Evidence of meeting #5 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was policy.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Roxanne Dubé  Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  • Alain Tellier  Director, Treaty Law Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  • Isabelle Martin  Deputy Chief of Protocol and Director, Diplomatic Corps Services, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you.

All right. We're going to start our second round with Mr. Goldring for five minutes, and I think we'll have time for Madame Laverdière to finish up.

Mr. Goldring.

October 6th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you very much for appearing here today.

I'm looking at some of the points here that are being discussed and at the suggestion that it could lead to the election of candidates who would be perceived as representing fellow Canadian citizens in a foreign elected assembly. But would not the major concern, the overarching concern, be that by Canada consenting to or acknowledging or authorizing, it's giving authority to the structure of the constituencies, and thereby if somebody is elected in a foreign government to represent the constituency, would not Canada then be giving authority for them to represent the Government of Canada?

There are extensions on here that...you're giving an awful lot of acknowledgement to a formal structure. If you do have a member of the foreign government who is elected through this process and he is a part of that foreign government but he is elected to represent the Canadian constituency and the Canadian government has authorized it, don't you see a bigger overarching problem there sovereignty-wise, as well as many other issues...?

10:30 a.m.

Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Roxanne Dubé

Yes. I think for us the issue here is that we think that elections involving voting districts that include Canadian territories should not be governed by foreign electoral law. We take issue with unilateral imposition of a law in our country that would provide for Canada and dual nationals in Canada to be represented into--

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Well, regardless what other countries are doing around the world, I would think that it behooves us to give this kind of careful attention to our sovereignty issues. Given that Canada really is the home of immigrants from around the world...virtually every country in the world has diasporas and people here in this country, and that literally could involve some 180 to 200 of these scenarios going on. I would be concerned here that by giving this authority you are giving away part of your sovereignty if push ever comes to shove.

Many of those who have come here in the diasporas from other countries come from particular political stripes, and for some of that, they're coming here because of difficulties in their country in the past. But there are large constituencies here of different political stripes that maybe could even prove to be embarrassing to Canada if it gave that official recognition to those political scenarios here in this country. Is that not an additional concern?

10:35 a.m.

Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Roxanne Dubé

Thank you for your question.

I would certainly put it the other way by saying that we're undertaking a lot of effort to build the Canadian identity, to build social cohesion, and to invite a de-integration of all Canadians. So it's a balancing act. While on the one hand we more than want to invite and recognize the opportunity for those nationals who are here permanently or temporarily to be able to exercise their votes in their countries of origin--that's the absentee ballot system--we at the same time think it is in our best national interest to continue to build an approach that fosters cohesion and clarity.

As you say, if you are representing a number of nationals in Canada, well, presumably those nationals, many of them of dual nationalities, would expect you in that parliament abroad to represent you. So it creates confusion.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

I think it's wonderful that we're inclusive and able to allow the voting here for the people, but to take the politics out of it.... To allow the access for the voting here, I certainly think that aids and helps democratic institutions around the world, but to put the Canadian stamp of approval on a political entity here, I would certainly agree with you that it would be hugely problematic.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Goldring.

We're going to finish up with Madame Laverdière.

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to come back to my first question. Unless I am mistaken, Ms. Dubé, you have an issue with the constituents of a foreign representative being able to reside in Canada. According to you, it is a matter of national identity, social cohesion and integration. Unless I am mistaken, that is your argument.

That said, I have always had a hard time understanding Canada's position when a country like the United States, for instance, has no problem in that regard. However, the U.S. is very protective of its sovereignty and has at least as many immigrants as Canada. A country like France, which takes its sovereignty very seriously, sees no issue with this. Germany has no problem with it. I am trying to understand what makes Canada so special. Why is Canada alone in maintaining this position?

I also want to come back to the question asked by my colleague. In Tunisia's case, we are talking about a constituent assembly and not a parliament or a government.

10:40 a.m.

Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Roxanne Dubé

Regarding the first point, simply put, the Canadian government feels it is in its national interest to not accept being part of a foreign electoral constituency. That is its policy. Other governments have their own policies. I would add that this issue is certainly different in a European context, for instance, where integration is very strong, and probably in the American context, where identity is perhaps different. However, I want to emphasize the fact that this is truly a Canadian policy.

As for Tunisia's specific situation, I do not want to get into any details. Let's just say that the constituent assembly we are talking about would have rather considerable powers, such as drawing up a constitution and probably passing legislation. That is very similar to the powers vested in the members of a national assembly.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Madame Ayala.

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala Honoré-Mercier, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

If a constituent assembly is formed, it may mean that the citizens living here for whatever reason—be they political refugees or other—will be able to participate when their country opens itself up to democracy. Some of them may decide to return to Tunisia, since that's the country they love. However, we are stopping them from doing so, and that worries me. Is there something behind that? Is Canada not trying to avoid conflicts with Tunisia's neighbours? Isn't that what's stopping us from allowing Tunisian citizens to vote so that they can have a democratic country? Afterwards, we will send the army to other conflicts. And there you have it! Let's allow the citizens to vote so they can have a democratic system. Those same citizens living here may return home because they will be happy to contribute to their country.

10:40 a.m.

Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Roxanne Dubé

Mr. Chair, I really want to clear up the misunderstanding with Ms. Ayala. The Canadian government truly wants Tunisian nationals, be they here temporarily or permanently, to be able to participate in the Tunisian democratic process.

However, the Canadian government expects foreign governments to respect Canadian laws and policies in terms of their activities on Canadian soil, in the same way we respect their laws on their soil. We are trying to find a solution that will enable the Tunisian government to adjust and that will help us properly explain the purpose of the existing policy.

As I was saying earlier, this is a policy that is widely understood and applied by all other diplomatic representatives in Canada at this time and that has not been problematic.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

I know that other people want to speak, but we're out of time and a next round would be going over our time.

I want to thank the officials for being here and for that clarification.

Now we're going to end the meeting. We'll have some further discussions at a later point in time. Thank you.

The meeting is adjourned.