Axworthy shares his wisdom, experience

Sub-title: 
Meets with U of T public policy students
Author: 
Anjum Nayyar

World events, particularly what’s happening in the Middle East, are changing all of our conventional wisdoms, and Canadians can play a role in helping address these new challenges, said former Canadian foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy during a recent talk at the University of Toronto.

Appearing as part of the international briefings series, offered to graduate students at the School of Public Policy and Governance (SPPG), Axworthy discussed such issues as the Arab Spring, Russia and China, and R2P, a United Nations initiative on the right to protect.

“There are some really interesting opportunities for Canadians  to play a much more active role if we understand  that this is not just a set of active ideas, but one that we need a set of ideas or a playbook to get into things [i.e., to have an impact],  he said.

Axworthy is currently the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Winnipeg. He served as Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1996-2000. During that time, he became internationally known for his advancement of the human security concept, in particular, the Ottawa Treaty -- a landmark global treaty banning anti-personnel landmines. He was also instrumental in Canada's successful candidacy for membership on the United Nations Security Council. He said universities, including his own, need to do more to engage their students.

“One of the reasons we’re not as active or engaged as we should be is because I don’t think there’s enough happening in the universities to get young men and women engaged,” he said. “For example, how do you make an R2P [right to protect effort] work? I think there’s a real role for the academy [university].”

The international briefings series is an ongoing series of discussions designed to connect policy students, practitioners, and members of the public with prominent policy figures with international experience experience in public policy that is led by SPPG program director Irvin Studin

Wellesley Hamilton, a first-year master’s of public policy student, has great respect for the former cabinet minister.

“I liked his focus on diplomacy and military action as a last resort,” he said.  “I thought he was a tremendous speaker.”  

Beth Elder, another SPPG student, found Axworthy’s perspective valuable.

“I thought the discussion of the responsibility to not only protect civilians, but also to prevent such atrocities and to rebuild after an intervention was very interesting,” she said.  “Foreign powers should not be so hasty to intervene as to forget that they do have a responsibility to the people they are claiming to be protecting that goes beyond the removal of an oppressive regime. Sometimes the power vacuum left behind can be just as undesirable if not more so.”

Axworthy said one of the goals of his talk was to highlight misconceptions about military might to illustrate to students their potential impact in the area of policy and diplomacy.

“The biggest misconception is that because of things like Libya, everybody thinks it’s only about military intervention,” said Axworthy.  “What I tried to say today is that there’s an awful lot of preventative work that can be done and is being done in the Middle East. 

“It’s proof that a lot of the international responsibility can be effective.   The issue is that it [our responsibility] is not being talked about at the government level.  The reality is the rest of the community [aside from the government] is getting actively engaged.”