Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks for the opportunity to address the committee, some of whom are colleagues from my days in the House. I send a warm and respectful greeting to members of the committee on all sides of the House. Greetings from Budapest.
Here at Central European University we provide world-class masters' and graduate education to students from over 100 countries, including from Canada. For two years, as you know, the Hungarian government has been trying to drive us out, but we're still here as a symbol of academic freedom in Europe. We've had support from universities around the world, including from Canada, and the Canadian government's support for our position and our right to stay here has been unequivocal and strong throughout.
The committee has heard from some extremely distinguished academic experts on central and eastern Europe and I concur with their findings. I read their testimony and thought I would try to concentrate on the implications for Canada. I'm going to go a little wide here and at a little high altitude, because that might be helpful to the committee as it puts its report together.
One way to think about the implications of the parlous state of liberal democracy in central and eastern Europe is to situate it in a wider context. You could almost say that the Atlantic Ocean has been getting wider and wider over the last couple of generations. By that, I mean that the gap between Europe and North America is growing and is likely to grow in the future.
One reason for this is that the memory of our shared history is fading. Canadians fought and died for European liberty and freedom in two world wars, and that memory is very important in our founding myths, but the memory of it is fading from Canadians' minds slipping out of Europeans' memory as well. People don't remember just how central Canada was to their story of liberty.
This is having strategic implications. Our American ally, as you know, is publicly questioning the value of the North Atlantic alliance, the NATO alliance. I sometimes wonder if in the future, Canadians will begin to question the value of the NATO alliance as well. We've done so recurrently over time. It hasn't become a salient issue in Canadian politics simply because it doesn't cost us very much, and it's not at the centre of Canadian debate, but it's only a matter of time before Canadians start asking, “What we are doing in NATO?”
On the European side, Europeans are increasingly aware that they will have to defend themselves, that the North Atlantic alliance was the alliance that got them through the Cold War but that they're going to have to start spending on defence and defending themselves.
Another factor that's changing the relationship between Europe and Canada has been the way in which our own population has been transformed. A decreasing percentage of our people trace their roots back to Europe. An increasing percentage trace their origins to Asia, Africa and Latin America. This has been a revolution in our country and an enormously positive one, but its net effect is to weaken the European-Canadian tie.
On the European side, when the Europeans, particularly in central and eastern Europe, look across to Canada, they see a model they increasingly reject. Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal have embraced the multicultural future. We're one of the great success stories in that way.
It's wonderful for our country.
However, if you look at Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Belgrade, they've turned their backs on such a future.
We have a multicultural future in Montreal, Quebec City and across the country, but it's a future that the Eastern Europeans no longer recognize.
At the same time, in the biggest sense, the axis of the world is shifting inexorably from the North Atlantic linkage that was the centre of our foreign policy for the whole of the 20th century. The axis of the world is shifting from the North Atlantic to Asia-Pacific, and I think that means that Canada is going through the most substantial transformation of its foreign policy in my lifetime that I can remember. Canada is struggling to maintain its relationship with the United States. It is in deep difficulty in its relationship with China, and it's necessarily having to rethink its relationship with Europe. It's one of the architects of the post-1945 world order.
Canada was a founding partner of the UN, a founding partner of NATO, and a founding partner of the Bretton Woods achievement, and we were so because we thought multilateralism was a vital lever of influence for a middle power. But these institutions, all of these international multilateral institutions, are in some difficulty, particularly because the increasing standoff between the U.S. hegemon and rising powers is preventing these multilateral institutions from being effective.
This is a slightly gloomy tour d'horizon, but it's designed to make us think about the European-Canadian relationship in a new way. What do we do now as a country if we can't depend on others for traditional alliance structures?
A couple of things seem pretty evident to me. We're going to have to spend more on our defence. We're going to have to commit to defending the peace of others through our skills in peacekeeping. We need to remain a beacon of hope for people seeking to emigrate and become Canadian. We need to figure out how, as a major oil producer, we can meet our climate change commitments without blowing our federation apart.
We need to ensure, most of all, that our own liberal democracy remains vital and viable.
This means maintaining the national unity of the country, which is everyone's country.
We need to keep our federations civil, and we need to be a good example of freedom.
We need to teach our own people that liberal democracy is a balancing act between majority rule and minority rights, between parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law, and between cabinet government and parliamentary oversight. Liberal democracy is constantly having to be reinvented and retaught to the next generation, and I know that's something that parliamentarians take immensely seriously in their lives as members of Parliament.
What does this mean for eastern Europe? I think, to put it bluntly, we can't export democracy. We can't export our multicultural model to eastern and central Europe. The world may need more Canada, but I doubt that the world wants more Canada. That's a bit of cold water down our necks, but I think it's salutary. We're a much admired country. I love Canada. I love it even more being outside of the country, but we shouldn't be foolish about whether our models are exportable.
We need to understand whose business is whose here. Preventing the authoritarian turn in central and eastern Europe is not fundamentally the business of Canada. It's the business of the European Union, and they've concluded—very controversially—that keeping authoritarians inside the democratic club is better than expelling them, but I don't think Canada can assume the perennity, the indefinite future, of the European Union, because this tension between a Europe founded on democratic principles and an increasingly authoritarian eastern Europe might just, in 10 or 15 years, blow the whole wonderful experiment apart.
What can we do? I'm very impressed, as a Canadian working in central and eastern Europe, at the quality of our diplomats. Many of them are ambassadors. Three of them, I think, are female, and they're absolutely fantastic, but they all tell me in private that they don't have any resources. The Danes, the Swedes, the Dutch, the Germans, and especially the Norwegians have money to invest in civil society, free media, democratic education, student exchanges, and academic research exchanges between Canada and the countries of this region, but our diplomats have very little in terms of resources, and that's a shame.
We know what happens when we do invest. The Canadian investment in Ukrainian democracy, above all through election monitoring, has been a crucial part of the stabilization of Ukrainian democracy, and we need to follow that. When you think of central and eastern Europe, please don't forget the Balkans. These are frozen conflicts that can blow up at any moment. We would be well advised to invest in civil society and peace-building in that region, especially because their prospects of getting into the European Union any time soon are very slight. We can't neglect our security obligations. We've sent support to the Baltic states and their sovereignty. That has sent a message that we are prepared to stand in alliance to defend the sovereignty of these states. That seemed to be tremendously important.
Finally, we need to figure out what team we can play with. The Americans, to an astounding degree, have withdrawn from the security and stabilization of Europe. They regard Europe increasingly as a geostrategic and economic competitor. We are the North Atlantic society that still retains a commitment to liberal democracy in Europe, and we need to find the team we can play with. It looks like the Nordics, the Dutch, the French, the Germans and the Spanish are the pickup hockey team we want to be part of and working constantly with to sustain the democratic experiment in Europe. These are the democracies that give us some leverage. They're the team we want to be on, and I don't think there's another one. I don't think the Americans are coming back to this part of the world.
Finally—and I'll stop here—the message of our country is incredibly optimistic in a troubled world. We are a very pragmatic, practical people who get up every morning and make this enormous country work. People admire the fact that we do it so well. This is a message of hope and optimism that the whole world needs, and I hope we have the investment in our diplomatic resources and the shrewdness of focus that allow us to spread that message of hope and optimism to this part of the world.
Thanks so much for listening. I'm happy to take any questions you may have.