Experienced diplomat speaks on campus 

By Barbara Black

One of Canada’s most experienced diplomats paid a visit to Concordia recently when Raymond Chrétien, a former ambassador to France, the United States, Belgium, Mexico and the Congo, gave the Henri P. Habib lecture on Nov. 14.

His message topic was “Canada and the World Today,” and his message was: Like it or not, we’re a player.

“Canada has never been a pacifist country, a neutral country like Switzerland,” he said firmly. Indeed, in the postwar era, 1945 to 1960, Canada had one of the world’s largest armies and enjoyed a golden age of diplomacy.

The military has shrunk, but Canada is a member of the G-8, the world’s economically strongest nations, despite its relatively small population. We have led in creating an international criminal court, in fighting against the drafting of child soldiers, and in trying to prevent genocide.

“Refusing to participate in 2003 in the war against Iraq was certainly a very great moment in the history of Canadian diplomacy,” he said. He described the messy situation in which the U.S. now finds itself, and concluded that “there is not much that Canada can do there except to provide a few hundred million dollars for the rebuilding of Iraq and to train Iraqi police officers and soldiers in Jordan.”

Iran, with 75 million people, is a now a very rich country, with an extraordinary history, culture and well-educated people — and the stated determination to construct nuclear facilities for civilian use.

“Iran intends to play an important role in the region,” Chrétien said. “Iran’s objective seems to be to create a Shiite crescent from Lebanon to Iran, including Syria, Iraq and a few countries of the Gulf. If this were to materialize, this project would change the map of the entire region.”

China also presents a challenge, although Chrétien feels that while China is an economic powerhouse growing at the rate of 10 per cent a year, it will not overtake the U.S. for at least 20 years.

John Parisella, Special Communications Advisor to the President of Concordia University, paid tribute to Chrétien’s communications skills, and said he could have been an outstanding elected public servant.

Now retired from Foreign Affairs, Chrétien is strategic adviser to the law firm Fasken, Martineau Dumoulin LLP.


Concordia University