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International Security Forum brings world leaders to Halifax

The world’s movers and shakers came to Halifax this weekend.

The sixth annual Halifax International Security Forum convened on Friday Nov. 21, with the opening speech delivered by Rob Nicholson, Canada’s Defence Minister.

Nicholson told delegates not to “shy away from being provocative” in their discussions of the security threats facing the world today.

Joining Nicholson were fellow Canadians Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice — under whose lead the conference first came about; John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs; and General Thomas Lawson, Chief of Defence Staff.

Topping the agenda this year: what Canada, the US and our allies need to do to confront ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sometimes referred to as ISIS).

“ISIL is a threat right here in Canada,” said Nicholson during a discussion.

“I have never seen the world in greater disarray and failure of American leadership throughout,” said U.S. Sen. John McCain.

McCain, the Republican nominee in the 2008 USA presidential election, led a nine-member American delegation that included senators Ted Cruz and Tim Kaine.

He criticized President Obama’s response to ISIL, saying, “It’s delusional to say you’re going to treat ISIS one way when they’re in Iraq and another way when they’re in Syria.”

The discussion comes amid increasing questions about what Canada’s role in the American-led mission should be.

Nicholson urged U.S. and Canadian agencies to partner more closely in sharing intelligence. He also said “the door is not closed” to Canada attacking targets in Syria.

The university perspective

Building international cooperation starts at the level of individuals, according to Dalhousie president Richard Florizone, who represented the university at the Forum.

“We want to work on the best, most important global issues which also have local relevance,” he says.

As Dalhousie looks to expand its role on the international stage, Florizone says that building relationships is key.

“To have global students you need people who have global understanding, global experience – so how can you foster that?”

Dalhousie president Richard Florizone spoke about the importance of the Forum to Dal. (Photo by Rachel Richard)
Dalhousie president Richard Florizone spoke about the importance of the Forum to Dal. (Photo by Rachel Richard)

He believes that research can play a key role in fostering international bonds and can build relationships that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

One example is the Ocean Tracking Network that Dalhousie operates all over the world and currently plans to expand into the Red Sea.

“Science is a way to bring nations together,” says Florizone. “Maybe Saudi Arabia can’t work so well with Israel, but through Dal they can.”

“These big scientific projects really are — I honestly believe this — a way to bring nations together towards international cooperation.”

Like scientific research, Florizone believes that events such as the Security Forum and Dalhousie’s upcoming 200th Anniversary, in 2018, are opportunities to bring the world together to talk about important issues while also building the international profile of Halifax and Dalhousie.

Local impact

Halifax is the only city is North America to hold an annual security forum; other major forums are in Asia and Europe. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says the event is an opportunity to showcase the city to a broader audience.

“[The forum] brings people to the city that otherwise would never come. It boosts our profile internationally,” said Savage in an interview.

The forum serves as a promotional tool for Halifax’s business and tourism industry by displaying the city on the international stage. Savage says the forum is also a “significant generator of development” here in Halifax.

The “bread and butter” argument in favour of the forum is not lost on Luc Erjavec, Vice-President Atlantic of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. He believes the local economy and small-business owners profit greatly from the forum.

“The slew of conference attendees means busy hotels, more shopping and frequent dining out — greater spending in general,” writes Erjavec in a letter to the Chronicle Herald.

Restaurants in Nova Scotia employ more than 31,000 people in nearly 2,000 businesses. The $1.7 billion generated by the industry in annual sales represents 4.3 per cent of the province’s GDP.

The crowd of protesters outside the hotel on Saturday showed their opposition to Halifax hosting this event, but the small business owners, according the Erjavec, “appreciate what this event means for their businesses.”

Guido Kerpel, the General Manager of the The Westin Nova Scotian, the venue where the forum was held, says the hotel also benefits from the event.

“They’ll provide more than 2,000 rooms a night for the city,” says Kerpel. “We’re basically the canvas on which the forum paints their function on.”

Over the weekend, guests enjoyed local cuisine from 25 local restaurants and the local delicacy, lobster, at the gala dinner.

Sen. McCain had only praise for the city, and its celebrated culinary highlight: “The environment is wonderful, the people are incredibly friendly, the lobster is great.”

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