College Quarterly
Winter 2004 - Volume 7 Number 1
Notes Navigating the New World: Canada’s Global Future.
Lloyd Axworthy
Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2003.

Reviewed by Howard A. Doughty

In the more than forty years since the not-so-new New Democratic Party began to advertise itself as the conscience of Canadian politics, NDP politicians and supporters have been frustrated by a lack of electoral success in federal elections. They have also been disconcerted by the number of progressive, skillful women and men who chose to cast their lot with the dominant Liberal Party. Jean Marchand, Gerard Pelletier and Pierre Trudeau were among the most illustrious individuals to turn their backs on the NDP in order to win personal power. Warren Allmand was certainly one of the most principled people to find their way into what some have called the natural ruling party of Canada. Herb Gray and Sheila Copps might also be mentioned. Among the most able and accomplished of these mildly “left” liberals was Lloyd Axworthy.

The motives for progressives joining and remaining within the Liberal Party are, of course, various. For some, an ideological aversion to “socialism” keeps them in the mainstream. For others, it is a matter of personal ambition. For others still, it is a pragmatic belief that positive political policy can be more effectively won from within the governing party than by shrill shouts and sanctimonious sermons from the margins. In Axworthy’s case, it seems plainly to have been a combination of the three, but his values are so transparently associated with the causes of peace, prosperity and the preservation of the global environment that any cheap accusation of hypocrisy or opportunism would be unwarranted.

Navigating the New World contains Axworthy’s agenda for concrete action to promote social justice, human rights, and nuclear disarmament. It is a visionary document. There are, however, some problems lingering on from Axworthy’s time in government. He confesses that, in 1997, he picked out a slim report on the genocide in Rwanda for diversionary reading while being forced to endure a tedious evening of votes in the House of Commons. Its revelations, he disarmingly suggests, came as a shock to him. Three years after Axworthy and the rest of the Chrétien cabinet had ignored pleas for aid from their own General Romeo Dallaire, the news of what had transpired was a “stunner.” To his credit, Axworthy admits that he had personally failed “to appreciate” the extent of the murderous events in the world around him. His almost statutory reference to The Diary of Ann Frank and his expression of commitment to be more attentive to wholesale slaughters around the globe beg the question: “What on earth did he think was happening?”

Now well and truly out of electoral politics, Axworthy seeks to ensure that such instances of ignorance and indifference are not repeated. He wants us to learn to conduct ourselves better in the future. “A healthy global system,” he tells us, “needs a constant evolution of associations, networks, gatherings and institutions.” He celebrates, for example, the establishment of the International Criminal Court (a body unlikely to achieve optimal success as long as the United States boycotts it). He eagerly promotes Canada’s role as a potential “convener, coordinator and funder of global political networks.” He encourages the building of a “rules-based, cooperative, democratic global system.” To save the environment, for instance, he advocates “a multi-stakeholder, partnership, bringing together government, civil groups and business” as well as “think-tanks, universities, NGOs to submit proposals, hold a competition, get the creative juices bubbling.” No doubt about it, Lloyd Axworthy wants to chat.

He is especially keen to develop a universal educational system, a “global learning network,” that would equip participants to engage in even more chat. He wants to build an international “e-democracy” that would “connect parliamentarians worldwide and plug individual citizens into a form of direct digital democracy.” This, he feels confident, would usher in a new world order free of avarice and full of collaboration. While pretty much ignoring or setting aside serious contemporary confrontations, he speaks of a creating a World Environment Agency and a new “corps of green berets who can go to clean up a waste site, help protect biodiversity ‘hotspots’ and inspect alleged transgressions.”

Though expressed with verve, as though fresh and for the first time, those with a sense of history, however, will recognize this as vintage Axworthy. As a professor at the University of Winnipeg in 1971, he submitted a report on a public communication system that would enhance participatory democracy to the Government of Ontario’s Committee on Government Productivity. In it, he enthused about local public television as the key to citizen involvement in government. Now he invokes the Internet. He cares about ecology. He is a Canadian Al Gore.

It would be churlish to insinuate that Lloyd Axworthy’s agenda amounts to little more than an outline of the grants proposals that he might submit for funding projects at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, where he currently acts as Director and CEO. Mr. Axworthy is an honourable man. Instead, it may be more insightful to look at his own tale of origins.

He confides that, as a teenager, he “discovered an interest in world affairs” at his United Church young people’s group. There he was “exposed … to a variety of world issues, such as poverty, racism, colonialism and nuclear war.” He deepened his understanding and honed his skills during his involvement in the Manitoba Youth Parliament and, later, as a participant in the Model UN Assembly sponsored by the Rotary Club. Now, half a century later, Lloyd Axworthy can look back on a meritorious career and forward to future challenges. If he plays his cards right, he will win the Order of Canada. He has already been nominated for a Nobel Prize. Somehow, though, it is the voice of an earnest and innocent youth—anxious to help, eager for approval and fascinated with newfangled novelties and technological toys—that is still to be heard in these pages. We should wish him well.


Howard A. Doughty, B.A.(York), M.A.(Hawaii), M.A.(York), M.Ed.(Toronto), teaches in the Faculty of Applied Arts and Health Sciences at Seneca College, King City. His email address is howard.doughty@senecac.on.ca

Notes

• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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2004 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology