Canadian International Debates Council

The Background

In 1987 I and other university graduates who had been active in intercollegiate debating saw the need for a program to keep debating alumni active in issues and able to maintain their skills.  We believed this could be solved by combining the traditional format of the policy exchange forum, typified by the Atlantic Association for Young Political Leaders, with that of competitive parliamentary debate. Thus I co-founded the Canadian International Debates Council (CIDC), serving as its Managing Director.

The Challenge

cidc cardsFor the CIDC to truly make its mark, it had to set itself apart radically from convention. We set out to strike up a co-operative relationship in what would have seemed the least likely place for parliamentary debate:  the USSR.  We recognized the impact of glasnost and perestroika, and it was plausible to us that parliamentary debate could be promoted as a useful tool in aiding political restructuring.  We knew also that if we succeeded, we would have a unique first-hand view of change in the Soviet Union.

The Solution

cidc debate2As Managing Director I had operational management of our overseas links.  After careful research I conveyed an exchange proposal to the USSR Foreign Ministry.  I learned that the Novosti Press Agency was also interested in the plan, but no further word was forthcoming via the Soviet Embassy.  By chance I found a means to reach Novosti directly.  The Novosti chairman, Vadim Fotinov was visiting Washington, DC as part of President Mikhail Gorbachev's delegation on an official visit in December 1987.  I managed to place an updated proposal package in Mr. Fotinov's hands while he visited Washington.

That jump-started the process and the following month a CIDC delegation visited Moscow and Kiev, where we established formal relations with the Ukraine Commitee of Youth Organizations.  Parallel to these efforts, I had successfully lobbied the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security for the seed money for the Moscow-bound delegation.

For my part I acted successfully as a private-sector diplomat, so to speak.  I managed working relationships across barriers of distance, language and politics, which in many instances demanded quick thinking under very challenging conditions.

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