Canada’s minister of foreign affairs offered his views on the relationship between governments and those who disagree with them at a speech at U of T’s Munk Centre last Friday.
Bill Graham, a graduate of the University of Toronto’s law school, has been actively involved in projects related to civil society participation since his election to the House of Commons in 1993.
“Civil society” is a term used to describe non-governmental organizations—from church groups to charities to anarchist collectives.
He said that “civil society should engage in participation in international organizations
constructed since World War Two.”
Graham said the current system of policy-making is flawed, pointing to the WTO’s meeting in Seattle in 1999 and the G8’s 2001 Genoa Summit as examples of the breakdown of communication between government and civil society.
“Current levels of popular disaffection are not surprising,” he said.
He added that “parliamentarians and civil society are allies,” who should work more closely together in the future.
Graham said this approach, which was used in the lead-up to the FTAA meeting in Quebec City, when minority groups like aboriginals and church members were given a chance to voice their concerns prior to the conference, is a good starting point.
Despite these moderately successful attempts to involve civil society in international forums, Graham emphasized there is a long way to go before adequate representation is achieved.
“We have to find new and innovative ways to get voices through,” in order to truly represent civil society in negotiations, he said.