House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was taiwan.

Topics

Question No. 199
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 199
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 39(5) to inform the House that the matter of the failure of the ministry to respond to the following questions on the Order Paper is deemed referred to several standing committees of the House as follows: Question No. 197 standing in the name of the hon. member for Lethbridge to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade; Question No. 204 standing in the name of the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

May 26th, 2003 / 3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has received several requests for an emergency debate. In consecutive order, the first was from the right hon. member for Calgary Centre. Accordingly, I will now hear from him on this subject.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is an application under Standing Order 52 for you to grant permission for the House to debate a matter that merits immediate and special consideration by the House of Commons. I am referring to the discovery of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE, in a cow in Alberta. This has resulted in the banning of importation of Canadian beef by the United States and a number of other countries.

International trade and food safety fall within the jurisdiction of the Government of Canada. The beef industry is a major contributor to the Canadian economy and to our balance of payments. Canadians have faith in our national food safety procedures.

A special debate will provide the government with the opportunity to inform the House of all the steps it has taken and will take to maintain and protect the integrity of our trade and ensure food safety, as well as advise the House of the measures it intends to adopt to reassure our trade partners so as to promote the re-opening of our international markets.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your consideration of this request.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has carefully considered the request from the right hon. member for Calgary Centre and the numerous other requests on the same subject that came from other hon. members. Accordingly, I conclude that this matter is a matter of some urgency and a debate will therefore be held later this day at the conclusion of the proceedings at roughly 6:30 p.m.

Since the other requests were all on the same subject, I need not hear at this time from the hon. members who made them. They can go on at length during the debate later this evening.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand to support the resolution put forth by the Alliance Party.

The people of Taiwan, through their Canadian representatives, have been asking all parties to support their request for observer status at the World Health Organization. As the day progresses, Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find within all parties support for that request, and in fact I would think perhaps on this side collectively, unanimous support for that request. Certainly within the governing party you will find a number of individuals who are solid in their support for making sure that Taiwan does receive observer status.

The resolution itself, for the record, states:

That this House, acknowledging that health issues transcend political borders as seen with the recent outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), express its support--

All that is being asked for is support from the House. It continues:

--for the admission of Taiwan as an Observer to the World Health Organization and call upon the government to actively urge other member states and non-governmental organizations to support this goal.

Most people in this hon. House are very familiar with Taiwan. When we look at the fact that many other countries, much smaller, less populated, less productive and much smaller contributors to the world's economic scale, are members of the World Health Organization or have observer status, it seems there should be no reason at all why Taiwan would not be granted the same status and why we collectively here in the House should not support such a status.

All countries that are members of the United Nations may become members of the World Health Organization by accepting its constitution. Other countries may be admitted as members when their application has been approved by a simple majority vote of the World Health Assembly. Territories that are not responsible for the conduct of their international relations may be admitted as associate members when an application is made on their behalf by the member or other authority responsible for their international relations. Members of the World Health Organization are grouped according to regional distribution.

In 1996, Taiwan held its first direct presidential election. Although Taiwan was a charter member of the World Health Organization because it is a United Nations organization, Taiwan has been barred from participating in World Health Organization activities since 1972 when it lost its seat at the UN. With a population of 21 million, not a lot less than that of our own country of Canada, Taiwan is 14th in the world in trade, 12th in foreign investment and possesses the second highest foreign currency deposits in the world. It is a nation that contributes so significantly to world affairs and yet it has to fight to obtain observer status at the World Health Organization, which I believe is very unfair.

Taiwan has been trying for several years to gain observer status at the World Health Organization. This is supported by the United States. The United States House of Representatives most recently passed a bill, on March 11 of this year, supporting Taiwan's bid to participate as an observer at the World Health Organization. We see, then, that the United States is in support of its application.

Taiwan has a population larger than those of 148 member states of the United Nations. Further, Taiwan's population is equal to the sum of the 50 least populated member countries of the United Nations. It has been suggested that restricting Taiwan's being granted observer status is in direct violation of the universality principle expressed in the World Health Organization convention.

Taiwan's request is not without precedent. There are currently 30 different countries that have been granted observer status, and one ongoing organization, the Holy See or the Vatican. The PLO was also granted observer status in 1974, as was the Order of Malta in the 1950s.

The international community does not consider Taiwan a country, which, I might add and I am sure I have a lot of support in adding, is very unfortunate. Therefore, in order to be granted an associate membership it would be necessary for China to make an application on Taiwan's behalf. The likelihood of this happening is extremely remote given the present-day relationship between China and Taiwan, which we hope will improve. We have seen some improvements and I think a lot of the credit should go to the leadership shown by Taiwan.

The World Health Organization has issued a travel advisory for all of Taiwan in light of the new cases of SARS. Just today we heard that 72 deaths, I believe, have occurred in Taiwan. Over just the last few weeks alone, as of May 17, Taiwan's situation had worsened to the point of 274 reported cases and 35 deaths. A few days later on May 20, the situation had increased to 383, over 100 cases in three days and 52 deaths. Two days later on May 22, the situation had increased again to 483 cases, an increase of 100 in two days and 60 deaths. I understand now it is 72 deaths and certainly more reported cases.

When we see that SARS in particular, which is a real challenge to the medical world and to the world generally, is becoming so devastating to Taiwan and when we see the research capabilities in the medical field of a country such as Taiwan, what a tremendous contribution this country could play as an observer, or actually we would hope a full member eventually but certainly as an observer in this case, to the World Health Organization.

We could go on and laud Taiwan for how far it has come, for its tremendous contribution to the world and for its ability to make a contribution, not to the world generally, not to the world just economically, not to the world in relation to innovation, but certainly also in the medical field. It is certainly with pleasure, as I have said, that we support this resolution. We ask all members in the House to support the resolution, because in light of the support Taiwan has received, including that of our friends and neighbours to the south, the United States, it would be great if we would make acceptance of this resolution unanimous.

Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to enter the debate and for once, as the member for Halifax and as the spokesperson for the New Democratic Party, to enthusiastically support and embrace an opposition motion introduced by the Canadian Alliance.

Before I turn to the substance of the motion, I just want to take a moment to congratulate those members on the government benches who, in defiance of their own government's position on the issue, have had the courage, foresight and frankly the guts to be openly critical of that position. They obviously have done their homework and recognize the hypocrisy involved. They recognize how dangerous it is for the Canadian government not to understand that if there were already reasons to support Taiwan's longstanding bid for observer status at the World Health Organization, there are even more compelling reasons today. This has been illustrated by the SARS crisis and the unacceptable manner in which Taiwan has been treated by the World Health Organization and, unfortunately, quite clearly in response to the heavy-handedness and the highly political way in which Taiwan has been dealt with by the Chinese government.

I say, not really meaning with tongue in cheek, I welcome the fact that the Canadian Alliance for once has introduced a motion which the NDP finds it can to support. As was pointed out in discussion already, this motion is practically identical to a motion already put before the foreign affairs and international trade committee where it was evident, by a vote of four to one, that the overwhelming majority of committee members did see the wisdom of the position of advocating for Taiwan observer status with the WHO.

In fact it was quite clear at that foreign affairs committee that individual members had fully apprised themselves of what the facts and figures were, what any possible gaps in understanding about this meant, what the precedents were and why this was a sensible, acceptable bid for observer status which was utterly supportable and so on. Of course that was done with very extensive homework, and I congratulate the Taiwanese representative and staff here in Ottawa in having ensured that they provided extensive background information and a basis on which we could further do our research.

I wondered for a moment or two, when I saw the Canadian Alliance champion this issue, whether this was the dawning of a new day in Parliament. I do not want to get carried away with this but there are not very many occasions on which Canadian Alliance decides to take up and support a position that the New Democratic Party has been advocating for some time. A careful reading of the resolution indicates that it is almost verbatim based on a resolution introduced by my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas, the then foreign affairs critic and now the health critic of the New Democratic Party, who put forward such a motion, I think on October 21, 2002.

I say it is almost identical. The motion put forward by the Burnaby--Douglas member was a slightly more progressive and more action oriented resolution. In addition to calling for the Canadian government to support observer status for Taiwan with the World Health Organization, it went on to propose a bit of an action plan. In other words, it not only called upon the Government of Canada and all parliamentarians to support the principal of observer status by Taiwan, it also set out how to try to move that principle forward and how to put it into practice by calling for the establishment of a UN working group.

I quote directly from the previous motion introduced by the member for Burnaby—Douglas. It states to establish:

--a UN working group to facilitate Taiwan's effective participation in the WHO, reaping benefits for both the international community and the Taiwanese through shared knowledge and equality of access to health care information.

I listened to the official government line in expressing opposition to this motion. It was very disappointing to hear how, in my view, both misguided and misinformed the government's official position was.

First, there is the contention that this just simply is not possible to accommodate within the existing WHO structure. That simply is not true. Strong evidence exists to support the Taiwanese participation in the WHO and there are past precedents for admission to the WHO that pave the way for this observer status to be accorded to Taiwan. The Holy See, the International Red Cross, the Order of Malta, the Cook Islands, Rotary International and the PLO have been pointed out, despite their lack of status as sovereign states. Therefore it is simply not true that because Taiwan is not recognized as a sovereign state, it therefore somehow cannot be accommodated as an observer with the WHO.

Second, the government knows perfectly well that in its current status, not fully recognized as a sovereign state, this government and other governments saw fit to make room for Taiwan to be a participant in the WTO. I have to wonder, and I hope this is not true but I think it raises the question in people's minds, whether with this government trade considerations in fact trump health considerations. However when it comes down to something as fundamentally important as addressing literally global health concerns, the government is so caught up in the politics of the situation it is not prepared to put health first.

Third, the claim has been made that really Taiwan now has full access to the information it needs from the WHO, full access to the services of the WHO, and so what is the problem? It is just some kind of symbolic thing being pursued here that somehow Taiwan is just trying to push the political envelope and make a step further in the direction of achieving sovereign state status. I think this is simply not true.

The pitch has been made again and again by representative Thomas Chen that it is fundamentally a health issue, not a political issue. It surely has to be recognized that if the states of the European Union can recognize the bid for observer status of Taiwan, if Japan can recognize that bid, and for heaven's sake, even the United States can recognize the bid for Taiwan to have observer status at the WHO, this is not asking Canada to do something that is trail-blazing and thumbing its nose at important structures and precedents. The opposite is the case.

The fact of the matter is, we heard the parliamentary secretary stand up here today and say that there had been no difficulties with respect to Taiwan's full access to WHO information and services as a result of not having observer status. That is simply not true. The record is extremely worrisome. When we are dealing with a major epidemic that has potential to become a pandemic, as SARS does, we know that time is of the essence and that an appropriate sense of urgency is imperative. We also know there were severe impediments placed in the way of Taiwan's concern in dealing with the SARS epidemic, being blocked by the Chinese government.

This is not only a health threat and a violation of the health rights of the Taiwanese people, this is literally a danger to the world. As has been put forward again and again, when one is talking about the increased mobility of the population of this world and the obvious mobility of disease entities, viruses, bacteria and so on, then what one is talking about is a situation that needs to engage all parts of the world and as many participants as possible in addressing these issues and ensuring that prevention and early intervention are the most important things to be recognized.

The story has been told again and again. I know there is no government member who is not aware, far from having full access to the WHO through other agencies without now being a member of the WHO, that Taiwan discovered, in the context of the SARS outbreak, that the information was not forthcoming and that extraordinary barriers were put in the way. Taiwan was deprived of direct assistance not just from China but actually from the WHO itself at a critical stage as it tried to move to deal with the threat of the SARS crisis.

I know government members will say that has been remedied, that after those early signs of blockages, delays and withholding of information steps were taken by the Chinese government and by the WHO to address this worrisome situation. That is not good enough when we know perfectly well that early intervention and all possible measures being taken are what absolutely have to be supported from day one.

I could do no better in wrapping up the statement of support of the New Democratic Party for observer status for Taiwan than to refer directly to the words of the Taiwanese representative, who so ably leads the Taipei economic and cultural office in Canada, Thomas Chen. He has been very conscientious and thorough in addressing all aspects of this issue. In making the case for Taiwan's recognition as an observer at the WTO, he reminds us that diseases have no respect for national boundaries. That should seem obvious, but it seems as though it has not been possible to persuade the Canadian government that is precisely why we cannot get sidelined or caught up in internal political debates when we are dealing with major health issues.

Representative Chen goes on to say that Taiwan registers over 10 million outbound and inbound travellers each year. Over 150,000 Taiwanese come to Canada annually and over 15,000 Taiwanese students attend Canadian schools at any time of the year. With these increasing contacts among the world's nations, to exclude Taiwan from the WHO system can cause serious health issues for the entire world, and to state the obvious, especially for Canada given the amount of interaction and interchange that we are privileged to have between Canada and Taiwan these days.

The tremendous danger that Taiwan's exclusion from the WHO poses is most obviously seen and underscored by the SARS outbreak. Because China chose to politicize the issue, the WHO in turn refused to send needed assistance until beyond the early intervention dates that were desperately important to meet, missing the opportunity to contain Taiwan's outbreak at the earliest stages possible. As well, the WHA has denied Taiwan's bid to be an observer in this year's assembly. However, Taiwan will continue to seek support for this goal.

As has already been mentioned, 161 members of this Parliament have already signed a petition calling for the Canadian government to recognize and support this and not just to say the words. As one government member had the courage to stand up and say here today, it asks the Canadian government not just to talk the talk, but to walk the walk when it comes to saying we are genuinely committed to doing everything possible in the world community to address health issues and to contain diseases in the most effective and expedient way.

Those 161 parliamentarians have done their homework on this issue and understand why this is a policy whose time has come. Surely as a result of this debate today and the further arguments put forward, the Government of Canada could listen, if not to the official opposition, if not to all the members on the opposition side who have overwhelmingly supported this position, perhaps the government could at least listen to its own backbench members. They have made it very clear that the arguments are cogent and supportable and that it is irresponsible for Canada to continue to put its head in the sand and not be prepared to support a bid that has been so widely supported by many other nations around the world and by the majority of members of Parliament.

Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Madam Speaker, I have been a member of this House for almost ten years now, and I have not congratulated the official opposition very often. However, I am pleased to do so because today's debate is one that reaches far beyond Canadian society, far beyond nations.

One year ago, my colleague, the member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, tabled a petition in the House with the following wording:

The petitioners are asking the government to support Taiwan's legitimate request to be admitted as an observer at the annual general meeting of the World Health Organization... The fact that Taiwan is an important tourism and business destination that receives 10 million travellers a year makes it more vulnerable to epidemics.

The current SARS epidemic is only the tip of the iceberg. With populations being so mobile, diseases that have been unheard of until now will develop and be transmitted.

Are Canadians more responsible for health than the Taiwanese? I do not think so. Are Canadians more competent than the Taiwanese when it comes to health? I do not think so. Are Canadians more responsible than the Taiwanese in fulfilling their responsibilities? I do not think so.

Incidentally, as far as responsibilities, China is a member in good standing of the World Health Organization and the United Nations. There are questions about China's sense of responsibility in this whole SARS incident, given that it took China nearly four months to issue a statement.

I wanted to ask my colleague from Halifax if she could give us a good reason and a good justification for refusing to insist that we exercise normal, sensible, responsible and reasonable pressure for Taiwan to be granted observer status with the World Health Organization.

Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I welcome this question but I am sort of speechless. I have listened carefully to the reasons and excuses given by the government spokespersons of the official line and I have been left scratching my head. I cannot for the life of me grasp why it is that the government is digging in its heels and is not prepared to understand that granting observer status to Taiwan would be in the interests not only of the health of the Taiwanese but literally in the interests of the health of people around the world.

The government can stick its head in the sand if it wants and say why cannot Taiwan just solve this problem internally, that when the People's Republic of China will not give timely information or will not allow for full participation by Taiwan in putting its needs and interests forward, then why can they not just solve that problem? The reality is that while the problem continues, there can be huge health hazards to the people of Taiwan and as we know, illustrated by the SARS crisis, health hazards literally to people around the world. If anyone thinks that does not mean Canada, then just stop and think a moment about the SARS crisis.

I am with the member in being really stymied in trying to understand the basis of the position the government has taken. It is not a practical one. In my view it is not a responsible one. There are enough precedents where observer status has been accorded to others which are clearly not sovereign states that one does not have to be concerned about this being politically provocative.

If the concern is that the People's Republic of China is going to in some way take some kind of retaliatory action toward Canada because it construes it as a political gesture, then Canada should have the backbone to stand up and say that is not what it is, that there are other compelling reasons for doing it. It should take some leadership in trying to persuade the People's Republic of China as to why this is a reasonable and responsible measure.

Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Barrie—Simcoe—Bradford
Ontario

Liberal

Aileen Carroll Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, there are so many comments I would like to make but as ever, we are constrained by time. It is indeed too bad that the hon. member for Halifax was not in the House at the time that our minister spoke on this. She would have been able to apprise herself of the knowledge that the government of the republic of China--Taiwan is the name of the island and not of the government--has received all that anyone who is a member of the WHO or an observer, to discuss that in detail later, could possibly receive.

To put this in a perspective that I think she is failing to admit to, though deep down I think she knows it is the driving motivation here, may I quote Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council in today's Globe and Mail who said that the Chinese communists should keep the medical supplies on the mainland and that if the Chinese authorities are really concerned about the Taiwanese, they should no longer interfere with Taiwan's attempts to participate in the WHO or other international organizations.

I wonder if the hon. member for Halifax could interpret for me the reference to other international organizations, or do those too relate only to the public health and safety of the people of Taiwan?

Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Before I allow the hon. member to answer, there is a point of order by the deputy leader of the government.

Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Simcoe North
Ontario

Liberal

Paul Devillers Secretary of State (Amateur Sport) and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I believe that you will find consent for the following order:

That, at the conclusion of the debate on today's opposition motion, all questions necessary to dispose of the motion be deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, May 27, 2003, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions.

Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is that agreed?

Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.