Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Issue 8 - Evidence - Meeting of February 29, 2012
OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 29, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met this day at 4:10 p.m. to study and report on the establishment of a "Charter of the Commonwealth'' as agreed to by the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia, in October 2011 and its implications for Canada.
Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: This is the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. We are here today to commence our study and report on the establishment of a Charter of the Commonwealth as agreed to by the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia in October 2011 and its implications for Canada.
We were contacted by Minister John Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, asking us to undertake, to the extent that was possible, a national consultation — as to the advisability, feasibility, modality, and whatever we believed would be helpful in the foreign minister's deliberations — as to whether they should recommend to the heads of government proceeding with a Charter of the Commonwealth.
Their actual resolution grew out of the Eminent Persons Group report. Amongst 106 recommendations, the report stated that there should be a Charter of the Commonwealth established after the widest possible consultation in every Commonwealth country. Civil society organizations should be fully involved with national governments in the process of pan-Commonwealth consultation, including the organization of the process and assessment of its results. A task force should be appointed to analyze the findings of the national consultations and to make recommendations on that basis to the heads of government. The heads of government turned to the foreign ministers to work on this project. The minister turned to us to help and assist in the consultation process.
Our task is in a very efficient time, because time constraints are very tight for Senate committees. We will be attempting to look at whatever aspect of a possible Charter of the Commonwealth might be advisable. We will also look at what kind of ongoing consultations there should be to engage the Canadian public in an understanding of the Commonwealth, the role of the Commonwealth, and possibilities for the Commonwealth.
In the Senate, we are very pleased that the Honourable Senator Hugh Segal was the Canadian representative in the Eminent Persons Group. From all of the feedback I got, it was not just his name that was lent to the group. He was a very active participant and no doubt much of the Eminent Persons Group report, which I encourage all Canadians and senators to read, has the stamp of our colleague. I think this is a good time to acknowledge his work. Hopefully we will be able to add to the body of knowledge, add recommendations as the Government of Canada goes forward in its assessment of a Charter of the Commonwealth, and also to update the Commonwealth today.
We have a particular role in that we can pay attention to perhaps what the parliamentary role can be in this entire process. The background is a little fuller than that, but I thought that would be a good start for today.
We are very pleased on short notice to have with us today, from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Mr. Olivier Nicoloff, Director of the Democracy, Commonwealth and Francophonie Division; and Mr. Thomas Balint, Senior Policy Advisor.
As a postscript before I give the floor to you, Canada has been, in the past and is presently, both very involved in the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. I think another aspect that we will look at is the functioning of the two organizations. I am forewarning our witnesses that perhaps some of the questions will be in that direction also.
Mr. Nicoloff, I understand you will start and please provide us with your background. I should tell you that we delayed our hearings sufficiently so that we could get research and documents both on Charter aspects, human rights aspects, and the Commonwealth. The senators have been given the documents. I think they are ploughing through them as we speak. Anything you can do in the introductions on the Commonwealth, the Eminent Persons Group, how the heads of government have handled it, and where you foresee it going, would be very helpful.
Olivier Nicoloff, Director, Democracy, Commonwealth and Francophonie Division, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada: Thank you very much. With your permission, before I begin and just out of curiosity, you talk about the very important role played by your colleague, Senator Segal, as a member of the Eminent Persons Group. Mr. Segal will speak after us, so I was wondering if this is a rock concert, and are we here to warm up the room before the main appearance? Maybe we can have a deal and keep the tough questions for him afterwards.
The Chair: Why do I believe you have already talked to Senator Segal and have your script prepared? Please proceed.
Mr. Nicoloff: Thank you. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to appear in front of you today.
We are, in fact, extremely grateful to the committee for undertaking these hearings, despite a very tight time frame you referred to. The willingness of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade to consider the draft Charter of the Commonwealth speaks eloquently to the importance that Canada accords to the Commonwealth and its renewal.
I would like to speak of three issues in my remarks. First is Canada's past and current links with the Commonwealth. Second are the decisions taken at Perth, Australia by the leaders of the Commonwealth concerning the reform of the organization. I believe you referred to the reforms meant to make it more relevant and focused, and finally, the very idea of the Charter of the Commonwealth.
Madam Chair, the Commonwealth is unique among international organizations, as it contains a broad membership of 54 countries of disparate sizes, ranging from Kiribati to India, of disparate degrees of development, all united by adherence to shared values and principles rather than a treaty, by the use of English as a principal or working language, and for most members a history connecting them to the United Kingdom, the Westminster system, common law and other shared traditions. Let me add that it also comprises 90 civil society and professional organizations, this framework and partnership being described by Her Majesty the Queen, the Head of the Commonwealth, as "the original World Wide Web.''
As a result, the Commonwealth provides Canada with ready access to membership representing 2.1 billion people or about a third of the world's population, much as our membership in La Francophonie — which Madam Chair mentioned earlier — provides access to 75 states and governments with shared values and French as a common language.
Canada has deep roots within the Commonwealth, the founding Secretary General of which, Arnold Smith, was a Canadian. To this day, membership in the Commonwealth is part of Canada's identity and is important to a great many Canadians. Many of us have our origins in other Commonwealth member states and maintain strong ties and networks in these countries.
Today, Canada continues to be a strong supporter of the Commonwealth and its institutions, and remains its second-largest financial contributor, second only to the United Kingdom.
Canada particularly values the Commonwealth's role in promoting democracy, good governance, and human rights in member states, and the rule of law as well, not just human rights. In fact, it was on Canada's initiative that the Commonwealth established the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in November 1995. That action group is a high-level intergovernmental mechanism to respond to the most serious threats to democracy in Commonwealth countries.
It is therefore only natural that Canada would play a prominent role in seizing this historical opportunity that we have today for Commonwealth renewal. It is particularly crucial that this unique opportunity be grasped if the organization is to maintain its relevance, ensure its effectiveness in responding to global challenges and contribute to building resilient societies and economies.
The world has changed significantly since the Commonwealth was created some 60 years ago. Canada believes that the Commonwealth, if it is to remain important and relevant today, must identify and define itself by the things it can do that no other organization can and by the things that it can do better. The current juncture in which the Commonwealth finds itself is an opportunity to respond to this challenge by implementing concrete measures to sharpen the Commonwealth's focus, to measure and communicate the impacts of its work, to strengthen its capacity and governance, and to address the issues of its relevance and profile, all the while ensuring that its shared fundamental values, principles, and aspirations are actively promoted, upheld, and preserved.
We are at this juncture in large part because the Commonwealth Heads of Governments, when they met in Port-of- Spain in 2009, decided to create an Eminent Persons Group to advise them precisely on reforming the association, on making it stronger, more resilient, and more relevant to its time and to the its people in the future.
The Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group — and Madam Chair mentioned that Senator Segal was a prominent member — has provided a blueprint for that renewal which was considered, again, by leaders at their next meeting which took place last October in Perth, Australia.
I am turning now to the decisions taken by leaders at Perth. At that meeting last October, the leaders of the Commonwealth demonstrated a willingness to reform the organization, and the Canadian delegation led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper played a key role in that regard. First, they agreed on an ambitious program of reform for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, the one created in 1995, in order to strengthen its role by rendering it more proactive in situations of serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth fundamental political values that do not involve an unconstitutional overthrow of a democratically-elected government, and by developing a more constructive and more positive approach in specific situations of concern.
Canada at Perth rejoined the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, and we are already seeing the results of the reforms that were agreed to last October. The crisis in the Maldives provided an early test of CMAG's new capacity, and CMAG has responded as we would want it to. CMAG ministers convened swiftly by teleconference and deployed a three-member ministerial fact-finding mission to the Maldives to take forward the work begun by an able secretariat delegation deployed immediately after the crisis began. CMAG ministers then met in person for an extraordinary meeting, during the course of which they issued a strong statement — all this within the course of a few weeks.
Note that the crisis is not over, and the role of CMAG in that crisis is not over, either. However, we are already seeing the credibility that the reformed CMAG has among all the parties to the crisis, and Canada, through Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, has made an important contribution throughout.
Second, leaders at Perth took an important step forward in adopting the Eminent Persons Group recommendations. Considering that 10 of those 106 recommendations were consistent with the CMAG reforms already adopted by the leaders, 30 additional recommendations were accepted immediately; a further 12 were accepted pending financial due diligence on the part of the secretariat, and a further 43 were put forward for further considerations. Only 11 were set aside.
Moreover — and this is very important — a credible decision-making process with clear decision points was agreed to, with the goal of submitting a package to leaders this autumn.
Canada is playing an exceptionally active role in support of Commonwealth renewal. As I mentioned, Minister Baird serves on CMAG through which one of the key Eminent Persons Group recommendations for the appointment of a Commonwealth Commissioner on Democracy, Human Rights, and Rule of Law will be considered. Minister Baird is also likely to serve on a 10-member ministerial task force that will meet this summer to craft a package of recommendations that will be submitted for consideration at a meeting of all Commonwealth foreign ministers in New York this September.
Your colleague, Senator Segal, is serving as a Special Envoy for Commonwealth Renewal, with a mandate to advise Minister Baird directly and to represent him and the Government of Canada in public outreach on Commonwealth renewal. In naming Senator Segal to such a position last December, Minister Baird added that:
Human rights, including the rights of women and religious minorities, as well as the de-criminalization of homosexuality in certain Commonwealth countries, will be a focus of our government, and Senator Segal will continue to be a strong voice for Canada in this regard.
Madam Chair, I would now like to turn to the third and final point in my remarks, the charter itself. The report of the Eminent Persons Group, submitted to leaders at the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting or CHOGM in October, was titled A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform and contained, as I mentioned, 106 recommendations. Those recommendations touch upon all aspects of the Commonwealth's work. All the recommendations are important, but some are especially so. One such flagship recommendation is the adoption of a Commonwealth charter, which was in fact the very first one of the report.
The Commonwealth is a values-based organization. It currently has no formal constitution or charter, or single comprehensive statement articulating the fundamental political values to which members are committed. The principles and values that the Commonwealth represents, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, have been enshrined in a series of declarations issued by leaders at their biennial meetings.
The first explicit statement of the Commonwealth's commitment to democracy was found in the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles, issued by the heads of the Commonwealth countries at their meeting in Singapore in 1971. That first statement was reinforced by the Harare Declaration of 1991.
At their meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, the heads of the Commonwealth countries adopted the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration, which operationalized the principles contained in the Harare Declaration.
Lastly, at their meeting in Port of Spain in 2009, which marked the Commonwealth's 60th anniversary, leaders reiterated their strong and enduring commitment to the organization's core values and principles by issuing the Trinidad and Tobago Affirmation on Commonwealth Values and Principles. The Affirmation articulates a commitment to international peace and security, democracy, human rights, tolerance, respect and understanding, separation of powers, rule of law, freedom of expression, economic development, gender equality, access to health and education, good governance and civil society.
The proposed Commonwealth Charter that you will be looking at is intended to go behind this. What the Eminent Persons Group members envisaged was not to text with legal force, but in keeping with the voluntary nature of the association, they were looking for an inspirational document, and leaders confirmed this approach. The Eminent Persons Group members framed the recommendation of a Commonwealth Charter as a non-legally binding document, embodying the principles contained in the previous declarations, drawing together in a single consolidated text and built around the process of public consultation with the goal that "such a Charter would establish a Commonwealth "spirit,'' one that is shared by the people of the Commonwealth and their governments and that would institute firmly the concept of a Commonwealth whose collective purpose is driven by the aspirations of its people.''
Madam Chair, with your work on this committee, Canada is taking a lead role in that process. To the best of our knowledge, Canada is the only country of the organization that is conducting a parliamentary study of the proposed Charter of the Commonwealth.
The process itself leading to a charter is an opportunity to reaffirm our individual and collective agreement to the Commonwealth fundamental values and principles. We were reminded at Perth that shared values cannot be taken for granted.
The charter needs to clearly reaffirm the fundamental values that underlie the Commonwealth and represent our shared heritage. This inspirational, morally binding document must be a clear, easy reference to those values and principles and the ensuing commitments that Commonwealth members make when expressing their attachment to the organization.
Speaking to members of the Royal Commonwealth Society in London this past month, Minister Baird reiterated that Canada will play a strong role in the promotion and defence of those values. I quote him:
We will speak out on the issues that matter to Canadians, whether the role and treatment of women around the world; the persecution of persons based on their sexual orientation; or the cowardly and targeted attacks on those who prey in the sanctity of churches, temples, mosques or synagogues. I reiterate Canada's commitment to establish an Office of Religious Freedom that will attest to the world that Canada attaches great importance to religious freedom.
I again thank you, Madam Chair, for your work on this committee and for inviting me to testify on this occasion.
The Chair: Thank you. I will lead off with two areas this committee will have to address.
You have framed it both as a charter that will bring the members together and that there was no founding charter. I think stocktaking by any association of what binds you together and where you want to go together in the future is admirable.
However, when you read the document itself — it was not intended to be a document; it is a compilation of actions to date — how does one translate that into a workable charter?
I know in other countries and some heads of government in the Commonwealth read the charter in the Eminent Persons Group and quickly came to the conclusion that it is a human rights charter, not a founding charter or a charter of the association. There is some question about what value that will have in a world where we have the United Nations human rights declaration. We belong to other areas with codes and charters.
Was this conundrum of what the charter is and is going to be addressed by your officials and the minister? Which direction do you want it to go in? How do you see that happening? You have pointed out it is a charter of the association, yet when you quoted Minister Baird's speech, you were really talking about human rights issues. You brought it back to that conundrum that in the literature and in the conversation is being raised. Is it a charter of association or is it a human rights charter?
Mr. Nicoloff: The charter should be what the leaders want it to be, essentially. I will ask my colleague, Mr. Balint, to speak in more detail about that.
What we have right now is an idea, a model, a possibility. Maybe the Canadian government in the end will want to submit something that is completely different.
One of the key themes, when I look at the decision taken by leaders at Perth, for me is the word "inspirational.'' We are not so much looking, in my view, at what Commonwealth has been, but I think the intention of the leaders was to put all that together and look where we want to be.
Obviously, we are not in a position right now to make recommendations to the government about the specific content of the charter. The very first step of that process for us will be to receive your report, which will be done in consultation with the Canadian public. That will very much inform, in fact, the recommendations that we will be able to make to the minister and our political leaders.
I hope I am not going beyond my mandate, but I would say again that the word "inspirational,'' where we want the Commonwealth to go, is key. I am very much looking forward to knowing what you hear from the Canadian public and what you make of it.
With your permission, Madam Chair, I would like to ask my colleague, Thomas Balint, to expand on that.
Thomas Balint, Senior Policy Advisor, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada: Thank you. I would simply reinforce the idea that, as the EPG noted in its report, the draft that is before you, which was prepared by Justice Kirby — as you know, he was one of the members of the EPG — the term the EPG used was this is a "version'' of a charter. The recommendation of the EPG itself does not refer to this. The context behind the recommendation does. Certainly, I think the understanding among Commonwealth members and with the Secretary-General himself, who has directed members to conduct national consultations, was that with the charter that is before us would be used as the basis for those consultations.
To get back to your first question: How does one translate this into something that is workable? The short answer is that it might require some manipulation, shall we say. Right now, we have certainly heard in Perth — and the British government held its public consultations just yesterday in London — that the draft before us is a bit of a mouthful, to put it mildly.
I think it is really up to the individual member governments, who have been asked to feed into the Commonwealth, to give direction to the secretariat about what the broader idea for a charter would look like. Would it look like this? Would it look like something much more succinct and easily digested by ordinary people? What we have before us is very much rife with legalese, if you will.
Something else we have heard in our travels since the report came out was that the draft charter that is before us is really a portrait of where the Commonwealth is now because Justice Kirby was very careful to draw from existing documents.
However, the question is certainly one that other witnesses or committee members themselves might raise. Should this be a charter that describes where the Commonwealth needs to go rather than where it is now?
The Chair: Thank you. Within the department, you are responsible for the Francophonie and the Commonwealth. Are they taking different routes? We know the history of how they started.
Is there something that the Commonwealth can learn from the direction that the Francophonie is going that might be helpful with respect to a charter and the direction it should go, or are they evolving uniquely in their separate organizations? I say this because there are so many countries wanting to join the Francophonie and the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was built on certain roots. Now the question is what were those values and roots when we have expanded the Commonwealth to countries that do not share those roots? Where is the commonality? The debate was Mozambique, Rwanda, and Francophonie. Is it based on language, culture, or colonial history? These have been debates in both forums and I do not know where they are going. Is there something from the Francophonie that could be instructive to the Commonwealth?
Mr. Nicoloff: Like a professor would say when he is not too sure about answering a difficult question, "That is a very good question,'' while taking his time. I appreciate the question. Yes, we are responsible for both organizations. Both organizations share the same challenges, I would say. Both are what we call generalist organizations. In what is today a very crowded world, you have many international players. In the 1960s and 1970s, you had much less globalization; it was not a factor as it is today. You had fewer actors on the international scene. The boundary between national and international was clearer, and the question of resources was less of an issue than it is today. Those two generalist organizations are competing for diminishing resources — essentially from the different member states — without having the benefit of saying, "We will solve the debt problem,'' for example. They are more general in nature and in their mandate.
I would say to that extent, the revolution certainly goes in parallel. Again under the inspirational leadership of Canada, the Francophonie has added to its role as a political actor on the international scene. The Francophonie started as an organization looking at the defence and promotion of French language and cultural diversity. It came a bit later than the Commonwealth to working on the issue of democracy and good governance. However, it is, as the Commonwealth is, an excellent organization to discuss those issues, because it is also based on shared values, and in principle. The Francophonie is led by Secretary-General Diouf, who was a former head of state and was defeated at the polls in francophone Africa. He has shown a personal commitment to democracy and can speak with a lot of authority on that question; parallel evolution, but the same challenges as well.
You also referred to the question of membership. The Francophonie is a bit of a different context because they have a different categories of membership; essentially, observer countries. The membership right now is 75 members, including 19 observers. It is not easy, I would say. Questions are being raised right now within the Francophonie. We are happy to see all the new members, but it is sort of diluting the mandate we have. There is some thinking going on right now on what is a very important, but also difficult, question.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Downe: I want to follow up on some of the questions the chair asked. However, maybe I will make them a little more pointed, not as diplomatically as she did, since she is a former diplomat.
Like most Canadians, I do not think about the Commonwealth at all. What is the benefit of membership? When I read up prior to this study, I saw that Rwanda is now a member — a former colony of Belgium and Germany. Then I read the reports, and it looks like they are just thrashing around to justify their existence. What happened in the past, I can understand — 40, 50 years ago — the role of the Commonwealth. However, to talk about democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, no one is opposed to that. The Council of Europe has the exact same mandate, at which Canada is an observer.
You indicated in your comments about the multiple international organizations all working toward these same ends. You are from the department. I do not want to put you on the spot on policy, but I would like to ask some specific questions about cost.
What is the total cost for Canada in our membership in the Commonwealth? I understand from the briefing note it is in the area of $25 million. Is that correct? We are the second largest contributor, with the U.K. being the largest. Do you know what their contribution is on a yearly basis, or could you send us a ballpark figure information?
Mr. Nicoloff: I do not have it off the top of my head.
Senator Downe: You could send us that and the third largest contributor as well. I am interested in the contribution, unless you know it off the top of your head.
Mr. Balint: I know it is Australia, but we can get you that.
Senator Downe: For that $25 million, Canadians would want to know what benefit Canadians receive. For example, if you fly to the U.K., there is a separate immigration line for EU immigrants and others. Is there one for Commonwealth members? Is there some type of sentimental attachment to the Queen and the Royal Family? It was a trading agreement 40 years ago? What is the benefit? I think the leaders identified there was a problem. That is why they struck this committee: to try to come up with a solution. However, have they considered maybe the day is over for the Commonwealth, given all these other multinational organizations?
Mr. Nicoloff: I would like to thank the senator for the question. I thought we had an agreement to leave the tough questions for the next session.
At the end of the last CHOGM in Perth, Prime Minister Harper was asked a question; not exactly the same wording. I am afraid I do not have the exact words he used. However, essentially the question was how efficient the organization is in the promotion of values and principles that Canadians adhere to, that are important for us and that have an importance in our foreign policy as well. In his answer, he essentially said that it is one of the best organizations to do that, because it is based on those shared principles and values. We can have frank, sometimes difficult discussions about respecting those values. This is really the promotion of Canadian values and principles, and the Commonwealth is an extremely good tool for that.
The Commonwealth also gave the Canadian government access to many countries in the world in which we do not have representation. As you know, having embassies and high commissions is a costly enterprise. By having those meetings on a regular basis — by having our leaders and senior officials meet — we have access to countries where we would normally not have that type of access.
Another element we tend to forget is this network of organizations that are associated with the Commonwealth — lawyers, nurses, students — which gives tremendous opportunities to share Canadian expertise, learn from other countries, and have Canadians meet and exchange with people from other countries. These are all benefits that come with belonging to an organization like the Commonwealth.
One of the challenges — and maybe Senator Segal will want to elaborate more on this — with the unique opportunity we have to reform, is to make sure the organization focuses on value added. Yes, we are invested, but we know where our money is going.
As an aid agency, for example, maybe the Commonwealth is not the best organization; it does not compare to the World Bank. However, it has a specific role in helping small countries — island countries, for example — that cannot access the type of contribution coming from the World Bank or bigger organizations; they are too small. They sometimes need some very limited, specific, but for them essential technical aid, and the Commonwealth can provide that type of assistance. We are encouraging the Commonwealth to focus on that: Where does it add value?
Senator D. Smith: With regard to your references as to where the Commonwealth is now, I cannot resist pointing out an illustration of that. Senator Andreychuk and I were both on the Canadian delegation this past summer, in July, of the 100th anniversary of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The first one was held at Westminster in 1911. At that time, it was comprised of the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, the White South Africans, and the Canadians. At the grand dinner — and they were all in the same room, and you can see the photograph from 100 years ago — everyone in the photo are men, all over 50, all White, and they were all wearing black ties. One-hundred years later, I would say at least a third were women, at least half were under 50, and probably two thirds were non-White. There were still some black ties, but they were the waiters. I just cannot resist mentioning that; I have a sense of humour.
On the whole issue of a charter, which I do agree with, when you go through the wording, it is hard to argue with things in there. Some of them might fall into the platitude category. However, I think the fundamental essentials are that you have a bona fide democracy; you have human rights, which of course includes women's rights, religious rights, minority rights, and the sexual orientation issue; and that those things are enforced by the rule of law.
I wonder what your thoughts are. You have all this other stuff in there, which is fine, but I like to focus on the essentials: the bona fide democracy and the human rights, including the minority rights, enforced by the rule of law. I would almost like to see more focus on that rather than all the other stuff. I think you have touched on that but I wonder what your response to that is.
Mr. Nicoloff: I thank the senator for the question. It is a delicate equilibrium. We have to remember that, around the table in the Commonwealth of 54 countries, you have many very small countries that are facing daily challenges and for whom the question of cooperation and accessing technology and finance from other countries is absolutely key. We are trying to keep an equilibrium.
Obviously for us, the main value added by an organization like the Commonwealth is proposals of democracy, rule of law, and human rights. At the same time, there is a role to play, especially with a small kind of organization like the Commonwealth, but the Commonwealth has to recognize that it must base its work on its value added. This is one of the things that we are looking for with the renewal process currently taking place.
Senator D. Smith: I do not quarrel with that, but when you look at the list of countries that have been either expelled or suspended, all of them were in the category. Mugabe and Zimbabwe, for example — once you are in, you are in for life. I would just like to focus on those fundamentals, but I do not really quarrel with the other stuff. I like to see the heavy emphasis on those simple fundamentals.
Senator Buth: I am questioning your comments, Mr. Nicoloff, about it being inspiration. You just said it is the promotion of democracy and human law. Please explain the relationship between the charter and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and how you see those inter-relating. Has CMAG essentially, with the charter, formalized that approach, or how would that occur?
Mr. Nicoloff: There is no formal link between the charter and the Ministerial Action Group. There was a reform package submitted to leaders at the last summit in Perth by the Eminent Persons Group; there were two, in fact. One was the Eminent Persons Group report, which included the 106 recommendations, the first one being the charter. The second one was reforming the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to make it more proactive.
There is also an evolution in the very notion of democracy in today's world. We tended to consider democracy in the past as simply an election. You had the election, the results, and the government being formed. Democracy is not only the election but also the capacity of civil society, for example, to express itself, to link between the population and the government. You have to ensure you have the conditions to run efficient elections, which leads to the understanding that, sometimes, you have worrisome evolution in different countries. That is enough for questions to be raised.
One of the problems we had with the Commonwealth was that the old CMAG, if I might call it, was intervening when there was a crisis — when you had a coup d'état. An organization like the Commonwealth could be more efficient if it could intervene beforehand, if it could raise the alarm bell, if it could put questions about the state of democracy, and if it could observe if there is a worrisome trend in a country. For those, you need a capacity and a willingness to do it. I think the reformed CMAG now is much more active and will be much more capable of playing that role.
Another recommendation proposed by the Eminent Persons Group is to also have a commissioner for human rights, rule of law and democracy, which would have this capacity, also, to see a bit in advance what is happening in a given country.
Regarding the charter, Senator Segal might want to speak on that. The charter is more about the idea that we need an easy-to-read document, so we all know where we stand. Right now we have three or four different documents. They do not contradict each other, but three makes it difficult. Let us have one.
Again, I am very much looking forward to seeing the results of what you hear from the Canadian people and what your recommendations will be. However, it seems to me that if we can have something that is really forward looking and easy to refer to, it will be very inspirational. Reforming the Commonwealth is not so much about asking what it was in the past but what we want it to be in the future. How do we want to use it? How do we see it evolving in the future in a world that is quite different than it was when it was established?
Senator Buth: Of the 54 countries, how many have participated or expressed interest in a charter?
Mr. Balint: When the EPG report was considered in Perth, 106 recommendations are a lot for foreign ministers to go through. However, I can say that they spent a lot of time discussing the charter proposal, I think for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it was number 1 out of 106, so it grabbed their attention.
Regarding the response to that recommendation in Perth, I think countries fell into one of three categories. The first was comprised of those who thought it was a great idea and liked the draft that you have before you, and felt that it should be adopted in Perth. There were those who felt countries needed to follow more closely the actual recommendation and the context for that recommendation in the EPG report, which was that the process by which we eventually arrive at the charter is as important as the charter itself. Those are my words, not the EPG's. Therefore, they said, "We need some more time to have a process,'' and each country is conducting its own process, as is Canada. Then there were those — a small group — who were somewhat hesitant.
For example, there were questions about the legal implications of the charter. That is why the communiqué from the Perth CHOGM is very explicit when it says it will be a non-legally binding document. The EPG recommendation did not specify that, so one of the outcomes of the discussions in Perth was that was inserted in the communiqué language.
I would say generally there was a great appetite for having a charter and just a bit of divergence of opinion about how to get to one.
Senator Jaffer: Thank you for your presentations. I want to make a short comment first and then I have two questions.
My comment is what my colleague Senator Downe was speaking about with Rwanda. I have spent a lot of time there. Yes, it was a French colony at one time, but it has very much changed. Paul Kagame cannot even speak proper French any longer; he speaks English. He was raised in Uganda, and there is more contact with English-speaking countries than French-speaking countries in Rwanda. For me, the fact that Rwanda wants to belong in the Commonwealth shows that the Commonwealth is evolving and countries do want to be part of this great family.
I was very interested when, Mr. Nicoloff, you were speaking about where the Commonwealth is going. Perhaps it is difficult for you to answer, but maybe you can tell us where the Commonwealth is. There are many things that happen within the Commonwealth that we here in Canada do not realize. It is very vibrant, and many countries are a very important part of its well-being.
The other issue you spoke about that I would like you to expand on is about access. I think that sitting here in Ottawa we forget the tremendous access Canadians get by being part of the Commonwealth.
Mr. Nicoloff: I fully agree with what you say. Rwanda was a bit of a particular situation surrounded by English- speaking countries. At the same time, they say they do not want to dissociate from the Francophonie. That is just for information.
Where is the Commonwealth going? I think we have the opportunity to make it go where we want it to go, essentially. This is a unique occasion that we have right now, and we should really seize it. It would be unfortunate not to make the Commonwealth a more dynamic, vibrant organization for the benefit of our citizens and, as you mentioned, for the tremendous access it gives to our citizens and to the government of other countries as well.
Senator Jaffer: What we are studying here is the charter, and I am very pleased that Minister Baird is part of the 13 people that will be drafting, if I am not mistaken, the charter. This gives us a good opportunity to put some of our values on what we think the Commonwealth should be. May I ask you to expand on that?
Mr. Nicoloff: If I was to answer briefly, I would say yes, it is really a great opportunity. I believe, and I hope I am not wrong, that it is only Minister Baird who is on both the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and the task force that will also look at the remaining recommendations of the Eminent Persons Group. It is a unique occasion for Canada's influence within the organization.
Again, your committee is the only parliamentary group, as far as I know, that is doing that kind of a study, which speaks volumes about the importance that we attach to the Commonwealth.
Senator Mahovlich: This might not be a smart question, but what are the Commonwealth Games? Are they part of the charter?
Mr. Balint: The next ones will be in Glasgow. The games are an organization that is a separate entity from what we would typically call the Commonwealth, which is the secretariat in London.
Senator Mahovlich: That is a private entity? It is not involved here at all?
Mr. Balint: It is not really involved in this, no. It is a stand-alone organization that is affiliated with the Commonwealth.
Senator Mahovlich: It is attended by royalty.
Mr. Balint: Yes, it is. Your question about any intersect with the charter, however, there would not be.
The Chair: You alluded to the fact that there is a Commonwealth Lawyers Association, a Commonwealth judges' association, a Commonwealth Nurses Federation, a Commonwealth endowment for learning, et cetera. Are the Commonwealth Games affiliated in any way to the Commonwealth?
Mr. Balint: I believe they are affiliated with it, but like the organizations you have listed, they are their own entities that have an affiliation. The games are a huge undertaking, obviously, and the secretariat, which is the political component of the Commonwealth, if you will, has no dealings with the games at all. By "dealings,'' I mean they are not involved in the organization of the games.
The Chair: Perhaps youth and the Commonwealth is a useful tool we could look at promoting. I leave that as a comment. I do not want to take away from Senator Robichaud.
Senator Robichaud: You mentioned that we should have a simple easy-to-understand document if we want a Commonwealth charter. The recommended charter includes 27 articles, and the Charte de la Francophonie has 17. The objective is summarized in a paragraph, in an article. It is either too simple or too complicated. Could you comment on that?
Mr. Nicoloff: Once again, I thank the senator for his question. The document before you — and here again Senator Segal will be able to clarify this — is a model, a possibility. You may not necessarily want to work on that text.
You can essentially do more or less what you want with a draft charter. It has been drafted differently from the Charte de la Francophonie, which contains only one paragraph on values and principles, but then goes on at quite great length about the structure of the organization itself. I would say there is a historic heritage at work here, and this is typical, what is called the French spirit, as compared with the British spirit in the Commonwealth, which is very different.
In the Commonwealth, there is a lot more focus on common law, tradition and precedent; on the French side, it is much more structured. For example, you cannot read the Charte de la Francophonie and really understand the mandate and undertakings of the organization without also referring to two other documents, the Déclaration de Bamako and the Déclaration de Saint Boniface, which refer more specifically to the organization's values and principles.
Unlike this idea, this request by Commonwealth leaders for a charter in a slightly different context, the Francophonie really wanted to give its organization a structure. It had gotten to that point in its development. The Commonwealth now has a much greater need to gather the principles and values on which it is based into a single document and to determine how it wants to shape its future actions based on those principles and values. It appears that the needs are not the same, and I would not be surprised if, at the end of this exercise, the two charters were quite different from one another.
The Chair: If the charter is to be inspirational, aspirational and non-binding, what tools have you contemplated for moving the agenda forward? If you have a charter that has some implementation tools that come from it, then you have a direction to go in and you have some consensus of how to handle it when those objectives and common concerns are not being proceeded with. One of the Commonwealth problems — CMAG had the problem, and the Commonwealth had the problem — is that when they have had an internal issue, it is hard to move the agenda in a positive way. How would we have an aspirational, inspirational charter that will move forward the agenda of these common values and principles that we aspire to? Are you working on those? It is a policy question, I understand, and Senator Segal is just getting a heads up because he will have to answer that one.
Mr. Nicoloff: I would say it is another excellent question that maybe we can refer to Senator Segal.
Honestly, again, we are very much looking forward to seeing your report and the results of those national consultations. On the basis of my experience dealing with international organizations, the type of commitment that we make and where we want to go, I keep thinking that we can have something that is really short, specific and to the point and we can refer to it as a reference, not a guide that takes you very specifically and tells you how to go somewhere. When you look at it, if you take a decision and it is obvious that the decision does not respect what the charter is, then you know you are on the wrong way. I cannot be more specific than that. As I said, we are not at the point where we can make recommendations to the minister. Again, your report will very much inform our work. On the basis of my experience, I think it would be very useful to have something clear and short as a reference. When you get back to it, you say, "Well, what we are doing perhaps does not accord with what is in this charter, with the values and principles that we are committed to respect and uphold.''
The Chair: Personally, and I am not sure the committee will agree with me, that is the conundrum. You can agree to principles because they are broad and nonbinding, but how does one then continue to move the agenda forward for the benefit of the people in the Commonwealth countries, not particularly for the governments? You put out a document that says this is what we stand for. When there is someone going off, how do you bring them back in the fold to continue working on the values for the benefit of the citizens of our countries, not necessarily for the benefit of parliamentarians or governments? I think that is the conundrum that you have thrown our way by throwing in this charter as a good "how to do it.'' I think we will have to ponder on whether we have any answers. I am looking for inspiration also, and I think that is one of the questions that we would like to pose and address.
Mr. Nicoloff and Mr. Balint, you have been on time, and I want to thank you. You were called rather quickly. I am well aware that you were to testify somewhere else. We are pleased that it was a priority for the department and for the minister that you came here and understood our time constraints and have done yeomen's service bringing forward a lot of information, and posing a lot of questions. Thank you for your input. If there is anything else you wish to add to your testimony as you go along, please follow our deliberations and feel free to add to them in written form at any time. I thank you on behalf of the committee.
Honourable senators, we will continue our study and report on the establishment of a "Charter of the Commonwealth'' as agreed to by the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth, Australia in October 2011 and its implication for Canada. The heads of government dealt with a report from the Eminent Persons Group that had 106 recommendations on how to set the direction of the Commonwealth for the future. The document, if I can pre- empt our witness, takes stock of where the Commonwealth has been and outlines a very ambitious agenda for the Commonwealth.
We are very pleased that we have before us someone who is not a stranger in this house. The Honourable Senator Hugh Segal was in fact a member of this committee but has stepped aside so that he can give us his information and evidence as a witness, as he was a member of the Eminent Persons Group that led to the recommendations to the heads of government. You have all received the report. It is on websites.
I also should point out that, as a result of his work with the Eminent Persons Group and the heads of government meeting and the Foreign Affairs meetings, Minister John Baird has appointed Senator Segal as a special envoy for Commonwealth renewal. You are very well placed as a witness before this committee. You know us, you know how we like to operate, and you know you are going to get a lot of questions. Senator Segal, welcome as a witness to this committee. Please the floor is yours.
Hon. Hugh Segal, Senate of Canada: Thank you very much. I was delighted when the Minister of Foreign Affairs decided that he wished to seek this committee's advice in terms of the charter. I say that not simply because I have had the privilege of serving with you on it for many years, but because the mix of skills around the table, such as background in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Commonwealth Magistrates' and Judges' Association, high commissioners, members of the Diplomatic Corps, the Francophonie, NAT and other organizations. It is a very rich base upon which this document can be assessed. I think this kind of expertise is of immense value to the Commonwealth itself, and to the Government of Canada as it informs itself relative to the drafting stage which is still before us.
While our colleagues from the department were sanguine and reasonably constructive, members of the Eminent Persons Group — made up of people from Uganda, Australia, Ghana, Jamaica, Antigua, Malaysia and Kiribati — had a much more angst-ridden assessment of the prospects of the Commonwealth.
It was the view of the group of persons who worked together that, without clearly defined changes, a reformed outlook, new initiatives to underscore the fundamental value of the Commonwealth, the future of the association was not entirely guaranteed.
For the reasons raised by one of your colleagues earlier, there are a lot of international organizations. Think of the cycle that our leaders go through: They are going to G8, G20, the UN, NATO and Francophonie. At some point someone asks the question: Is this the right amount of time to devote to an organization and its purpose is what emerges from the organization as sufficient to justify the effort of investment and engagement necessary.
Obviously those of us who sat around the table — we had a former foreign minister from the United Kingdom, a former prime minister from Kiribati, and a former Prime Minister from Malaysia who was our chair, Tun Abdullah Badawi. There was a vast experience with Commonwealth organizations, much more than my own I hasten to add. All were of the view that unless we could come up with a report that was a real blueprint for increasing impact, relevance and value for money in a sense, the problem of survival will become more real. At the Perth meeting, 54 heads of government were invited, and 38 showed up. Others sent high commissioners, vice-presidents, but the heads — and we have had this issue about numbers over time. That is one of the things that drove, if you wish, the work of the so-called Eminent Persons Group.
We were very concerned about the lack of linkage, to go to Senator Mahovlich's earlier question, between organizations that are part of the Commonwealth family writ large, like the Commonwealth Games, and the actual core values and governance structure of the Commonwealth. If you think about it, heads of government gather once every two years and then they have the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which meets as necessary. The good thing about that — it sort of acts as the security council for the Commonwealth — is there are no permanent five and no veto. People rotate into that organization. It is much more reflective, in a sense, than the UN Security Council might be at any one time.
However, if there is not a coherent framework within which they act, and if there is not a frame of reference that makes sense, then over time the organization will lose its effectiveness.
The recommendation of the charter — and I will use a term that we Canadians understand better than almost anyone else in the world — is non-justiciable; a charter that would be a series of principles that were already approved in previous meetings. They were approved at Harare, at Singapore, at Latimer House. The principles would be not asking anyone to embrace something new, but take the existing principles we have all agreed to as heads of government and put it into one succinct document. When people say, "What do you care about and what does the Commonwealth do?'', we say, "Here is the charter.''
In a perfect world — based on the advice of this committee and other consultative processes across the Commonwealth — officials will meet, and agree to some wording. With any luck, within the context of jubilee year, Her Majesty may be able to sign a charter, which then would become one the official documents that would be used in this process.
How would it affect and connect with operational issues? A country decides it would like to be part of the Commonwealth and it petitions.
Let us say a new Rwanda.
What is the basis upon which that country is assessed as a potential member? As we understand around this table, this process is not devoid of politics. If the President of South Africa is strongly of the view that Mozambique should be a member of the Commonwealth — that president is Madiba, or Nelson Mandela — chances are they will gain entry. If the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom takes the view that Rwanda should be invited in for a host of reasons, it is unlikely that it would not necessarily make progress.
What we said in the Eminent Persons Group — and where we thought the Charter would be important — is that it should be a process of accession that actually has some principles to it. In the recommendation we made for a high representative or a commissioner for the rule of law, democracy, and human rights, classically CMAG could dispatch that individual to a country — and meet with the government, people in the media, opposition groups and civil society groups — and come back with an independent assessment before the formal decision is made about inviting someone to join. It was the view of our colleagues on the EPG that having a document like this would be helpful to that process.
To go to the very thoughtful question from the chair, if the document did not have the standing of being a formal point of reference for CMAG, then it would not have any linkage, as you correctly identified, to the instrumentality necessary to make the values real. Our view is that once it is signed and agreed to by heads of government, it will have a standing that will be perhaps even greater than the other important declarations like Harare and Singapore and Port- of-Spain which now define the policy process going forward.
I will add two other points and then put myself in the hands of the chair.
In Canada, the network of the Commonwealth, like that of the Francophonie, is perceived as a major global network that enables Canada to advance its values and trade and development interests. The present government wants the Commonwealth to be more capable, more competent and more effective, and for us to achieve a certain level of performance that can be measured.
When the Commonwealth of Learning — an agency based in Vancouver — is asked by the Government of Pakistan to help with some very specific issues around skills that are acquired around animal husbandry, the Commonwealth of Learning could produce specialists from the University of Guelph on sheep, goats, other areas of livestock, colleagues from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and put them together on a distance education process to reach out to farmers in Pakistan. In a very material way, it would assist with the technical skills that can be shared and be of great value.
When young people from the Commonwealth get to study in other countries — and we recommended, in the EPG, that that process be expanded, and there is a reference to that in the draft charter — that is when you begin to get the full measure of 54 countries working together, from different backgrounds, with a common will to facilitate economic opportunity, fairness, and a basic core civility in the societies in which we all try to make a difference.
There is no commitment, on the part of the EPG, to the wording, Madam Chair, or the structure of the draft document before you. Certainly, there is no measure of advice this committee could give, based on its consultations, about size, structure, length, or tone, that would not be, I think, welcome and of huge value. I would encourage members of the committee not to be, in any way, constrained by the existing wording in the document before you. It is simply one example of what a charter might look like.
Let me end my opening comments there. I am in your hands, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Thank you, senator.
Senator Wallin: It is timely that we are having this discussion as we see our own country look at 30 years of a charter of rights. That raises some obvious questions. I guess one flaw we see in that charter is that it was, in a sense, a creature of the time and very reflective of the ideas and issues. That can create some questions.
Also, we have spent the better part of 30 years, in one way or another, going to court, trying to figure out what it really meant, and even defining it, never mind whether people could challenge it legally. It was just part of the definition. With things like opting out clauses, what do you do if membership is afforded to a country and then their behaviour changes? I am sure you have wrestled with some of this. Talk to us a little bit about those ideas.
Senator Segal: Thank you, senator.
The view is that this would not have, in its application, anything like a statutory, constitutional charter of rights and freedoms of the kind we have in Canada. As Commonwealth parliamentarians in the room will know, the Commonwealth does not legislate for any of its countries. All of the countries are sovereign and make their own decisions. It is really the term that our colleagues in the public service referenced — inspirational, aspirational. It is really a kind of a totemic beacon of the things we care about. We do not think it would ever be used successfully in court. When our colleagues from Foreign Affairs spoke about those countries that were concerned, those were the countries that would have reflected — if I may say so — your question about how we avoid setting up some new legal liability, of which we have too many already. Countries will say, "The United Nations Human Rights Council sends us a questionnaire.'' You are a small country; you have to fill that out. "We get a questionnaire from the IMF and from various other organizations.'' Some of these countries have small Foreign Affairs departments. They do not have a lot of staff, and they do not need external burdens imposed upon them by a voluntary association like the Commonwealth.
In that respect I think your point is very well taken. Any advice the committee would choose to give about not letting it drift into that other area would be, if I may say so, welcomed by many of the countries around the table.
In terms of the process of sanctions and opting out, we can think about our own historical sense of the Commonwealth and where we remember the Commonwealth engaging. We remember, under Prime Ministers Mulroney and Trudeau, the engagement with respect to apartheid and the way that Canada was a very strong supporter of the front-line states. Prime ministers of the day were in direct contact with Mandela, with respect to various stages, and with De Klerk, on the other side, in South Africa.
The Commonwealth's only power, really, aside from the good things it might do in some of its organizations, is the power to exclude, to sanction. When Pakistan and their leadership could not sort out the difference between a military leadership and a democratic leadership, they were suspended by the Commonwealth until they sorted that out. Fiji is still under suspension by the Commonwealth. For a whole bunch of reasons, Zimbabwe is outside the Commonwealth, simply because of a clear coming apart between Commonwealth values and what was going on in that administration.
The issue is: Do we want the charter to be one of the beacons that drives that process when the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meets to consider country A or country B or this series of events? I would argue that it would be of immense value that the charter be one of those pieces in which that is cited. If it does its job, it will incorporate the principles that heads of government have already all accepted — the Harare Declaration, the Port-of-Spain Declaration about democracy, rule of law, gender equity, et cetera. That is how it will be used. That is the way in which it might be used in terms of producing an opting out context.
We find that Commonwealth countries are sometimes asked to leave or are suspended. Sometimes they sense the wind and decide to get out on their own, as was the case with Zimbabwe attacking the organization as nothing but an extension of British colonialism. However, the result is the same, that they are outside the mix. Even as we speak, there are groups in Zimbabwe looking for ways to get back in because the line in the Commonwealth has been — and our chair will remember this from her many years of service with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association — that we may close the window on a country that has broken the basic core rules of democracy, but we always have a candle in the window for the people of the Commonwealth. That is why our report was called A Commonwealth of the People, not just of governments but of the people we are all trying to serve.
Senator Nolin: Senator Segal, you have addressed some of my concerns, and I thank you for that.
Mr. Nicoloff, the witness who preceded you drew something of a comparison between the world of common law and the more republican world. It surprises me to see a group that has the common law in common moving toward the rigidity of a republic. Now your first answer has enlightened me. I understand that is not what you want.
I opened the text of the Washington Treaty to refresh my memory. That treaty gave rise to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and comprises only 14 articles but is full of obligations. It is a very unifying document for the initial members and has become so for the 28 that now form the alliance. So the countries adopted a rigid approach in a treaty by saying, this is what we believe in, these are our values, and these are the rules we want to set for ourselves for our future collective security. I understand that this is not what you want.
That is not what you are aiming at. What you want is more of a collective document that will rassembler all the various values and principles that collectively guide the countries forming the Commonwealth. Am I correct? You do not want a treaty. You want a document that will guide you in the future. My reading of your intent is that you do not want something similar to NATO. What you want is a more flexible document, which is really in line with the common law tradition, la convention, which evolves with the long nurturing process of history. That is what you want.
Senator Segal: You are entirely right. As you said, the great difference between NATO and the Commonwealth is that NATO is defined by a treaty. That is clear, fundamental. The Commonwealth has no treaty, no contract, even no agreement, except that we have volunteer members of the Commonwealth because they want to be associated with the club for one reason or another, reasons related to development, history, opportunity, education and perhaps the renown of the Commonwealth as a significant global organization.
You are absolutely right; this is not in any way about putting a treaty in place.
Having said that, as we understand in Canada, the combination of traditions such as the republican tradition, where things are written down specifically, such as charters of rights and freedoms, detailed constitutions; and la tradition britannique, where there was almost nothing ever written down — it is all by precedent — was something which we found a way in Canada to merge in the negotiations around the repatriation of the Constitution.
Our principle here is that while a treaty is not something that we would ever seek or a republican kind of document that was very specific, a bit more clarity in a more succinct way about what the Commonwealth is about and what it stands for would be of generic educational value right across the system. The fact that it could hang in classrooms from Uganda to Kuala Lumpur, the fact that it would be a marketing vehicle —
Senator Nolin: A document that could meet the "milkman test.''
Senator Segal: Absolutely.
Senator Nolin: In the NATO circle, that is how we label those documents: Give me something short, precise, that anyone can understand.
Senator Segal: That is the fundamental principle. That is why the heads of government did not approve the content that was there in Perth. Instead they opted to seek the advice of Commonwealth countries with greater experience in order to find a better approach.
Senator Nolin: In Canada, the idea of adopting a restrictive constitutional document, the charter — and history will show that Quebecers did not accept it — was anathema to non-Quebecers, who objected to being compelled to accept a republican document in a country living under a system of custom and precedent, the common law. You can see the evolution to which my colleague referred at the outset. You will have to convince the other Commonwealth countries of the benefit of this marriage, which is not initially obvious. The proof is that Quebec has not yet said yes politically. Even though Quebec is legally bound by the charter, the fact nevertheless remains that, politically, Quebecers have not yet accepted it.
Senator Segal: Canada can act constructively in all these discussions on behalf of its ministers and public servants because it knows precisely the problem you just underscored. We are an important player, the second largest country in the Commonwealth and in the Francophonie. As a result, we are able to facilitate understanding in both organizations and to advance matters. One of the challenges is to find a way to design a charter, to take advantage of this opportunity in a positive way, one that does not create any deficiencies, but that will be a platform for the advancement of the organization's goals.
Senator Nolin: When the heads of state met in Washington to draft the treaty, Canada demanded what we called the "Canada article,'' article 2. The treaty referred to defence, and Canada said that it should refer to more than defence. It should refer to peace, security and economic interests that we can pursue by being united behind a defence treaty.
There are good examples in history that can help you find solutions.
Senator Jaffer: Senator Segal, thank you for your remarks and thank you for taking on this very difficult task on behalf of Canadians.
While I was preparing for this meeting and thinking of the charter, the first thing that came to mind is you have to look at the values of the Commonwealth. What are the common values before you started this job and since starting this job? Is there a meeting of the minds on some values? There are a diverse number of countries that have diverse challenges, but because we were all in the British Raj, we do have a meeting of values. I would like you to share with us what you see as the common values in the Commonwealth.
Senator Segal: Thank you. Let me say that I think Canadians — this is a bit of a response to Senator Downe's question as well — view the Commonwealth as what I would call a preventative, constructive organization. When the bodies are piled like cord wood, that is when we turn to NATO or to the UN Security Council, when there is military and other issues involved.
One of the things that civilized countries can do, and then be aided and advanced, is to ensure that we avoid those extremes, that we are able to build a base of democratic activity, basic civility, respect for diversity and rights and the rule of law, which is a framework within which people can solve and sort out their difficulties. That is what I think many people would say is the strength of the British Westminster tradition. Not all of what comes from that tradition is particularly compelling, but lots of it is.
If you talk as I did with Sir Alan Haselhurst, the head of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the question he asks is how do we build the parliamentary linkage between parliamentarians so these values are shared, values that respect diversity, human rights, the rule of law and the mix between development, economic opportunity and democracy? It is a recent narrative that development and democracy go hand in hand, but the Commonwealth has been there for decades on this issue through technical assistance and other programs.
Not to use an unpleasant word, but it is almost a prophylactic organization that is there to keep bad things from happening, and when it does its job effectively and efficiently, then countries that are members move up the development path or work with others to assist in that process. Above all, we reach across generations, religions, colours, continents and different ways of life to share these common values. I think that is, at its best, what the Commonwealth has represented in the past.
In the future, our challenge is how to help this organization use these values in a way that is really germane to the day-to-day life of the 2.2 billion people who live in its countries. How do we provide real value in terms of educational presence and helping with development?
I had the great privilege of visiting the Aga Khan school in Dar. Dar is a city, as you know better than most, of many broad differences and divergences, but there you saw kids from all backgrounds and all ways of life getting this tremendous opportunity with outstanding teachers. There was a retired curriculum director from Scarborough, Ontario, delighted to be there for free, not being paid, to help in the process. That is the kind of thing I would like to see the Commonwealth represent and serve.
Clearly, a statement of values that talks about these sorts of things, in my judgment, would aid in the advancement of that kind of on-the-ground presence in a constructive way in people's lives.
Senator Jaffer: Thank you, senator. You certainly have given an idea of the values that people in the Commonwealth share, and I certainly think that the Commonwealth has a very big role to play. It also helps Canada. We should not think it is just us helping. It is an important part of our existence.
Some of us like the Charter in Canada, some of us have challenges, some of us say it was set up in a different era; all kinds of things are conjured up in Canada around the Charter. When you talk about the Commonwealth charter, it is not something you can take someone to court on. Are you not more looking at a mission statement than a charter?
Senator Segal: I think how it is typified is very much within the purview of the consultative process to give advice on. The notion that it might be viewed as a statement of core principles, a statement of Commonwealth values, I think all of that is very open. I understand, and this connects with the question raised by Senator Wallin, the word "charter'' is loaded. There is a corporate meaning, as lawyers around the table will know, when you talk about a corporate charter.
We live in a world where churches have business plans and charitable organizations have mission statements. I think we probably have to reflect on what would be the best "typification.'' I think your comment is, in my judgment, very well taken and very appropriate.
Senator Jaffer: If I may push you a little further on this charter as a mission statement, I am not hung up on the wording, but what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to achieve sort of a meeting of the minds and what the values are on which we work in the Commonwealth. So far, in the British tradition, it has been convention. You do not write things down; you just go by convention. Here, maybe the Commonwealth is going with the Canadian model of conventions and some things written down.
Are you not looking at some things that we say are the baselines, the standards that every country should have or every country should achieve? That is the baseline. Is that not what we are looking at?
Senator Segal: I would think probably what the EPG had in mind were goals that every country should ascribe to. The problem with standards is that none of the 54 democracies is perfect. We could all talk about areas of exclusion and difficulty on every front in all our countries. However, goals, where we all say this is where we want to head, these are the kinds of societies we are trying to build, that, we think, would be extremely helpful. I think that is what Mr. Justice Kirby took in mind when he was trying to draft the document, as an example.
The Chair: Senator Segal, I have a few questions. One is that I understand the educational value. If you had a tool that you could use throughout the Commonwealth, whether it is on the wall, whether it is in the schools, it is a rallying point to reflect the values that the next generations will have. I subscribe to that and laud you for emphasizing that in the report.
My difficulty is with your example from Dar. It is a Canadian that goes down there free. I think that is excellent. However, I have spent not as many years as Senator Jaffer in Africa, and the dilemma is that we are still projecting our values, our assistance, in the Commonwealth. The push-back is not so much the people at the start, but of course the governance, bureaucracies, et cetera.
We have not translated that the values we are talking about are more universal than old colonial values. That is the first thing.
The other is that we have not brought certainly African nations and small island states to the table differently than the United Nations. In the United Nations, when you are a small state, you know it. You know you are not, with veto power or other power. However, you know that if you can collectively get together, you can have a significant power base in the general assembly. The nonaligned group was one of the first to utilize that.
There is a struggle, it seems to me, in the Commonwealth to get to the table equally and to treat each other with dignity. There is still kind of this historical slush that keeps flowing over all of the leaders. It permeates in the parliament, the Commonwealth parliament, at the heads of state and it has certainly crystallized around Zimbabwe. How ironic that you would have Mugabe leading the Zimbabwe Declaration in the 1980s and then we are trying to use the Zimbabwe Declaration to have him live with the rules. The withdrawal of Zimbabwe was negotiated by political will around there.
What was that declaration all about when, in fact, we are back to political will?
How do we make all those countries that were emerging and are emerging now feel that their word and their way is as valuable in human rights and in democracy? There are errant leaders, but there is a body that wants to discuss trade with us, different ways of diversity, that reach out to us to say: What do you do with your Aboriginal people, that declaration of indigenous peoples? There was a discussion with Canada and Australia. It is now being discussed in Kenya. I want to see this inspirational document kind of bring everyone to the table with the same force, whether I am a small country or a large one, and that we are not paying lip service to it from Canada.
You must have encountered that and struggled with that. How do we get an inspirational document that puts us all at the same level today, forget the past?
Senator Segal: To quote the foreign affairs people, that is a very good question and a very tough one. I would not expect anything less from our chair.
I would say two things. In the EPG recommendations, as you will know, we talked about beefing up the small states operation that the Commonwealth runs in Geneva and in New York, to help the small states deal with the complexity of the WTO, to deal with the United Nations, in a way where they get the skill sets and help so they can advance their own cause effectively. In this report, we have talked about having a Commonwealth advocacy position so that the financing rules of the World Bank and the IMF do not exclude the small states. We have talked about ensuring that they are treated equally and that the Commonwealth make that part of its overall commitment. On climate change, we have talked about a best-practices, common operational unit within the secretariat that brings many of the small states together. That, in fact, ensures that they are treated on an even-handed basis through the process.
I think the value, potentially, of the charter or the mission statement, as the case may be, would be that it would express formally the equity between the smallest and the largest, between the wealthiest and the poorest, that we are all part of the Commonwealth family and we all have to work together.
Let us look at the way, for example, CMAG now operates. It was my privilege to be there last week, and there was Tanzania, Australia, Canada and Vanuatu, maybe one of the smallest states in the universe. Their voices were all equal. Their voices about the content of the press release, the content of the decision, were absolutely even-handed.
I think what this document has to do is perhaps be far more explicit about that égalité d'opportunités between the large and the small to capture the spirit of what you are saying. I would argue the lack of that in this document is probably a deficiency that needs to be addressed if it will have any of the effect which we would both hope it might have, if properly done.
The Chair: There are two other areas that I have pondered on. With all the years you have been here on the Hill in various capacities, you understand how important parliament is to any good governance, democracy and rule of law. Can this charter in some way — because it has not been highlighted — impress upon the need to embrace parliamentarians? We have talked heads of state, civil society, but we seem to be rather lacking in our total discussion about the significant role of parliament.
Go back to NEPAD, the document. It did not have a word about parliamentarians. It talked about government. It talked about citizens. It did not say anything about parliamentarians. It seems to me if you are using this as an educational tool, if you are looking at it as a standard, parliament must have a role somewhere in here if we are going to be successful.
Second, is it not really now that a kid sitting in Malawi with a telephone, whatever gadget he has, is connecting to a Canadian kid? This is very different from in the old days, when we had scholarships and we brought people here and then we went off on Cuso. Should we not be targeting this kind of charter as an educational tool for that linkage between those kids who inevitably will be more equal in this world than the previous generations of Commonwealth kids?
Senator Segal: Thank you for that, chair. Let me say that when I met with Sir Alan Haselhurst, who is the elected head of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, we shared the following angst: Recommendations in the EPG about more detailed election observer processes. I will give you an example.
The deputy prime minister of Barbados was the head of the observers' mission in Uganda. Her name is Billie Miller and she did a superb report saying that election day was about a six or seven out of ten. The broad framework in the country around equality of rules with respect to campaign finance and the relationship between government departments and political parties was well beneath the standard of fairness. Therefore, she said that this constitutes an agenda that the Commonwealth should be working on with Uganda to improve its process between now and the next election. Museveni won another large majority in that process.
We both agree that you cannot actually embrace a broader role where observers get there earlier, stay longer and make public reports unless they are led by parliamentarians. They have to be led by parliamentarians who were elected in other Commonwealth countries so they have the legitimacy to report on what they are seeing because they understand what they are seeing, because they are parliamentarians.
One of the great difficulties is the inability of the secretariats for the Commonwealth as an intergovernmental organization and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Secretariat at Marlborough House to work more together. I have picked up, and I say this with some disappointment, that there is more angst about status — who is on first, who is on second and who has a flag on the car, none of which has anything to do with performance. The good news is that it is realistic to say that the parliamentarians' leader, Sir Alan Haselhurst, is very much of the same view. He sought advice as to where the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association could engage on some of the critical recommendations that are still in the long grass. That information has been shared. If this works properly, there will be a new common purpose and cooperation between parliamentarians and the Commonwealth as a whole, which hitherto, for reasons I do not fully understand and you probably understand better than I, has been structurally problematic.
We took a very hard look at the Commonwealth as an organization that communicates with people under the age of 50 or 40 or 30 or 20. We were not happy with what we found. For example, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group held great meetings on the Maldives and issued a press release. Unless you are really interested in the Maldives, you will not have known that anything happened last week. My view is that that is not real world. Canada's view is that there should be a digital communication process, products in the marketplace for that young teenager in Malawi who is looking for a whole bunch of things — cultural, political, information, travel, career, and a Commonwealth porthole with which he or she can connect and get stuff of value. That does not exist. We very much of the view that unless it does exist, the organization will face a demographic trend that is actually not constructive. Your point on that very much reflects the anxiety and aspiration of the so-called Eminent Persons Group.
Senator D. Smith: This is not a big question, but I cannot forget the past because I am a history buff. In terms of the evolution of these fundamental values, which are now in the draft and I certainly feel very good about, there is the expulsion list in one of our briefing notes that states Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Fiji, which was about 3 months after we had a CPA conference there, Pakistan and Zimbabwe have been suspended.
Going back a little further you might know the answer to this question: Did not South Africa have to get out during the peak of apartheid days? I thought they did. Senator Jaffer probably knows but was Uganda not booted out during the Idi Amin days or do we know?
Senator Segal: I do not know the answer on Uganda.
Senator Jaffer: It was not.
Senator Segal: Essentially, I think Jawaharlal Nehru and Mr. Diefenbaker were engaged on the South Africa file. They produced a circumstance whereby South Africa had no choice but to withdraw. That was the intended purpose. That was a consistent Canadian position with our Indian friends in support of the front line states. When that vote first took place, the only ABC country — Australia, Britain, Canada — that stood with the front line states was Canada. Everyone else was caught up in some other kind of anti-communist consideration at the time, South Africa being a bulwark against Soviet expansionism et cetera. Canada stood with the front line states, which to this day stands Canada in very good stead, as our Chairman, the former High Commissioner to Kenya, will understand, with those fronts line states because we did make that stand decades ago.
Senator D. Smith: I am glad you confirmed that because I thought they did have to withdraw. It is, however, unbelievable that Uganda did not get booted out in the Idi Amin days because that was pretty bad.
Senator Segal: I do not know the answer but I will defer to Senator Jaffer who likely will know.
The Chair: Senator Segal, you have been an excellent witness. You have given us more than I think we can handle in the short time that we have. You have had a challenge addressing the Commonwealth and you put a portion of it in our hands. I am sure you will follow our work here; and please give us your advice. I think that we are all of the same opinion that the Commonwealth is worth saving, but wonder how we do it. If we can have some piece of motivating leaders and citizens to address the Commonwealth in the future, then we will have done our job. You certainly have done yours. Thank you.
Senator Segal: Thank you, chair.
(The committee adjourned.)