures began independently with each of South Africa, Australia and Canada that coalesced to constitute a relation that was no longer the old Empire but in effect an early Commonwealth. Canadians regard that experience as being the beginning of our independence as a country. I understand that my encounters growing up in mid-century Canada are British more than Commonwealth, but they indicated a perceived community at that time that was both British and determined to be independent within a British framework.
SO: As you say, there was the white, wider British world of the Dominions, leading up to the acquisition of full independence. But by the 1960s and your university career, the Commonwealth had itself altered with the emergence of the Afro-Asian bloc – following the great wave of African independence in the 1960s, and the creation of the Commonwealth Secretariat. You mentioned that your personal experience and engagement with Nigerian students altered your perception of the role and the importance of the Commonwealth in a wider, international community. When you came into politics, did you see the Commonwealth as being a viable, attractive, valuable entity in any way?
JC: I did for a very particular reason. I had been elected as the National President of the Progressive Conservative Student Federation before I became a candidate for any public office. Our party leader, Mr Diefenbaker, as Prime Minister, had played a critical role in the 1960 CHOGM and I still recall his reference to leaving a light in the window for South Africa after apartheid was gone. Several of us were young students then; Brian Mulroney was another. I remember standing in the lobby of the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa when Mr Diefenbaker came back from that CHOGM to an annual meeting of our party. We knew from where he was coming, and the role he had played in that London meeting. Years later, in the late 1990s, I was asked why was it that Mr Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government elected in 1984 had taken a more active role in the Commonwealth, particularly on the apartheid question, than the Trudeau government had before. It was because we regarded the apartheid issue – and the Commonwealth as an instrument of dealing with the apartheid issue – as being very much a part of the Progressive Conservative tradition in government. So, both Mr Mulroney and I, and many of our colleagues and supporters, had been won to that Commonwealth cause before either of us became elected to the House of Commons.
Other than that, there was not much broad public consciousness of the Commonwealth as an active international force. We’re speaking of public perceptions – not objective importance, not even the priorities of a government. My recollection is that, even among organizations which promoted or supported the Commonwealth in Canada, in the 1960s and early ‘70s the sense of connection was more British than Commonwealth. Our domestic population was diversifying rapidly then, with, among other things, a large and growing Indo-Canadian population, but I don’t recall thinking of them in Commonwealth terms. The exception may be Canadians from the Caribbean.
SO: Just to step forwards to the 1970s: I know that when Pierre Trudeau became Prime Minister – and he was a very youthful Prime Minister – his references to the Commonwealth at the start of his premiership were very much, ‘We have no need of this nostalgic organisation. Canada is a young and dynamic country; it is progressive and forward-looking and the Commonwealth is an out-dated institution’. Does that correspond very much with your own recollection?
JC: Here is the likely context in which that was said. Mr Trudeau became Prime Minister following Mr [Lester B.] Pearson – the Nobel Prize-winning internationalist who was the embodiment of Canadian foreign policy, but whom Trudeau, as a commentator then, had once called the ‘de-frocked Prince of Peace’.
JC: To Pearson’s great credit, he invited Trudeau to become a candidate for election to Parliament and then named him to the highly-public and prestigious portfolio of Minister of Justice; [this] opened the way to his running for the Liberal party leadership and becoming Prime Minister. Now…how do I say this? Mr Trudeau came to office with a personal mission that had largely to do with Quebec and Quebec’s place in the country. He was also a very well-informed and well-travelled person, but there were large areas of public policy where his instincts were stronger than his knowledge. Economic policy could generally be regarded as one of those. I expect that his actual experience with the Commonwealth as Commonwealth would also fall into that latter category. He had visited Commonwealth countries because he visited broadly, but I expect he visited them as interesting societies themselves, rather than as part of a Commonwealth with Canada. And he was inclined, in that early incarnation, to dismiss a lot of Canadian foreign policy – call it ‘Pearson-ian’ foreign policy – as either nostalgic or needing serious review.
One of his great friends and close collaborators was the late Ivan Head, with a similar intellectual background but a deeper formal immersion in the detail and practice of international affairs. Ivan and I were from the same province, Alberta, and had mutual friends, but were not particularly close. Ivan had been a Foreign Service officer, and the Foreign Service is often hard on its bright, younger officers. Often, they have to stay in the service a longish while before they find their talents appreciated. Ivan left early, as I recall, thinking that a lot of Canadian foreign policy was not modern. So the precise citations you’re quoting sound to me as though they would not have been Commonwealth-specific but part of a generic view that Mr Trudeau espoused at the beginning, concerning established Canadian foreign policy generally.
SO: I know that Ivan Head was one of the key drafters of the Singapore Declaration in 1971, and that by 1973, at the Ottawa CHOGM, it was Trudeau’s innovation to bring in the Retreat at Heads of Government Meetings. So he became a passionate advocate of high level Commonwealth summitry and its efficacy.
JC: Mr Trudeau also became an architect of Canada’s participation in the North-South dialogue, and I believe that the presence in the Commonwealth family of many of the major and different voices in the North-South dialogue was an inescapable and instructive dynamic in the Commonwealth, as it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and now. That disposed people who might not otherwise have thought of that kind of engagement to do so. [What] I’m saying is that the quotation about nostalgia was probably part of a ‘state of mind’ of Mr Trudeau when he came to office, but that changed on some questions as he settled in. Was the Commonwealth front and centre in Canadian policy in 1967 kind of planning then? I don’t think so, particularly. A separate question is whether there has been, in Canadian foreign policy, a view of the Commonwealth as an institution with real potential? Yes, I think that was the case, but in terms of tangible priorities and consequences probably more in my party than in Mr Trudeau’s.
SO: I’m interested in this dynamic of interaction between Canada and the Commonwealth over international issues. The Secretary General, of course, was himself a former Canadian leading diplomat. Arnold Smith, as Secretary General, was one of the key advocates of Bangladesh becoming independent in 1971, which was born out of the crisis of the Pakistan civil war. The Commonwealth was, of course, enormously challenged over issues of how to manage Pakistan’s departure from the Commonwealth, [as well as] British sales of arms to South Africa, questions of development, media taunts – was it, indeed, ‘a jelly fish without a sting?’ These debates are very much within the newspapers of the late 1960s and 1970s. There was the enormous bust-up before the Singapore conference, yet it seems there is a certain cycle of friction and resolution within the Commonwealth. But was it seen as a viable international institution? Did it all depend on the issues and vision of the Secretary General? Certainly Arnold Smith was an enormously efficacious Secretary General and had a clear vision of the scope and framework of what he should pursue: his papers make that very clear in the library and archives.
JC: In my view, Canada had an unusual rise to adulthood in international affairs. A group of highly intelligent people had been recruited to the Foreign Service under Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and they became the core of a small, smart foreign service. But they were held on a very tight leash in the late 1930s and early 1940s because King, himself, was pre-occupied with existing internal divisions within Canada, and did not want foreign involvements to introduce new potential sources of conflict. In that sense, he was the opposite of an internationalist. He had very strong emotional loyalty to Britain and was naturally apprehensive about the inevitable impact upon Canada of the United States.
A critical turning point in Canadian attitude towards international involvement and institutions came when Prime Minster King named Louis St Laurent as his foreign minister. King took that action, typically, for domestic reasons – because, on some of the divisive debates in Canada about conscription, about participation in the Second World War, St Laurent had been a key francophone minister who had been forthright in defending Canada’s involvement in the war to Quebec critics and so was known and viewed by King as a very talented and valuable ally. In fact, King was probably grooming him to become Prime Minister. This is all to the side, except that when St Laurent became foreign minister – which I suspect King regarded as a place to put him until better things came along – …
JC: …he found an immediate identification with these bright, young foreign service officers who had been framed not only by their own intellectual strength but had been abroad in war. Canada had opened a series of embassies in wartime because we had lives and interests on the line in the war and needed to be present where our allies were. So, these talented foreign service officers were sent abroad to open and operate embassies and came back to Ottawa with real experience and understanding of – and personal contacts in – a changing world. There is another very important aspect of this, which has more to do with Britain, maybe the Commonwealth, by extension. A lot of talented young Canadians who went away to school in the 1920s and 1930s came to the UK, so all sorts of personal bonds were formed – not just with Brits but with others who had been drawn to Britain as well. Many of those Canadian students came home to join the Foreign Service, and often brought with them a view that was more internationalist. In fact, the issue which symbolized a basic change in Canadian foreign policy was not a Commonwealth issue, but reflected the new force of thinking more internationally and less parochially. That issue was Korea, where King wanted to stay out because he didn’t want entanglements. St Laurent – more modern by instinct but buttressed by the perspective and argument of his officials – insisted that Canada had an obligation to support a United Nations initiative, and threatened to resign if Canada did not become engaged in UN commitments respecting Korea. From that point forward, with the Second World War ended, Canada adopted a more internationalist position in the world.
SO: Are you referring to a separate political culture existing within DFA, towards the Commonwealth, that then runs parallel with a multilateral or Atlanticist/NATO worldview which accepted being part of a wider American world?
JC: Not so much a separate culture, but a changing culture precipitated by the need for reconstruction and a new international architecture after the Second War, and by Canada’s unaccustomed relative prominence – both on the battlefield during that war, and in the innovations and institution-building that followed. Not only had Canadians been gallant and prominent in that conflict, we emerged from that war as an intact and growing economy and country in a time when many of our allies and friends were rebuilding from physical destruction. The evolution of the Commonwealth from the old Empire was a feature of that change, and the appointment of an able Canadian as the first Secretary General was a symbol of a new era – both in international relations, generally, and in the role of Canada and Canadians. In Canada, at least, that transformation into a more activist and influential role occurred across a range of international issues and institutions. The first chair of the contracting parties of what became the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was a Canadian trade commissioner and diplomat from Vancouver, Dana Wilgress. Mr Pearson was obviously very active, not least in the resolution of the Suez Crisis and the creation – along with Canadian General E. L. M. Burns – of United Nations peacekeeping. The McGill professor John Humphrey was a principal author of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Similarly, Mr St. Laurent played a leading role in drafting the London Declaration, defining the Commonwealth. Mr Pearson was one of the “three wise men” whose recommendations shaped the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). And so, suddenly, from a position where Canadians were very careful about not venturing into most of the world, we became prominent and influential in the front lines of multilateralism.
SO: This seems to be a particularly Canadian version of multilateralism, yes.
JC: That flows from our particular composition as an explicitly bilingual country, shaped increasingly by a respect for multiple cultures. I argue in my book ‘How We Lead: Canada in a Century of Change’ that Canada “came to maturity in a multilateral time, at the end of the Second World War, when the costs of conflict were everywhere on display….” A narrow definition of ‘national interest’ may have applied in an age when most international relations were adversarial or occasional, and international decisions were dominated by a handful of powers, but that concept….has not, in fact, ever fit Canada’s experience….To an unusual degree, we have served and asserted our national interests by reinforcing the instruments and effectiveness of the international community. There has been an inherent desire to make multilateralism work and to focus on multilateralism which has also immediately served Canada’s interest – as trade did, or security, or international development, or where we could have a shaping role as in the Commonwealth.
SO: Sir, did you see the Commonwealth as an alternative to international, communal organisation through the United Nations?
JC: No, because historically we pursued both together. I see the Commonwealth emphasis rather as building upon political and cultural traditions, and enlarging upon experiences which we knew worked. One of the reasons that the Mulroney government was much more active in encouraging Canadian membership in La Francophonie was because of our positive experience of fruitful co-operation among developed and developing countries in the Commonwealth. We had other reasons of course – a strong interest in reflecting our francophone as well as our anglophone heritage and roots. The preceding Trudeau government would not take any action which might enlarge the international status of Quebec. We found a formula which allowed those provinces where either a majority or significant minority of citizens spoke French as a first language to have status in La Francophonie. Had our experience of the Commonwealth been negative, we would not have embraced La Francophonie as vigorously as we did. In fact, France did not much want us because we would challenge and dilute their dominant authority. Our simple membership, our relative wealth and sophistication, changed the balance within La Francophonie. (I informed them of my work with the CFM; but there is no indication that anything was done with this information. Incidentally, the group had almost faded into obscurity in the 1970s but resumed heads of Government meetings in the 1980s. This suggests that there was never any shared authority among La Francophonie members.) In a comparable way, Mr Mulroney’s and my active personal engagement – and Mrs Thatcher’s reluctance to have Britain chair the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on Southern Africa (CCFMSA) – changed the traditional leadership of the Commonwealth, too. It had someone other than Britain in charge of the Commonwealth.
I do not recall, exactly, who initiated the idea of the CCFMSA. It could well have been Sonny Ramphal; a lot was at that time. But we were anticipating the first meeting of the committee to be at the Vancouver CHOGM, which it was. I unwisely adjourned that first meeting so we could go to Her Majesty’s reception at the hotel up the road, and by the time we got back, Witness Mangwende – then the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister – had become much more outspoken in his resentment of the British, and he took it out on Geoffrey Howe, who was then Britain’s Foreign Secretary, and participated in the Vancouver CCFMSA. It was a very uncomfortable meeting, and I recall that Ben Mkapa of Tanzania was superb at helping police proceedings, repeatedly banging on the table saying, “Let the chairman chair!” It was clear in those circumstances that, if it only took a couple of glasses of wine to get one of the other Commonwealth members into a rancorous attitude towards the British, we were better off with another chair.
My recollection is that the habit on important Commonwealth matters had been to have a very clear British imprimatur. Other imprimaturs were important also, but Sonny Ramphal, at the helm, would bring the British in whenever he could. But when that would not let the Commonwealth function as effectively as it would, he’d turn to us and in other cases to Australia. The other country that was extremely active in that Southern Africa committee, by the way, was Australia: particularly when Gareth Evans was the minister. In fact, while a very central role – particularly, strategically – was played by both Sonny Ramphal and Emeka Anyaoku at Commonwealth headquarters, the actual resources were principally from the Departments of Foreign Affairs of Canada and of Australia. In 1984, when I became minister and Mulroney Prime Minister, apartheid in South Africa was an area where Canada was active, but it was not the priority it became. Organisationally there weren’t many high flyers who, when they came into the Department, were assigned to that file. They were assigned to files that looked like they’d fit the future more. When it became clear that the minister and the Prime Minister were strongly interested [in South Africa], we attracted two types of exceptional officers: some were high flyers who chose or were assigned there, and others were really good diplomats who were strategically very sound but had either been taken off the ‘fast track’ or had fallen into disfavour with personnel. As a team, that Southern Africa Task Force was superb.
SO: So this was Personnel’s idea of hard labour?
JC: No, I don’t think so. I think they were saying, “I wish we could make better use of X because he’s got real talent”. So, they knew they had talent but they were in places where it was harder for that talent to be expressed, and some of those people were seconded to our internal Task Force on South Africa and made an immense difference. They were sound and informed and canny, and genuinely committed to what came to be seen as a ‘cause’. As just one example, at the 1985 CHOGM in Nassau, I was formally precluded from seeing the ANC because they were considered a terrorist organisation. So, one afternoon, Eric Bergbusch of our Task Force knocked on my door and said, “Why don’t you come to tea?” I said, “Sure. Where? With whom?” And he said, “Oh, just some friends over at the Zimbabwean cottage”, and there I met Thabo Mbeki and others, and established an essential personal relationship with the leadership of the ANC. More regularly, our Task Force – and, to some degree, its equivalent in Australia – identified actions, including sanctions, which could be applied across much of the Commonwealth and co-ordinated their application. [They] commissioned research into the potential effectiveness of other measures which could be taken by governments or business or civil society, and maintained close liaison with interested civil society, within and outside South Africa, and with leaders of the ANC and other organizations opposing apartheid, providing material as well as moral support on behalf of the Commonwealth ‘family’, of which South Africa had been a prominent member and could, with reform, become once again. The member countries emphasised the Commonwealth members of the Front Line States, but represented the Commonwealth’s global membership: members were Australia, Canada, Guyana, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and, on occasion, the United Kingdom. The object of the Committee of Foreign Ministers was to intensify and maintain public and political pressure on the apartheid regime. Previously, the declarations of the Commonwealth could be seen as spitting in the wind because they occurred only every two years when the Heads of Government met. CCFMSA met every three to four months in the 1987-89 period, in different locales around the world, steadily ratcheting up pressure for change by agreeing on and applying common actions, including sanctions, and regularly publicizing our meetings and common actions – almost always with extensive coverage in, or reaching into, South Africa (see supplementary document on Canada and CCMSA).
SO: So they could either hunker down in true laager mentality, or they could launch some pre-emptive diplomacy.
JC: Previous to the CCFMSA, the South African regime could hunker down or they could launch pre-emptive diplomacy. But they knew CHOGM was coming. It was a fixed date on their calendar, as it was on ours. So we had to find some means to make the pressure more repetitive at the cutting edge. The easy part was to schedule meetings every few months, and thus, by and large, generate media coverage. The hard part was to determine and then ration out – over a period of time we could predict – the measures that we could take that would command sufficient apparent support from all or most of the members of the Commonwealth. So, each meeting we would have a new range of actions. Some would be sanctions, some would be something else.
SO: So this was for the Commonwealth to maintain a degree of initiative and proactive diplomacy that would help to wrong foot the National Party leadership?
JC: It kept the multinational Commonwealth in the picture and mounted international pressure on the apartheid regime through that period. And, on trade matters in particular, we could also apply some pressure – often bilaterally – upon nations beyond the huge Commonwealth who were our allies or trading partners. I remember a bilateral meeting in that period with Japan, in Tokyo. I opened our 2-day consultation by saying, “I’ve been looking at your trade figures and despite the United Nations agreement, your trade with South Africa is going up.” They said, “That can’t be,” but the next day my Japanese counterpart came back and said that there had been some inadvertencies which had now [been] corrected and Japan was supporting its commitments to the UN. Now, I don’t want to make too much of this except to make the point that we were able to invoke, bilaterally and outside the Commonwealth, to use a policy on which the Commonwealth had status, to prick the sense of what was appropriate of a significant non-Commonwealth government that took seriously its adherence to United Nations commitments.
SO: Because, under your leadership as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada was the only G7 country which was taking such a proactive stance on sanctions toward South Africa.
JC: Yes, we were.
SO: You are describing operating within a broader consensus of Commonwealth countries, even if Britain was notoriously obstructionist?
JC: Mulroney raised Commonwealth issues every G7 summit he attended; I did, too. But he raised them at the leaders’ table and often Mrs Thatcher disagreed. I personally believe she was not a supporter of apartheid, either. She just thought the means were counter-productive. And so the Mulroney government kept the pressure on over a more sustained period of time, and outside the Commonwealth as well as within.
SO: So was this very much at Canada’s own initiative? Or was it in collaboration and discussion with Sonny Ramphal, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth?
JC: If your question is about the establishment of the leadership Canada applied, there’s no question Sonny Ramphal would have been involved and would have approved. The question I can’t answer is whose idea it was. But it was adopted quite quickly and accepted broadly and, to my recollection, did not originally begin as being Canadian chaired. There were 2 reasons that happened, I think. One was Canada’s capacity and resources, but the other was that I was the only other minister in the mix who has been elected and served as Prime Minister, so I had an extra authority among my colleagues.
SO: Sir, thank you for setting out very clearly Canada’s attitude to the Commonwealth and multilateralism, and Canada’s particular policy towards apartheid South Africa. Please, if I could just take you back a little bit. When you came into politics in the 1970s, was international affairs at all a domestic issue, a point of internal party tension with the Progressive Conservatives? Or was there broad consensus from within your political party?
JC: There are two answers to that, which are consistent answers. One is that international issues have rarely been a political issue in Canada, in part because we’re not a conventional international power. The Free Trade Agreement with the USA was the one international issue which had an impact upon a Canadian election result. I can recall where there was an international issue. The second is that – to be fair to everybody – had Cabinet decisions been taken on an equal vote for every minister, we probably would not have engaged in the South Africa campaign; certainly, not with the vigour we did. But Cabinets don’t run that way. The Prime Minister and I were both very strongly in favour of this, as were people like Flora MacDonald and several others. And it wasn’t that ministers were opposed to it – although there were one or two members of our parliamentary caucus who probably were opposed, who on that issue would have felt at home in Mrs Thatcher’s caucus.
SO: Though possibly not from her ‘hand-bagging’ style? [Laughs]
JC: No! But in their view of the world. But, none the less, the Canadian ministers who might have followed a different priority were influential ministers – they were smart people – but they just did not share the commitment of Brian and myself and others such as Flora, who regarded this as a Progressive Conservative tradition, on its merits of course, but also because we considered it a defining part of the Red Tory tradition of the Progressive Conservative party. An important factor to remember is that we had been the outside party for a long time in Canada, and one consequence was that some people expected us to act abysmally when we came to office. For example, the Heads of Mission of two or three Central American countries would not meet me when I first became Foreign Minister, because the name of my party was the Progressive Conservative party and they associated “Conservative” with Ronald Reagan.
SO: So, simply the label ‘Conservative’ was enough to cast you as consorting with the ‘spawn of the devil’?
JC: Yes. That was a factor we had to bear in mind. It led to some tensions within the party, and some of the later developments in Canada – including the merger to form the present Harper Conservative party – were animated to some degree by some sense that we had not acted in a narrower Conservative tradition. But that wasn’t a big factor at the time. The rest of the cabinet, I think, simply accepted that there were policies that both Mulroney and I – the successor leaders of the party – supported.
SO: During your time as Premier in 1979-1980, how far did your particular experience of the Lusaka CHOGM and Canada’s policy contribution towards the Commonwealth monitoring force – as well as having election observers there – help to establish your party’s credentials as being a confident, capable party in terms of managing foreign policy?
JC: It’s interesting. I expect some other countries at the Lusaka CHOGM were a little apprehensive about our new government – more because we were new, than because of any real concern about our basic position. The Liberal Party had been in office for 16 years, and Mr. Trudeau, personally, had been an emphatic presence. That apprehension waned in the first day’s discussion and, when that first day ended, Kenneth Kaunda beckoned me over and said, “The things you’re saying are very much like those Mr Trudeau said.” And I replied, “Of course, Mr. President. We represent the same country.” Nonetheless, I was very new. I had been in office a little more than two months, but that period had included a G7 Summit – just days after my swearing in – and a leading role in the response to the “boat people” cast adrift in the China Sea. Flora MacDonald had established her own positive and empathetic reputation as Foreign Minister, and many of our senior officials were well-known and respected in Commonwealth circles. Moreover, we were not the only “new” government at that CHOGM.
Mrs Thatcher had been in office only a little longer and, implying no slight to her, the heavy work at Lusaka was done by Peter Carrington – obviously, always with her agreement and authority. He would be very careful about that. In our case as well, officials played a key role on issues with which they had been involved for some time. The principal lesson which Flora and I took away from Lusaka was the clear demonstration that the Commonwealth can work. It could get agreement, it could draw people together. It was evident that that was due to more than simply the skill and commitment of the individuals who were there. There was an evident institutional capacity, all the more remarkable given the diversity of the countries and governments represented. Among other things, I was very impressed by the Queen just because she was so effective, respectful and yet authoritative in dealing with Prime Ministers and ministers in relatively small groups. She had a series of luncheons which were a tour de force in the way she encouraged consensus. Have you seen the movie ‘Argo’?
SO: Yes, I have. I have a little note here: ‘ask about American hostages’.
JC: I’m going to raise it now because, from my point of view, rescuing American diplomats who were hostages in Iran in a highly unpredictable period was a relatively simple decision. My officials, I learned later, were surprised; some of them said they doubted Mr Trudeau would have made the same decision – certainly not so quickly, perhaps not at all. We made it very quickly, not least because those six Americans were already under the protection of our Ambassador, Ken Taylor, and his associates. Both delay and publicity would have been highly risky. Officials immediately briefed Flora upon receiving Ken Taylor’s cable. That was on a morning, in the late morning. The House of Commons was sitting at 2 PM and the first time Flora and I had a chance to see one another was at Question Period; she came to me right after Question Period and said, “This is the situation”, and asked my direction.
SO: So this was in November of 1979.
JC: This would have been November of 1979. I said immediately, “We have to help them get out.” And she said, “I’m glad you said that, because I agree.” And we then set things in train. That was simply the natural thing to do; the Americans were friends of ours. They were in trouble and we were in a position – we, alone, in that particular set of circumstances – where we could help them or leave them. So we helped them. In that sense it was a simple decision. We had a sense of being a part of a family that was facing a difficult and significant choice. I don’t want to exaggerate the parallel, but there was a comparable situation at the Zambia CHOGM and it was similarly natural for us to be part of that Commonwealth decision, that ‘family’ decision – probably, in those circumstances, as a very new government, with ministers relatively new to the actual dynamics of the Commonwealth, influenced more by our relationship to the UK and our respect for their leadership of the traditional Commonwealth on a difficult and significant issue.
SO: There’s also the question of ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing.
JC: Yes, that denotes trust. But it was not a factor very much on those questions. In one of my early briefings as Foreign Minister about the UN I asked, “What exactly are ‘like-minded countries’?” It speaks of countries with whom one normally finds common positions. Canada has an unusually deep and complex history in both the case of the UK and, as was evident on the hostage issue, the US. Our connection with the Commonwealth, as such, began historically with Britain and was then deepened and extended to the wide variety of other countries whose systems had also emanated from Britain, through common ventures like the 1960 CHOGM decision on South Africa, and the Zimbabwe discussions at Lusaka. But in my native corner of Alberta, I was not the only one who grew up conscious of being in what we regarded as the British tradition. The country grew up that way. In a particular way, many francophone Quebecers grew up knowing that they had benefited from a British sense of pragmatism that showed real respect for French-speaking Canada’s distinctive culture and identity, after Canada’s small equivalent of a civil war – the brief Battle of the Plains of Abraham, which the British narrowly won. Quebec’s capacity to remain a ‘distinct society’ was rooted directly in the British decisions after that battle: to retain and respect the French language, the civil code of law and – in that agricultural age – the system of land tenure which was French, not British. Historically, then, the Commonwealth was an Anglo-Saxon institution, and our challenge and our opportunity now is that the cultural nature of the Commonwealth has broadened significantly, not simply as our membership increases, but as more of those “newer” members become more confident and assertive, and the dominance of Britain and the ‘traditional Commonwealth’ declines. Significantly, the internal cultural nature of that ‘traditional Commonwealth’ – the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa – has also broadened. The defining connections have grown beyond what they were. Our Anglo-Saxon roots and institutions remain a strong and defining bond, and that quality of pragmatism is more relevant than ever, but our diversity is now much more than geographic. That should be an advantage, as the institution looks forward.
SO: If I could just take you back to that time when you were first in office, as you say, to that short time in 1979-80. Your experience of the Lusaka CHOGM showed you the utility of high level summitry: the utility of the Commonwealth and key officials.
JC: And the capacity to get agreement.
SO: But you also made reference to the parallel key clandestine activity of the international affairs of Canada: assisting the United States at a particularly critical juncture in the hostage crisis in Tehran. Was there private Commonwealth support? I know the Brits – in the very early stages, in the first 24 hours, of the invasion of the American Embassy in Tehran – were trying to help; and the New Zealanders were also trying to help. Was there support for Canada in this particular juncture?
JC: We didn’t tell our allies (apart, naturally, from President Carter and his closest advisors, whose citizens were hostages). I don’t know precisely what my officials did but I think we didn’t tell anyone. We were holding it very, very closely in Canada. I didn’t tell Cabinet, beyond saying, “I need 12 passports and please don’t ask me why, but trust me.” It takes four Privy Councillors to sign an order-in-council, so there were four of us: Flora and myself, and two others. I don’t know who Ken Taylor was talking to in Tehran, if anybody. He was probably keeping very quiet himself, and I’d be very surprised if Canadian officials spoke to their counterparts abroad. Many of our senior officials didn’t know including in Foreign Affairs. Some expressed their regret later on about being kept out of the loop because we kept the loop very narrow. As a parliamentarian, I had personally briefed Mr Trudeau as Leader of the Opposition, and was quite surprised – and disappointed – when he made allusions in Question Period which could have drawn attention to the role Canada was playing. That confirmed the wisdom of keeping the information loop very limited.
SO: I was particularly struck when I interviewed Flora MacDonald and when I was talking to her about the Lusaka CHOGM. To me, as an historian, the Lusaka meeting is particularly interesting for the question of issues, policies, dynamics of meetings, discussions in Kenneth Kaunda’s study, etc. Yet her recollection of that time was particularly the hostage crisis. It was very clear that what I thought was important in the Commonwealth, in fact, was not what she remembered as being important in the second half of 1979.
JC: The hostage crisis was later and naturally looms larger in Flora’s recollection, not least because it was a gruelling period, and information was so tightly held. She was also intensely involved, from the summer on, as a leader in the international response to the crisis of the boat people.
SO: It was just her particular recollection of 1979 was not the resolution of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe issue: it was emphasizing the hostage question.
You then stepped down as Prime Minister in March 1980, just around the time when Robert Mugabe was elected as Prime Minister. Do you recall at all your impressions of the outcome of that election? Does it register at all in your memory?
JC: Not particularly. I recall very positive discussions with Mugabe in the 1980s on apartheid questions. I recall his first wife was with him in almost all those discussions.
SO: Sally Mugabe.
JC: I can remember a couple of cases where he was becoming unusually assertive and she did something as simple as lean forward in her chair and he… ‘Subsided’ is not quite the right word… But there was a grading-down and he reverted to an easier attitude.
SO: There was an adjustment?
JC: There was an adjustment of his position. And I think she played an immensely important role in his attitude. Canadians knew him then in a particular context, although we didn’t work with him on a regular basis. He had been schooled by Canadians and that was always a factor in our minds and in his mind; a factor for good, we thought at the time.
SO: So he was schooled by Canadian Jesuits?
JC: They would have been Canadian Jesuits, yes.
SO: In 1981, obviously, you were no longer serving Prime Minister, nor yet again the Foreign Minister. However, the ZIMCORD meeting – the great multilateral donors meeting – took place in Harare that year, and Canada played a leading role in terms of Zimbabwe’s post-conflict reconstruction and development. How far would you say that reflected a Canadian desire for Zimbabwe to work as a multi-racial, broadly capitalist country, set against South Africa?
JC: I can’t answer that. For a long time in Canadian international history socialist or social democratic policies were not a bar to co-operation. Prime Minister Diefenbaker pointedly maintained diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and subsequent Canadian governments followed that lead. Similarly, we maintained active development relations in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas. That open-mindedness in international policy pertained to the Commonwealth. Our largest trading partner and an overwhelming presence is our neighbour next door, and the Mulroney government was determined to make the best of that arrangement. We could and we did on major issues: the free trade agreement, which we proposed and they responded; [and] on a difficult environmental question on acid rain, where President Reagan did not believe there was a scientific cause of acid rain.
SO: I remember the news report of Press Secretary James Brady running up and down Air Force One, when it was flying high over dense woodland, crying, “Killer trees! Killer trees!”
JC: So we were cooperating with them on a lot of issues. I believed, and the Prime Minister accepted, that we needed also to emphasise areas in which we had genuine differences from the United States – and to do that without sticking them in the eye, and keeping them fully informed about what we were doing. I refer to that as investing the two sides of Canada’s international coin. The Commonwealth was significant in that strategy because the Commonwealth was a non-American entity in which we were already intending to play an active role, but that “other side of the coin” factor made it particularly valuable to us as a counterbalance to our close involvement with the Americans.
SO: Did you have a particularly distinct dimension to your Caribbean policy then in the 1980s?
JC: The question I can’t answer is whether the strong interest Canada showed in the Caribbean – earlier on – was Commonwealth-based, or neighbourhood-based. It was certainly Commonwealth-influenced and it was substantial, both in terms of development assistance and in the relative regularity of contact between Canadian and Caribbean leaders. That personal contact was not a trivial matter. In effect, the “international world” was smaller in the 1960s and 1970s, in that long-distance travel was not as easy, there were fewer trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific “heads of government” or similar meetings of ministers or officials, beyond the Commonwealth. Those meetings are so numerous now that the actual contact among leaders, and probably officials, is often almost perfunctory, as everyone has their eye on their next flight. Some of the earlier relationships were quite personal. Mr Diefenbaker and, I believe, Mr Pearson holidayed in the Caribbean, so were not distant figures and had personal relationships which buttressed the relatively higher degree of development assistance, commercial and educational connections, in that period. Part of that was proximity, in an age that was by no means global, but part of it was also ‘family’, flowing significantly from Commonwealth connections. As an example, early in my period as Foreign Minister, the Fall of 1984, when Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, I invited the foreign ministers or heads of government of the Commonwealth Caribbean to come to the funeral, on Canada’s large plane and scores of us travelled together, as a Commonwealth family to a death in the family. And I think that that reflected a greater closeness in relations at that time.
SO: You’ve talked very eloquently about your and Premier Brian Mulroney’s particular agenda for Canada as a member of the G7, pushing forward a proactive policy on apartheid South Africa. Obviously the Nassau CHOGM in 1985 was of key importance in launching the Eminent Persons Group. Was that a particular Canadian initiative? I know that Nassau is a heads of government meeting, rather than a Foreign Ministers’ meeting, but I just wondered…
JC: I had to fight to get to Nassau. Mr Mulroney and I had been opponents in two party leadership campaigns and we had both deliberately built an excellent working relation, but it wasn’t always easy. (In October 1985 Mr Mulroney had publically denounced the apartheid government in his speech at the UN. Unless there were signs of meaningful change, the PM stated, relations with South Africa might have to be severed absolutely). Key members of his staff were anxious that I not come to a “Heads of Government” meeting, but he and I agreed that it would be more sensible for me to be in Nassau, because of the South African issue.
SO: So what level meeting were you able to attend? Were you able to sit in on the Heads of Government meeting? You wouldn’t have gone to the retreat?
JC: I didn’t go to the retreat, but took full advantage of the opportunity to meet with leaders of the Front Lines States, the ANC, and others. At the Vancouver CHOGM I was invited to the Okanagan retreat because I was the chair of the CCFMSA.
SO: Was that unusual?
JC: I think the attendance of Foreign Ministers at the retreat of “Heads of Government” was unusual. I don’t know who specifically proposed the Eminent Persons Group at Nassau, but assume it was Sonny. And, in retrospect, the Eminent Persons Group was really the last attempt at conciliation. It was the pre-sanctions period of the Commonwealth and Canada was very heavily engaged: Archbishop Ted Scott played an active role himself, as our Eminent Person. But we also provided aircraft and other logistic support. We put our resources as well as our good name behind the anti-apartheid effort in almost all of its incarnations from 1984 on.
SO: Did you recommend Archbishop Edward Scott to be the Canadian representative on the EPG?
JC: We had originally thought of another person who was a francophone Rector of the University of Ottawa. I think that came from Brian, and probably had to do with the interest in having, in bringing, able francophones into prominent roles on these issues. But he declined. I wish I remember how Ted’s name came up – perhaps from the Canadian NGO community – [but] we were delighted by his performance.
SO: How closely did he stay in touch with you?
JC: Very. We became friends and I was proud to be invited to read a lesson at his funeral.
SO: So Ted Scott was sending you regular briefings back in addition to the contacts you had with the Secretariat?
SO: So he would have done that through the Canadian High Commission in London, or the Canadian Embassy in South Africa?
JC: Probably – and sometimes in personal conversations. Ted was also in regular contact with my staff and officers.
SO: I know that, under the leadership of Malcolm Fraser and Olusegun Obasanjo, the EPG started off in Lusaka before they went down into South Africa. The irony is, according to South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha, that if it hadn’t been for Mrs Thatcher – who appeared the most obstructionist part of the Commonwealth at that point on the surface – President P W Botha would never have allowed the EPG into the country.
JC: Well, Tony Barber was a member.
JC: We were a little worried about that. I knew him only as the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
SO: And a director of Standard Chartered Bank.
JC: He turned out to be a very constructive member of the Group, from everything I heard.
SO: I think he saw a very different side of South Africa.
JC: It seems to me that some of the information we got back from Ted Scott came through our High Commissioners in other countries, and we maintained very high quality of representatives at our embassy in South Africa and resisted proposals to close that embassy. Stephen Lewis was our eloquent and passionate ambassador to the United Nations and had been involved in the anti-apartheid campaign as a social democrat. Among his considerable strengths was a deep and evident empathy with ambassadors and other leaders from the developing world, whose advice and perspective supplemented our information from traditional sources.
He was an advocate of shutting the embassy down, and he almost persuaded Brian. I considered it to be very important and effective – not simply as a source of diplomatic and logistic support but also as a symbol and an instrument of our strong relationship with civil society and other opponents of the apartheid system within South Africa. At one point, the spouse of our Ambassador, Ron McLean, marched in the parade of the Black Sash; [she] was knocked down by the spray from a fire hose with the cameras running, and got up again and continued the march. That sort of personal determination and presence helped make our case – among ordinary South Africans, and at home.
SO: Was there – that you were aware of – a particular utility to the regular meetings of Commonwealth ambassadors in South Africa?
JC: In South Africa or here?
SO: In South Africa, as well as outside. I know Len Allison, when he was British High Commissioner in Lusaka, made reference to using those weekly meetings of High Commissioners as a great way to get an audience with the Zambian government.
JC: I’m sure it was. I should have asked that question but don’t know.
SO: I just wondered if it had registered at all.
JC: A lot of that happened. It still happens in conflict zones. And High Commissioners in the UK met regularly.
SO: The London group of High Commissioners associated very closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat, forming a committee on Southern Africa.
JC: That’s right. But they also helped us build and maintain support at home, because leaders – including business leaders from Canada, who might not necessarily have been immersed in the anti-apartheid campaign – heard about it at dinner when they visited.
SO: Moving onto the Vancouver CHOGM and your own role in the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on South Africa. CCFMSA, of course, met between 1988 and 1991, but you made reference to a conversation with South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha in 1987. Was that before Vancouver?
JC: Yes, here’s the story. When was the Vancouver CHOGM?
SO: The fall of ‘87.
JC: That summer, I began to think about the Vancouver CHOGM and what could go wrong. What occurred to me was that it would not be at all uncharacteristic for Mrs Thatcher to fly to Vancouver by way of South Africa, and arrive in Vancouver and say, “You don’t know what’s going on in South Africa. I have just been there.” Assuming she did that, what could we do to counter? And it occurred to me that the best thing I could do would be to go myself – as the Foreign Minister of the host country – to have a report that could be presented to the Vancouver CHOGM. We called all the Front Line States and got their agreement. I had an opening because, some months before, Pik Botha and I had been together at an unrelated meeting and he had said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’ve never been there. You don’t know. Come and visit.” I reminded him of that and said, “I’m accepting your invitation.” I recall it was a fascinating visit because our Canadian aircraft had to stop twice to refuel. In Ghana, our High Commissioner came to the airport and said, “I have a telegram for you from Mr Botha.” And it was, “If you are coming down here to cause trouble, turn around and go right home.” When we got there, the plan had been for a meeting of 15-20 people. And Pik Botha said, “We don’t need all these people. Why don’t you and I and one other each just talk?” My deputy minister Si Taylor was with me, and his Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs with him. We had about a several-hour conversation.
SO: Where was this? In Pretoria?
JC: This was in Pretoria, yes. The conversation was discursive, often. There was talk of communists and the kind of thing you’d expect. But, there was also the sense that there were changes afoot. It became clear that they were not looking at a fundamental reform but some changes in relations between the apartheid and anti-apartheid forces in South Africa itself. And gestures toward the black majority.
SO: There had also been clandestine discussions with the ANC outside the country at that particular point.
JC: Yes, there had. I learned more about those a little later. Some of those discussions were fairly closely held… What are your timelines for this project?
SO: This project is running for another 2½ years.
JC: Okay, I will find out [about the minutes to the Botha discussion]. Make sure you get me a note on it: it’s Si Taylor and it was the Record of Discussion in South Africa, it must have been the fall of 1987.
SO: So September/October?
JC: I think so, perhaps late August.
SO: I’m also in touch with Greg Donaghy, the historian at the Canadian Library and Archives. And he’s given me excellent advice on how to…
JC: Well, and Greg would know.
SO: So, thank you, that would be excellent. So you had an extensive and discursive discussion with Pik Botha and gathered the sense that there were moves towards liberalising apartheid, even if they weren’t necessarily as fast as…
JC: But we didn’t know whether that was just a story for us. We thought it wasn’t, but it could have been. Certainly, it did not change our view going into the Vancouver CHOGM that we would need to keep up pressure.
SO: So, after Vancouver, of course, with the creation of the Foreign Ministers Committee, how often did you meet?
JC: I think six times – Lusaka, Toronto, Harare, Canberra, Kuala Lumpur [CHOGM] and Abuja, after Mr Mandela’s release.
SO: So every couple of months?
JC: Yes. The testimony was fascinating, and our studies and post-meeting declarations were well-covered by the media, including in South Africa and key Commonwealth countries, and among civil society groups who were interested in the issue. On most occasions – perhaps all – I reported to Parliament on my return as, I believe, did other of my colleagues. I don’t want to exaggerate our impact, but we achieved our goal of maintaining steady and strong public pressure by the Commonwealth, and to secure broad acceptance of escalating sanctions and pressure. (During the Fourth meeting in Canberra, Canada made a number of specific pledges which were cut at the last minute. We committed $14.7 m to assist black education in South Africa, and we committed resources to help FLS through the Military Training Assistant Program. We created a $1.6m ‘Fund to Promote Dialogue Among South Africans’.) But there was also a human dimension to those meetings, which reinforced and broadened our sense of acting as a family. It had never occurred to me that not all foreign ministers were equal, but there was one point, I think, in Harare, where I detected an undercurrent around the table about something that hadn’t come up on the agenda. So, we finished our formal business and I said, “Okay, what’s going on?” And I think Ben Mkapa asked, “Who’s going to bell the cat?”
JC: It turned out that Zambia, Zimbabwe and it might have been Tanzania had some unrelated regional issue they wanted to raise with Jim Baker, the US Secretary of State. They asked me, “Would you call him and ask him if he would discuss this with us?” I said, “You call him. He’ll take your phone call.” And they replied, “Well, we think it would be better if you called him on our behalf.” So, I did, and Jim Baker quickly called them back and resolved the matter, which was not momentous. It was interesting that – on a matter that, while not momentous, was important to them – they were cautious about their capacity to speak to their US counterpart, who was a notoriously gregarious, outgoing person. They asked my help – in part in my Canadian capacity but also probably building upon the rapport we’d established around the table. Or they were testing the lengths to which I would go to help, which itself would reflect some sense of being in things together.
One of the Committee’s memorable discussions – perhaps because it was our first meeting after the Vancouver CHOGM – was in Lusaka, where Beyers Naude had been smuggled across the border to speak to us as a prominent former minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, which had promulgated a religious justification of apartheid. After the Sharpeville Massacre, he could no longer defend that political teaching, and became an outspoken and respected critic of apartheid. He was a prominent ordained minister of the Afrikaner church whose whole faith had been somersaulted. His testimony revealed the depth and complexity of the attitude of the Afrikaans to apartheid, and he personified the reality that, within the Afrikaans community itself, there was angst and doubt and probably some willingness to move.
In this context, I should note that right after my pre-Vancouver meeting in Pretoria with Pik Botha, I went on to Mozambique because – at the urging of the Commonwealth members of the Front Line States – Canada had invited Mozambique to come as an Observer to the Vancouver CHOGM. They were a key member of the Front Line States, but not then a member of the Commonwealth. They became one after the Vancouver CHOGM.
SO: Samora Machel had been killed in that plane crash in 1986. So this was his successor, Chissano?
JC: Chissano. And what was interesting about it… My relationship had been with the Foreign Minister, Dr Pascal Mocumbi, and Canada had been clearing forest cover to help the British keep the Beira rail line open for the Front Line States. Chissano was ill when I arrived: he had a serious flu. But we’d diverted from South Africa to Mozambique and he knew I couldn’t visit him again so he got out of his sick bed. And he said, “You know, the Afrikaans are as African as I am. They have nowhere else to go. Some of my colleagues forget that, but you shouldn’t forget that.”
SO: Did you think in that way before this remark?
JC: I hadn’t thought enough about it, and it changed my perspective on the Afrikaans mentality though. What was significant was that this was an African Front Line State neighbour getting out of his sick-bed to make this case to me.
SO: This was, I think, the foundational point of the connectivity between General Obasanjo and Pik Botha. Pik Botha said, “He recognised me as a fellow African”, with this sense of Afrikaners outlook of, “We are Africans of European decent, but we are not British imperial imports.”
JC: Probably, because the British could go home. And Chissano said, “There is no other home for the Afrikaans to go to. Their home is here. They’re as African as I am.” I hadn’t really considered that reality of the rootedness of the Afrikaans in South Africa and nowhere else. Interestingly, I work closely with FW De Klerk now. He’s the chair and I’m the vice-chair of the Global Leadership Foundation which is a group of 35 former heads of government and others who try to help leaders of developing countries navigate the political challenges of governance reform. I’d never met De Klerk until after I was out of Parliament. I led a Canadian group to South Africa and we visited him. What struck me and surprised me about him was that there are laugh lines around his eyes – because my view, from afar, of the Afrikaans was that these are a pretty stern people.
JC: Dour. And he is not. And since we’ve been together I’ve come to appreciate him. And he tells his side of the story. One of the things I had not known before was that PW Botha, as President, invented these retreats of cabinet in which he used to indoctrinate his ministers.
SO: ‘Bosberaad,’ I think they called them. Yes, at Nyala.
JC: What’s that they’re called?
SO: Basically a bush retreat at Nyala, in South Africa.
JC: And De Klerk continued them, but with the exact opposite purpose. De Klerk said, “I couldn’t expect the Afrikaans people to acquiesce in what I was doing unless the party did, and I couldn’t expect the party to do it unless their leaders did.”
The other thing I meant to say about that conversation with Pik Botha is that he left the impression that, if there was to be a change, he would probably be the leader of that change. It was a quite clever performance on his part because, on the one hand, he was as hard line as he would need, to report he had been, to whomever in his government he was reporting to. And I think he also recognised that, while we were adversaries on the issue of apartheid, we were not inherently adversarial to South Africa. Certainly, our intent was the opposite of trying to bring South Africa to its knees, so this [could] be a more constructive conversation than the fight we’d had in Greece.
SO: After you became chair of the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on South Africa, did you meet Pik Botha again in any capacity?
JC: I don’t think I did.
SO: Do you recall what your impression was going into the Kuala Lumpur CHOGM? By this point, De Klerk had become both National Party leader and President, by August of 1989. Did you have any sense at that particular point in time that change was accelerating and afoot, that you recall?
JC: Without quantifying it, we did. But not enough to stop our pressure. There was, you know, a quite dramatic British-related development at the Kuala Lumpur CHOGM. Membership in CCFMSA had remained open to the British if they wanted to come. And John Major was the Foreign Secretary at the time, and it happened that I had been his first visitor as Foreign Secretary. What struck me about that first meeting was that, looking at John Major’s public biography, at that time, could lead you to underestimate the man. This was very early on after his swearing in, and I think he had been up most of the night briefing for the first foreign minister to visit. The Canada/UK briefs are not that complicated, but he was determined to be on top of every issue, and he was. He was serious and sympathetic and we established a good rapport. He came to the Foreign Ministers meeting in KL and played a quite constructive role. He was baited and pushed by some of my colleagues, but the meeting was quite constructive, and found some common ground – related to the approach to sanctions, as I recall. I forget on what it was: [some] small but not unimportant matter, which Mrs Thatcher repudiated at the plenary Heads of Government table the next day. It was a hard time for John Major.
SO: He describes it as ‘a mauling’ in his memoirs.
JC: Kuala Lumpur was the last CHOGM I attended. I was in another portfolio by the time Harare came along. But certainly, during the time I was in the chair of the Foreign Ministers Committee, I don’t think it ever occurred to us that we had to let up pressure on the UK or on South Africa.Things had not reached that point.
SO: Just to ask, Sir, about the comparison between Geoffrey Howe’s management of the position of Foreign Secretary that you saw in Southern Africa, compared to John Major that you saw coming in. You said Major was very swift to master his brief. He’s very much a consensus politician, and a very effective politician as well. Did you see a marked difference in styles between the two on this particular issue of South Africa?
JC: I knew Geoffrey better. In fact, Geoffrey and I, Mrs Thatcher and Flora had all been together at the G7 summit in Tokyo – all as members of new governments. Geoffrey and I had established a friendship, and Elspeth with my wife. In fact, we had a wonderful time one weekend at the residence of the Foreign Secretary here.
JC: Which is in a valley and has a hill beside it. At the time, our daughter Catherine was 8 or 9. We all walked up to the top of the hill and Elspeth said to Catherine, “You know, there’s a fast way down.”
SO: Roly poly?
JC: They rolled down the hill.
JC: Which was all Elspeth. So I knew…I know Geoffrey well. I didn’t know John Major as well. I think the practical difference would be that I was quite confident where Geoffrey would come out on any question, and I didn’t know John Major well enough to make that assumption about where he would come out.
SO: Sir, it’s often been said that part of the summitry of Commonwealth meetings is the personal chemistry between leaders. Would you say it’s also a question of personal chemistry between foreign ministers?
JC: Often it is. Certainly, that was a factor contributing to the effectiveness of the CCFMSA. The leaders dominate, though, at CHOGM; and in our case the important dynamic was Thatcher-Mulroney because Mulroney could say things to Mrs Thatcher that I don’t think others could, or did.
SO: I do know that Flora MacDonald took a rather dim view of Mrs Thatcher’s style.
JC: She did at the time and more emphatically later – in part, I think, because of her experience in the UK. Flora had been defeated in the 1988 Free Trade election – as were most of our candidates in eastern Ontario – and she was invited to teach at the University of Edinburgh. She was surprised that the status of women in the UK was nowhere near as advanced as the status of women in Canada. I think that – whatever her feelings about Mrs Thatcher had been before – she found that difference all the more surprising with a woman as Prime Minister. Flora and Barbara McDougall and others who were ministers in our government took a very active role to ensure that they were not alone in their progress, and Mrs Thatcher, I think, did not.
SO: Yes. Having punched through the glass ceiling, she was not going to be a feminist who favoured discrimination for women to follow her. She felt that it was a question of leading by example and if she could do it, others could do it too. It was a very different style of feminism.
JC: Yes, and I think that hardened Flora’s attitude more than when we were all in government together.
SO: While you were Foreign Minister, then, were your main energies directed towards the question of apartheid South Africa? Or was that to distort, in fact, where the balance of your activities lay?
JC: It was a very high priority but it was an active foreign ministry. We had resources of both budget and talent. The Prime Minister’s principal focus was on Canada/US relations but he was also very interested and engaged in asserting Canada’s international reputation and influence. It is probably true that he understood, later than I did, the importance of balancing the American emphasis with others and throughout his Prime Ministership he was very good at closing negotiations, bringing them to agreement. Canada was active literally everywhere. We extended our ‘fraternal’ membership to La Francophonie, an organization from which Canada had been absent before. We became active members of the Organisation of America States where, for a long time under various administrations, Canada had not occupied our seat at the hemispheric table. In large measure, that is because we played an active role in Central America – including, often, following a different course from the Reagan Administration. We became much more active in Asia than we had been before, and maintained strong trade and security and other relations in Europe. Our level of Official Development Assistance was the highest in Canadian history, and Canada regularly brought ‘developing country’ issues to the G7 table. So it was a very active period. But Southern Africa was a major issue.
SO: Did you have a particular Commonwealth dimension to your increasingly proactive Canadian policy towards South East Asia? Or in fact would that be a distorted interpretation?
JC: No, that would distort it. In fact I was a failure in one central aspect of South East Asian diplomacy in that I don’t play golf…
JC: …but I overcame that.
SO: I just wondered if you’d taken a particular stance when Dr Mahathir came in and adopted very much a ‘Buy British Last’ stance?
JC: No. We had our own Canadian interests to pursue – in Malaysia, specifically, but also in the whole of ASEAN, where Canada was recognized early as a significant independent partner and as a committed multi-lateralist. I did, however, go out of my way to attempt to persuade Dr. Mahathir of the advantages of the Commonwealth as an international institution. I was in KL for an ASEAN meeting just after Mahathir had indicated he would not attend CHOGM at Nassau. I told him I had been sceptical about the CHOGM as a new Prime Minister, but I attended, and found it very valuable, and thought he would. He said, “It’s just another talk shop. We don’t need another talk shop.” And I suggested, “Well, why don’t you come to Nassau and see?” And he did, and, at Nassau offered KL as the site of the next meeting. It may well be that I was able to make that case to him more persuasively than a British foreign minister could, because Canada was a former colony ourselves… But the Commonwealth then had Singapore and Brunei, as well as Malaysia, as ASEAN members. But we didn’t play the Commonwealth card in particular there. Of course, it is the case that when you’re working intensely with people in one context, it is often easier to work intensely with them in others.
SO: Yes, so it’s a question of forging bonds of communality over issues, rather than that the Commonwealth acts as a bloc? It’s a multi-layered, multi-identity association, presumably.
JC: Yes, it’s a common home, in unusual places, and that creates a predisposition to give a benefit of the doubt to other Commonwealth countries when we meet in non-Commonwealth contexts. That relation is more like a ‘family’, where the connections are roots and heritage, rather than a ‘club’, with binding rules of behaviour. The Commonwealth experience also imparts lessons which apply elsewhere. Certainly, the Commonwealth’s ability to bridge other divides encouraged Canada’s interest in joining and strengthening La Francophonie. When I can, I try to go out for a walk in countries I am visiting, and people often recognize me as a foreigner and want to practice their English. Canada’s fortunate to have two linguistic families. Several years ago, I was walking in Hanoi; in a park, and someone came up to me and said, “Parlez-vous francais?” And I did and we had a little conversation in French. That had nothing to do with La Francophonie except the critical connection of culture. Those are ties that bind.
SO: Sir, if I could just take you back to Southern Africa: you’ve talked extensively about your own particular energies and input towards trying to hasten the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa. But Canada, of course, also played a prominent part in the Contact Group on Namibia.
JC: The hard work had been done before my time as minister, so I can’t speak authoritatively. But Canada played a prominent part. I think it was the first time we sent police officers in a sort of peace-keeping role. The late Don Jamieson was the minister at the time.
SO: Were you surprised, then, when De Klerk stood up in the National Assembly on the 2nd February 1990 and made his statement?
JC: I was; although, since the early signals by Pik Botha, we had been aware of changes in thinking. Time zones being what they were, I received what was literally a ‘wake-up’ call from Lucie Edwards who’d run our South Africa task force, and later became our High Commissioner to South Africa –
SO: With Caroline McMaster as her deputy?
JC: Yes, that’s right.
SO: Yes, I spoke to Caroline when I was in Ottawa.
JC: Lucie said, “I think you’d want to turn on your television set!” So we were surprised. I think the Department had a sense something was imminent but I didn’t. About two weeks after his release, Mr Mandela went to Lusaka to meet the ANC-in-exile. It was a relatively small meeting of ANC leaders – less than 100 people, as I recall. In any event, I was invited as the chair of the CCFMSA as was the Irish Foreign Minister, Gerry Collins, because Ireland was in the chair of the EU. We were the two white faces in that room. When I’m asked what one event struck me most in my career in foreign policy, it was to be sitting in that room, experiencing first-hand the leadership and generosity of Nelson Mandela. Mr Mandela came in and after cheers and hurrahs, went to the front and began to speak. It was not a long speech, and then the first question that came – from his closest comrades in their long struggle – was highly critical of the Afrikaners. He said to the ANC-in-exile, “We have to remember how difficult this all is for them.” And I thought, how extraordinary, to show that kind of generosity towards his captors. That was not in any prepared text, although it was clearly something he came to say – to establish the tone he wanted his supporters to follow as they moved forward.
SO: He clearly had read de Tocqueville.
JC: I guess so. Or it was instinct. He was such an extraordinary individual and leader.
SO: Indeed. To come out after 27 years in jail and to show no signs of enduring animosity or hostility. That really is extraordinary.
JC: As I recall from the very moment of his release from prison, he urged the young people who had [fought] for his freedom to now go back to school to prepare for their futures. In Lusaka, that day, you could see the impact it made. Nobody was upset, they accepted his guidance and authority.
SO: Acknowledging the challenges ahead… Which was, how do you persuade the laager to negotiate an end of power? Because, of course, at that particular point they were not prepared to negotiate the end of their hold on power. The National Party was intent on power-sharing.
JC: Yes, and it was what he didn’t say… but [it] was also true — that if they continued the anger of the struggle, his capacity to negotiate would be sharply limited.
SO: My next question was, how far and in what ways has the Commonwealth successfully evolved since the Harare Declaration? For it could be said that the opposition to apartheid – or to white minority regimes in Southern Africa – really helped to provide an important part of the glue of the Commonwealth while you were Foreign Minister.
JC: Yes. It was the high point, and let me emphasise an institutional element of that success which is not always noted. One of the things that distinguishes the Commonwealth from other associations of nation-states is that a skilled and strong Commonwealth Secretariat can sometimes take important initiatives despite the reluctance of some leaders of member countries. Here’s the distinction: The Organisation of American States has an impressive series of declarations, but almost every time they try to act as an organization, sovereignty is invoked – often by an offending member state, but also because the assertion or protection of state sovereignty is so strict and strong that it virtually immobilizes significant group action. In the Sonny Ramphal period but also in Emeka’s, the Secretariat would sometimes lead its members so the interpretation of sovereignty was not as suffocating as it can be in other organisations. I think that became a Commonwealth style, perhaps deriving originally from historic British pragmatism and a sense that leaders had to look beyond the merely immediate. My sense of that is influenced by the history of Canada. The British won Canada’s very brief ‘civil war’, the battle of the Plains of Abraham, but they did not treat the French as vanquished. They kept the French language, and the civil code in law, and respected the French system of land tenure in Quebec and Manitoba and other francophone areas. I think that pragmatic instinct to consider the longer-term consequences infused the Commonwealth at its beginning, and certainly in the anti-apartheid campaign. It represented a partnership of nation-states which each prized its independence but shared important values, and was prepared to advance them. Obviously, apartheid was a very specific case, and the 1980s were a different time. Comparable circumstances may not recur. So the question now is twofold: First, are there issues today where important Commonwealth-wide values need to be advanced? Second, is there a sufficient capacity at the centre, and willingness among key countries to lead?
SO: Indeed. Coming out of the Harare Declaration of 1991, with Chief Emeka as the new Secretary General, [it was] determined that this voluntary association should have democracy and human rights as the declared core values. Part of that was to support democracy and elections. I know that you were involved in the Cameroon election monitoring mission. How did that come about?
JC: Well, three things. First, the team that was brought together was first class. I’ve led, or been involved in, other delegations where you wonder sometimes, “How did that person get here?” But these were very able people, reflecting a variety of complementary experience from across the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth staff were superb. That’s not trivial because this was a team whose members knew how to work, respectfully and effectively, in a country like Cameroon. Secondly, we found a fairly alarming set of problems with the fairness and organization of the election but we agreed – largely at my instigation – that we would be forthright in our reporting about what we’d found, but we would frame our commentary and recommendations in a tone that would allow the Commonwealth to come back quickly and help Cameroon address and reform the significant faults we found. Our report was frank and critical, but deliberately did not slam a door on our ability to move quickly to work with Cameroon on significant change. I was the chair of our team, but the late Samuel Kivuitu of Kenya was my de facto co-chair. He was an African statesman and was immensely respected by all our colleagues. Samuel ran into difficulty later because he was the chair of the Kenyan Electoral Commission that went wrong in 2007. And he bore – disproportionately, in my view – the blame for not having been as strong in a crunch as he should have been, and I think that’s what happened. But I think he was wise and invaluable in Cameroon.
The third element of this experience was that there was not strong and timely follow-up on any of the changes we proposed. Part of that is just human nature. There is a focus on election observation during the election, but interest falls off afterwards. That is a recurring failing of election observation missions – by the Commonwealth and others. I was quite annoyed, and warned the Secretary General Don McKinnon that if the Commonwealth continued to do this, it would not attract the level of observers it needed. He agreed with that and, in time, a concrete Commonwealth-Cameroon proposal emerged that I would agree to co-chair with a senior Cameroonian minister to redesign their Elections Act. A contributing factor in my decision was the appointment by President Biya of a new senior minister, Philémon Yang, who had been Cameroonian ambassador then High Commissioner to Canada for 16 years. I knew him, and knew he had influence on – and a long friendship with – President Biya. I had first met [Biya] in 1979 when, as Canadian Prime Minister, en route to the Lusaka CHOGM, I made an official visit to Cameroon. Mr Biya had been Prime Minister there at the time. We sought and received a clear commitment on the part of the President to meet me whenever I needed to meet him. The Commonwealth auspices were very good and respected, and the Commonwealth was flexible enough that our small team of experts and advisors included a number of African francophone members with experience with successful electoral changes elsewhere in Africa – which was important in Cameroon, with its deep francophone connection. And we were making good progress until we encountered recurring resistance from Cameroon to the idea of an independent and multi-partisan Electoral Commission. I went into Yaounde on two separate visits to try to resolve this problem with the President, and he was mysteriously unavailable to meet me. I finally told the then-Prime Minister, I said, “I’m here for three more days and if I don’t meet the President I won’t be back.” And I didn’t meet the President and I didn’t go back.
Now there was an additional and unrelated drama in that election, which in fact had a positive impact on the general practice and credibility of Election Observation Missions. An American group, quite atypically, sent in some former Congressmen as observers who arrived three days before the election, did not consult or travel extensively, and declared it a fair and free election…
SO: Three days before?
JC: …and went home. It turned out that they had been funded by the public relations firm that was employed by the government of Cameroon in Washington. I also made a fuss about that and, to the credit, the organization of former Members of Congress has tightened their rules and practices about Election Observation. But, more importantly, there’s a formal international code now that deals with election monitoring – as a result of joint initiatives by the UN, the European Union, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) of the US, the Commonwealth and others – that has also set out some rules on [the] follow-up of election observations. I think that initiative was influenced by the Cameroon experience, but don’t believe it was instigated by the Commonwealth. However, the Commonwealth has been an active part of productive continuing discussions of election monitoring and reform that are occurring under the auspices of the EU, the Carter Center, UN and NDI.
To return to our earlier discussion, what characterised the Commonwealth campaign against apartheid was a sense of a genuine Commonwealth mission, which generated an active partnership rooted in the concerns of several Heads of Government, stimulated by a skilled and activist Secretariat, and facilitated by the focus and co-ordination of the CCFMSA. The result was that – when something needed to be done to advance that Commonwealth mission – it got done. This was serious, consistent, and well-resourced initiative. I don’t know if that happens now.
SO: So what you’re suggesting, then, was a small, dynamic body, rather than a lumbering consortium of international inputs and actors?
JC: I also think that the Commonwealth is essentially – in the broadest sense of the word – a political instrument. It’s not a trade organisation and its defining purpose is not to deliver aid or services, however important they are. Its success was that it was able to mobilise political instincts and momentum around an important political issue. Now, are there any of those left which are susceptible to influence by the Commonwealth? To its great credit, the Commonwealth attaches a high priority to small states that have no other significant institutional defender. In considering the Commonwealth that could be, the question is: what are the significant political issues where the Commonwealth has the opportunity and the authority to make a difference? None would be in the league of apartheid. Some may have to do with respect of rights. The quality at the heart of the Commonwealth is an intrinsic respect for cultures, and reconciling cultural differences
SO: So you would argue that yes, the Commonwealth has been a useful body as a political instrument, but I know that – as far as Canada is concerned – it was eclipsed in the 1990s and 2000s for a variety of domestic political reasons. How far do you think its relevance is increasing now?
JC: There has been a change in the sources of conflict in the world. Serious conflict is now much more likely to be culturally-induced: different cultures, religions, identities. In the Cold War period, more conflict was induced – or controlled – by Superpowers or international alliances. Now, these cultural differences are more important, more inflammatory. I’m not here talking about a clash of civilisations but instead that, as the world becomes more compact and connected, more people with different belief systems and values come together physically, or are more aware – and sometimes wary – of one another, and that can lead easily to hostility or suspicion. Increasingly, the news we see is violence rooted in, or aroused by, cultural resentment or fear or apprehension. The great advantage of the Commonwealth – on which the sun still never sets – is that it draws together all of these people, cultures, identities, and draws upon common interests more than antagonism. That is a simple institutional reality and asset. A small country today, looking for influence or help on an important issue to its success or survival would probably find more hope – and more capacity for genuine sympathy and action – in the Commonwealth than in the United Nations. Again, the Commonwealth is a family, not just an organization. And that distinction – that asset – could be augmented. Are there other areas for constructive action? Trade arrangements? Services and collaboration? Development assistance? No doubt. But they would flow from a sense of coming from a community that is deeper than economic, deeper than trade, broader than “today”, which is the distinguishing quality the Commonwealth represents. It is about belief systems and rights, about legal systems and the principles which engendered them; it is about a practical acceptance that differences and compromise are natural and valuable, and that the resolution of disagreements need not create a sense of victors and vanquished. It’s about equality, so the question of small states becomes relevant. Now, is this enough in the modern time? Certainly it is essential – arguably more essential now than in eras when conventional power or practice imposed a kind of order. The culture of respecting difference and pursuing common purposes is certainly relevant now. The Commonwealth is essentially a cultural emanation that draws support across cultural differences because it accepts them as valuable or inevitable. If it is true that the incendiary issues today are increasingly cultural, the Commonwealth capacity to respect and reconcile that diversity is as relevant today as ever, perhaps more so. So, how might we build upon this durable asset?
SO: If there’s a broader utility and value of the Commonwealth in terms of international discourse, international organisation – as you say, at that deeper level – to foster tolerance, to overcome international and individual group frictions…[then] how important is the Commonwealth to Canada? Has the Commonwealth caused Canada problems? Such as historic constitutional problems, or prime ministerial initiatives to modify that constitution of Canada in the 1980s?
JC: No I don’t think so at all.
SO: I’m just thinking about the issue of the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, or is that separate from the Queen as head of Canada?
JC: The Queen as head of Commonwealth should not be a problem. There is a separate issue as to whether she should also be designated, as she is now, as Queen of Canada. But even if that change came, it would not affect Canada’s commitment to the Commonwealth.
SO: So, looking at Canada as an example of the constitutional discussions, constitutional internal debates/developments…What’s your view of those, in your time in politics? When you came into politics, Trudeau was considering a significant modification of the constitution…
JC: Yes, but where Trudeau failed was in departing from the Canadian practice – almost the Canadian principle – of recognising the necessity to bring everyone in. I was Leader of the Opposition in that historic period, and I won’t reopen all of those debates but, with historic retrospect, his failure to find a way – his disinterest in finding a way – to bring Quebec into our reformed constitution in a way that Quebecers believe reflects their legitimate interests, is a major continuing problem in the country. I chaired a subsequent round of constitutional negotiations, leading to the Charlottetown Accord. What is remembered – and should be remembered in a democracy – is that this Charlottetown Accord was rejected by the Canadian people in a national referendum. But what is as significant is that we achieved a negotiated and unanimous agreement on a very wide range of difficult issues. That unanimity included the national government, the governments of all Canada’s provinces and both our then territories and, for the first time in our history, the four major groups representing Canada’s Aboriginal population – status Indians, Inuit, Métis, and off-reserve Aboriginals – each of whom was present and active at the negotiating table throughout all of the hearings and negotiations. They did not have a vote, because they were not formal governments under the constitution, but they were otherwise present and influential throughout, with the same de facto status as the formal governments of the federation. It was a complex agreement, involving difficult compromises by all parties, and failed in the referendum largely because different citizens and different interest groups had different reasons to oppose different elements of that compromise. That is an inherent challenge with referenda. That broad and patient negotiation – achieving unanimous agreement among elected leaders – proved that that the nation can work. That was based on a respect for legitimate differences, and that respect for difference is also a fundamental part of the Commonwealth tradition. So, in Canada’s case, the Commonwealth could reinforce some of the most necessary dynamics within our own country. The question for the Commonwealth is: can it become as unifying and constructive a force on contemporary issues as it did in the anti-apartheid campaign, or as it probably did in the very early days of establishing an institution that would bring together countries [and] people with profound differences but common values and traditions, as it did when the Commonwealth was created in 1948? Can that recur? There’s not a clear answer to that, but there is a clear need, so finding that renewed purpose and relevance is possible enough that it should be tried.
SO: So, then, to conclude: you seem relatively optimistic about the survival of the Commonwealth.
JC: It has to prove its worth. I’m optimistic about its worth. I’m not necessarily optimistic about the political leadership that will cause the worth to be proven. It did, after all, take quite enormously talented people to come forward in the anti-apartheid period, whether they were Ted Scott or Sonny Ramphal or Emeka Anyaoku, or various elected leaders of Commonwealth countries. So the Commonwealth has that capacity to summon the best of the extraordinary range of talents of its members.
SO: That’s suggesting, then, that the Commonwealth through the Secretary General is best led by a politician rather than a civil servant – notwithstanding Chief Emeka’s own strengths, and his enormous contribution dating back to 1966 when he was appointed to the Secretariat. Would you agree with that?
JC: I would. Is a chief a politician? In Emeka`s case, there was certainly evidence of real political talent and good political instincts.
SO: What was your view – as a veteran politician and leader – of McKinnon’s time in office there?
JC: He tried very sincerely to bring trade to the centre of the Commonwealth. Trade and finance. Those were issues he knew well, and they do represent real, common interests. But in my opinion, those are not the binding and defining qualities of the Commonwealth.
SO: No, from everything you’ve said, those are not the Commonwealth’s strengths.
JC: Yes. But remember, the first Secretary General was a career diplomat – not a politician, albeit a man with significant political skills and insight.
SO: No, indeed. Although he had a very clear view of the political leverage and the political utility of the Secretariat.
JC: He did.
SO: Just to bring us right up to date… Canada, of course, has been remarkable in appointing a special envoy to Sri Lanka. The issue of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, and the choice of Colombo as the venue for the next CHOGM, is the topic, the challenge to the Commonwealth today.
JC: First, I don’t know enough about the reasons for that initiative; and, second, my prejudice and experience is that the Harper Conservatives are very selective on the rights they defend, and their motivation is often domestic. I would be immensely surprised if the Harper government would ever have introduced either Mr Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights or Mr Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I led the Progressive Conservative Party – which the Harper party took over and absorbed in a merger – and know the fights I had internally to persuade some of my MPs to support the Charter of Rights in those intense parliamentary debates and votes in 1982. That was particularly the case with those members who came from the strain that drove the merger that formed the present Conservative party and government. They are defending some very particular rights – most prominently and unequivocally the right to exist of the State of Israel – and I have no doubt that that particular cause reflects a deep and genuine commitment on the part of some of their leadership. And they are very conscious of the partisan value of taking strong international positions which resonate with particular domestic populations.
SO: A realist view, rather than an idealist one?
JC: I’d say a domestic focus rather than an international one.
SO: Sir, thank you very much indeed.
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