Former Canadian Ambassador Says Canada Risks Becoming "An Actor Of Inconsequence"
The following is an unofficial transcript CBC Radio's, the Current, from a broadcast aired February 14, 2011. Anna Maria Tremonti interviews Michael Bell. Bell served as the Canadian ambassador to Egypt in the mid-1990’s, and is the former ambassador to Jordan and Israel. He is currently a Senior Scholar on International Diplomacy at the University of Windsor.
What do you think of the Canadian response to Egypt?
Well, I really think it was lacking. […] There’s no point, in my view, of being on the wrong side of history here. The only reason I can think of as to why the government would have wanted to do this was for the purposes of supporting Israel for domestic constituencies. So it’s kind of ironic that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his cabinet would be very close-mouthed about what was going on, not wanting to influence things one way or the other, necessarily. I’m sure they would have preferred that Mubarak stayed, but they recognized how sensitive this was. Whereas it seems to me–particularly in [Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence] Cannon’s earlier statements–that we were putting up a challenge, saying "You may change your government, but we won’t have normal relations with you unless you commit to a certain style of relationship with Israel." I think that was really premature and unnecessary.
If you were the ambassador now, what would you be suggesting the Canadian government do?
Well, I’m not sure, since the Canadian government doesn’t seem to listen to its ambassadors very much anymore. But I would be suggesting that we look very carefully at the possibility of substantial involvement in assisting Egyptians–assisting any new government–in remaking the country. In other words, in institution building, in the practice of pluralism, in economic reform…
What risks are [sic] Canada taking if it doesn’t take on that role?
Well, we marginalize ourselves. We become an actor of inconsequence. And I think that would be a pity. Ultimately, to the average Canadian on the street here, that may not matter. But I think Canadians generally, in a broad sort of way, take pride–or have taken pride–in the way their country is looked at internationally. Here we have a chance to make a difference. We have lots of experience in Egypt. Until very recently, we have had very good relations with Egyptians. The government’s current policy in Israel and what have you will make that a bit more challenging, but I’m sure that could be overcome.