Gotlieb calls 'denizens of a different world' to public service

By Adela Talbot
June 12, 2013

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Gotlieb hoodingPaul Mayne, Western News


In an ever-evolving world, the one thing that shouldn’t change are the values society upholds for a better world, said Alan Gotlieb, prominent lawyer and former Canadian ambassador to the United States.

Gotlieb spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Social Science at the Wednesday, June 12 morning session of Western’s 301st Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon Gotlieb in recognition of his international law and diplomacy experience.

“I am absolutely certain your generation will be denizens of a different world than the one in which I dwell. … This dazzling world of technological change will help, but it cannot achieve a more just and proper world,” Gotlieb said to the graduates.

“Think about what might not be the two most glamorous words in the English language – public service.”

Having studied at the University of California (BA), Harvard University (LLB) and Oxford University (MABCL), Gotlieb has had a successful career spanning more than five decades in legal and public service. Starting with the Department of External Affairs in Canada, he made his way up the ranks in senior roles in several federal ministries.

From 1981-89, Gotlieb served as the Canadian Ambassador to the United Sates and was respected for his work during the Ronald Regan era of complex power politics. He came back to Canada after this post and served as the chair of the Canadian Council until 1994, while publishing Saturday Night magazine and practicing law with Stikeman Elliott.

Chair of Sotheby’s Canada, Gotlieb holds the highest civil order in the country, having been named Companion of the Order of Canada. He was also the recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Canadian government.

He is also the chair of the Canadian Group and North American deputy chair of the Trilateral Commission, a non-governmental policy discussion group, and a trustee of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Having taught at various institutions, Gotlieb is an honorary fellow of Wadham College, Oxford. He has written five books and many articles on international law, diplomacy and political science. His latest book, The Washington Diaries: 1981-1989, was nominated for The Writer’s Trust of Canada’s 2007 Shaughnessy Cohen Award for Political Writing.

Today, Gotlieb is a senior adviser in the law firm Bennett Jones.

Gotlieb encouraged graduates to consider devoting their time and talents, at least in part, to public service, regardless of their future professions. In this, he asked them to uphold values that will foster a world that is more just, one that eradicates poverty, war and disease.

There are many ways to serve the public, he said, noting national and provincial organizations, volunteer agencies and non-governmental organizations are just some opportunities available to graduates.

In his citation, Political Science professor Peter Ferguson called Gotlieb “one of Canada’s foremost foreign policy experts and arguably the most effective envoy to the United States that this country has ever known.”

“While Mr. Gotlieb has taught us much about the conduct of Canadian foreign policy, his influence over its content has been equally profound. In his five books and countless articles, he has repeatedly challenged the Canadian foreign policy establishment,” he said.

“In a 2004 lecture at the CD Howe Institute, he vigorously opposed the shift toward an idealistic, at times almost romantic, approach to Canada's position in the world. He argued that in establishing a new trinity of goals- value-projection, peace building and norm creation, Canada's national interest remained barely on the horizon. In its place, he advocated a return to reality-based foreign policy,” Ferguson added.

Gotlieb added Canada owes its success as a nation to its years of dedicated non-partisan public service, something he hopes graduates continue to maintain.

“It’s tragic, as we see every day, that in so many countries, governments have lost or are losing the respect and confidence of their citizens. In a world of falling states and economic stagnation, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find solutions to the problems of our time,” he said, adding new technological advancements are not the answer.

“We have so many new tools to help us address and achieve these solutions … but there is indeed a risk of decline unless the highest standards of public service are maintained in this country. Consider the personal satisfaction you will receive if you dedicate at least part of your talents, skills and knowledge to the achievement of a better world through public service in this great country of ours.”




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