Reflections on 2020 and a look ahead

Dear Friends,

As 2020 staggers to a close, let me wish each of you the warmth of family and friends over the holiday period, in whatever covid-safe manner you have planned!

Since the lockdown began in March of this year, we at the Rideau Institute have striven to continue all of our foreign and defence policy advocacy work from our home offices, a move we made permanent as of August 1st, enabling us to devote even more of our scarce resources to concrete policy initiatives.

We were extremely pleased to be able to accommodate three summer interns, from the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Western University respectively, through the magic of both Zoom and the old-school Skype online meeting tools.  We look forward to virtually hosting two more university students in January 2021.

Our advocacy on nuclear disarmament and other key arms control issues continued apace, as did our work with other civil society organizations on increasing effective regulation of Canada’s burgeoning arms trade. This work culminated in virtual testimony before the Foreign Affairs Committee highlighted in our 11 December 2020 blog.

We have been working hard with the Group of 78 on a major report destined for Global Affairs and National Defence in the new year, based on a series of webinars on the Future of UN Peacekeeping, with respect to which I have had the privilege to moderate and to present. The grand finale webinar we hope to hold early in the new year.  Keep watch for that!

The Pandemic Pivot

But the real policy news of 2020 has been the surge of renewed intellectual energy that the pandemic has brought to the longstanding call from progressives for a fundamental rethinking of security — what some have dubbed the pandemic pivot.  To summarize the key messages of many of our blogs on this topic:

There is no alternative to greater international cooperation and a fundamental realignment of our scientific, economic, diplomatic, and political resources to address the health, climate, environmental and nuclear dangers that threaten us all.

A minority government in Ottawa has given progressives much more leverage to push for equitable pandemic relief, as the conservatives flounder in the face of the clear need for more, not less, government action.

But in the foreign policy arena, the situation is quite different, with the Liberals constantly succumbing to the despicable wedge politics honed by the Harper regime and gleefully embraced by Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

To summarize from an important pre-election article by Toby Fyfe, President, Institute on Governance, and Mike Colledge, President, Ipsos Public Affairs, in August 2019:

Wedge issues are political tactics designed to create an “us versus them” mentality. Their increasing use in politics makes finding policy compromises nearly impossible.

So Liberal pandering to ultranationalist Ukrainian Canadian organizations continues at the expense of the peace process. Hard-line pro-Israeli advocate Irwin Cotler is made special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism.

Most recently Canada has sacrificed any possibility of better cooperation with Iran on the inquiry into the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 with a report that criticizes Iran in harsh, undiplomatic language. Most shockingly, Foreign Affairs Minister Champagne went beyond the report’s findings to personally rule out “human error” as a cause of the crash.

We certainly have our work cut out for us in 2021 in countering this terribly destructive political trend. But as that same report on wedge politics also notes:

NGOs have a special role to play in searching for, and identifying, the middle ground and creating opportunities for [genuine] political compromise.

No formal fundraising since the pandemic struck supporters will have noticed that we have not engaged in any formal fundraising since the onset of the pandemic. This was a decision that we made in consideration of the significant economic and social uncertainty being faced by our supporters, to which we did not wish to contribute.

We were able to take this decision due to the ongoing support of our wonderful monthly donors and to some extraordinarily generous contributions from donors who give two or three times per year.

We thank you all and pledge our redoubled efforts in 2021 to put the UN and other multilateral efforts to address the key global challenges of climate change, environmental devastation and inequality at the forefront of a truly feminist foreign policy for Canada.

To this end we will strive to identify the policies of constructive engagement that should guide Canada’s interactions with allies and others alike.

The presidency of Joe Biden offers an enormous opportunity for Canada to support a new American foreign policy based on military restraint and responsible statecraft.  With your help, we will do everything in our power to ensure that Canada embraces it.

Before closing, I would be remiss in my duty to the Rideau Institute and its outreach engagement project,, if I did ask those who are able and willing to do so to consider making a year-end donation to help us start 2021 on a solid financial footing.


With warmest wishes,

President, Rideau Institute


The Rideau Institute will be closed from 23 Dec 2020 until 4 Jan 2021.

Photo credits: Government of Canada; Robin Collins

Tags: arms control, fundraising, Goodale Report on Flight PS752, Group of 78, House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Institute on Governance, Irwin Cotler, Mike Colledge (President Ipsos Public Affairs), military restraint, Nuclear disarmament, pandemic pivot, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, regulating Canada's arms trade, Toby Fyfe, Ukrainian Canadian nationalists, UN peace operations, virtual testimony, wedge politics