Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, I am pleased to be asked to testify before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
For a number of years, I have worked in many countries around the world providing technical assistance to parliamentary committees of emerging democracies. Today I do not intend to renounce the work I have done overseas for many years. I was selected as president of Rights and Democracy following a public call for applications at the end of an open and transparent selection process. I believe I have the necessary experience to hold this position.
I worked for 19 years in international development, including more than seven years for the National Democratic Institute. NDI is, of course, an American institution led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. It has a mandate similar to the mandate of Rights and Democracy, with a budget of more than $100 million; I would say it's $120 million. I occupied senior positions in North Africa and in Haiti. Overall I have worked in 14 countries for NDI, including seven where Rights and Democracy has programs.
I was also Quebec's delegate general to Mexico and Brussels. I know the machinery of government and international diplomacy. I am trilingual, a lawyer by training, and I know the law.
My work in the field has also been a humanly enriching life experience. I have experienced the oppressive surveillance of security services in certain African countries by contacting journalists and dissidents courageously exercising their freedom of expression. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I prepared party leaders and organized a public debate with them on the future of their country in an area that had been devastated by civil war.
In Baghdad, I witnessed a terrorist act when a hotel exploded before my eyes. I was there to provide assistance in designing the structure of the Iraqi parliament.
On January 12 of this year, I was in Port-au-Prince during the earthquake. I subsequently delayed taking up my position at Rights and Democracy in order to return to Haiti for a number of weeks. I had a moral obligation to go and put in place an aid program for our employees and to redirect our programs, particularly to support the civil society associations supporting women who had been abused in the camps for earthquake victims.
I have been in my position for a number of days now, and I have already met with certain employees and the union. I have also started to meet with employees one by one.
I am convinced that they have the best interests of the organization at heart. I personally witnessed the professionalism of their work on the ground when I was with NDI, whether it was in Morocco, Mauritania, or Haiti. My conversations with the staff have demonstrated to me that Rights and Democracy has developed some innovative niches of expertise, for example in supporting independent media and citizen journalism in Burma, Zimbabwe, and Egypt.
I have also met many members of the board of directors, who play an essential role in setting the policy direction of their organization and in the oversight of Rights and Democracy. I am convinced that they are dedicated to the mandate of Rights and Democracy.
I have not yet completed my due diligence work. I have been there for barely 15 days. I would nevertheless like to give you some personal reflections on my vision and some of the principles that should frame our actions.
Rights and Democracy belongs to a class of federal institutions called shared governance corporations. The centre is an agency that is publicly accountable for its activities to Parliament and the government and that, at the same time, enjoys considerable independence from the federal government in conducting its activities and carrying out its mission under its constituent act. It is not an NGO.
The enabling legislation for the centre obliges the board of directors to have knowledge of Canadian foreign policy. The activities of the centre must conform to the major principles of Canadian foreign policy and the objectives of our program of aid and development. That was the declaration of the minister at the time when he tabled Bill C-147. Program activities and funding of the centre must not come into contradiction with Canadian foreign policy, no matter which party is in power. Foreign policy is the prerogative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister; the programs of Rights and Democracy are the prerogative of Rights and Democracy. Its programs should give effect to the rights and freedoms enshrined in the International Bill of Rights.
As is clearly stated in its constituent act, the centre's mission is to initiate, encourage and support cooperation between Canada and other countries in the promotion, development and strengthening of democratic and human rights institutions and programs that give effect to the rights and freedoms enshrined in the International Bill of Human Rights. The act states that the major object of the centre is to help reduce the wide gap that sometimes exists between the formal adherence of states to international human rights agreements and the actual human rights practices of those states. My experience has shown me that it is, in particular, through programs in the field, designed to address identified problems in a strategic manner that development assistance can be most effective.
The international community, in particular through the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action have made aid effectiveness and evaluation of the aid results a priority objective. It is also a priority for CIDA. In short, decisions on the centre's programs, activities and grants must aim to achieve measurable results, in accordance with best practices, for the improvement of democratic practices and human rights in selected countries.
Allow me to repeat that in English to give it the clarity and emphasis it deserves. Going forward, all decisions on programs, activities, and funding must be based on measurable results reflecting best practices for improving democratic principles of human rights in respective countries.
I also believe that Rights and Democracy's programming must respect the balance between democratic development and human rights. However, democratic development and human rights are intimately connected. The strengthening of democratic institutions is an essential factor in improving the human rights practices of states. Greater emphasis will have to be placed on the development and reinforcement of institutions and democratic processes.
The mission of the centre is extensive. The strategic plan of 2010-2015, approved by the board and developed by the staff through a consultative process, is very ambitious. However, the resources of the centre are limited. We will need to diversify our funding in order to achieve a growth of our financial means. Our core funding from the Government of Canada is $9.2 million. The funding per project, such as those in Afghanistan and Haiti, is around $3 million per year. This year our growth should mainly come from developing more projects, not through core funding. Rights and Democracy is also a charitable organization. Last year we raised only $17,000 from private sources. We can, and we must, do better.
I must admit I have taken up my position at a time when the organization is going through a major governance problem. Under the Parliament of Canada Act, your act, the board of directors must set direction and orientations. The employees and I, as president, must work to implement programming consistent with that direction. That must be clear for everyone.
I am also aware that the management of resources and labour relations is a major challenge. This issue is moreover central to the dispute. Rights and Democracy cannot achieve its objectives and effectively implement its five-year plan unless coherence is restored to the institution and the working atmosphere is improved. I will need positive cooperation from everybody in order to achieve that.
The priority must be to restore coherence in this organization. We can very well wonder how long taxpayers will agree to pay for an organization that is tearing itself apart in public, here in Canada, whereas it should be focusing its efforts on promoting democratic values around the world.
That said, what is done is done. I'm not going to rewrite history. We must now, all of us together, turn the page and build a better future. I am convinced this is possible, if we all focus on the promotion and defence of the universal values that are central to Rights and Democracy's mandate, values that are shared by all Canadians and historically by all our governments, regardless of political party.
Thank you very much. I am prepared to answer all your questions.