Kim Campbell: former Canadian Prime Minister promotes democracy around the globe

Kim Campbell - 19th Prime Minister of Canada, photo: Denise Grant (1993), source: National Archives of Canada

The 10th annual Forum 2000 conference, which this year focuses on the Dilemmas of Global Co-existence, has brought many leaders from the world of politics, business, and academia to Prague. Among them is former Canadian Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Kim Campbell - the only woman to have ever served as head of state in North America. Kim Campbell was only 46 years old when she became the Prime Minister of Canada in 1993. Today she is the Secretary General of the Club of Madrid, an organization she co-founded.

When we met in Prague as Forum 2000 got underway, I began by asking Kim Campbell why she considers this meeting of world leaders and intellectuals important?

"I think the reason we come is that it's a very interesting group of people and we're all busy, and we're delighted that Vaclav Havel brings us together so that we can catch up with one another and share our views. I don't think that we are under the allusion that one meeting of Forum 2000 can solve the world's problems, but it's a very important opportunity for dialogue and the kind of fellowship that enables people to pursue working together even when the meeting is finished. So I think it's a great place to be, and besides, I don't have to have my arm twisted to come to Prague. It is a very, very wonderful place, and an inspiring place because it has been the scene of a remarkable political transformation and that inspires us - when we feel depressed about the state of the world we remind ourselves that people really can make change."

Many of the sorts of people that Vaclav Havel invites to participate in Forum 2000 belong to the Club of Madrid, to which you belong and helped co-found. Let me ask about the workings of the Club of Madrid outside of meetings like this, which are in the media spotlight. I'm particularly interested in developments concerning Cuba, because this is something that is very close to Vaclav Havel's heart. What can you tell me about very recent activities concerning support for the pro-democracy movement in Cuba, especially since Fidel Castro has fallen ill and been hospitalized during the past several weeks? For example, are any of you planning to visit Cuba?

"The Club of Madrid is an organization of 67 former presidents and prime ministers, whose mission is to promote democratic transition, particularly by working with the leaders of transitional democracies. So where we are invited, we go into countries and work with the leaders to help them. We've just had one of our members, the former Prime Minister of Latvia, return from East Timor. Mary Robinson and Petre Roman from Romania are actually just coming here from Tiblisi, Georgia, where they've been talking about energy issues. We're working with people in Mauritania, etc. So we work with the governments of transitional democracies because there is no textbook that tells you how to be a president or prime minister. At the moment we have not been invited to Cuba. There is not a transition underway. We have a lot of Latin American members in the Club of Madrid, many of whom know Fidel Castro and worked with him at the time when they were presidents of their countries. It is a delicate issue for Latin Americans and we have been keeping a very careful eye on how we can make a difference.

Forum 2000,  photo: CTK
The other thing that the Club of Madrid does is that we use our convening power to bring together the best thinkers from around the world on issues relating to democracy. In March 2005 we convened a global summit on democracy, terrorism, and security. Last year we actually had our annual meeting here in Prague, and we looked at the lessons to be learned from the central and eastern European transitions fifteen years out. In other words, now that we've seen them unfold, how do we think about them, what can we learn from them?

So, the short answer to your question about what we're doing about Cuba is: nothing formally at the moment. We really have a watching brief on it, and we're very aware that there are a number of different approaches to what the scenario should be in Cuba. We do have links - we have connections with Cuba in a whole variety of ways - and nothing would make us happier than to be engaged in a transition process there. But it's difficult - it's very difficult.

Now, in countries where we are not invited to help them with the transition, we do sometimes work with people outside of the country. So for example, in July of last year we did a program with Saudi reformers. The Saudi government knew about it, but they were not part of it. The people we brought to Madrid were people who had been elected to local councils in Saudi Arabia, but those councils had not been convened. We brought them to Madrid to talk about the Spanish transition, because for people of that part of the world, perhaps a constitutional monarchy is the best model. We did a very interesting presentation with our members and key players there. So, we are still looking at how we can support political change in Cuba, but it is difficult to see where we can do that. I think that what our members also want to make sure is that if we have a chance to play a role in Cuba, that we position ourselves so that we will be seen as neutral, or more global in our background. So we think about it a lot.

Now, I am a member of Vaclav Havel's International Committee on Democracy in Cuba, and many of us wear other hats as well, that maybe make it easier for us to speak out on certain issues relating to Cuba. All of our members have multiple identities. Bill Clinton has his own foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative. Many of our members have their own foundations and we sit on a lot of different bodies. We try to look for a lot of different ways to address these issues. At the moment the Club of Madrid does not have a program in Cuba, but our members talk about it a lot and are very interested in the future of that part of the world."

This 'other hat' you wear, belonging to the International Committee on Democracy in Cuba - in that role, are you doing something that you're able to talk about publicly?

"Well, the leadership of that of course comes from Vaclav Havel himself, and the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba has actually recently written a letter to Raul Castro, and actually I want to talk to President Havel about that when I'm here at this meeting. But again, President Havel's view was in many ways on a smaller scale, what the Club of Madrid's view is. He felt that because Czechoslovakia, and then the Czech Republic, had made a successful transition to democracy coming out of the same kind of Marxist-Leninist rule, that the experience of this country could be very helpful to the Cubans, and that Czechs should be poised and ready to help. Recognizing that there is a lot of anti-American sentiment in Cuba, there's a suspicion there that something coming from Europe would perhaps be better trusted.

But again, there are limits on what can be done. I mean, you certainly don't want to imperil people who are in Cuba. That's another problem: you think that you are going to be very helpful, but all you do is that you go in, and the result of your visit is that people get thrown into jail. So these are issues that people have to handle very carefully, but I was delighted to be invited to be part of that committee. I think there's a strong sense that it would be a great shame if when he [Fidel Castro] leaves, or when he dies or becomes incapacitated, if there is not then the opportunity to make significant change in Cuba. It is a very unhappy place."

Let me ask you one last thing, about Canadian politics. Do you miss it?

"When people ask me if I miss politics I say two things: one, I miss making real decisions. There's no question that it's quite wonderful to be at the centre of the action and really trying to think about how to resolve issues. It's frustrating too, but it's very interesting. I also miss all the wonderful assistants and colleagues I had working with me, who made it possible for me to do a lot of things because there was great teamwork. But I don't miss it [politics], because first of all, I'm very forward-looking. I had a wonderful time in politics. I held elected office at three levels of government in Canada, and it was an extraordinary education for me. All the people I worked with, both in the political system itself, and the people of Canada that I worked with at many different levels taught me an enormous amount. And so when I was retired from the arena, I went back to ask myself, 'what were the issues that brought me into politics in the first place, and how can I continue to pursue those?'

And I'm passionate about two things: the advancement of women and the advancement of democracy. I chaired the Council of Women World Leaders (CWWL) for four years; Mary Robinson now chairs it. I taught a course at Harvard called 'Gender and Power.' So anything I can do to support the advancement of women and the political empowerment of women is something very important. The Club of Madrid is engaged in that as well, and our members - men and women - understand how very important that is.

But also, I find that what I learned in my political career is useful in other countries. When I go and talk to people, whether it's in Ghana, or in Georgia, or in Mauritania, there are things about the political process that I can share, and that are not always translatable exactly as we experience them in Canada. Perhaps one of the most powerful lessons is to explain to people that Canada is a country with lots of divisions and frictions. The U.N. has often named us number one in the quality of life index. You know, we're a very successful country, but it's not because we're a country that has no problems or divisions. I always say, 'if you have two Canadians, you have three opinions on everything!' There is this myth of the deferential Canadian, and I'm still waiting to meet one. But that is also an important message: that we're a country that succeeds because we look to solve our problems within the framework of democratic governance. It's a great privilege to be able to share that, and I feel that is a way I keep my commitment with all the people that I asked to support me over the years. That whatever their support enabled me to learn, I'll try and share. So, I'm very proud to be a Canadian and I like to think that I'm an ambassador for Canadian values in whatever I do."

The Right Honourable Kim Campbell, thank-you very much.

"A pleasure."