Mr. Romeo Saganash (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I want to point out that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Ottawa Centre because I believe that his contribution to this debate will be enlightening.
It is always an honour for me to rise in the House to debate the report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development concerning the Organization of American States.
I am pleased to do so because I believe that over the past few years in particular, Canada's reputation has lost some of its lustre, and our country's leadership and influence on the international scene are not what they once were.
I believe that it is important to debate this committee's report, which was tabled and concurred in unanimously by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
I note that the government's response to the committee indicates that the government accepts most of the recommendations. It is important to point that out. I will come back to one of the recommendations that the government supports in principle only, because it is important to talk about human rights in the House and about human rights in other countries.
When we are members of the United Nations, the United Nations charter requires that we respect human rights, everyone's rights. Therefore, when we negotiate free trade agreements with other countries—and in this case with Latin American countries—it is essential that we ensure that these countries' human rights standards are aligned with our own human rights, labour and environmental standards. It is vital that we understand this.
In fact, that is why on this side of the House we always find it difficult to accept free trade agreements that do not meet these conditions, which are vital and fundamental in my opinion.
Before arriving in this august chamber in 2011, I was long involved in international multilateral processes. For more than 23 years, I took part in the process that led to the UN General Assembly adopting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Around the world, 370,000 million indigenous people now have a declaration that specifically, and in particular, addresses their most fundamental rights. It is the fruit of 23 years of work at the United Nations and I am very proud of that.
I mention this experience with the multilateral negotiations that led to the declaration because for a few years now the Organization of American States has had a similar process for adopting an American declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.
A few days after the Conservative government was elected in 2006, diplomats who were part of the Canadian delegation at the United Nations told us that their instructions for the negotiations on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples had changed.
Canada's participation in these negotiations used to be quite positive, but in 2006 it changed its position on the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples. That is unfortunate, because this goes against Canada's international obligations and against the Charter of the United Nations, an organization of which Canada is a member. It is important to point that out.
There is another aspect that is essential to this morning's debate on the report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. I think the government supports most of the recommendations that we made in this report and that is good.
Under recommendation 2 f, the committee proposes that Canada should support reforms that:
||ensure that all reasonable OAS activities related to the promotion and protection of democratic governance and human rights are fully, consistently and predictably funded.
Canada supports this recommendation in principle. I wonder why it only supports this recommendation in principle when the recommendation seeks to standardize existing conventions on human rights and governance.
Many of the rulings rendered by the Supreme Court in recent years talk about good governance in relation to many of our country's institutions. I think that this is one of the most important things for us as a democratic country. We need to continue to insist that the authorities within any inter-American human rights system receive predictable financial support. I think it is unfortunate that the government did not go so far as to strongly support this recommendation. I think that is important to point out.
The fact that the Organization of American States is the only forum open to all independent states in the western hemisphere is another important reason to support it, as members no doubt know. In that sense, it is important to promote common norms and standards for all countries in the hemisphere. Once again, it is unfortunate that the government is not moving further in the direction of more stable and comprehensive funding for the authorities that exist within the Organization of American States.
We have once again the opportunity to demonstrate our leadership on the international stage. I think that we are missing many opportunities. For a few months now, we have been chairing the Arctic Council. This example came to mind because it is indicative of this government's attitude on the world stage. The Arctic Council brings together countries with an arctic space in their territory. We have been chairing the council for several months now. This is another opportunity where Canada could demonstrate its leadership. However, unfortunately, from the discussions and meetings I have had with Inuit representatives of the northern regions of our country, we are once again failing in that regard.
That is why it is important to seriously consider the various reports tabled by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. I am proud to be a member of that committee because I believe that I am able to bring my international experience and my knowledge of international law to the table. That is why this report is important. This is another opportunity for us, as a country, to demonstrate that we understand the type of leadership we need to exert at the international level.
That is why I am delighted that the government is going to support our recommendations. We need to immediately take action to move in the right direction.
Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to follow my colleague, because we worked together on this report, but also of note is the experience he has had on the international stage, and it was mentioned in his speech. I think we should acknowledge that. Certainly, we in our party are fortunate to have someone with his experience within our caucus. He has done such a great job leading Canada on the international stage, particularly on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He was one of the many Canadians who were there to help negotiate that.
I say that because one of the key issues when it comes to the OAS and our relationship with Central America and South America, the Americas, that has been emerging is the importance of acknowledging the rights of indigenous peoples. This is fairly new; although not new in Canada. My colleague is an example of someone who has contributed to our country, but he has been able to contribute to other countries to say that, when it comes to minority groups in general, but particularly indigenous peoples, they are a precious resource that we need to acknowledge. In the case of countries like Colombia, for instance, there is a grave danger with respect to the elimination of peoples, not just their languages but actual populations. Therefore, it is important that we take a look at what Canada's role is within the Americas.
This report was to reflect on what Canada's role is within the Organization of American States. What is interesting about this report, and people will appreciate this, is that not often do all parties agree on reports. Often we have minority reports from the opposition. However, we all agreed to the recommendations in this report. That is an important point to make. We wanted to bring it to the House today to take a look at what the committee recommended and where the government is at.
To start off, I want to talk a bit about what Canada has been doing in the past. This acknowledges some of the work the government and previous governments have been doing. There was funding through the OAS to help with different initiatives that are important to note. One of them is to strengthen national electoral systems and related processes. I do not have to tell members that right now there are concerns within South America with respect to elections and democratic development. The OAS is there to help with that. It is a multilateral organization that we fund to support the strengthening of national electoral systems. This is important when there are protests and concerns within certain member states within the OAS, where there are concerns from civil society and opposition parties as to whether or not governments are duly elected. Having that oversight is important. The strengthening of democratic development is important. Improving the standardization and harmonization of policies and frameworks relating to things like the business environment in terms of regulations is something for which the OAS provides support, and also the sharing of best practices in public administration and oversight in terms of regulations.
That is important for us in Canada. For example, with the extractive industries, we want to ensure that, when Canada is doing work abroad in member states within the OAS, those member states understand what our responsibilities are and that Canadian companies understand too. We also want the ensure that, within the locus of the OAS, we are sharing best practices and that the people on the ground, particularly those populations affected by Canadian business, understand what our responsibilities are to strengthen oversight and accountability, as well as improve market access for member states.
The House will recall that one of the interesting agendas that the government took on when it was first elected back in 2006 was called the Americas agenda. There were attempts early on for the government to focus on the Americas. There was great fanfare, in fact. There were a lot of announcements made and a couple of trips made. However, one of the challenges for the government is that it did not have a deep agenda on the Americas. Basically, it seemed to be focused on one dimension, which was to negotiate some trade deals—of which they have a couple, Honduras being one—as well as to update deals with Chile and others.
However, what happened was interesting. After a couple of years, they kind of forgot that focus. This came at an expense because there was an opportunity cost. When the Conservatives said they were going to focus on the Americas, there was a pivot away from Africa.
It has been noted within the OAS member states that they are not sure what Canada's agenda is right now when it comes to the Americas. There seems to be a lack of focus. When it comes to the OAS, this is important because the OAS is a multilateral organization and it is looking at human rights protection. Yes, it is looking at commerce, but it is also looking at how member states can work together to resolve issues around conflict, where Canada can play an important role. I think of issues, such as one that came up a couple of years ago about border disputes between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
We look at these issues and say Canada can play a role here if it wants to. It has contributed money to the OAS, it has paid its dues and that is to be acknowledged, but we have to do more than just write the cheques. What happened with the government's America policy, Americas focus, is that it seemed to not have a deep enough understanding as to what other roles could be played: on environment, for instance; on responsible development in the extractive industries; on helping with conflict resolutions, as I have mentioned. What about working with those states that are emerging economies and seeing where Canada can support and help, particularly in governance and democratic development? We did not have an offer on that, and what is reflected in the work that is being done through the OAS is that there is a deep need for that support from Canada.
I would hope that the Conservatives will take another look at this report and sharpen their pencils and say that we can do more than just trade deals. Trade is obviously important, but let us look at what else we can do to help our friends in the Americas. If we are going to be successful in negotiating trade deals, what I am hearing from many of these member states is, “What else is Canada offering?” That is something that has to be looked at.
The pivot to the Americas, as it was being seen as, was at a cost. There was an opportunity cost because it meant that there was a lack of investment and focus on Africa. However, at the end of the day what we have is an incoherence. We have, on the one hand, the government pivoting away from Africa, pivoting to the Americas but not with a deep agenda, simply a trade agenda and forgetting the other aspects of those relationships. I would argue that if the Conservatives were to look back to this OAS report, they would find in here numerous things that would help strengthen their initial idea of engaging more in the Americas. It could be on democratic development, on helping on governance, working with Canadian companies for best practices in the extractive industries to benefit people on the ground in some of the countries with which we do business within the OAS family.
Having visited the OAS, I know that the other area where there is an ask and a need for Canada to be more active is the area of human rights. One of the trade deals that the government signed, supported by the Liberal Party, was the free trade agreement with Colombia. There was much fanfare. In fact the Liberal Party made a claim that it was because of its engagement that these side agreements on human rights would be enough to protect those concerns we had around potential human rights abuses. It turns out that those reports have not been timely or sufficient and they have failed.
I would ask that the government look back to this report of the OAS about how we can be more engaged on human rights protection, on engagement with the OAS, and not just write the cheques but get involved and truly have an Americas agenda that will be more than one-dimensional. If the Conservatives looked at this report and the recommendations that were unanimously supported by all parties, we would be better off as a country in our relationship with the Americas. The Minister of Foreign Affairs should look at the copy that I have in my hand and refresh his memory about what we can do in the Americas. I look forward to his questions.
Mr. Dean Allison (Niagara West—Glanbrook, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is great to get a chance to rise to speak to the report and the good work that the foreign affairs committee has been doing and that this minister has been doing. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has done an outstanding job on the world stage representing Canada. I will be sharing my time with the member for Prince Albert.
We have been working on a number of things at committee and I want to review some of the committee business. Obviously this is a report that was done last year, one that we think is important. When we look at some of the multilateral organizations we are involved with, the OAS is certainly important for the southern hemisphere. The organization has had some challenges over time, but we still believe it is important.
When we were in Washington meeting with various ambassadors and in talking with people, they said it is still important to engage with the OAS and to work with it. We are involved with a number of multilateral organizations, some of which are not always perfect, but we see how important the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, is in terms of election monitoring, what is going on in Ukraine and the job that Canadians have done over there, the large delegations we have sent, and how important the role has been for Canada.
I want to read some of the conclusions and recommendations of the report, and give the House the framework, just to remind people who may not have had a chance to read the report online. I will read from the conclusions and recommendations for the record. It says:
|| As the discussion above illustrates, the OAS is not a perfect organization.
I just alluded to that.
|| It is, however, an important one for Canada and for the hemisphere. The Committee is of the opinion that Canada's long-standing commitment to the OAS as the premier multilateral organization in the Western Hemisphere should continue, focused around the OAS' core competencies of democratic governance, human rights, security, and economic development.
One of the things we heard when we were in Washington was that there was sort of a mission creep. The OAS has looked at maybe continuing to expand its mandate, which multilateral organizations will do from time to time. We heard from various ambassadors and people we talked to in the organization is that maybe the OAS should return to its core, return to some of the things it does well. That is why I say that if we look at some of the competencies of the OAS, such as democratic governance, human rights, security, and economic development, we see that if it could get back to some of those core things, it would make the organization more effective. I will continue on with the conclusion:
|| That being said, there is a clear and urgent need for reforms that can put the financing of the organization on stable and sustainable footing and return its emphasis to this core work.
One of the issues that were raised was that once again, as usual, Canada is punching away above its weight in terms of financial contributions. Certainly organizations that belong to the OAS pay very little if not much at all. I have a list here that we included in the appendix. I just to want to share some of those:
|| Such reforms would enable the organization to implement its responsibilities in an effective manner and live up to its purposes as established in the organization's founding Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Canada has and should continue to negotiate reforms in these areas.
We saw in Washington, as we talked to people, that Canada has taken a leadership role in this organization in terms of championing reforms. Canada is also very well respected by all the countries around the table. We are seen as an honest broker. We are seen as somebody who is there to represent the needs of everybody, not somebody who is always trying to implement their will and demands on everybody else. We are seen as somebody who is willing to sit at the table and help negotiate, help lead, and help move forward with real and practical solutions. I will continue. It says:
|| The Committee is under no illusions about the novelty of these observations, or about the difficulty of realizing reforms.
As I say once again, we understand that the organization is far from perfect, but we also understand that this is one of the few ways that we can help engage in the Americas and why we still need to be at the table.
Canada is one of 34 member states that participate in an organization that works by consensus, and working by consensus is always a challenge. We do not always get everything we want. That is one of the challenges others have as well.
The basic problems facing the OAS are well known. Solutions have been proposed over the years from within and from outside the organization, but decisions that inevitably involve trade-offs in financing or programming, or both, are not easy to reach in any political forum, let alone one representing millions of people from diverse countries that stretch from the north to the south poles.
The context has also changed since Canada joined the OAS in 1990. The emergence of sub-regional blocks in the hemisphere and political divisions within the OAS are an added complication to the efforts to address the organization's long-standing challenges. We are not so naive to think that the organization does not have issues, but we still believe it is an important one and we should still remain at the table to participate.
However, the existence of the OAS since 1948, its body of concrete accomplishments, and its ability to adapt its work to changes that have taken place in the hemisphere since its founding, are a testament to its value. They are also evidence that the OAS is capable of being dynamic. Moreover, as a multilateral forum, the OAS has and continues to provide space for dialogue and co-operation and the pooling of resources, expertise, and experiences, thus helping to establish conditions to which compromise and shared purpose are possible.
Based on some of these conclusions, here are some of the recommendations the committee put forward as a result of a report on the work that was done down there. The first committee recommendation was:
|| The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to support the Organization of American States (OAS) as the premier multilateral organization in the Western Hemisphere.
We believe that, while the organization may not be perfect, this is one of the few areas where we can engage with the southern hemisphere. That is why we believe we should still be at the table.
The second committee recommendation we had was:
|| The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to push for reforms to strengthen the OAS with its like-minded partners through the OAS General Assembly and Permanent Council.
In talking with our ambassador and staff, who are well respected there, they and our government realize that this organization needs to continue to look at reforms to strengthen it. We realize there is more that could be done. We realize that, in terms of some of the things we have been involved with over the years, it has continued to require more and more resources and, if it were to sharpen its focus on some of these things, this would make it a more effective organization.
Therefore, as part of that, the second recommendation was to continue to push reforms to strengthen the OAS and its like-minded partners through the OAS general assembly and permanent council. These possible reforms would:
||a. Return the organization's focus to its core areas of work, namely democratic governance, human rights, security, and development;
There have been a number of different areas in which OAS is involved. We believe that, if it would go back to the core, that would be more effective and certainly more focused and important.
||b. Result In a substantial reduction in the number of existing OAS mandates, principally those that fall outside of the organization's core areas of work (as listed above);
Once again, mission creep has happened here in terms of where it is at.
||c. Lead to a formula for increasing member states' assessed quotas to the OAS regular fund to a degree that is at minimum sufficient to cover annual inflationary and personnel costs;
While we believe that we share the leadership role there, we also believe that other countries should do their fair share, and probably more, in terms of financial support.
||d. Encourage consideration of the proposal to reduce the United States' quota to 49% of the OAS regular fund, so long as doing so would not result in a reduction in the regular fund's total budget;
||e. Institute a process whereby new mandates cannot be added to the OAS' portfolio of work without funding sources being identified, accompanied by an analysis of the rationale for OAS action in the relevant area; and
||f. Ensure that all reasonable OAS activities related to the promotion and protection of democratic governance and human rights are fully, consistently and predictably funded.
Once again, as we look at some of the things in which this organization is involved, the recommendations of the committee were to go back to its core, to focus on what it does well, and to make sure it continues to represent democracy in that area.
Mr. Randy Hoback (Prince Albert, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, this is quite an interesting debate for me because of all the work I do with ParlAmericas and the work we have been doing in central South America, the Caribbean region, and of course in the western hemisphere.
I would like to give members some background information about ParlAmericas. ParlAmericas is a parliamentary organization of parliamentarians of all parties. It was created in the OAS and has a memorandum of understanding with the OAS to work on building the capacity of parliamentarians throughout the region.
A lot of the funding for ParlAmericas comes from the Canadian government. The project was originally funded through CIDA, and its goals are multifaceted. We were empowered with looking at how we could build capacity with parliamentarians throughout the western hemisphere, and ParlAmericas has been doing that over the last few years with funding from the Canadian government.
A women's working group is one of the branches of ParlAmericas. A woman vice-president of ParlAmericas sits on the board. This group talks about women's issues in general and women's issues for parliamentarians. They talk about the barriers for a woman who wants to become a member of congress or a senator and how those barriers can be taken down and how it could be made easier for women to reach all they want to reach and attain the goals they want to achieve. ParlAmericas has been working on these types of issues through a variety of workshops and events in the region.
Another example is in Mexico. There will be a meeting in Mexico City at the end of June for women parliamentarians from all across the western hemisphere. Men will also be there. They want to identify problems and solutions and share ideas and best practices. From that come better and stronger women parliamentarians, and male parliamentarians get a better understanding of the issues that women face in Parliament. That is just one of the areas on which ParlAmericas works.
Different topics have come up in the region; for example, security. When we look at security in the region, whether it be drugs or human trafficking, a lot of people in Canada ask why we would have a huge interest in that, why that would concern us. Canada is one of the consumers of these drug products, so we have an interest in the region and we need to be supportive. We have done work in Costa Rica and in other areas. We have talked about these issues and how we can support those countries as they take on the drug battle.
When it comes to organized crime and drugs, clamping down on one country is like clamping down on a tube of toothpaste. If we clamp down on it here, it pops up somewhere else. We cannot just do it country by country. We have to look at the region as a whole and we have to attack the issue as a whole to get true results. That is something Canada has done strongly, and an area in which it has been very active.
Promoting governance and transparency are other issues we have been working on through ParlAmericas. That involves working with parliamentarians to understand the importance of transparency and how it is in their benefit to have transparency, to have good governance. This again brings parliamentarians together to talk about best practices, what works, what does not work, how we can take something that works in Colombia and make it work in Honduras. Those are the strengths ParlAmericas brings together, and again, it is non-partisan. It is members of all parties sharing different ideas to build the capacity of parliamentarians, to provide a better parliamentary structure, which would bring better governance and allow them to make better decisions when they go back to their legislatures.
There is one interesting thing to note when we talk about public security. I still remember this. We were in Panama talking about human smuggling and kidnapping. It was very interesting to hear the guys from Colombia talk about what they did to counterattack kidnapping. The guys from Honduras asked them questions. As the exchange went on between the two members, they started comparing ideas on what worked and what did not work. Very substantial information was exchanged over a table.
The other thing that was important is that they started exchanging their contact information. They exchanged their BBM pins, because they all use BBM. They love BlackBerry down there, by the way—I will get that plug in. They started exchanging ideas on how to talk to each other.
Therefore, not only did the discussion take place around the meeting table in Panama, but those discussions are now taking place among legislatures and parliamentarians in various countries. That is good to hear because they are sharing best practices. They are looking at the issue as a regional issue. They are looking at how to attack these things on a regional basis. They are working together.
The Canadian section of ParlAmericas has also been very active in the region. Members from all parties just finished a trip to Peru where we toured a Canadian mine site. It was beneficial for all parties to see exactly how Canadian mining companies act in Peru. We toured the site. We saw how they treated their employees. We saw the safety precautions and the level of business professionalism of Canadian companies in that region.
They are running that mine as if it was in Canada. They are basically looking at the regulations we have in Canada and are applying them to make sure they have the same working conditions there as they would if they were in Canada.
It was very interesting to listen to my colleagues from the NDP talk about how good this was. That shows exactly what Canadian companies, in being responsible, are doing abroad.
I was talking to a person in the embassy who said that the Chinese companies, when they are looking at a new mine project, are actually trying to hire Canadians to lead these projects, because Canadians understand how to do it properly, how to engage the local communities, and how to make sure the benefits reach throughout the region and not just one specific area.
That is something Canada brings to the table, not just in Peru but also in Colombia, Chile, and other regions. We are actually setting the bar at a higher standard with respect to the environment and the co-operation of the aboriginal people and how to engage them. That is something Canada is very strong in. We should be proud of that and should encourage that.
Another thing we talked about when we were in Peru was security issues. They gave us an overview of the human rights abuses. They talked about some of the challenges, such as growth challenges in Lima.
Again, this bilateral visit allowed parliamentarians from all parties to get a good view of exactly what is happening in Peru.
The member talked about trade in his opening speech, and I found it very interesting. Trade is definitely one of the tools, in fact a major tool, for helping out in those regions. The best thing we can do is take them from a very poor existence and livelihood and give them proper jobs so they can actually take care of their families and be active contributing citizens in their society.
If we look at the Honduras trade deal that is in front of us, that is what they are looking for from trade. They are looking for an alternative to the drug trafficking crimes and those types of things where that is the only type of employment they have.
Let us look at companies that are in Honduras, such as Gildan. What would those employees be doing if Gildan was not there? Gildan is another Canadian company that is doing a great job. I have actually toured their facilities. Again, the facility is something we would see here in Canada, with the wages and the way they treat their employees. They actually have a hospital on-site to take care of their employees. Again, here is an example of Canadian corporate responsibility actually being enacted in other parts of the world.
As trade increases, and Colombia is very good example, the middle class actually grows. We can start seeing less and less crime. It is a very direct link. As trade goes up, crime goes down and the economy starts to emerge and flourish. Colombia is a prime example of what can happen when trade and commercial activity is allowed to happen. It is very interesting to look at Colombia over the last 10 or 15 years and how trade has impacted it.
Chile has more trade agreements than Canada. Chile was very aggressive. We can see how Chile has progressed in the region compared to other countries in the region. It is because it has embraced that model to allow openness and to put in a good structure. Investment in Chile is a fairly secure investment.
Canadian companies are very active in Chile. This is what Honduras is looking for, and that is why I think the trade deal with Honduras is as much a social deal as it is a business deal. What it will do is provide opportunities for Canadian companies and Honduran companies to import and export products, to take advantage of each other's strengths, and to partner.
The benefit will be, and has to be, the people in Honduras, so they have good quality jobs to go to, so they can take care of their families, and so they do not have to look to crime and the negative aspects of society to make a living. That is where trade is very important, and it is just one piece of the puzzle.
When we go back to the ParlAmericas and the work we have been doing and the work I have had the pleasure to be involved with as chair, we can see the growth. We can see what is happening in the region. They are like-minded. They want to achieve. They want to do what is right for their citizens. They want to grow the economy. They want to have the things Canada has.
One thing I am told when I am down there is that they need more Canada in the region. They understand that Canada has the ability to bring people from different cultures together, to grab that strength of different cultures and utilize it. We have done a very good job of that. It fascinates them. They look at Canada and say that we have been so strong. We are punching above our weight and yet are so fair and decent. That is what they want.
When it comes to Canada and our role within the region, we should be very proud of what we have been doing and very proud of the minister. I know that he is going to be engaged in the region again in the next couple of weeks. He has been very active in the region in the past, and we need to see that continue. It is in our interest to see them succeed.
Hon. Mark Eyking (Sydney—Victoria, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to speak on this topic today. I am on the agriculture committee, but most of the committees I have been on since I was elected in 2000 have dealt with foreign affairs and trade. I remember the first time our trade committee went to South America and we saw all the changes that were made in South America, especially in Chile and Peru. All of it was because of trade agreements but also because of the involvement of the Organization of American States.
I also got to go with the foreign affairs committee, with many of my colleagues, to the OAS headquarters in Washington. I think Carnegie originally built the building for the Organization of American States with the intention of making the Americas more democratic and more prosperous as they were developing. The States were going through a good time in the early 1900s, but other parts of the Americas were not.
I think it is very important that the foreign affairs committee is embarking on this, and Canada should continue to negotiate reforms, because not everything is perfect there, especially with respect to who is contributing.
The committee is under no illusions about the novelty of these observations or about the difficulty of realizing reforms. Canada is only one of the 34 member states that participate in an organization that works by consensus. It does not matter if one pays more or less into it, it is by consensus, and that is difficult. The basic problems facing the OAS are well known. Some of them were mentioned today. Solutions have been proposed over the years from within and from outside the organization.
Decisions that inevitably involve trade-offs and financing or programming, or both, are not easy to reach. They are not easy to reach in any political forum, let alone in one representing millions of people from diverse countries that stretch from the North Pole to the South Pole. That is a lot of countries and a big area to cover, with many different languages and different ideologies.
The context has also changed since Canada joined. We joined the OAS in 1990. The emergence of the sub-regional blocs in the hemisphere and political divisions within the OAS are added complications, of course, in any efforts to address the organization's long-standing challenges.
However, the existence of the OAS since 1948, its body of concrete accomplishments, and its ability to adapt its work to changes that have taken place in the hemisphere since its founding are a testament to its value.
There is also evidence that the OAS is capable of being dynamic. Moreover, as a multilateral forum, the OAS has and can continue to provide space for dialogue and co-operation and the pooling of resources, expertise, and experiences, thus helping to establish conditions where compromise and shared purpose are possible. It has come a long way since the start, and other countries have joined.
When we were there, we talked to people in charge on the military side and in the different departments within it. Of course, they always talk about the money and that there is just not enough money to keep things going.
Sometimes different governments bring their ideologies to the table at the OAS, or one country does not want another to be there, which does not make it easy.
We have to hand it to the United States. It pays the lion's share, 49%, yet it tries its utmost not to be heavy-handed in a lot of the decisions.
I think there are all kinds of problems, but at the end of the day, it is a good organization.
I would like to talk about some of the recommendations that were put forward, because I think it is very important and a lot of work was done by the committee members to put this forward. I would like to start off with the first recommendation.
|| The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to support the OAS as the [number one] multilateral organization in the Western Hemisphere.
I think that is key. It is not only that we be involved but that we look at it as the number one organization.
We never know what can crop up in our sphere, in the Americas. The OAS could help with many of the situations that arise, especially in dealing with helping some of these countries get good governance. There is a mix there.
I know the Liberal Party is very in favour of the free trade agreements. They are not always perfect, but they are important. Governance is also important.
The second recommendation that comes into play is, “The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to push for reforms to strengthen the OAS with its like-minded partners through the OAS General Assembly and Permanent Council”. This is very important.
Part (a) of that recommendation is, “Return the organization's focus to its core areas of work, namely democratic governance, human rights, security and development”. In the many years it has been in existence, the organization has left its mandate and has taken on so many different things for the same amount of money, because the countries are giving the same amount of money. It has watered down many of its initiatives. This recommendation is very important in that it returns the organization to its intended focus.
For some of the other areas the OAS is in, other multilateral organizations could probably fit the bill for that. The United Nations and other organizations in the world probably could take care of some of the issues the OAS has taken on with its small budget. That has put it in jeopardy or, at the very least, put some stress on the system. It is important for it to go back to those recommendations, the core areas of democratic governance, human rights, security and development.
Recommendation 2(b) states, “Result in a substantial reduction in the number of existing OAS mandates, principally those that fall outside organizations' core areas of work”. Therefore, (a) and (b) go together because (a) focuses on certain areas. To do that, some others will have come off the table. That is why (b) goes very well with (a) because some will have to go. Hard decisions have to be made.
Recommendation 2(c) states, “Lead to a formula for increasing member states' assessed quotas to the OAS regular fund to a degree that is at minimum sufficient to cover annual inflationary and personnel costs”.
When we visited Washington, many good people were working in the organization. Many Canadians work there. These people come from other countries. It is not a cheap city to live in, so the costs go up. This recommendation is important because member states should pay their way. The Americans could just cut a cheque and pay the whole thing, but that does not make a good organization because then they would say that because they were paying the way, it should have the say. That does not work. It is very important that all countries pay into it because if they pay, they can come to the table. We are not happy with what is happening in Venezuela, but it is important that it pays into it because it will come to the table and we can discuss issues.
One of the key issues is who is paying and who has the say. It is very important. Once this is set up, 49% is a good number for Americans. They are the most dominant player in the Americas, but 49% means they cannot have the full say. The percentages are right, but everyone has to step up to the plate on the payment.
Recommendation 2(d) flows in with that. It states, “Encourage consideration of the proposal to reduce the United States' quote to 49% of the OAS regular fund, so long as doing so”, and this is important, “would not result in a reduction in the regular fund's total budget”. It wants to keep the United States to 49%, but others have to come to the plate. Over the years it was hard for many of these countries to pay the bills. Years ago, Brazil, Chile and Peru were not in good shape, so it was very difficult for them to come up with the cash. However, when we look at these countries now, they are doing fairly well.
Their economies are not totally booming, but a lot of the help from OAS have helped these countries become better democracies and participants, and their economies to be better. Therefore, they are in a position now where it is time to pay back. OAS has done well for those countries, so they should put a little more cash on the table, which would help other countries that are going through harder times. As was mentioned before, Honduras and other countries are still not where we would like them to be in the Americas hemisphere.
Recommendation (e) states, “Institute a process whereby new mandates cannot be added to the OAS' portfolio of work without funding sources being identified, accompanied by an analysis of the rationale for OAS action in the relevant area”. If we are to go through this whole rational process and getting some things off the table and if we are to keep our course, before we go down that path and make mistakes like we did over the years, we need to ensure the money is in hand. We need to ensure there is cash on the table before we put stress on the whole system again.
Then we go on to recommendation (f), which states, “Ensure that all reasonable OAS activities related to the promotion and protection of democratic governance and human rights are fully, consistently and predictably funded”.
When we look at the different recommendations, we can sum them up in various ways. First is to go back to the core mandate. Second is funding to fulfill our mandate. Third, if there is to be anything coming forth, the money has to be on the table.
I would like to talk a bit about my experience.
Hon. John Baird: Tell us about your vacation in Mexico.
Hon. Mark Eyking: My vacation was not in Mexico, Mr. Speaker.
I am sure the House wants to hear about my experiences in Central America because it started a long time ago when I was farming. I was a vegetable farmer and I was asked to go to Panama to help the farmers there. It is so fitting for this topic. It was in the early 1990s when Noriega got the boot and Panama was going through a major transformation. It had a big army. Also the Americans were pulling out of the Panama Canal and passing it over to Panama, but they were also pulling out their U.S. base there. The country was going through a major transformation and the government needed help restructuring. It went from an army with hundreds of thousands of people with guns and all of a sudden it would have a small security force similar to Costa Rica. Therefore, how was Panama going to develop and evolve?
The Panamanian government approached me to help the farmers in the northern region, and at that time it was quite chaotic up there. Most of the people were running around with guns. It was an area that was great for growing vegetables, but people were growing crops for drugs. However, the Panamanian people and I worked together and we brought in technology. I saw the first elections happen there. We brought in technologies for irrigation and growing conditions.
We saw a transformation, and OAS played a part in that. Meanwhile many of us were helping the country on the resource side, but also a new governance structure was put in place. Right now Panama is one of the fastest-growing countries in the Americas and one of the main reasons is the OAS stepped in there and helped it with its new constitution. The Panamanian government had a big challenge. It had to take over the Panama Canal. It lost all the money from the U.S. base, but the government turned it around, and OAS played a big role.
I have been returning every few years to check up with the farmers to see how they are doing, and they are doing fantastically. They have greenhouses. They are growing vegetables for the whole of Central America. It is not because a Cape Breton farmer went down there and helped them. It is because of the structure of their country.
People could invest. Farmers knew if they invested in their land and equipment, it would not be taken away because the rule of governance was there.
Mr. Charlie Angus: Five minutes, 54 seconds.
Hon. Mark Eyking: This is something the New Democrats should want to hear, Mr. Speaker. I do not know why they are trying to slow me down and cut me off.
I often commend their comments on the OAS. When I was at the OAS with them, I was amazed at the good input they had. They should let everybody have their say here.
The foreign affairs minister said that I was on vacation in Panama. Yes, I was at a hotel, but I went down to check on the farmers. I checked out what they were doing. It is amazing what they are growing there. Now they are starting to grow flowers, which they will be exporting, and the airports are booming. People who have any concerns about the OAS and how well our money is being spent should go to Panama and see the transformation that has happened within 20 years. It is an economic miracle. It is like the miracle we saw in Europe when it went through the Marshall Plan. It is where there is ownership of property and rules of governance, and all these things come together. Then people have faith and they invest.
I will now talk about some of the countries in the OAS. I am sure many of my colleagues know about them. I will go through them alphabetically.
There are Argentina and Antigua. I have some of the numbers on how much money they are contributing. They are not big dollars: Argentina, almost $2 million; Barbados, $36,000; the Bahamas, $50,000; Bolivia, $40,000. Even these four or five countries are doing a little better and they should up the ante a bit. Barbados is doing quite well now.
Brazil is not doing badly. It is putting $8 million on the table. Canada is putting almost $10 million on the table. When we look at that comparison, Brazil has a couple of hundred million people and we have 30-some million. For us to come up with $10 million, we are doing our share, when we look at the total budget. I know Brazil is $8 million and some are only $100,000, but for a country that size, having these other countries around that have good governance and good structures in place is important.
Chile puts a $1 million on the table. That could be up a bit, too. Colombia is $800,000. Costa Rica is $180,000. That country sells that amount in bananas to us in one week. There is no reason why it could not come to the plate with a little more. The Dominican Republic is $290,000 and Ecuador is $200,000. I am sure the Canadian public wants to hear this. Canadians want to know how much everybody else is paying. It is very important because we are paying $10 million.
I will go down the list: Grenada, $17,000; Guatemala, $137,000; Guyana, $17,900. Then there is poor little Haiti. I know it is going through a hard time. One would ask why Haiti should even pay, because it is going through such a hard economic time, but it is paying $27,000. It is very important that Haiti pays that money. Why? Because it then has a voice at the table. It is a country that is going through the most difficult time in the Americas right now and it is very important that it has a representative at the table, so it is paying some money.
Mexico is $6 million and St. Kitts is $20,000. The United States is where the money comes from. It pays $48 million. I am guessing it is a total of about $100 million needed to run this organization. A hundred million dollars is a lot of money, but it is very important money. All the countries in the Americas have to up the ante a bit to make this better because it is good for those countries and democracy. We should think about what would have happened with the Americas if we did not have the OAS.
Hon. John Baird (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):
[Member spoke in Spanish as follows:]
Muchas gracias, señor Presidente.
No hablo mucho español. Aprendí español en la escuela.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the chance to join this debate on the Organization of American States and the great work that the foreign affairs committee did in its report.
Obviously the OAS is the hemisphere's foremost institution, and Canada has made the OAS a significant priority.
I am so pleased to hear my colleague from Cape Breton, who is a good fellow, speak about his admiration and respect for the OAS. We remember that Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal Party did not want Canada to be part of the Organization of American States. In fact, Brian Mulroney and the Conservatives were in government in 1990 when Canada joined the Organization of American States. It is another example of the strong leadership of the Mulroney government, and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development served very capably and ably in that organization.
We are tremendously engaged in this organization. Our engagement is real and it is significant. I want to pay tribute to the member for Calgary—Nose Hill. As Minister of State for the Americas, she led Canada's engagement with the Organization of American States. We can be very proud of the work she did, whether in promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, the issue of security, or combatting crime, which has been a priority.
We have established many partnerships with countries in the Organization of American States through which we have worked with a third country. For example, Canada worked with Chile on some security projects in Central America. We work right now with Brazil on security issues and policing in Haiti. The organization has been very good for Canada.
I will depart later today on a trip that will take me to the annual meeting of the Organization of American States, which will take place in Paraguay. We will be discussing the salient issues of the day. I will also visit Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Bolivia is a country in which we have done a lot development assistance to try to improve the standard of living for people there.
Obviously trade has been a priority for us, because we want to see economic growth, and not just in Canada. We want the same for all people in the Americas. We want prosperity so that people can provide for themselves and provide for their families.
We have some of the strongest and most capable ambassadors in the Americas. We have Gary Doer in Washington. He has done an outstanding job for Canada and is undoubtedly one of our very best. We have great ambassadors in Brazil, in Argentina, in Peru. A lot of women play strong roles for Canada as our ambassadors there.
I am so keen to strengthen our bilateral relations with the OAS and member countries that I want to get back to work to do that, so I move:
|| That the debate be now adjourned.