Question Period: Cultural Diplomacy

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Parliament from across the Ottawa River, Ottawa

Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, this question is for the chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Senator Boehm, in June 2019 the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee tabled its report Cultural Diplomacy at the Front Stage of Canada’s Foreign Policy. We rose, and there was an election before it was voted on. However, I’m well aware that staff in Global Affairs and Canada Council for the Arts have taken it on and both have established departments for its implementation. I’m also aware that a year ago Canadian Heritage was finishing their report, an update on it. I am not aware of anything since.

Has the Senate’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee received those updates, implementation strategies and actions? If not, when are you expecting them? And will the committee meet with the ministers involved to move these recommendations along?

Hon. Peter M. Boehm: Thank you, Senator Bovey, for the question and indeed for notifying me in advance that you would be asking it. I think I’m among many in this chamber who recognize your devotion and interest in cultural diplomacy and certainly its facility abroad. I know this from my own experience in my previous career having attempted to practise cultural diplomacy in various postings.

I was delighted to participate in the committee’s study under the leadership of former chair Senator Andreychuk, which also featured important contributions from you. My interest in particular at that time was to recommend that Canadian studies programs in particular be reinstated in one form or another.

With respect to updates from Global Affairs Canada, Heritage Canada and the Canadian Council for the Arts that you mentioned in your question, the committee has yet to receive any formal notifications and is currently not expecting any. However, as chair I did receive some assurances that work was under way from discussions between deputy ministers on the margins of the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2021, where Canada was the guest of honour.

I suspect the pandemic has slowed things down in many departments, as it has for our own committee and others being reduced to one meeting per week. Of course, there have been other major preoccupations over at Global Affairs Canada in terms of their leadership as well, most recently, the war in Ukraine.

I have informally raised the issue of the importance of cultural diplomacy programming with both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Canadian Heritage. I’m hopeful that their respective departments are working together to advance this particular file.

Senator Bovey: Senator Boehm, Global Affairs Canada is about to launch a diplomatic modernization exercise, the first since 1980. Do you have confidence that cultural diplomacy will be reinstated as one of the four pillars of our foreign policy, especially now, given the world’s crises, where the need, I believe, to understand cultures and each other is becoming ever more apparent.

Senator Boehm: Senator Bovey, the announcement on Monday by Minister Joly with respect to the launch of the internal modernization exercise was encouraging. I don’t know if it was stimulated by our push from this place or not. Like the “fit for purpose” study of Canada’s foreign service and the modernization of Global Affairs, which the committee is currently working on, I think it’s too early to say how much cultural diplomacy will factor into the deliberation. We’ve just started the study and we are moving along.

For Global Affairs Canada’s own review specifically, I want to point out that from what I have seen, much of its focus will be on internal processes such as hiring and staffing. That said — and I, of course, can’t speak for that department — as you know, senator, I have very similar views to your own. In fact, we have been dealing with the cultural and arts community in Canada for some time on this question. I would want to assure you that as chair of the committee I will look at all ways and means in the future of our work to support these common objectives and especially the bolstering of cultural diplomacy.


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