Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization


The World Needs More Canada.
Canada Needs More Canada

Robin Higham*

1. introduction

The Canadian government has demonstrated a persistent inability to mobilize the resources needed to make a serious cultural diplomacy policy operational. That cultural diplomacy is a real policy priority is among the most durable of Canada’s foreign affairs myths. Whenever officials, politicians and other Canadians take time out to reflect on the directions they want to go in our foreign policy, the notion of cultural diplomacy as a fundamental instrument of our presence abroad consistently ranks near the top. But the doctrine of plain language fails us here. It might be posted on the website, but it seems that we do not really mean it.

Consider the government’s response to the 1994 cross-Canada foreign policy consultations. Tabled in parliament in its 1995 Foreign Policy statement Canada in the World, the government set out three objectives for Canadian foreign policy and for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade:

  • the promotion of prosperity and employment;
  • the protection of our security within a stable global framework;
  • the projection of Canadian values and culture in the world.

Two years later, the priority had apparently lost no ground. The Department’s self-assigned raison d’être, the Mission Statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which was tabled in the House of Commons in 1997 reads like this: “To act for Canada and all Canadians to enhance prosperity, employment and security and work toward a peaceful world by the promotion of Canadian culture and values.”

And yet cultural diplomacy and “the promotion of Canadian culture and values” remains at best a side-bar activity with marginal resources and staffing in the Department which is responsible for its execution and management. There is equally marginal collaboration and support from the various cultural and funding agencies of the federal government.

2. what is cultural diplomacy? a component of public diplomacy

Public diplomacy is generally understood to be what governments do (usually, but not always, through their embassies and consulates abroad) to influence foreign democracies through their citizens... public diplomacy consists of initiatives for shaping public opinion abroad. There are usually three main components of a complete public diplomacy program:

  • Media relations: explaining contemporary national issues and national objectives to, and through, the foreign media;
  • Academic relations: building and strengthening links between foreign intellectuals and future decision-makers (students in higher-education), and their counterparts at home;
  • Cultural diplomacy: “making yourselves interesting” to opinion makers and decision makers and the public abroad.

As is the case with international media relations and academic relations, cultural diplomacy has an unabashed and pragmatic national-interests rationale. The cultural diplomacy idea is to get decision-makers in other countries to think about us whenever they are looking for alliances and partners to collaborate in pursuit of common goals, be they human security, environmental, economic, social or academic. At its most effective, an embassy’s cultural diplomacy program usually targets a specific demographic. The target population is chosen according to the decision-maker profile of the host country. That target demographic profile can range from elite to popular. The choice is usually a function of the degree and nature of the country’s democratic evolution..., the degree to which citizens influence public policy decisions.

Chapter 12, continued >


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