Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Hugh Segal

Share |
Hugh Segal

The question of exactly what role Canadian foreign policy should serve is a complex one. Should our focus be protecting our borders and citizens? Maintaining our international identity as a nation of peacekeepers? Maintaining positive relationships with our international allies? Hugh Segal asks these tough questions and more in Two Freedoms: Canada’s Global Future (Dundurn Press). The two titular freedoms are freedom from want and freedom from fear, and how we as a nation pursue those two freedoms makes up the bulk of this fascinating book by the former chair of both the Senate Foreign Affairs and Special Anti-Terrorism committees.

We speak to Hugh, currently the Master of the University of Toronto's Massey College, today about Two Freedoms and how Canada's foreign policy has and is evolving. He tells us about how his travels in the Global South motivated him to write this timely book, what he sees as the essential priorities for current Canadian foreign policy, and his early morning writing routine in Leeds County.

Open Book:

Given the current political climate in many western countries, this book seems especially timely. What were the trends or events you observed (either in Canada or abroad) that led you to write this book when you did?

Hugh Segal:

In my work as Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Special Committee on Anti-Terrorism and in my role as Special Envoy to the 53 member Commonwealth of Nations, in my visits to places like Sri Lanka, South Saharan Africa, Bosnia India and the Middle East, two realities were always present: fear among many in the population, and poverty‎. I began to sense how the absence of these two freedoms — freedom from fear and freedom from want — were both mutually re-enforcing and usually meant great suffering and often violence. It struck me as only fair that I share my experiences and insights with my fellow Canadians, in the hope of encouraging a constructive refocusing of our foreign and defence policy, and the debates around that process.


The idea of "Canada as peacekeeper" has been an essential part of our collective Canadian identity over the years. Is that role an accurate summation of Canada's character, in your opinion?


Canadians see themselves as Peace keepers, and that is a worthy self-image and aspiration. Since the advent of peacekeeping in the 1950's, the nature of war, and what is necessary to help "keep the peace" have changed. The Suez crisis of 1956 required peace keepers to monitor a cease fire reached by both sides — The Israelis, British and French on one side and the Egyptians on the other. And, it was a UN sanctioned engagement approved by the Security Council. These days, Russia or China usually veto those kinds of interventions by the Security Council, and often wars do not end through cease fires by two willing sides, but rather through peace making combat ready interventions by neighbouring or international groups like Nato or the US led coalition that liberated Kuwait after it was invaded by Iraq. They also involve, non-state actors like armed militias, terrorist organizations and the like. In Bosnia, Canadian Forces had to engage in combat to protect minorities from marauding ethnic militias. The rules of engagement in Suez were for an emergency force that was about observing, reporting and negotiating. Some parts of the world, today, are simply more complex‎, and require more robust capacities on the ground, in the air and in cyberspace to "keep the peace."


What priorities do you think should be most important to Canadian foreign policy right now? Do you think there was a time where different priorities were more important?


Priorities for Canadian Foreign Policy should be development, defence, investment, and diplomatic initiatives — everywhere we have diplomatic relations — to promote the two freedoms that count the most (freedom from fear and freedom from want). As we know that the poorest countries are the most violent and the most violent are those where poverty is most pervasive, there is a real and genuine common sense to this integrated approach. Less violence and poverty means a safer world for more people, more security and more trade and freedom. Different parts of the world will require different measures and instruments (e.g. Colombia is different from Gaza, Afghanistan is different from Sri Lanka). But our two guiding "Canadian priorities" should be clear, focused, and enthusiastically pursued.


Where do you write most often? Tell us a little about your writing space and what a typical writing day looks like for you.


My favourite writing space is a small one room writing cabin on Green Island at Charleston Lake where we have our family cottage‎, not far from Athens, Ontario, in Leeds County. It has a peak roof, is well ventilated, a roof fan, a long writing counter on one side for lined yellow writing pads, fountain pens, and with a gentle view of the forested incline between the lake and the cottage. There is a comfortable old reading chair and an old pine table, with book shelves, and an old 1950's floor lamp.

I generally rise early in the morning — about 5:00, and write till 10:30 or 11:00 every day I am there. The rest of the day is spent down by or on the water, reading, or spending time with friends and family‎.

I am a firm believer that the more one reads, the more one has the creativity and ‎focus to write.


The concept of freedom itself, and how it is defined, is central to this book. How would you define the freedom you'd like to see in Canada?


Freedom from fear and freedom from want should define the essence of our freedoms as defined by our social policy framework and our constitutional freedoms as defined, in part by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms‎. These two freedoms are the foundations upon which all other freedoms — of the press, of worship, of expression, of assembly, of cultural diversity — are built. Presumption of innocence, rule of law, due process, democratic accountability are the key pillars of our architecture of freedom from fear; social programmes like universal health insurance, free primary and secondary education, support for children and seniors, are the pillars of freedom from want. But there is still much to do, and no grounds for complacency.


What will you be working on next?


I am reflecting on two different projects, one suggested by a publisher — to deal with poverty, and another suggested by a think tank on the intersection of domestic social policy and enlightened foreign policy.

Hugh Segal has been active in foreign and security policy for over thirty years, and has chaired the Senate Foreign Affairs and Special Anti-Terrorism committees and the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies. He is a Senior Fellow of the Munk School of Global Affairs and the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute in Calgary, and was elected the Fifth Master of Massey College. Hugh lives in Kingston.

Related item from our archives

Related reads

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


Open Book App Ad