Tag Archives: CanadianInternational Council

Responding to David Carment

David, thank you for posting your comment yesterday. It is clear we both care strongly about the future of the Canadian Institute for International Affairs (CIIA).

In some places – such as the role of fellows – we have an honest difference of opinion. For example, I sense you see the role of fellow as a university does: academics with research agendas. In contrast, I’m advocating for a role similar to that of the Yale World Fellows: a diverse set of interesting people who have an important perspective to contribute. Might this include government officials on leave, former political staffers, or social entrepreneurs? Absolutely.

In other places, it is unclear to me if we agree or disagree. In your original comment you argue the oped was flat out wrong, or “more caricature then valid description.” However, in yesterday’s comment you state “we all know it (the CIIA) has had it problems even its members recognize that, so what you have said in that regard is not new.” I’m not sure you can have it both ways. Either I was wrong and failed to accurately portray the situation or, I was right, and not adding to the debate.

I also don’t mind you being harsh – debate is essential to uncovering truth. However, what concerns me is that you seem less interested in debating my thesis than trying to point out typos in an effort to mock me. You may “not want to debate about the vitality of the CIIA”… but this was the subject of the oped. If we aren’t discussing that, then what is the subject on the table? I’m happy to discuss the immaterial differences between the Embassy and blog versions of my oped, and to acknowledge I identified your university incorrectly, but these discussions won’t weaken or alter the validity of my argument – which I sense is the source of your discontent.

I acknowledge that a number of CIIA members and supporters – including yourself – are upset with the piece, and so in turn with me. However, the decline of the CIIA has been going on for some time, and the window of opportunity to act and renew it is shrinking. Feedback from friends, colleagues and CIIA members suggests I simply pointed out the large elephant in the room. If this prompts a larger rethink about the goals and directions of the organization, then some discomfort among its members is a small price to pay.

What I fear however, is that some people wish to instead circle the wagons – an understandable, but counterproductive reaction. Those of us who are fans of the CIIA, but concerned about its future, will keep wondering… what will prompt the renewal and soul searching the CIIA needs?

Finally, I too was disappointing to see that Ben Rowswell and Farouk Jiwa not included in the Embassy’s list of suggested fellows. Both are exceptional individuals and their respective experience in Iraq and Africa are ones more Canadians should here about. I’m not sure why that happened and will follow up with Embassy – but my suspicion is that it was a matter of space (they were the last two bullets in the list). As for your concerns about my list – they are worse then you feared. I know each of them! But you misunderstand its purpose. I did not propose it as the definitive list, but as an example of the type of fellows I’d like to see the CIC appoint. Moreover, nominating someone I know and have worked with an old boys network does not make. Having the power to limit nominations to a select group and/or control the appointment process to favour long time colleagues does.

Also, I do wish to apologize for getting your university wrong (I’ve corrected it). One of the great things about having a blog is that when genuine errors occur, there are an army of readers – such as yourself – who are kind enough to point them out, which I’m all too pleased to fix.

Reactions to the CIIA post/Op-Ed

First I want to thank friends – old and new – for your warm emails regarding the CIIA post and subsequent Embassy Magazine op-ed.

I have however, received one critical comment. Ottawa Carleton University Prof David Carment or at least someone posing as David Carment posted the following comment on my blog yesterday.

Did any of you read the Eaves piece in yesterday’s Embassy magazine? I thought it was a bit harsh and more caricature then valid description. Had he sat in on the various Ottawa chapter meetings that CIIA has organized on Failed and Fragile states the picture he portrays would be much different. These meetings have been a nice mixture of young and old, diplomats and practitioners and academics mixed with pragmatism and idealism. I also thought his selection of fellows a bit odd. To my mind a research fellow is someone who has an actual research programme and at least in a few of cases this doesn’t hold. A friend and colleague JS Rioux hasn’t been at Laval for over two years – he now works for the federal government.

He even gets the affiliation of Cohen wrong – he is cross appointed with our school and journalism at Carleton.

Does the CIIA still sponsor a journal or two? It’s worth mentioning. that to rebuff the claim that it is/was out of touch.

A few friends pointed out that curiously, the comment reads like a letter, suggesting it might actually be from an email. So I thought I’d repost it here and see if anyone might be willing to forward along the entire (hypothesized) email chain. If you have a copy please send it to me here.

Just to respond to the letter’s criticisms… If Prof Carment has been attending CIIA meetings that have a good cross section of people (age, background, political perspective) then great! It is my sincerest hope that the CIIA has broadened its membership. However, I’m fairly confident that if we could look at its membership rolls, I’m not sure we’d find the distribution Carment describes.

As for my selection of fellows… I think Carment and I have an honest difference of opinion on who and what the fellows could or should be for. While some of the people I highlighted are academics or emerging academics (and so might have a traditional research agenda) others are very much practitioners whose work affects Canadian foreign policy or sheds light on interesting aspects on international affairs. Others, like JS Rioux and Ben Rowswell, are a little bit of both.

Almost none are from the comfy old-boys network of diplomats and academics (indeed this is why I selected them) but I suggest that each has a unique and important experience to reflect upon and share with the Canadian public (as well as the foreign policy elite).

I used JS Rioux old Laval webpage as a link because it was the only site I could find with at least a partial bio. Apologies that the info is out of date, I thought it better to supply something rather than nothing.

As for the failure to get Cohen’s affiliation wrong, this addition was made to the piece made by Embassy Magazine. I’m sure they regret any error.

I suppose there are those who think the CIIA is fine the way it is… but years of deficit spending and a declining membership tell me that it is not. Yes, my letter was blunt, but at least it asks the tough questions. The CIIA in its present form was unsustainable. Now that it has a saviour, it be a shame if it landed back in its current crisis because it didn’t use the opportunity to evolve.

Note: The David Carment responds in the comment below and then the discussion continues the following day here.

Note to Balsillie: Lack of funding didn't kill the CIIA, its culture did

Interesting news on the Canadian international policy front. Some of you may have read this story outlining how Balsillie has given $1million dollars, and will lead the fundraising effort for another million, to establish the Canadian International Council.

This is a good news/bad news story with some important lessons for anyone running a national organization.

First, the good news.

Any funding into the study of Canadian Foreign Policy is good news. Thanks to Andrew Cohen, the notion that Canada’s influence in the world is in virtual free fall is now accepted orthodoxy. As Jeffrey Simpson aptly put it: “never before has the world meant more to Canada; never has Canada meant less to the world.” A wider set of voices, activitely engaging in public debates about Canada and the world, should be a welcome development.

Moreover, this move will rescue the fast declining Canadian Institute for International Affairs (CIIA). At one time the CIIA was the crucible in which the international affairs were debated and discussed in Canada. Membership was essential for anyone active in the development of foreign policy.

Times, however, have changed. Today there are a wealth of groups that engage international issues: Engineers without Borders, Journalists for Human Rights, the Canadian Red Cross, Oxfam Canada, Greenpeace, Canadian Council of Chief Executives, etc… offer both a more focused discussion and, perhaps more importantly, tangible impact, in a way the CIIA couldn’t, and the CIC can’t. Common wisdom says the glory days of the CIIA ended for a reason… as the above mentioned list attests, the marketplace simply became more competitive and specialized. That said, it may be that there is both an interest in, and a critical role for, a non-partisan organization that brings Canadians together to talk about foreign policy in the broadest sense. I certainly hope so.

And now, the bad news

Rebranding and plowing money back into the CIIA saves it from having to ask itself the tough question: why is it dying? And have no doubt, the CIIA is dying. This is true in the figurative sense, something John MacNaughton, its chair conceded in the Globe when he noted that the establishment of the CIC “moves CIIA from the deathbed to the launching pad.” It is also true in the literal sense. The average age of the CIIA’s 1300 members is in the 60s and possibly 70s (remember, this is the average age). I went to several events in Ottawa where the under 50 crowd represented maybe 5-7% of the audience.

The challenge for the CIIA, and now the CIC, is twofold, but with a single goal: become relevant by attracting new, younger, members.

Part of this problem is structural. In many chapters (the Kitchener-Waterloo branch being a notable exception) the CIIA has become a place where retired diplomats gather. It’s boards are dominated by retired diplomats (although there is often a token young person, usually from the local university). This means the issues, discussions, and networks are geared towards an older audience. When the CIIA was a place where aspiring diplomats and foreign policy geeks gathered, the network effect caused more young members to join, so they could meet peers who were rising stars. Today, the CIIA is a place where retired diplomats and foreign policy geeks meet, this means the network effects work against younger people, who while possibly keen to learn from wiser souls, recognize they are less likely to meet contemporaries and peers. In short, the CIIA lacks critical mass in the right demographics.

The part of the problem is cultural. CIIA meetings tend to be stuffy, formal events, reflecting the diplomatic tradition from its founding period (1930’s-50’s). While there is not dress code, members tend to wear suits and events focus on speeches with some Q&A. It’s all very traditional, formal and hierarchical. International affairs already suffers from a reputation as a snobby subject, this formality almost certainly discourages novices and younger members from participating, and returning.

In short, the CIIA financial issues were never the problem, just the symptom. The problem is cultural.

Money: an opportunity rife with risk

Without a real change in course, things at the CIC will look very much like they do at the CIIA today. Moreover, if past performance is anything to go by, the selection of 20 fellows will have little impact, and could make things worse. My suspicion (and fear) is that the CIC’s fellowships will become the retirement home for Canada’s foreign policy old guard, men like the eminent and highly qualified Allan Gotlieb. Worse still, the alleged “innovative” choices will people like Jennifer Welsh, Michael Byers or Rob Huebert (just to cover the political spectrum). In reality these people should be “safe” choices. As they, and the old guard, already have a pulpit from which to speak, and have done so effectively. If the CIC wants to be about new ideas and compelling debates, it should bring in some younger and more diverse blood. Perhaps set a target of making a third to half its fellows true “risky” choices – rising voices, or those outside the old safe, stodgy world of the foreign policy cocktail circuit. Ideally, they’d target people with credibility, and an emerging track record of engaging in public debates.

So in closing… here are some people I’d like to see nominated for the CIC fellowships (in no particular order):

And for some older voices probably not on the radar of the CIC I might include:

  • Daryl Copeland – Public servant, outside thinker
  • Max Wyman – the arts in Canadian foreign policy
  • Chief Billy Diamond – business and first nations perspective

So there it is, the unvarnished analysis of the challenges facing the CIC. I’m cheering for them, I just hope they are willing to break the old-boys network mold. If not, we’ll be back where we were in no time.