"[Populism is] an ideology, which means that it is an argument for gaining power," said Rowswell, president of the Canadian International Council.
"Populists want citizens to become followers," he added. "What we need to do to combat populists is to help citizens become leaders."
Rowswell served as a diplomat in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and was Canada's Ambassador to Venezuela from 2014 to 2017. He is also co-founder of Betterplace, an app aimed at mobilising citizens for civic action.
"If ever there was a time that we need Canadian citizens to pay attention to what's happening in the world and to get engaged, it is now," he said.
"The best inoculation we have as a society is an active and engaged citizenry."
Rowswell talked with The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti about his time as a diplomat and witnessing the rise of populism in recent years.