Clark issues call to action during Sidney visit

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark speaks to full house at the Mary Winspear Centre.

  • Jan. 23, 2015 11:00 a.m.
Joe Clark spoke to a full house at the Mary Winspear Centre on Jan. 19.

Joe Clark spoke to a full house at the Mary Winspear Centre on Jan. 19.

By David Olsen/Contributor

Inspired by the words of a First Nations Chief, “Let us lift each other up,” the Right Honourable Joe Clark challenged a Sidney audience to break the habit of “looking at the world from our own point of view, interests and prejudices.”

Canada’s 16th prime minister, Clark spoke before a capacity crowd at the Mary Winspear Centre Jan. 19, participating in MP Elizabeth May’s eminent speakers program. He addressed the subject How we Lead – Canada in a Century of Change — also the subject of his most recent book. Clark focused on Canada’s role in the world, how the country had a significant and positive role in world affairs in the decades following the Second World War and how it could and should do so again.

Clarke’s address mirrored his deep concern, “that the present Canadian government has aggressively narrowed Canada’s official international policy to concentrate on trade and military initiatives; and rejecting conciliation, most notably in the tinderbox of the Middle East.”

While relaxed and often humorous, he left his audience in no doubt that time is running out if Canada is to regain its rightful status in the world. Clark also praised the work of non-governmental organizations such as Oxfam, MSF and Greenpeace. He recalled that Canada was a key architect of the United Nations, the Commonwealth and NATO and that Canada needs to identify new alliances including Ghana — one of Africa’s most successful democracies — the Nordic States and Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim community.

Clark said he sees such engagements as a key response to “the threatening time” in which we live, citing Ukraine, Boko Haram, Paris and Ebola.

“Even wars,” he said, “once had rules” which allowed the UN, MSF, Red Cross/Crescent and others to alleviate suffering in conflict zones. But now, he continued, “attacking the innocents” is all too common.

In a rousing call to action Clarke declared, “we are here tonight as citizens of the world to make a difference.”

“We will never again have the world’s seventh-largest GDP,” he cautioned.  “Our soft assets, not military or resource power, will define our future international reputation. Our quality of fairness, our capacity to find common ground — these will help to inch steadily towards a more just and peaceful world and we need to lead from beside, convincing others to want the same outcomes as ourselves.”

Recalling that 2015 is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, Clark said he deplored the serious decline in the ability of Parliament to hold the government accountable and had harsh words for the current use of omnibus bills which prevent parliamentary discussion.

Asked about Canadian military action in the Middle East, “the most dangerous place in the world,” Clark observed, “we have taken sides — and there are already too many sides.”

Clarke’s final message  of the evening was: “Be involved and ask what could we be and to what can we aspire.”

— David Olsen lives in North Saanich. Retired from a career in aviation, he writes regularly for Wings magazine.