On July 13, the NATO Association of Canada (NAOC) hosted the Commonwealth Defence Lunch at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto, Ontario. The event featured three prominent speakers, as well as representatives from the NAOC and the Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada. The keynote speaker was the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of National Defence. He was joined by the Honourable Hugh Segal, NAOC’s Chairman and the Master of Massey College, and Tim Hewish who is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Commonwealth Exchange. The event featured speeches by all three guests and a short question-and-answer session at the end of the luncheon. Over 90 people, including many NAOC members, attended the two hour lunch. A number of organizations and companies provided support that made the event possible, particularly Ports Toronto and General Dynamics Canada.
The event began with Robert Baines, NAOC’s Corporate Development Officer, giving a brief history of the organization and its purpose. As Robert explained, the NATO Association of Canada was originally started in 1966 to raise public awareness about international affairs and security issues. The NAOC is working to educate Canadians through the 1000 articles published annually and various roundtables and conferences held each year.
Following that was the introduction of Tim Hewish as the first speaker. In 2013, Mr. Hewish founded the Commonwealth Exchange with Ralph Buckle. He has published numerous reports on how the Commonwealth can strengthen and expand trade, diplomatic and defence relationships between member countries. In his speech at the RCMI Mr. Hewish outlined several of the prominent themes explored in the Commonwealth Exchange’s latest report on strengthening the defence relationships between Commonwealth countries. Mr. Hewish explained, “The Commonwealth’s Call to Duty” report featured a number of findings very applicable to Canada’s situation. As a multi-region network of countries, the Commonwealth is uniquely situated to address many of the world’s most pressing security problems. A number of Commonwealth countries, specifically India, Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria are on the forefront of the fight against international terrorism. Developed nations in the Commonwealth, such as Canada, have well-funded and highly capable militaries that could be of assistance through training programs and military diplomacy. Mr. Hewish was quick to point out that the Commonwealth was never intended to rival the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He argued that the Commonwealth is uniquely positioned to nimbly face the security challenges created by modern globalization.
After a break for lunch, the Honourable Hugh Segal was introduced as the second speaker of the event. Mr. Segal was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 2005 and served as the head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and the Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism. In addition to his work on security and defence issues, Mr. Segal has also been a strong advocate for Canada’s participation in the Commonwealth. In 2010, he was appointed to the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group by Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma. Mr. Segal reminded the audience that the countries in the Commonwealth have militaries with varying capabilities. Thus discussions about officer exchange and training programs need to accommodate the significant operational and cultural differences between the various militaries. Mr. Hewish had suggested the creation of a Commonwealth Security Forum to be held alongside the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Mr. Segal argued that the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers Meeting held in New York would be a more appropriate venue. Yet, throughout his speech, Mr. Segal was very supportive of the Commonwealth Exchange’s most recent report.
The Honourable Jason Kenny, Minister of National Defence, was the final speaker. In Minister Kenney’s introduction, reference was made to his long and distinguished career in Canadian politics. He previously served as the Minister of Employment and Social Development and was also the longest-serving Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in Canada’s history. Like the Honourable Hugh Segal, Minister Kenney was very supportive of the broad themes outlined in “The Commonwealth’s Call to Duty.” He commended the NATO Association of Canada and the Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada for their work in fostering a broader dialogue on Commonwealth defence. Minister Kenney started his address by reflecting on the life and legacy of Sir Arthur Currie. During the First World War, Sir Currie was instrumental in creating the modern Canadian military that were known as the “shock troops.” Throughout that conflict, British, Canadian and Indian forces worked closely on the Western front. Minister Kenney urged the audience to never forget that important legacy. He also reflected on the powerful ideals that bind the Commonwealth together, including representative democracy, the rule of law and protection of human dignity. Minister Kenney was also supportive of the proposal for the Commonwealth Security Form. He argued that the annual Halifax Security Forum could be an appropriate venue for a dialogue on Commonwealth defence.
The Commonwealth Defence Lunch ended with a short question-and-answer session with the three speakers. In the first question, a member of the audience asked whether there should be a Federal Minister focused on Commonwealth issues. Minister Kenney noted that Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs, already has a responsibility for Canada’s participation in the Commonwealth. A journalist then asked a question about Canada’s involvement in Ukraine. Minister Kenney outlined the Federal Government’s efforts both in Ukraine specifically and also more broadly in Poland and the Baltic states. The final question was asked of Tim Hewish. A member of the audience wanted his perspective on the creation of a Commonwealth currency bloc. Mr. Hewish noted that such an initiative was unlikely due in part to the ongoing financial crisis in Greece. But he also argued that the Commonwealth could facilitate economic growth through greater free trade efforts around the world.
The Commonwealth Defence Lunch was a wonderful opportunity not only for the audience to interact with senior dignitaries, but also to learn more about the under-appreciated issue of Commonwealth defence. The NATO Association of Canada is very pleased to have hosted the event and extremely grateful to the organizations and companies that made it possible.
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