Honorable Hugh Segal, Political Strategist

EVENT DATE: November 10, 2022
TOPIC: Facing the Unsettled World

Hugh Segal is a Canadian political strategist, author, commentator, academic, and former senator. From 1999 until 2014 he was a faculty member at Queen’s University’s School of Policy Studies. In 2003 Hugh Segal was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

He was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 2005, serving until he resigned in 2014, to become master and later principal of Massey College in Toronto, retiring from there in 2019.

As a youth, Mr. Segal was politically inspired by a visit from Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to his school in Montreal. He later graduated from the University of Ottawa and, while still in university, was an aide to federal Progressive Conservative Leader Robert Stanfield in the 1970s. As a member of the Big Blue Machine, Mr. Segal was a senior aide to Ontario Premier Bill Davis in the 1970s and 1980s, and was named Deputy Minister at age 29. From 1992 to 1993, he was Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

He has also written two books, ” Two Freedoms: Canada’s Global Future” (2016), and “Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada” (2019). Hugh holds honorary doctorate degrees from the Royal Military College of Canada, University of Ottawa and Queen’s University. He and his family live in Kingston, Ontario.

Hugh Segal espouses a moderate brand of conservatism that stresses the common good and promotes social harmony between classes. As an author, strategist, columnist, educator and senator, he has devoted his energy and wit to furthering the common good for more than 30 years. In the process, he has provided insightful advice and informed commentary on public affairs, immeasurably enhancing the quality of Canada’s policy debates and defining excellence in public service.

Hugh Segal’s presentation

Canadian Club of Kingston
November 10, 2022
Hon Hugh Segal, OC, OOnt, CD
Director, Centre for International and Defence Policy, Queen’s University

My gratitude for the invitation to speak here today is balanced by the need to deal frankly and directly with some of the harsh truths that will affect our futures as residents of this community, this province, country and the free world. Of course, I also could not say no to Ron Paquin, a former officer in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, an organization I had the privilege of knowing as an Honorary Naval Captain for fifteen years. Generally speaking, requests from former Naval officers are rarely set aside.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day, when we all pause to remember those who made the supreme sacrifice for the freedoms, democracy and civility we too often take for granted in our day-to-day lives. Reflecting on the circumstance of our present veterans is also important. That is why projects like the “Homes for Heroes” project here in Kingston,where a built high quality small support village gives homless veterans a future off the streets is so important.

For most people, most of the time, geopolitical developments far away from our home are not that important.

Another skirmish or war in the Middle East, more strife between different groups in Sri Lanka, violence or unrest in Venezuela – they all make the news but generally don’t make much of a difference in our lives.

Sadly, that comfortable disconnect between our lives and strife and violence elsewhere is no longer dependable because of two factors: Mr. Putin’s illegal and violent military invasion of a peaceful and democratic neighbour, Ukraine; and the People’s Republic of China’s embrace of a much more aggressive tone in its global relations. These do have explicit impacts, not only on our day-to-day lives and prospects as Canadians, but also on the future we share with free peoples everywhere.

Evidence objectively noted of Russian interference in democratic elections in Europe and North America is compelling and undeniable. As is the relentless interference of the Beijing government in our internal affairs.

This is no time for naive complacency.

Combine those serious threats with the fluidity and apparent dominance of the extremes in the politics of our southern neighbour and we Canadians have more legitimate concerns than usual relative to our own prospects in the larger world.

Worrying about those impacts is not enough.

Doing something meaningful to strengthen Canada’s capacity to defend itself and our people against those threats while also supporting our allies in that effort is what matters.

Our first step in “doing something” is looking beyond our lesser internal disputes and small political controversies in Canada and focusing on the larger challenges of this unsettled world, while ensuring and demanding that our national Government of whatever party spares no effort or expense to strengthen Canada’s capacity to defend itself against the Russian threat on our Arctic frontier, and work hand in hand with our NATO allies to contain Russian aggression in Europe. We need also to seriously increase enforcement, intelligence and lawful security measures here at home, consistent with our values of rule of law, democracy, human rights and national sovereignty. Under the new National Security law passed by our present government our security agencies are lawfully permitted to deploy counter measures against those countries seeking to harm our cyber or democratic infrastructure. Timidity in the face of foreign subversion is no virtue in these challenging times.

The ongoing statutory inquiry into the use by the federal government of the Emergency Measures Act to address the many excesses of the freedom Convoy earlier this year in Ottawa and elsewhere, an inquiry mandated by the Act itself, is highly informative for us all.

Clearly, there were sinister far right forces at work and the initial police capacity to absorb and act with dispatch on valuable and lawful apprehensive intelligence gathered was way below standard. And without the proclamation of the Act, Ottawa might well still be creatively occupied by horn blowing and diesel fume spewing large trucks no doubt with some support from some elected politicians.

It is a good thing the Emergency Act was put to use by the present government and parliament of Canada.

We must also be frank about what the agents of People’s Republic of China are up to in Canada.

Evidence of activities of the People’s Republic of China’s “United Front” network right here in Canada, intimidating Canadians of Chinese origin, spreading disinformation through Beijing-friendly media, operating illegal PRC police enforcement units to impose Chinese law on Canadian soil,deploying agents and money illegally to sway outcomes for or against their targeted or preferred candidates in elections is broadly and credibly available. And it is all profoundly illegal. We should all welcome Prime Minister Trudeau’s public naming and shaming of the Xi government’s illegal and hostile activities in our country however long in coming. I hope the Chinese ambassador in Ottawa is called in for a formal rebuke. Clearly the People’s Republic of China sees Canada as easy to penetrate and intimidate. We must prove them wrong.

While Canada was one of the first western democracies to recognize Communist China and assist in China’s entry into the World Trade Organization decades ago under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, it is clear that the new Xi dynasty in Beijing cares little about past diplomatic measures of civility and friendship on Canada’s part.

And ominously, for China’s population, President-for-life Xi has begun a massive retreat to classic Marxist Leninist doctrinal rigidity which has already begun to weaken China’s economic performance in clear and measurable ways which will only hurt the economic prospects and quality of life of average Chinese citizens.

Ideology narrowly conceived and rigidly pursued at home or abroad is the common enemy here. As was the utterly unreasonable “Zero Covid” policy imposed by the Xi regime on the people and economy of China.

China’s Belt and Road international investment and loan scheme has run into trouble in South America, Asia, the Caribbean and Africa as local populations have begun to resist what they see as foreign domination with Chinese characteristics.

Sadly, when authoritarian powers run into difficulty, their leaders’ instinct as kleptocratic dictators is to strike out at dissidents at home and competitive democracies nearby.

Note how the response of Russian and Iranian security and police forces to public demonstrations against their government policies is the same. Russian and Iranian police use live ammunition to control the unarmed protesters of their own population, arresting thousands as quickly as they can. These kinds of regimes like Iran are incapable of showing any remorse for events like the death at their religious police hands of an innocent young woman because of an alleged headwear modesty breech. Sadly humanity and decency is not in their play book.

It is what authoritarians and kleptocracies do and who they are. It is what the Xi regime did in some ways to the freedom-aspiring residents of Hong Kong with its oppressive national security law.

So, as citizens or residents of a democratic middle power, with a very courageous and well-trained but way too small armed forces, how should we engage with and protect ourselves from the global forces now in play that threaten freedom and the well-being of democracies worldwide?

First, we must urge our federal government to seriously increase our national investment in defence and yes raising taxes to do so should be in our next federal budget.

Spending less than two percent of our gross domestic product on defence, a two percent level of spending Canada agreed to with other NATO members years ago at a NATO Summit in Wales, is a simple dereliction of Canada’s duty to the freedom of the western world and our own national defence. Assuming our big American brother will always spend its blood and treasure to protect us is, when we look at this week’s US mid-term election results as they continue to roll out,may well be a touch optimistic.

While some on the far left may disagree, there is a broad consensus that we need a larger and better equipped Canadian Armed Forces and a procurement process that efficiently provides modern and capable platforms – land, sea and air for our Armed Forces to deploy.

Having an approved compliment of only sixty seven thousand for our combined Forces, now diminished by a deficit of ten thousand either through departures or recruiting challenges, is simply unacceptable. Aspiring to anything less than a one hundred thousand person Canadian Armed Forces, plus a fifty thousand person Reserve Force is simply inadequate with the second largest land mass in the world and when counting all three oceans – the longest coastline of any country on the planet.

If the UK’s two most recently commissioned aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales could have had their hulls constructed in South Korea, more efficiently than they could have happened in the UK, we too, need to determine how best to provide new platforms for our Armed Forces in the most efficient way possible. Generating regional jobs is important but it is more important to get our Armed Forces the modern ships and drones and defensive and offensive missiles it needs on a timely and efficient basis.

The old Churchillian “action this day” instruction is what needs to be put in place..

The difference between authoritarian powers and democracies is that authoritarian countries whose regimes worry neither about public opinion or the law, are focused only on their own kleptocratic continuation of power.

Whether it is the ayatollahs in Iran, President Xi in China, President Putin in Russia or Kim Jong Un in North Korea, or the war criminal led government of Syria- their attitudes toward the public interest and the tiniest bit of freedom for their people is precisely the same. And while NATO countries ship armaments to Ukraine to help Ukrainian Forces defend their country against Russian aggression, it is now clear that North Korea and Iran are shipping weapons and drones and thousands of artillery shells to the Russians to use in killing innocent Ukrainian civilians.

Underestimating the immoral cruelty of the new Authoritarian Axis powers would be a mistake with profound consequences for us all.

We can not assume at this late date in Putin’s career that sanity and balance have anywhere to prevail.

That we have not dispatched the Russian ambassador from Ottawa and brought our own Ambassador in Moscow home makes little sense. Putin is counting on our civility and decency as weaknesses allowing him to plunder and ravage as he sees fit.

The hard truth is that Ukrainian Defence forces are the only line of opposition to an imperialist Russian aggression that will spread to other eastern democracies on Russia’s borders. The notion that Poland or the Czech Republic or Estonia or Latvia or Lithuania would be left alone by Russia after they defeated and subjugated Ukraine is pure fiction. The notion that our own Arctic would be safe from Russian penetration especially when minerals and valuable resources are at stake is naive. All the Russians understand is power and force. A weak or dissolute defence is simply an invitation.

And, while Putin’s nuclear threat has limited the full breadth of what the West’s response has been to date, it is high time that we see through his intimidation and prepare for a full engagement that takes the defensive battle to non-civilian strategic military installations on Russian soil, just as the Russians have taken their imperialist pretensions to Ukraine, killing men, women and children in the civilian population without any remorse.

The thing about a kleptocracy is that their only option is violence against democratic neighbours like Ukraine who were beginning to do better economically as a democracy, and the brutal suppression of dissidents among their own citizens who do not approve of their government’s criminal aggression or domestic corruption. This is the same in Iran and North Korea as it is in the People’s Republic of China.

In our foreign and defence policy we must be clear-eyed, pragmatic and resolute in broadening our support for Ukraine.

At home we must be equally clear eyed about threats to the rule of law-a principle essential to the health of our democracy.

At home we must see the ideological extremes of the far right for what they are – simplistic formulae disconnected from reality and potentially a challenge to the balance and moderation so central to Canadian Society.

There is a constructive and rational way ahead for Canada and Canadians in these uncertain times.

If we think of the high moments of our post war history, Louis St. Laurent and the coming together of NATO, Lester Pearson and the creation of the United Nations Emergency peacekeeping force at Suez, John Diefenbaker and the first Canadian Bill of Rights,or Brian Mulroney and the dismantling of apartheid and the negotiation of Free Trade, the formula for Canadian success is always the same. Setting aside the extremes, we reach out with solid and humane policy, ignoring the siren call of narrow ideology and embracing the pragmatic decency of the Canadian way.

Candor and strategic engagement abroad,stronger armed forces and security capacity at home,continued insistence on rule of law,presumption of innocence, and moderation at home are the best and most likely paths to addressing and managing the global uncertainties we face.

Thank you.

Now more than ever, we must invest smartly to get the job done.