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Address by Minister Joly on Canadian Diplomacy Amidst Geopolitical Uncertainty

Press Release

From: Global Affairs Canada

October 30, 2023 – Toronto, Ontario

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.


I am pleased to be here to speak about what is happening in the world, and Canada’s role as we look forward.

Before we dive in, I know that we have all been following the latest developments in the Middle East. On October 7, we have seen horrific scenes of unspeakable violence as Hamas launched its terrorist attacks against the people of Israel, which Canada unequivocally condemns, and we continue to ask for the release of all hostages. What has unfolded in Gaza in the last few days is a human tragedy. The humanitarian situation facing the Palestinian people – facing Palestinian women and children – is dire.

Extremist settlers’ attacks continue in the West Bank – and must stop.

Like all states, Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorist attacks. It has an obligation to do so in accordance with international law.

For even in crisis there are principles. Even in war there are rules.

We must be guided by human dignity – all civilians – Israeli and Palestinian, for they are equal – must be protected.

At this point, Canada mourns seven dead. We are still searching for two, who could be being held hostage. 400 Canadians are trapped in Gaza, they are living in fear and despair. As a government, we have a duty to bring them to safety. And that is why we need humanitarian pauses, a humanitarian truce, in Gaza. I have been in contact with Qatar, Israel, Egypt, and the US every day for the past three weeks.

At this point, we need an agreement from all parties to get foreign nationals out, including Canadians. To release all hostages. And to allow food, fuel, and water into Gaza. And Canada will be reaching out to more countries to join in that call.

I have spent the better part of this last month in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and the UAE, overseeing our efforts to help Canadians leave the region, and working with our partners to address the impacts of this conflict while finding ways to de-escalate.

The region is at a precarious moment, you can feel the weight of the anxiety and pain in the streets and at the highest levels of government.

While we face the immediate, and urgent, impacts of this crisis, we must also look forward to the political horizon, and towards peace. And these conversations – of how we can build a better future, supporting a two-state solution where Israeli and Palestinian civilians can live side-by-side in peace and security, where the Palestinian right of self-determination is respected, are conversations I will never shy away from.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said that – “contrary to what many people think, international relations is nothing like a game of chess, where two people sit quietly, thinking out their strategy, taking their time between moves. It is more like a game of pool, with a bunch of balls clustered together.”

Based on my experience over the last two years, I completely agree.

And I would add that, while it has never been perfect, the game has been served well by a set of common rules, conceived from the ashes of war to form the basis of global cooperation. Lines we would not cross to keep our citizens safe. Built on the promise that through stability, would grow prosperity.

Today, this system is cracking. And the stakes of the game have increased. Our world is marked by geopolitical turbulence, unpredictability, and uncertainty. The tectonic plates of the world order are shifting beneath our feet. And the structures that are built upon them are fracturing.

War has broken in Europe, in Africa and in the Middle East.

Each bringing a new cycle of death and destruction.

We find ourselves amidst an international security crisis.

We are also now facing increasingly complex, modern challenges.

Climate change. Artificial Intelligence. Political polarization. Irregular Migration. And Deepened inequality. More than ever, our international institutions are being tested.

The stability that has safeguarded us all is now being challenged by those who seek to change the rules of the game. Undermined by those who believe they can break them without consequence.

The current world order is also being questioned by people and nations, especially from the South, who challenge whether the rules reflect their reality and benefit their people. Some have expressed concerns about double standards. Or whether the current institutions and their decisions meet their needs or are fair.

We see an increasing boldness from bad actors who believe they can tip the scales of power with the weight of their might. These countries and non-state actors seek to re-shape the very rules that have kept us safe. The tools they’re using are not limited to the battlefield. Many actors now wield sophisticated, and often covert, tactics to shift the world order in their favour. And they’re doing so at a time where global issues have local impact.

The crisis in the Middle East has sparked fear in our communities.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cost thousands of lives and spiked the price of our gas and groceries. Climate change filled our summer skies with smoke. And rising global inflation makes it feel increasingly hard to get by, let alone get ahead.

Ahead of us lies a complex, generational challenge. One that will shape the world we leave to our children and grandchildren. They will judge us based on the steps we take next. On how well we were able to prevent global conflict to build a world that is stable and inclusive. One that respects the sovereignty and independence of all states, while recognizing their growing interdependence, and one where progress benefits all of society, not just a narrow few.

This is a test we cannot fail.

At this moment of global crises and deep uncertainty, Canada can make significant contributions to meet this challenge. To do so, our foreign policy will be guided by two principles:

First: Vigorously defending our sovereignty.

Second: Using pragmatic diplomacy, to engage countries of different perspectives in order to prevent an international conflict.

Canada’s sovereignty must be resilient to threats of every nature, regardless of where they originate. Our location on the globe – surrounded by three oceans – can no longer be relied upon to protect us. The evolving threats we face are no longer just physical and economic. They’re digital. And they’re informational.

Our national security depends on a world order where the principles of sovereignty are respected. One where borders cannot be re-drawn by force. One where threats to our people don’t go unanswered. And one where trade and prosperity is ensured through sustainable peace and stability. Defending these rules is critical to defending our national interest, and so we will strengthen the security of our territory, our economic interests, our democracy, and our culture.

We’re working with our allies to bolster international security. And in turn, Canada’s. Now more than ever, soft and hard power are important. We will increase our investments in our military through the Defence Policy Update. Defending our sovereignty means that diplomacy must be part of our security apparatus.

To our South, we will continue working with our closest friend and greatest Ally, the United States, to strengthen the protection of our shared border. We will put in place the agreements we need to implement an immigration strategy that is fair and compassionate. And we will continue to defend our shared skies through a stronger and more integrated NORAD. And the purchase of 88 F-35 fighter jets will help us in this regard.

To the East, we are meeting our transatlantic responsibilities. We are a partner that NATO can count on. This summer alone we have committed to expand our presence along NATOs Eastern Flank and upgrade the multinational battle group we lead in Latvia. We know that Ukraine’s sovereignty is fundamental to the world’s stability. To Canada’s. And so, we will continue to strengthen their position on the battlefield. We will support their pursuit of peace. And we will help with its post-war reconstruction.

As we look West -great power competition is deepening in the Indo-Pacific region. Inter-state tensions, many with historical roots, are flaring or re-emerging. Stepping up as a reliable partner that concretely contributes to peace and security in the region means increasing our military capabilities. Investing in border and cyber security. Increasing our intelligence capacity.

As we look to the future, I believe that we should be as close to Japan and South Korea, as we are to the UK, France, Germany, and Italy. And we should invest in our relationship with ASEAN, just as we have with the European Union.

Indeed, our relationship with India is facing a difficult moment. We stand by the decision to inform Canadians of credible allegations around the killing of a Canadian citizen. This is, at its core, a question of protecting our national sovereignty and Canadians’ safety. In addressing this serious matter, we remain engaged with the Indian government. It is important to remember that this is one moment in a relationship that spans decades and is built upon strong connections between our two peoples.

Turning North — Canada’s true north is what makes us unique. And we cannot understate the importance of safeguarding the Canadian Arctic. With climate change redrawing maritime routes, more countries are turning their eyes north. The Arctic is becoming more accessible, more attractive to those who want to research the region and do business through it. This is true for Russia. It is certainly true for China, which is now calling itself a near-Arctic state.

Exercising our sovereignty on Canadian Arctic land and waters is a fundamental priority for Canada. This includes safeguarding the Northwest Passage, which serves as the gateway to the Arctic. We will make the investments necessary to reinforce our Northern security and critical infrastructure. We will also invest in economic development in the region, in partnership with Indigenous peoples. We will partner with the United States. And we will invest diplomatically in our relationships with Northern European countries – Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland – who also believe that the Arctic is a region where the rule of law should prevail.

Canada is a proud democracy. We have a long democratic tradition, two official languages, a rich multicultural society, a dedication to reconciliation and a deep commitment to the rule of law. This is who we are. And it is a big part of what attracts immigrants from every corner of the world. I know many Canadians are hurting when they look at the state of the world. That is why it’s even more important to protect our democracy. But we cannot take our democracy for granted. Nurturing it is a choice, one we must make every day.

Extremists and populist movements are on the rise around the world. We should not be naive. We are not immune to them. We all have a role to play in defending our democracy, including politicians from both sides of the aisle. What we say matters. And silence speaks even louder. We must be clear in denouncing those who seek to undermine it, and in promoting the importance of the simplest and most powerful expression of it: a vote.

We will protect our people from all forms of foreign interference. We will not tolerate it in our elections, in our media or in social media. Not among our students, nor in our society. Foreign interference is not new. We are not the only country facing the issue. But it is evolving. And so must our approach.

We have created independent panels to monitor elections and established a foreign interference public inquiry. We are establishing a Foreign Actor Registry to protect communities that are often targeted. And, as I have made very clear, any foreign diplomat who engages in this type of activity will be sent packing.

Finally, essential to protecting the health of our democracy, we will continue to protect our cultural sovereignty and defend the integrity of our media.

We’ve talked about the first principle. Now I will speak to our second. Pragmatic diplomacy.

Our sovereignty survives best in a system based on clear and fair rules that foster predictability. And we will continue to champion that system, without ever compromising on our values, but we must be pragmatic.

We must resist the temptation to divide the world into rigid ideological camps. For the world cannot be reduced to Democracies versus autocracies. East versus West. North versus South. Forcing the majority of the world to fit into any one category would be naive, short-sighted, and counterproductive. Naive because the Global South cannot afford to choose one camp over the other. Short-sighted because the challenges we face will require all states, despite their differences, to cooperate and respect fundamental rules. And counter-productive because forcing states to choose one side over the other risks driving potential partners away.

I am inspired by the pragmatic diplomacy of our past. While in North Macedonia, I was struck by a statue of Former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the halls of the Foreign Ministry – marking the time he invested, as a Western leader, to engage with non-aligned countries.

At a time of great divide between the West and the Soviet Union – Trudeau was determined to connect with countries that did not see themselves, their values or needs reflected in the state of play. And throughout that time of tension, Canada was seen as a credible partner to engage countries in peace and stability.

To me, that’s pragmatic diplomacy – keeping allies close, while also being open to different perspectives as we encourage others to take a chance on peace. We will always defend our national interests. We will always defend our values. But we cannot afford to close ourselves off from those with whom we do not agree. For engagement does not mean that we support or condone the policies and actions of others.

We are not naive about what engagement will accomplish. But – if we refuse to engage, we create additional incentives for those whose actions we strongly oppose to join together. As respect for the rules diminishes, empty chairs serve no one.

Let me be clear: I am a door opener, not a door closer. Therefore, with rare exceptions, Canada will engage.

With the world’s security at stake, our security at stake, we cannot just rely on our old friends. We will double down on forward-leaning engagement. And we will need to extend our hand to new partners amongst a broad coalition of states from around the world. We need to demand that every country respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of others. This is a defining principle of the UN Charter. Canada will work to promote agreement on these basic principles. Because if Canada succeeds in promoting agreement on the basic rules among a larger group of states, every state and every region of the world will benefit.

How do we propose to do this? We must learn from our history. Canadians have played a key role in creating our international rules and institutions. It is now our responsibility that our international system progress with its time. It must be reformed to address the ever evolving peace and security challenges the world is facing. Therefore, we are committing to increasing our presence at the United Nations and in multilateral institutions. And we will also respond to the frustration and calls for change from low and middle-income countries as we focus on making both World Bank and the IMF more effective.

If we are to build a more stable world, diplomacy is one critical tool. We must use it to strengthen Canada’s security infrastructure, and to rebuild the world security infrastructure.

Ensuring that Canadian diplomacy is fit for purpose in the 21st century is fundamental to our success. Diplomats are on the frontlines of our work around the world. They are our eyes and ears on the ground. Their work is one key to our collective peace and security. And the power of our embassies lies in our ability to advance common objectives. That is why we are increasing our diplomatic footprint with six new embassies along Europe’s Eastern flank, in Armenia, Rwanda and Fiji, for the Pacific Islands. And why we appointed a new Ambassador to the African Union and re-appointed an Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

We are also currently taking an honest look in the mirror and undertaking transformational change at Global Affairs Canada through the ‘Future of diplomacy’ work. We will invest so that we have the people, the tools, and the global presence we need to succeed now and in the future.

The world is at an inflection point. We are in the midst of a geopolitical rebalancing. Global powers are shifting their weight to disrupt the peace that Canadians fought and gave their lives for. As increasingly frequent and complex crisis shake the foundation of the system that has kept us safe.

We must now chart a path towards building a steady footing for our children. Reinforce the international system that has brought about global stability. And reshape it to become more inclusive. Canadians can be assured that our eyes are wide open to this challenge. And we are dedicated to ensuring that Canada, and our diplomats around the world, are equipped to tackle these challenges.

And I commit to providing Canadians with an update on this work each year. Let me close with this promise, we will build on Canada’s diplomatic legacy. Harness the strength of our people. Draw from their compassion and creativity.

With humility and determination.


Isabella Orozco-Madison
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Media Relations Office
Global Affairs Canada


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