A World in Turmoil

Welcome to our issue on A World in Turmoil, in which we look at some of the recent global issues—from China to Iran to climate change—facing us all. For Canada, as always, the question is about our place, and role, in the world. 

From the end of the Second World War 75 years ago, to the end of the Cold War nearly half a century later, Canada’s place was with its allies and its role was as a middle power in the struggle of democracy against tyranny, and of free markets versus state economies.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the demise of Soviet communism, were supposed to herald a geopolitical realignment, an era of peace and prosperity led by the United States, with Canada in its customary role as an honest broker. Now, the post-Cold War New World Order that seemed inevitable in 1989 has been usurped by a different New World Order, one with decidedly different values.

There’s no better guide for this tour d’horizon than our own lead foreign affairs writer and former senior diplomat Jeremy Kinsman. “Our foreign policy belief system, the mantra of cooperative liberal internationalism,” he writes, “is being challenged, especially in our own neighbourhood.” But it isn’t just Donald Trump. There are other actors, in China, Russia, Iran and elsewhere pushing the world away from democracy. 

Our Robin Sears knows Asia and China like his own back-yard, having worked as Ontario’s Tokyo-based representative, and later in the private sector in Hong Kong. Our cover image speaks volumes, with Hong Kong residents taking to the streets in late 2019 to protest an extradition bill pushed by Beijing. Sears writes that China’s obdurate “refusal to give an inch towards reconciliation in Hong Kong, is now matched by its almost hysterical reaction to the January 11 re-election of President Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan.” 

When it comes to the Middle East and Gulf states, the credentials of Dennis Horak, former head of mission in Iran and later ambassador to Saudi Arabia, are as solid as they come. On the shooting-down of Ukraine Airlines Flight 752, which claimed the lives of 57 Canadians and 29 permanent Canadian residents, Horak sees it as the tragic outcome of decades of hostility between Washington and Tehran, with Canada caught in the crossfire. “Future incidents,” Horak writes, “are a near certainty.”

The world’s most important annual conference of ideas is held by the World Economic Forum every January in Davos, featuring a strong Canadian contingent led by the likes of Suzanne Fortier, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill. Fortier is currently Chair of the WEF’s Global University Leaders’ Forum, and shares her impressions from this year’s WEF. She was struck by two Davos reports, Jobs of Tomorrow and Schools of the Future. She concludes: “I hope to give members of the McGill community the opportunity to be local and global shapers.” 

On the heels of her excellent reporting from the Madrid COP25 in our last issue, former Green Party leader Elizabeth May delivers her take on the Australia bushfires as just one factor making Australia ground zero of climate politics. “We are operating in a fog,” she concludes, “or maybe it’s just the smoke.”

Closer to home, we’re now in the spring of the Conservative leadership race, marked in the early going by the successive standing-down of first-tier candidates.

Usually, the opposition leader is viewed by the party as a prime minister in waiting, especially in a minority Parliament. Tell that to Jean Charest, Rona Ambrose, Pierre Poilievre and John Baird, all of whom said “Thanks, but no thanks”. That left former Progressive Conservative Leader Peter MacKay the default frontrunner and MP Erin O’Toole, for the moment, a distant second. Veteran Conservative strategist Yaroslav Baran looks at the road to the Toronto convention, while Geoff Norquay considers the players. In terms of process, Brian Topp looks across from the NDP gallery and suggests party members should have a greater say than a preferential on-line ballot, as is the case with the Conservatives. And Don Newman handicaps the race in his column.

Elsewhere, Kevin Page previews Budget 2020, with the collaboration of several of his students from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy while IFSD Director of Governance Helaina Gaspard and research assistant Emily Woolner look to a better world of budget transparency and vision. Meanwhile, pollster Shachi Kurl offers a timely look at the mood of Canada on rail blockades, pipelines and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

On the Canadian book industry, Philip Cercone of McGill-Queen’s University Press looks at Canadian publishing, acclaimed internationally for writers such as Margaret Atwood, but struggling to grow market share at home. 

Finally, I was privileged to work with Sen. Leo Kolber on his best-selling 2003 memoir Leo: A Life, and offer a tribute on his recent passing, at 90.

And we offer three reviews of important Canadian books—Lori Turnbull on Beverley McLachlin’s memoir, Truth Be Told, a judge’s fascinating life; Anthony Wilson-Smith on Tim Cook’s The Fight for History, on Canada and the Second World War, and Daniel Béland on Donald Savoie’s Democracy in Canada.

All must-reads. Enjoy.