the canada issue

Stein on Canada’s future in the global landscape

“Canada matters to the world not so much for what it does but for what it is.”


Janice Stein founded U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs and was its director for 16 years. She is Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management in the Department of Political Science and President Meric Gertler’s Senior Presidential Advisor on International Initiatives. A popular media commentator and author, Stein was awarded the Molson Prize by the Canada Council for her contributions to public debate.

Q. The writer Paul Theroux recently said our planet is getting “meaner, smaller, more populous and nastier.” In light of recent terrorist events, many are thinking the whole world is a much more dangerous place. What do you think?

A. If you judge by the number of violent deaths in conflict, the world is safer now than it ever has been. Think of the tens of millions of people killed in just the two world wars in the last century and the millions of people who were killed in the war between Iraq and Iran and the genocide in Rwanda. Terrorism kills only a tiny fraction in comparison. So why is terrorism so frightening? Because it is faceless and random. Terrorism terrorizes because it is everywhere and nowhere, because it can happen to anyone at any time. It frightens through its uncertainty and unpredictability.

Q. This issue of Edge is about Canada’s future. From an international relations perspective, does Canada matter to the rest of the world?

A. Canada matters to the world not so much for what it does but for what it is. It is among the very best in the world in its capacity to welcome newcomers from around the world, to build and sustain diverse societies, to create multicultural cities, to provide basic health care and a range of educational platforms and opportunities. We mirror the world inside our borders. We matter primarily through example, through how we live and how we enable multiple voices, rather than for what we do in the world.

Q. There are any number of big issues that affect global society right now – climate change, terrorism, the global economy, the gap between rich and poor, to name a few. Two questions: first, is it really possible for the nations of the world to work together to solve these problems? Secondly, what can Canada do to help other nations deal with these problems?

A. It is getting more and more difficult for global society to come together to solve complex problems. There are four times as many states as there were after World War II and at least 10 times as many non-governmental organizations involved in global affairs. Organizing and managing this complexity to arrive at solutions is challenging. To use a baseball analogy, that is why we’re seeing “small ball strategies” on many issues rather than big swings for the fences on the world’s toughest problems. At the climate conference in Paris, states were able to come together only by agreeing to voluntary targets. That’s a small ball strategy that the organizers hope will produce runs.

Q. What advice do you have for Prime Minister Trudeau?

A. I wouldn’t presume to give the Prime Minister any advice. He knows well that the 21st century has brought many new players to the table and empowered many that previously had no voice. That is a positive development, even though it makes it more difficult for Canada’s voice to be heard. In this crowded, complex environment, Canada has to choose where it will focus and where it can bring meaningful expertise to bear in a way that genuinely adds value.

Q. You’ve taught international relations at U of T since 1982 and have interacted with thousands of students. Are students today more interested in international affairs than at other times?

A. I am enormously encouraged by today’s students. This is the most globally minded group of students that I have had the privilege of working with. They travel, connect, and come back to Canada, building bridges as they travel, study, and work abroad. They understand that there are few purely local problems, that their generation will have to find global solutions even to problems that appear local, and that risk as well as opportunity is now shared globally. What is so heartening is that this generation is so much more willing to take risk and no longer looks only to government as the solution to all these problems. They are willing and capable of taking ownership, risk, and responsibility for creating solutions to tomorrow’s problems.