Three Cornerstones: Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity

 Contribution of the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to the Dialogue on Foreign Policy, hosted by the Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs,

May 1, 2003.


“See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil…therefore choose life, that you may live.” (Dt. 30: 15-19)


1.                  Our daily choices reflect our commitment to the vision of life we hope to fashion for ourselves and for our immediate communities. As persons responsible for the political guidance of entire societies, how much more capable of good or evil, life or death, then, are the choices that our political leaders are asked to make on our behalf? Increasingly, we must all become aware that our personal and societal choices affect the possibilities for life of other families and entire communities throughout the planet, now, and in future generations. Truly, Canadian foreign policy interests are best served when global solutions bring life and good to bear on those common global problems of our country and our world.


2.                  In this context of mutual and global responsibility, the Canadian bishops want to congratulate Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Bill Graham, for launching a Dialogue on Foreign Policy.  What might the Canadian bishops offer in this exercise? Beyond some short reflections on the pillars of Canadian foreign policy, mentioning specific areas of concern to us, what the bishops can bring to the debate is a vision of life and good, flowing from three moral cornerstones of the Church’s social teaching: human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity. Foreign policies must be analyzed in the light of the principles of social justice, by which we mean “respect for the preferential option for the poor who must be allowed to take their place [in a globalized economy] and the requirements of the international common good.”[i]


3.                  In the Dialogue Paper provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we see that since the publication in 1995 of Canada in the World, the three pillars of Canadian Foreign Policy have been: the protection of our security within a stable global framework; the promotion of prosperity and employment; and the promotion of the values and culture that Canadians cherish. A short reflection on each of these pillars illuminates our thinking on the broader theme of a foreign policy that brings life and good to all.


4.                  The Protection of Our Security: Can we feel secure in a world where 34,145 nuclear weapons still exist? “While the Canadian government condemns any reliance on nuclear weapons by non-allied countries, it continues to treat those same weapons as a useful – even necessary – element of Canada’s defenses and those of its (NATO) allies.”[ii] The Canadian bishops have, in the past, not only opposed nuclear testing, but have insisted that Canada “bring a new commitment to what we believe to be one of the most profound spiritual challenges of our era -- the challenge to rid the world of the plans and the means to nuclear annihilation.”[iii] Canada should reinvigorate its efforts to eliminate all nuclear weapons.


5.                  Beyond the traditional concept of security as relating to important concerns such as nuclear disarmament, control of small weapons and even recently renewed fears of terrorism, for example, there has been a positive emphasis in Canadian foreign policy to consider the expansive concept of “human security.”[iv] Such an approach recognizes that civil, economic, religious and cultural rights must be protected, in addition to the lives and safety of persons, if security is to acquire its full meaning. Such a concept of human security rests well within the principle of the dignity of the human person, which is common to all, without exception, since all people have been created in the image and likeness of God.[v]


6.            Canadian policy makers should be continually encouraged to view security concerns from the perspective of “human security” in its fullest sense. Such a conceptualization of Canada’s role in the world has profound implications. It could influence our limited capacity for defense spending towards peacekeeping and peace building priorities so as to ensure that Canadian peacekeepers have the materials and training they require to fulfill their mandate. The Canadian government could show active leadership in promoting a “just peace” in those terrible situations of conflict (such as the Congo) where the international community and the mass media have yet to focus sufficient attention. It could also mean that Canada would establish guidelines for our private companies working in situations of international conflict, to ensure that the human rights of local residents are respected and that national government revenues from any such venture are not dedicated to the pursuit of military strife.[vi]


7.            Finally, and even though much more could be said on this topic, mention must be made of the sustained interventions over the past year by the Canadian bishops, often with other ecumenical partners, opposing military confrontation in Iraq. In the most recent statement of the Permanent Council, the bishops acknowledged the efforts of the Canadian government not to become involved in this conflict and supported the Prime Minister in every undertaking toward international solidarity and enduring peace.[vii]


8.            The Promotion of Prosperity and Employment: It would be a contradiction in terms to think that Canadians could “prosper” at the same time as 2.8 billion persons live on under $2.00 a day. “The very fact that humanity, called to form a single family, is still tragically split in two by poverty…means that there is urgent need to reconsider the models which inspire development policies.[viii] We must grow in understanding that what is good for the rest of the world, especially the global South, is truly also good for Canada. An important starting point in such a reconsideration would be to recognize that neo-liberal economic policies that favour economic growth lead by ever-increasing consumption by a few cannot lead to economic prosperity for all.


9.            It would also be a contradiction to think human beings could “prosper” at the same time as 25% of the world’s approximately 4,630 mammalian species, 11% of the 9,675 bird species, 20% of reptile species, 25% of amphibian species and 34% of all fish species are at significant risk of total extinction.[ix] Yet this is the stark reality of our ecologically and economically divided world. The principle of solidarity, beautifully described by Pope John Paul II as “not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of many people (but)…a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good,”[x] must guide our resolve to reconsider true prosperity for all people, other species and the earth.[xi]


10.        Such a fundamental reconsideration of prosperity, based on a renewed commitment to solidarity, would specifically position Canadian foreign policy priorities towards the realization of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.[xii] This would imply that Canada’s overseas development assistance envelope grows by more than the welcome (but inadequate) eight percent provided in the most recent federal budget. It would also demand change to our assistance priorities, to stress support for NGOs and governments that are truly focussed on poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability, as well as increased commitment to address the HIV-AIDS pandemic.[xiii] Additionally, Canada should renew its leadership in cancelling the debt burdens of countries in the global South. The Canadian churches have long made debt cancellation a primary concern. Action to cancel debts is a sine qua non for just development, let alone for reaching the Millennium Development Goals. Unfortunately, this issue was not even mentioned in the Dialogue Paper prepared for this foreign policy consultation exercise.[xiv]


11.        Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has stated that “globalization of markets, on its own, is a very inadequate approach to world prosperity.”[xv] Thus, while international trade negotiations can allow the market to play its proper role, trade liberalization should not threaten the integrity of publicly funded services (such as in the provision of clean water, health and education), block access to public goods (such as life-saving medicines or cultural products) or threaten food security.[xvi] We have heard the assessment of the Mexican bishops, that “the results of this agreement (NAFTA, in effect since 1994) have been beneficial for some regions and some growers in the country, but the majority of the farmers, small peasant and indigenous farmers, have experienced a severe decline in their incomes and quality of life.”[xvii] For our part, we have previously stated our concerns that the investor-state mechanism of NAFTA and its extension into the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas threaten the ability of sovereign states to legislate environmental protections.[xviii] For this reason, we were pleased to see that a Parliamentary Committee has recommended that “NAFTA type investor-state provisions should be excluded from the FTAA agreement.[xix] In order that there be policy coherence among Canada’s foreign initiatives, international trade policies must also contribute to global prosperity, defined as meeting the Millennium Development Goals through increased actions of solidarity.


12.        The Promotion of Canadian Values and Culture: Canadians’ values are expressed most clearly in our international actions to defend and promote the human rights of all people. “The Gospel shows us how Christ insisted on the centrality of the human person in the natural order (cf. Luke12: 22-29) and in the social and religious orders, even against the claims of the Law (cf. Mark 2:27): defending men, women (cf. John 8:11) and even children (cf. Matthew 19: 13-15), who in his time and culture occupied an inferior place in society. The human being’s dignity as a child of God is the source of human rights and of corresponding duties.”[xx]


13.        In keeping with the principle of subsidiarity, which enhances participation in decision making and allows new actors to develop the exercise of their human rights and responsibilities, Canadian foreign policy must guard a certain independence that respects the values of our people. It is impossible to ignore that Canada is a middle power geographically located beside the unique superpower of the planet. Our integration with the American economy (which buys more than 85% of our exports) has been deepened through free trade agreements and influences the marge de maneuvre of a range of non-economic policies. Nonetheless, friends should be able to communicate honestly and always respectfully with one another, even when disagreements periodically occur. Thankfully, positive and trusting relationships are growing among our two peoples through the many expressions of civil society linkages (we think of several excellent and helpful relationships between American and Canadian churches, for example.) These are encouraging signs of the maturation of independent, but increasingly interdependent, relationships.


14.              Canadian values in international affairs, expressed essentially in deep respect for human rights, should also be based on right relations among peoples. Interdependence is a reality not just in bilateral relations, but also at the level of the global community. Global governance institutions, expressed through the United Nations’ many related organizations, are crucial and privileged mechanisms to develop human rights, peace building, solidarity and civil society participation. While the United Nations’ system of governance is clearly in need of reform, this should be accepted as a natural challenge as history progresses, while not forgetting that the structures of the global economic architecture, the Bretton Woods Institutions in particular, also cry out for deep change. Canada’s many historic commitments to multilateralism remain valid expressions of our shared commitment to advancing our values today.


15.              Conclusion: Canadian foreign policy must reflect the choices we all need to be challenged to make for life and good, on behalf of Canadians, but also for other members of the human family. More precisely, since sacred Scripture reminds us that God hears the cry of the poor (Psalm 34:7), the Church must attempt to respond to those most in need. A renewed Canadian foreign policy based on principles of respect for human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity would indeed act so that the world might have life, and have it in abundance.[xxi]


[i] John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, 1999, No. 55.

[ii] Bill Robinson, Canada and Nuclear Weapons: Canadian Policies Related to, and Connections to, Nuclear Weapons, Project Ploughshares Working Paper 01-5, October 2002.

[iii] See the letter signed by 19 senior leaders of Christian churches, including Bishop François Thibodeau, Chairman of the CCCB’s Social Affairs Commission, to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, concerning the abolition of nuclear weapons, March 20, 1998.

[iv] See the federal government website:

[v] Cf. Genesis 1:26.

[vi] Repeated initiatives of this Commission, as well as ecumenical activities of the Canadian churches in regard to the former investment of Talisman Energy Inc. in Sudan provide examples of how the churches attempted to influence both company and federal government action in order to ensure human security in this long-suffering area of conflict.

[vii] See: and click on the button entitled, CCCB and Iraq.

[viii] John Paul II, Message of World Day for Peace, 1 January 2000, #17; emphasis in the original.

[ix] United Nations Environment Programme, 2000 Global Environmental Outlook (figures for 1996):

[x] Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, December 1987, #38.

[xi] Further development of this thinking can be found in The Common Good or Exclusion: A Choice for Canadians, An Open Letter to the Members of Parliament from the Social Affairs Commission of the CCCB, February 2, 2001.

[xii] See: All 191 United Nations member states pledged to meet goals of reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer hunger, eliminate gender disparity in schooling, reduce infant mortality by two-thirds and reverse the loss of environmental resources, among others.

[xiii] Letter of the Social Affairs Commission to Finance Minister John Manley regarding the Federal Budget, February 13, 2003.

[xiv] Most recently, in March 2003, 29 Catholic bishops from around the world, including Bishop Jean Gagnon, Chairman of the Social Affairs Commission, wrote to the International Monetary Fund to detail their concern for enhanced attention to debt cancellation.

[xv] Professor Amartya Sen, Delivering the Monterrey Consensus: Which Consensus?, Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ Meeting, London, September 24-26, 2002, No. 43.

[xvi] Letter of Bishop André Vallée, Bishop of Hearst and President of the Canadian Council of Churches, to the Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, Minister for International Trade, December 20, 2002.

[xvii] Mexican Episcopal Commission for Social Action, For the dignity of the land, for the dignity of Mexico, January 29, 2003, No. 18.

[xviii] Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs, CCCB, Trading Away the Future, January, 2002.

[xix] Sub-Committee on International Trade, Trade Disputes and Investment, Strengthening Canada’s Economic Links with the Americas: A Trade and Investment Strategy for the Americas, June 2002, recommendation # 21.

[xx] John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, No. 57, January 1999.

[xxi] John 10:10