Michael Byers brings attention to Canada’s leadership potential on the global stage

Professor Byers’ infectiously optimistic book presents a positive, compelling case for Canada’s importance on the global stage and its potential for doing so much more

October 12, 2007

Dear friend,

Dr. Michael Byers has just released a great new book titled Intent for a Nation: What Is Canada For? , that I highly recommend to all Ceasefire supporters.

A long time Ceasefire friend and collaborator, Dr. Byers shares our optimism for Canada’s future.

We held an event on Parliament Hill celebrating the release of Intent for a Nation: What Is Canada For?, which the report that I have attached will fill you in on.


Steve Staples


“If we didn’t live in the shadow of the United States ­- if we were located where South Africa’s located – ­the whole world would think Canada’s a powerful country,” says Michael Byers. “It is time to assert our historical independence and take progressive action on the challenges facing Canada and the world today.”

On September 11, 2007, Dr. Michael Byers, distinguished foreign policy scholar and director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues, addressed a gathering of decision makers and opinion leaders on Parliament Hill to launch his book Intent for a Nation: What Is Canada For? and to bring attention to Canada’s leadership potential on the global stage.

Described as a “visionary call for Canada to live up to its potential, from one of our most brilliant young thinkers” by Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of The Council of Canadians, Professor Byers’ infectiously optimistic book presents a positive, compelling case for Canada’s importance on the global stage and its potential for doing so much more.

Dr. Byers explained that the title for his book was influenced by the title of George Grant’s 1965 book Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. Dr. Grant’s pessimistic view was that distinctive aspects of Canadian society and politics could not withstand the integrating forces of continental capitalism and universal modernism radiating from the United States.

In contrast, Dr. Byers believes that Canada can chart a path in foreign affairs that is independent of its larger neighbour. He cites the 2003 decision by then prime minister Jean Chrétien not to join the U.S. invasion of Iraq as an example. The book explains that Mr. Chrétien was able to do this because Canadian values were diverging from American values, particularly with regard to the balancing of social and economic interests and the need to engage in genuine peacemaking.

Byers praises Canada’s leadership in banning land mines and establishing the International Criminal Court, reassertion of its Arctic sovereignty, and declining to participate in both the U.S. missile defence system and the Iraq war. However, he warns that interoperability with U.S. military forces can lead to human rights abuses in contravention of international law, and that continued economic integration can lead to U.S. abuses of free trade mechanisms to gain control of Canadian resources, risking both our global and internal sovereignty.

Dr. Byers currently holds a Canada Research Chair for Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia

While our European allies developed strong detainee arrangements based on human rights in Afghanistan, Canada decided to follow the American approach due to the creeping effects of “interoperability” with the United States. Byers believes that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has “internalized it to the point that I don’t think he believes Canada has any options but to follow the United States.”

Intent for a Nation: What Is Canada For? calls for Canada to aim high in respecting international law, defending human rights, taking a proactive diplomatic approach, providing leadership on climate change and questioning decisions made by our allies.

Dr. Byers also argues that there is considerable potential to build on the already sizable, yet largely unacknowledged contribution Canada makes on the international stage. Rather than follow the lead of supposedly more powerful nations, Dr. Byers asserts that Canada can and should make foreign policy based on our own analysis of the world’s problems. The book concludes by highlighting the need for Canadians to exercise global citizenship. He provides examples of Canadians contributing to international justice:

  • Sheila Watt-Cloutier increasing awareness of the threat of climate change;
  • David Thomas protecting British Columbia’s coast from oil spills;
  • Monia Mazigh fighting discrimination against minorities;
  • Douglas Roche raising awareness of the urgent need for nuclear disarmament; and
  • Matthew Gillard, a graduate student of Dr. Byers, through repeated calls to bureaucrats single-handedly enabling the reinstatement of $20 million in Canadian government funding to African Union (AU) troops protecting Darfur refugees from marauding rebels.

Drawing on his final example, Dr. Byers closed his remarks by saying that like his graduate student, Canada is all grown up, with huge potential for positive change. All that’s lacking is the self-confidence that we can change the world.

The event attracted over 60 guests, including MPs, civil society leaders, renowned activists, and representatives from several embassies

The event, co-sponsored by the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, Douglas & McIntyre, Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, and the Douglas Caldwell Foundation, attracted over 60 guests, including Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar, Canadian Council for International Cooperation President Gerry Barr, Group of 78 Vice-Chair Gerald Ohlsen, renowned activist Monia Mazigh, Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation President Patrick Johnston, representatives from various embassies and numerous parliamentary staff.

Dr. Byers currently holds a Canada Research Chair for Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, where he is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues. He has previously taught at Duke University (U.S.A.), the University of Tel Aviv and the University of Cape Town (South Africa).

Dr. Michael Byers’ book Intent for a Nation: What Is Canada For? is available from the publisher Douglas & McIntyre and at major bookstores across the country.

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