Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Issue No. 39 - Evidence - Meeting of February 15, 2018
OTTAWA, Thursday, February 15, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met this day at 10:45 a.m. to study the impact and utilization of Canadian culture and arts in Canadian foreign policy and diplomacy, and other related matters.
Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is ready to proceed on its study of the impact and utilization of Canadian culture and arts in Canadian foreign policy and diplomacy, and other related matters.
Under this mandate, the committee is pleased to hear today from Ms. Mariya Afzal, Country Director at British Council Canada; and Mr. Ronald Grätz, Secretary General at the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, appearing by video conference from Berlin, Germany. We trust we will keep that connection available. We will have to delay the presentation of Mr. Carlos Enríquez Verdura, the Chargé d’Affaires of Culture and Director, Exhibitions and Special Projects at the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs Mexico for another date. I welcome our two witnesses today.
The committee began its study in December 2017. We’ve heard from officials and various members in Canada about cultural diplomacy. We are taking a broad brush to look at what could be included in a policy for the government on culture and arts as it affects our foreign policy or contributes to our foreign policy and diplomacy. We’re looking at new technologies and new ways to address these problems.
Your biographies, to the two witnesses, have been submitted and circulated, so we don’t wish to take the time of the committee away from your presentations.
Before I turn to our two witnesses, I would ask our colleagues to introduce themselves. I will start on my left with Senator Bovey.
Senator Bovey: Pat Bovey, senator from Manitoba.
Senator Dawson: Dennis Dawson from Quebec.
Senator Saint-Germain: Raymonde Saint-Germain from Quebec.
Senator Cordy: Jane Cordy from Nova Scotia.
Senator Massicotte: Paul Massicotte, Quebec.
Senator Ngo: Senator Ngo from Ontario.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh, Ontario.
Senator Housakos: Leo Housakos, Quebec.
Senator Greene: Steve Greene, Nova Scotia.
Senator Ataullahjan: Salma Ataullahjan, Ontario.
The Chair: And I am Raynell Andreychuk from Saskatchewan, chairing the meeting.
I’m going to turn first to Mr. Grätz to ensure that we keep the connection on the video conference. You are Secretary General at the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, and you’re appearing from Berlin.
As I indicated, we are studying Canadian models, but we have heard that other countries are making changes and putting emphasis on cultural diplomacy. Germany has been signalled as a country involved in such an exercise or that has already implemented newer programs other than the traditional way. So you’re well placed, Mr. Grätz, to share your information with us. Welcome to the committee.
Ronald Grätz, Secretary General, Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, Germany: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure and honour for me to speak to you here today and to present the principles, strategies, experiences and instruments of German cultural relations and educational policy.
A short and important historical replication first. After the Second World War, an important principle of German politics was established. The government has no direct access to culture and education, neither domestically nor abroad, so we have no ministry for education and no ministry for culture in Germany. This reflects the conviction that the structuring of the cultural dialogue must be independent of politics and must not be instrumentalized by it. Cultural policies are therefore part of the responsibility of the 16 federal states in Germany, and foreign, cultural and educational relations abroad are carried out by a large number of so-called intermediary organizations in cooperation with the Federal Foreign Office.
External cultural relations are established as the third pillar of external relations alongside diplomacy or security policy and foreign trade policy. The Commissioner for Culture and the Media is a supreme federal authority, with its own area of responsibility, not a ministry. Her portfolio includes the promotion of nationally important cultural institutions and the improvement of the general conditions of art and culture in Germany.
Intermediary organizations such as the Goethe-Institut and ifa — we call it ifa — are not state and not civil society, but non-profit associations that have concluded a framework agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany, represented by the Foreign Office, outlining and financing their activities abroad. The specifications of this framework agreement are made in target agreements, which are made by both parties for three to five years, and “agreeing” here really means agree and no directives are given.
The relationship with the Foreign Office is trusting, collegial and open. That is why our institutes are called “at arm’s length.”
This construction has several consequences. Foreign cultural relations are not understood as nation branding, not as economic development and are not government action. In an important programmatic speech, former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, now president of Germany, formulated in 2014 that foreign cultural relations are not about advocacy but about responsibility for the world, and that in this context we are not talking about the state but about society, and that cultural relations are based on the principle of dialogue and equivalence with the aim of promoting trust in Germany worldwide.
Above all, the creation of open spaces is at the forefront of dialogue and discourse, creative work and understanding.
For example, today, the ifa shows art from Germany, not German art. So we are showing as well artists from several countries of the world, in 20 different exhibitions with over 100 exhibitions opening per year worldwide. Therefore, the intermediary organization’s work is not about cultural diplomacy but about cultural relations or cultural dialogue. Part of the exhibitions is an extensive side program, which serves as a platform for the critical reflection of one’s own position and that of the others. It includes the perception that the main actors of external cultural relations are civil societies, cities and regions, not the government.
The concept of culture underlying this approach covers all areas of social life, from religion to sport, from human rights to conflict prevention, from development to art.
The previous dialogue approach in cultural relations has changed in recent years towards formats of stronger cooperation and, above all, co-production, meaning the joint negotiation of artistic and social issues with actors from other societies.
According to our understanding, international cultural work serves to defend the freedom of opinion, science and art.
The promotion of German as a foreign language has been expanded in recent years in all areas of education.
The Chair: Mr. Grätz, I’m now being informed that they cannot hear the audio in order to interpret, so something has gone wrong technically again. You’re talking about a modern world, but apparently not when we want to use video conferencing. We’re receiving it here, but only in English, and apparently the interpreters are not.
Senator Dawson: If my francophone colleagues agree, we could agree for an exception that we —
The Chair: No, I’m afraid we can’t do that. We are to work bilingually. We’re televised, and I think we must adhere to that rule. I think it is in our best interests that the record be in both official languages. That is our rule. It has served us well.
We were given another suggestion that the technicians want to keep working on it, that we would interrupt your statement now and go to our other witness and see if they can resolve it. If not, I’m afraid that we would invite you to come back or provide us with your full text.
I think the opportunity for Canadians to hear your presentation in both official languages is extremely important to us. While I think the committee would want to make some variations to benefit you, I think for the overall good governance here, you’ll understand why we’re proceeding in this manner.
Mr. Grätz: Of course.
The Chair: If I could impose upon your patience to wait, I will turn to Ms. Mariya Afzal, Country Director at the British Council in Canada. I understand this part of the conference is working, so welcome to this committee. We’re pleased to hear from the British Council.
Mariya Afzal, Country Director, British Council Canada: Thank you very much for having me and for inviting me to be a part of this study. I really appreciate the opportunity.
I’ll begin with a little bit about the British Council itself. The British Council is the U.K.’s cultural relations organization.
The Chair: Oh, dear. This is not our day. I’m now being told that the interpreters, even though they probably hear you, they need to switch equipment.
Ms. Afzal: It’s fine.
The Chair: I think we need to have Internal Economy look at this whole system of video conferencing.
I’m almost at the point of saying maybe we should adjourn and be sure that we can bring our witnesses when we actually can hear them fully. Is there some consensus?
Mr. Grätz, I’m making a unilateral decision now, because they’re still having problems with the equipment. It would be unfair to have you holding on. With your indulgence, what you have said is extremely important to us, so we’re going to invite you, at your convenience, to present your full text so we can have a fulsome debate with you. I think it’s important that we hear you, and I think it’s very important that we have that evidence in our study. We apologize that technically we cannot proceed, but I can assure you, from the content of what you’ve already said, the effort that you would make to come back would be extremely important to us. We thank you, Mr. Grätz, for that.
Mr. Grätz: Thank you.
The Chair: Ms. Afzal, we apologize for the technical delays, but we’re ready to go now and eager to hear your presentation.
Ms. Afzal: Thank you. The British Council is the U.K.’s cultural relations organization. It was founded in 1934 and incorporated by Royal Charter in 1940.
What we do around the world is cultural relations. We engage with countries through the arts, education, society, English and exams. The work that we do promotes not just the opportunity to create platforms for people to have meaningful discussions but also to engage on projects that are mutual in the countries that we work with. For us, it’s a lot about making sure that anything that we do in all the countries that we work across has a very strong mutual agenda.
Within the arts, we promote artists, cutting-edge arts, contemporary arts, digital across different platforms in different parts of the world. In education, we like to present opportunities on state-of-the-art new technologies and to be able to engage in research.
British Council strongly believes that good things happen when you work together, and that is very much the philosophy that we work with in all the countries that we operate in.
We like not just to say it, but we practise that we share knowledge and ideas across the board. “Releasing creativity” is one of the terms that we often use, but for us it means more than just a simple term. We focus on areas around new technologies, allowing young people to have the platforms to share new and innovative ideas. We promote those kinds of platforms so there’s that opportunity to have a real conversation.
Given the 21st century challenges that we see in this day and age, it is more and more important for us to be able to create those networks worldwide. That’s pretty much the gist of what we do.
In terms of the formal structure, our patron is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Our vice-patron is His Royal Highness, Prince of Wales. The organization was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1940. We are a non-departmental public body of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which means that we work at arm’s length with the government. We have operational independence, which allows us to focus on our cultural relations aspect of the work.
For over more than 80 years now, we’ve managed to engage many people around the world. One of the most recent figures of engagement was exceeding 500 million people, which is something we’re very proud of. We hope to continue growing that because, again, for us cultural relations, the best way I can describe it is it’s like a global currency that doesn’t devalue.
That is my introduction.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I’m very familiar with the British Council in all the countries that I’ve worked in or visited. It was very much an education centre, as much as anything else, particularly in all the aspects that I saw in Africa. It was really the only source for locals to be able to get information, particularly in more restricted countries. To me, it was less culture at the time than education.
People now have their own devices and digital capabilities, and they have access to television stations. You would go into countries before that would have only the national broadcasting, radio and TV control. Now they have access to everything we do, practically.
The educational component, the libraries that I used to see, has that changed to digital, or is that not the emphasis anymore?
Ms. Afzal: No. It is still very much an emphasis for us. We have different offers for education in different parts of the world. For example, in some countries, such as Latin America and South Asia, we still have libraries, and we’re trying to stay on top of what is needed to meet people’s demands.
Yes, we have developed digital libraries. There have been some places, such as in Pakistan, where we closed down the libraries, but recently, I believe a year ago, they reopened. There’s a whole new wave of digital services incorporated within that.
So we still have them, and education is very much a focus for us, but how we deliver the educational aspects of our work does vary from region to region. The way that the British Council operates globally in over 100 countries, with over 200 offices, we have a regionalized approach. That doesn’t mean that we have one strategy that fits all for a specific region.
For example, in Canada, we come within the Americas region, but Canada in itself is so unique compared to so many other countries, such Latin America and the U.S. There are commonalities, yet we’re unique in so many ways.
For us, it’s very much about on-ground intelligence and seeing what it is that we can offer that would create that platform within that notion of educational exchange that would benefit both the U.K. and the country that we’re operating in. Yes, it differs, but it’s very much still part of our focus.
Senator Bovey: Thank you for being with us, especially after our, shall I say, rather rocky start.
I would like to build a little bit on what our chair has said about education being a major priority. I’m well aware that it’s one of the really important streams. But for one who has worked in the arts in Canada all these years, I think it’s the cultural aspect that the British Council has contributed to the Canadian scene that has been very enriching and rewarding for Canadians. There are all parts of the country that have benefited from the exhibitions you’ve circulated, the writers you’ve brought in and the artists in all dimensions.
You mentioned different approaches in different places. I’ve got a couple of questions, but the first one, I’m going to stretch the word “education” to “professional development.” Can you talk a little bit about the work that the British Council has done globally in bringing people, leaders in the cultural community, emerging artists and staff members in the cultural community together on the international stage?
Ms. Afzal: Yes, of course. Some of the examples I can share — and I’ll start with Canada — are, for example, to mark Canada’s one hundred and fiftieth last year and Montreal’s three hundred and seventy-fifth, we engaged in numerous residency programs.
We work with our headquarters in London and identify artists within specific themes that we think are relevant for our partners Canada. Literature was definitely one of those areas. We did an entire residency here and a literature program. Music was one of them, too. We usually work with local organizations to match artists who would like to work together and they’ll come up with objectives they want to achieve within that project.
We don’t in any way set a parameter that this is exactly the focus area you must have. We’ll give a wider theme of engagement and ask them to come up with a creative notion of how they want to work. That’s one approach that we have.
In terms of other professional development opportunities, we often look around the world at opportunities where organizations have come to us and identified areas where they feel that they could benefit from some sort of exchange program working with a U.K. organization and we will match those artists and directors to work together. A recent example is the directors’ lab that is happening in Toronto later this year. There will be many curators and directors coming there. We have made a conscious effort to identify the kind of directors we think will contribute to that dialogue effectively, here in Canada, and we will bring them over.
With the professional development angle, we have some programs and we offer some courses. If you are interested to know about those, I can talk a bit more about that.
Senator Bovey: If you could submit what those programs are, it would be helpful to our study. I have benefited from them and I think it’s an important aspect of what the British Council does globally.
I now want to turn to the benefits. We’re examining this obviously from the platform of Canadian cultural diplomacy and trying to assess what the benefits are, the various mechanisms through which this can be delivered effectively.
We have heard from many Canadian groups and artists so far who have benefited by going to various festivals and performing in international festivals. I guess the top of the map for many people is the Edinburgh Festival. The British Council has funded a number of artists, musicians, and so on, to go and be part of that festival.
Can you tell us what the benefits are for the British Council for creating these platforms for international artists and performers to engage together?
Ms. Afzal: First and foremost, it’s about creating those networks and the opportunity to share knowledge and ideas. That is key for us. I come back to my initial point. No one person can do great things alone. For us it’s about creating those connections and being able not only to give the Canadian representatives that experience and international platform, but to meet with U.K. artists and also with artists from around the world and vice versa. We would like to give our British artists, curators and directors the opportunity to meet and engage on a platform such as the Edinburgh Festival with like-minded peers from around the world. Sending artists from Canada to a platform like that is a win-win situation. It creates amazing opportunities to nurture relationships. It is the start of a new partnership. It is more than just giving them a seven-day experience of meeting. It’s about how they connect, what they do with that time and how they take that to the next level.
Like any other organization, evaluation is a very important part of our work. We try to monitor or support those relationships to see what has come out of them and what are the next things that could potentially come out of them. In areas where we feel it is something we could support in taking them to the next level, we will involve ourselves a bit more. We try and stay in touch as much as we can with all the people we engage with. That’s one of the major benefits.
In terms of opportunities for performances, when we send artists from here to the U.K., we’re providing them opportunities to meet with key organizations, theatres over there, for example, that might want to work with them later on an individual basis. When we bring artists from the U.K. to Canada, we engage them in meetings, giving them opportunities to work directly with some centres that might invite them to do a performance later on or do a workshop of some sort.
There is also that angle of providing that platform which helps them promote their work, if that makes sense.
Senator Bovey: Are you part of international organizations of arts councils like the Canada Council is? Are you part of international organizations of arts councils that compare policies and work on policy and financial directives?
Ms. Afzal: That’s a good question. I know the Arts Council of England is, but I believe British Council has a slightly different role within that. I’m not 100 per cent sure. I can get back to you on that.
Senator Bovey: That would be interesting because the Canada Council, with their new platform, has some interesting information here.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for being here this morning. As someone who grew up in Pakistan, I knew the role that the British Council played. There was one in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore. Besides the libraries, which were a great source for everyone, especially in Peshawar — all the young people would go to them. At some of the events, you reached out to all ages. There were events for young people and for older people and they were well attended.
I’m happy to hear that the libraries are back in function because a lot of people relied on them.
Are any parliamentarians involved in this outreach in cultural diplomacy? When you say “cultural diplomacy,” what does that mean to the British Council? How has that evolved over the years?
Ms. Afzal: For us it’s really about cultural exchanges. That’s really what it means for us. It’s about showcasing the best of what U.K. has to offer and being able to support our overall focus around increasing opportunities around arts, education, having dialogues and creating networking opportunities. That’s what it means to us. It’s about having increased relationships. It’s really as basic as that for us.
In terms of having support from governments, ministers and MPs, yes, that’s something we definitely look to. Whatever there is a genuine opportunity to engage someone from the foreign office who happens to be coming; someone from a specific riding or a specific area, that might benefit a relationship of some sort, we will look into it and pursue it. Again, because we work at arm’s length, our focus is very much on the people-to-people, the artist-to-artist, the young people-to-young people and the peer-to-peer connection. When there is opportunity to engage key movers and shakers, be it in the public or the private sector, we will try to engage them.
You spoke about the work we do it Pakistan. A lot of the stuff we did there — I worked at the British Council in Pakistan for 10 years — especially in the northern areas, where security situations can be difficult as well, we worked with government support. We looked to local officials to help where we needed help. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that when it comes to providing a cultural exchange opportunity for us as an organization, we will do what we can to make it happen, be it in a situation or a context where there are unstable climates, for example, what is happening in Syria. We still try to work with artists on the ground there. We are still working with our remote teaching centre to teach English to refugees around the world. Whenever we can come up with creative solutions, we try to make that happen. I hope that answers your question.
Senator Ataullahjan: It does. It’s almost like developing a cultural sensitivity to accommodate what is happening in different countries. The British Council is a great success story.
Senator Housakos: Welcome to the witness.
I have three questions. I’ll make them short and sweet. The first one is in regard to your strategic planning. Is the strategic planning of the council one of competition, or is it one of inter-cooperation when you’re dealing, of course, around the world?
You also mention that you’re organized on the basis of regions, a regional organization of your structure. How do you prioritize which regions of the world will get more resources than others?
My third question is: How does the council evaluate its return on investment? What barometers do you have for what you consider to be successes?
Ms. Afzal: Our planning is very much based on co-operation, so, when we are doing strategic planning in any given context, we’ll work with local partners to see what kind of needs they have and what it is that they’d like to do and what it is that they want to see more of and will accordingly plan our country plans around that. We’ll work together with local partners because most of the projects that we do are very much in partnership with local organizations.
In terms of the way we operate regionally, the funding model can vary from time to time. In certain parts of world, there will be more funding that might go into it for various reasons. For example, in countries like Pakistan or Bangladesh, where there are a lot of school links programs that we have, we have multiple programs working around school education, around arts and culture exchanges. We have our examination portfolio over there. There may be more budgets available to do those kinds of things, but, in countries where they are already developed in many ways, the British Council would focus maybe on other areas where we feel like we could have a greater impact. In Canada, we focus a lot around the arts because Canada has a lot to offer when it comes to the arts and education. Canada is such a diverse nation. Canada has a lot to offer when you look at how diverse this nation is and the matrix, how we are made up as a nation and what we can offer to the rest of the world in terms of our learning as a country. We’ll look at those opportunities to see what it is that we can build, working with the U.K. and like-minded organizations that might benefit on both sides of the Atlantic, in this case.
That’s how we kind of look at our strategic planning, but then, of course, we are looking at our overall mandate, as an organization, to promote arts and culture and education and showcase the best of what Britain has to offer and the mutuality aspect of what the country we are operating in has to offer, our strategies accordingly aligned.
In terms of the last question, could you repeat that one?
Senator Housakos: How do you measure the return on investment? What barometer do you use for success?
Ms. Afzal: Monitoring and evaluation is something that is very important to us, and what we normally do is that, for any program we engage in, we have a certain portion of our funding, if the budget allows, to put in a monitoring and evaluation aspect of it. We speak to partners. We take testimonials. That’s our normal, standard way of evaluating. In terms of return on investment overall, as an organization, the way that the British Council is organized, we have our cultural relations offer. Then, we promote English and offer courses in English around the world. We’ll look at the engagement levels. How many people are engaging with our courses? How many people are engaging with our products and services as well? That gives us a very good indicator as to what our return on investment is.
Senator Housakos: From your experiences looking at Canada as a model, what is it, would you say, that we do very well? What is it that we don’t do well enough, I guess, from your perspective? You don’t have to be very diplomatic. You can be quite direct in answering that question. We need to have direct and helpful answers with regard to that. I also want to know: Is the funding for your organization primarily coming from government? Is it all from government?
Ms. Afzal: I’ll address the funding one first. About 80 per cent of our funding comes from our English and exams and our contracts. Only about 20 per cent or less comes from government. This is why I mentioned to you earlier that our return on investment is very much about what it is that we are offering with regard to English and exams around the world.
The first part of your question, sorry, can you repeat that again?
Senator Housakos: From your experiences, what is it that Canada, on a cultural basis, is doing well, and what is it that we’re not doing well enough?
Ms. Afzal: I have been working in Canada with the British Council for about two years, but I have been in Canada, in Toronto, for about seven years now. Prior to my role at the British Council, I was with the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery as head of development. So I have had the opportunity to work across the arts sector quite a bit, and I can safely say that Canada has a lot to offer. I have met some of the most amazing artists from Canada, some of the most amazing writers, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with such diverse people in Canada, indigenous communities. They have so much to offer; it’s incredible. When I found out about this study, I must say I was really happy to hear that it was happening because it demonstrates that here is an amazing opportunity for Canada and that you are thinking about this to look at what it is that we can offer or what it is that Canada can offer to the rest of the world because, at the end of the day, a country of this scale, being as diverse as it is, can share so much in different parts of the world.
Just the whole conversation around how Canada manages its immigration, how it manages its entire newcomers program. I had the opportunity to meet with the ISSofBC recently, in Vancouver. What they do for those newcomers is just outstanding.
I think Canada has a lot to offer. In terms of what I think could be happening or could be done better, I guess it’s happening right now. This consultation process, in itself, is something that should be and is now happening. I think it sets a really good precedent because it not only demonstrates the commitment from the Canadian government to try to look into this area to see what it is that Canada could be doing and how Canada could be taking its cultural diplomacy forward in the future, but I also think that it presents a great opportunity for people like yourselves to hear from locals about their resources and what they can offer to that conversation.
Senator Bovey: This is all really interesting, and I think you’re right that this can put us, as a country, on a path. But you said that the British Council directly engages with U.K. parliamentarians, I gather through the British Council All Party Parliamentary Group, and U.K. parliamentarians also, on occasion, travel to attend British Council activities abroad.
Can you expand on that, and am I correct in presuming that all expenses incurred by parliamentarians in working with the British Council are posted on the British Council’s website?
Ms. Afzal: Let me just shed some more light on that. They wouldn’t travel, necessarily, for our work, but we look for opportunities when they are already travelling to a specific part of the world and if we can engage them during our visit for one of our programs.
If there happens to be a parliamentarian coming out to Canada for X, Y, Z reason, if we see an opportunity to invite them to one of our programs because it makes sense for our programs, that’s how we would do it. Then, we would go to our high commission, and we would ask, “Is there an opportunity to invite them to a specific program to say a few words?” That’s how we manage it. Because it’s not a direct British Council invitation where they are coming, we wouldn’t really cover their costs. It’s usually aligned with visits where they are already visiting the country. That’s how we normally do it. I can find out if there have been examples of when they have travelled specifically for the British Council, but, in general, that’s how we do it.
Senator Bovey: I think some more information on this would be very helpful because you talk about the British Council as being an arm’s length agency, and I can tell you that the Canada Council is an arm’s length agency. But maybe the arms are different lengths.
The Chair: I think the involvement of parliamentarians is also important because, today, we’re talking about parliamentary diplomacy more and more. In the old days, I think — I refer to my days as the old days — parliamentarians would go into countries to educate themselves. They’re now coming with more knowledge about specific issues and they’re interchanging with parliamentarians in other countries.
So it’s a whole new concept of diplomacy. What I want to know is: Did the British Council reach out to the parliamentarians or did the parliamentarians reach out to the council? We’re talking about parliamentary diplomacy throughout our Senate, certainly, and Parliament, and you’re saying that you’re reaching out to parliamentarians as you see them as an effective tool.
That’s one thing that parliamentarians are trying to do, is to be taken more into the fabric of an international world. That doesn’t mean they are doing the government’s job or something else, but in today’s world, you can’t be a parliamentarian in a constituency. Everything has an international aspect now. So it would be interesting to see how this concept came about. Was it sort of happenstance and has become more utilized?
In other words, I’d like you to tell us how valuable parliamentarians are. Be blunt, one way or another.
Ms. Afzal: It depends, I guess. Because there are so many different ways that the British Council operates. It’s difficult for me to cite any specific example, because my experience is limited to my role in the British Council of when I worked in Pakistan and now in Canada.
But I guess, to answer your question, when the British Council sees that it might be a good opportunity to have them engage or meet with certain people who might be of interest to speak to at a specific event, it can be beneficial.
For example — and this is an older example that I’m trying to think of that might shed some light — when David Miliband was the foreign minister, he came on an official visit to Pakistan. At that time, we were running a youth engagement program and we had requested that he meet with these young people, who were engaging with young people from the U.K., that there was this amazing workshop taking place, and with so many great things coming out of that relationship, it might be good for him to say a few words to them at this big event we were doing. He was very generous. His office helped us engage him for a little while. He was able to meet with those young people on the ground.
In instances like that, it’s been really nice and motivating for young people to see that what they’re doing and the ideas they’re coming up with as a part of that program they’re engaged in is being recognized. So that’s one example where I can safely say that it was really nice and it did work really well.
Because we’re a cultural relations organization and we do not engage in politics and its just not part of what we do, we work at arm’s length. But like I said, if there’s a genuine opportunity where we think that by engaging them and there might be links to be made, then it has worked out well, and if they have the time. Because many times we approach, but we’ll get a “no,” because they’re busy. They’re here on different business and they don’t have the time to engage. But if they have the time and if there’s a genuine link, it works out really well.
It can be seen positively, but only if the context makes sense.
Senator Ataullahjan: Talking about engaging with the youth and having politicians come and speak to them, I think part of the success also has been that the amount of students who go to Britain because of what they hear and what they see and the exposure they have is always that certain familiarity, they feel they know Britain. It encourages a lot of students. We all have people in the family who went off to study in England because of the role that the British Council played in getting them to be familiar with the culture and to have an understanding of the society. Do you think that plays a part in encouraging students to go overseas to these countries, having strong cultural diplomacy?
Ms. Afzal: For sure, yes. When you’re engaged at different levels with young people, or intergenerational relationships within different countries, it definitely creates an opportunity, not only for people on the ground in different countries to learn about another country but also to see the strengths or what it has to offer in terms of, in this case, education. But yes, it does.
British Council, when we run certain exams in different parts of the world, it helps young people see different paths where they could go for higher education. So it does support in many ways. But again, I would come back to the fact that the real driver for us is about developing those networks and developing programs that allow people to have the opportunity to really engage with people in the United Kingdom and peer-to-peer connections, so that when they’re engaged in different projects and programs, they’re actually having real mutual conversations.
A good example of that is the British Council has run this program called school links. I think on an average in certain countries we have more than 150 school links. These are specifically to help young people get a more international dimension into their own work. So when they’re doing projects, they’re doing a project on the same theme, but everyone has their own perspective in their own country. So the results of those projects, when they share them via video conferencing, it’s a different perspective of how students on one side of the world and on the other side of the world see a similar subject area. It’s the sharing of those perspectives which allows for that engagement. I think that’s one of the things that we take pride in doing as an organization.
Senator Cools: I’d like to thank the witness for coming before us, and to thank her, in a way, for reviving and refreshing my memory of the British world. I see myself as a Brit, actually. Well, a British Canadian. Whichever. You can make your choice.
When I was a child, we used to go quite often — my mother was quite the one for theatre and pictures and she always dragged me along, so I went to countless Shakespeare plays at the British Council.
I want to refresh colleagues’ minds and memories of the term “British Council” and the term “Canada Council,” because the term “Canada Council” was based on the term “British Council.” We have to go back in time, I think around 1950, 1951, when Vincent Massey did the huge Royal Commission into — it was called the Massey commission or Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences. That gave rise to the Canada Council. We’ve forgotten all of this now.
The Canada Council, as we know, was named the Canada Council for the Encouragement for the Arts, Letters, Humanities and Social Sciences. So what we’re seeing here is a consistent stream and a very consistent development in Senator Bovey’s cultural diplomacy and cultural development and the arts.
So I thought it would be nice to have the record be refreshed of the origin of what you’re doing and what Senator Bovey is promoting here. I know that Senator Bovey is extremely pleased that this committee is doing this study. I know that for a fact, because she has told me.
Anyway, it just shows you in other ways that eternal exploration in human beings for finer things, for better things, which is a part of the human soul and the human persona. This is why theatre and film and all these sorts of activities, culture, is so important; because at the end of the day they’re all about human beings expressing themselves, and that development which is very precious, I think.
So I thank you.
Ms. Afzal: Thank you.
The Chair: Good statement for the record. Now I’m going to turn on a second round to Senator Housakos.
Senator Housakos: I want to pick up a little bit off what Senator Cools’ comments are. At the end of the day, Canada is a country that was founded by two founding people, the French and the English, and in recent times parliamentarians and our governments try to forget that, but that is a reality we have to accept.
We are an active member in the Commonwealth and in La Francophonie, but sometimes active means we go to meetings and have nice broad discussions and we leave those meetings with grand statements of platitudes.
But on the cultural front, what more can we be doing as a country, as a Commonwealth member with the United Kingdom and our other Commonwealth allies in terms of developing our common artistic and cultural background? What can we do to promote it? Quite frankly, I don’t know if you would agree with me, but I don’t think we’ve done enough. Certainly, with regard to La Francophonie, in my humble opinion I don’t think governments and Parliament have done anything in the last decade or so on the cultural front.
Ms. Afzal: There’s a really good opportunity coming up, which I can share. We have the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April, I believe. I can’t remember the exact dates. One of the things we’re looking to do is come up with ideas with local partners to celebrate and talk about exactly what you’re saying.
I agree with you; I think it’s very important as well. I also think there’s a huge opportunity for us to be talking at that level and to bring ideas forward to say, “All right, this is where we’re at now.” I come back to the 21st century challenges, because they are very real and they do inform a lot of what we do. You look at security. You look at prosperity. You look at terrorism. And you think about what kind of world we are giving to our young people for our shared future.
So when you think of that shared future and you think about platforms such as the Commonwealth, I think there is, in my opinion, a lot we could be talking about to see what it is that we can celebrate and come up with that could resonate better, not just in the Commonwealth states, but more widely as well.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I agree and I think there’s an opportunity there. Because this meeting is happening in April, in London, we’re doing the consultation process. I’m in touch with a few local partners here in Canada to ask them, “Is there something you’d like to do?” Like I said, for us it’s very important that they feed into the ideas. We, as an organization, don’t like to go and say, “We want to do X, Y, Z. How about you do it?” Instead it’s, “Here’s a platform. This is your chance. Would you like to do something interesting? We might help you do it.”
We’re doing that consultation process. I’m hopeful we’ll get a few ideas back. The clock is ticking. It’s already February and the conference is in April.
But yes, I think there’s definitely scope for us to be considering new and creative ideas in this day and age. You look at social media and all these things that are rapidly developing and capturing that platform to try to get it right and to try to engage culturally. At the same time it’s about, “Are you doing enough in all the other areas?” I hope that’s making sense. I get a little passionate when I talk about cultural relations.
Senator Housakos: I think it makes a lot of sense. I really have more of a comment rather than a question. For this committee, we need to find a way to turn that into concrete action. The Senate will have representatives at that April Commonwealth meeting, as we have at all Commonwealth Parliamentary meetings.
Whoever our representatives are at these meetings on behalf of Senate should go there equipped with an understanding, having done all the preliminary work that needs to be done, that this is a priority. Because at the end of the day we know that on the high-level political stuff or on the trade stuff, it’s the government and executive that drives the agenda. When it comes to people-to-people connections and when it comes to parliamentary diplomacy and when it comes to cultural diplomacy, I think that’s where there’s a real role for parliamentarians to play a significant role.
Again, chair, I don’t know if that can be part of our report or consideration of how we can reach out to our representatives that go to Commonwealth meetings to take these things into consideration and to reach out to partners of other Commonwealth countries as well.
Obviously, it’s not the role of this committee to go into the nuts and bolts. I wouldn’t know how to take care of it, but the chair, who has more experience than I, can maybe make suggestions.
The Chair: It makes sense. From my perspective, within the Commonwealth experience, both at the government-to-government level — CHOGM, in other words — or the parliamentary assembly there is an opportunity for host countries to highlight their own cultures when conferences and meetings take place.
What I find attractive here is to try to find common, more universal cultural interchange, which has not been the case, because I think the Commonwealth, quite rightly, when it started, emphasized education. We had all sorts of Commonwealth education structures and we still do.
My knock is we should have continued more of them. We have collapsed some of them. If you go into governance now, anywhere in the Commonwealth, you’ll find they had a link to some Commonwealth scholarship or educational experience. What I think you’re saying, between the two of you, we should have that kind of platform for cultural growth and exchange, and not just highlighting our various cultures, but how we can work towards the shared future. I think those were your very good words, Ms. Afzal.
Senator Bovey: I want to pick up on what Senator Housakos said. I certainly agree, but I’m going to say it’s probably more than just the Commonwealth. When anybody is travelling, whether it’s for La Francophonie or the Americas, I think we have to bring our cultures, plural, more to the fore.
But on a very specific thing, I appreciate that people are going over to the Commonwealth meetings, but I think you’re talking about what can be done on that platform here in Canada during April.
This is really practical: Is there a clearing house of cultural events of any discipline, whether it’s populist or whatever, of what’s going on in Canada between Canadian and British artists, which orchestras are bringing British conductors in during the time of the Commonwealth or what playwrights are working together?
Is there a clearing house of what is being done? If we’re going to build it further, we have to know where we are.
Ms. Afzal: Something of that nature is in the making right now, actually. We’re trying to establish those links. We have little time to turn this around, but I could probably share some of those with you, probably towards the end of February.
Senator Bovey: That would be great.
Ms. Afzal: Yes, I could definitely do that.
Senator Bovey: Because I think I go back to what Senator Housakos said earlier in our discussion, when he asked what we are doing for the profile to let people know. There’s probably more going on than anybody is aware of and if we’re not aware of it, it’s impossible to build on it.
Ms. Afzal: Yes. There’s one specific example I can give, on Commonwealth Day, March 12. This is a bit of a coincidence. One of the projects we have is Active Citizens and it engages more than 300 young Canadians on leadership skills. Actually, we’re hosting an event at Parliament Hill. We’ve generously been given a space over there for them to pitch their social enterprise ideas. That’s one of the events we do have and we’re looking at that angle. I can definitely send you a list of a few more things.
The Chair: Ms. Afzal, you certainly covered a lot of ground, including some history on the British Council and where it’s going, which is extremely helpful for us to look at by way of comparison to how Canada is approaching these issues. You are certainly knowledgeable about the Canadian scene, which has also been very helpful.
I thank you for your patience in waiting because of all of the technical problems we had today, but I can assure you from the committee’s point of view, your evidence has been very helpful. So thank you for the effort. I hope you can make it back to Toronto; I hear there’s freezing rain all over the place. I wanted you to know that the effort to come to us in person and dialogue with us is extremely helpful.
Anything else you wish to bring to our attention, we’re very interested in the cultural aspects. If you have any further thoughts or ideas or know of any other events or platforms, please let us know.
Ms. Afzal: I will.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, thank you for coming.
Ms. Afzal: Thank you for having me.
(The committee adjourned.)