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The Washington Quarterly 24.2 (2001) 159-171

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The Quebec City 'Democracy Summit'

Andrew F. Cooper

Winston Churchill once famously startled a dinner host by complaining that a pudding "lacks a theme." As the host country of the 2001 Summit of the Americas, Canada is wrestling with a number of choices on what its theme should be in April in Quebec City. These choices are informed not only by the internal logic of Canadian partisan politics and national interest, but by the collective threats and opportunities facing the nations of the Americas. A nagging concern looms that the momentum toward establishing a free-trade hemisphere has stalled and that several countries are backsliding on democracy. At the same time, major crises have been resolved through collective actions and mediation; there is a sense that the time is right for bold initiatives to revitalize both processes. Above all, Ottawa wishes to host a summit that has a substantive legacy and isn't merely a spiced-up, symbolic photo opportunity.

Summits of the Americas have so far been given an imprint according to a single designation: the 1994 Miami summit is remembered as "the Trade Summit" and the 1998 Santiago summit in a more muted way as the "Education Summit." There will be a strong impulse to accord the 2001 summit a similar tagline. With this legacy in mind, making Quebec City the "Democracy Summit" could well be not only the most timely, but the least problematic course. A Democracy Summit would contain both substance and symbolic style. Furthermore, there is considerable sensitivity to presenting a broad target to grassroots antitrade activists. Unlike simply a symbolic summit or one ostensibly driven by trade, a Democracy Summit skirts the risk of being stigmatized as a top-down exercise. [End Page 159]

Location, Location, Location

To begin with, Ottawa can be expected to use the physical location of the summit to reinforce the notion of Canada's serious engagement with the hemisphere. This development is important. Surprising as it may seem, Canada has long resisted seeing itself as a nation of the Americas. Until the end of the 1980s, Canada desired its diplomatic association with these countries to be friendly rather than intimate. Closer ties were considered problematic, since they would undercut Canada's traditional multilateralism and further lock Canada into the United States' backyard. Canadians generally dismissed plans for hemispheric economic integration as "excessive regionalism." 1

Ottawa's soul-searching, as it crafts a mission for the 2001 summit, reflects a dramatic change in mindset, amounting to a "psychological relocation," and the desire to signal that a new Canada has emerged in the 1990s. From being a country that kept the Americas off its mental map, Canada has become an enthusiastic supporter of the notion of a hemispheric neighborhood founded on common norms and institutions. Ottawa can point with particular pride to Canada's entry into the Organization of American States (OAS) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Canada's engagement in the 1994 Miami and 1998 Santiago summits and its hosting of various intra-American events in recent years, including the Pan-American Games in 1999 and the OAS General Assembly in June 2000, also mark this strategic shift.

This summit will thus be laden with the symbolism of "belonging." Setting the event in Quebec City makes a strong symbolic statement about a confident federal government with a high profile in the world. If Canada is part of the Americas, so too is Quebec part of Canada's federal dynamic. From this perspective, for Canadians, the Quebec City summit thus fits into a wider strategy to bolster national unity, while giving special significance to the role of Quebec (and Quebeckers) in forging the connection with the Americas.

Placing the summit in Quebec City is enormously attractive for reasons beyond the national unity question, not only because of the city's old-world charm but because of its historical connections with summitry. In August 1943 and September 1944, Quebec City hosted major conferences bringing together U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime...


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