Some 15 students of UdeM’s CERIUM were able to attend an exchange today in Montreal between Canada’s Mélanie Joly and the U.S.’s Antony Blinken.
On his first official visit to Canada since his appointment by U.S. president Joe Biden in early 2021, U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken was given a tour of Montreal today by his Canadian counterpart, foreign affairs minister Mélanie Joly.
They visited the site of the former American pavilion of Expo 67, now home to Montreal’s Biosphere, and exchanged views there before an audience that included some 30 students of the Centre d'études en relations internationales de l'Université de Montréal (CÉRIUM).
Joly is an alumnus of UdeM’s law faculty. Her discussion with Blinken – in French – was moderated by Martine St-Victor, a communications strategist and general manager of the Montreal office of the American firm Edelman.
Blinken is a francophile, having attended grade school and high school in Paris, where he earned a French baccalaureat degree with high honors.
Before his appointment as secretary of state, Blinken was a top official and advisor on American foreign policy under presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He was an insider on U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the crisis in Syria, negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program and the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
'At the centre of history'
“As secretary of state of a country whose foreign policy affects the rest of the world, Antony Blinken is at the centre of the great currents that stir and shape history,” said UdeM rector Daniel Jutras.
“His perspectives on the world that will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine are therefore of great value to our students who were present at today’s discussion, as well as to our wider community, which was able to listen to the exchange live.”
He added: “By sharing his knowledge with us, Mr. Blinken reminded us of the words addressed to our students in 1953 by another distinguished American, Sen. John F. Kennedy: “The function of a university is the continual search for truth, for truth's sake, but also because it alone can bring peace and freedom.”
In their exchange, Blinken and Joly discussed the historical relationship between Canada and the U.S. as well as major geopolitical issues such as the war in Ukraine, the political and humanitarian crisis in Haiti, and the global fight against climate change.
An 'essential' relationship
"The relationship between our two countries is essential," said Blinken. "We need Canada. Whether it's climate issues, global health, or the environment, we can't do it alone. We have to do it together and the work starts with those who share our values, like Canada."
Added CÉRIUM scientific director Laurence Deschamps-Laporte: "The student community at CÉRIUM is particularly engaged in international geopolitical issues. This visit is a historic opportunity for students to discuss solutions to these major issues that directly involve their generation."
Two political science students from UdeM were selected to pose a question to the two politicians.
Questions on the Arctic and world peace
Master's student Satcha De Henning Michaelis wondered what priorities the U.S. and Canada share in the Arctic, and whether they can afford not to cooperate with Russia, the aggressor in the war in Ukraine and also the owner of the world's largest Arctic coastline.
Doctoral student Marion Zahar asked how world peace could be maintained in the face of the challenges facing the "liberal world order" – to which Joly replied that while multilateralism can work, it's up to all countries to respect the rules of the game.
The more the established order is challenged, the more instability there is, Joly said, with Blinken adding that the established order should also reflect the current reality – and all nations need to feel involved in this order to be able to preserve it.
After the discussion, both students said they felt privileged to be able to participate in such a high-level event as part of their studies at UdeM.
"It is an honor to meet with two such important decision makers, and to have access to their knowledge and expertise," said De Henning Michaelis. "The answers I received today will help me as I continue my research for my master's degree."
"It is a privilege to attend this event, and to be able to ask my question to the two politicians," agreed Zahar, who in her studies is looking at protest movements in the Near and Middle East, especially the peaceful revolution known as the 'thawra' in her homeland, Lebanon.