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Evidence of meeting #26 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 microfinance.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Wendy Hannam  Executive Vice-President, Sales and Service, Products and Marketing, International Banking, Scotiabank
Morris Rosenberg  Deputy Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the Minister of State and, in particular, Minister Baird who is appearing for the second time before our committee. It is always a pleasure to welcome you here.

I am wondering if you will be able to stay with us for a full hour.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

We are always available for you, Ms. Laverdière.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

That is wonderful.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

We are always at your disposal.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Thank you very much.

Minister Baird, the situation in Syria is clearly getting worse and worse, by the hour in fact. I want to know if you have followed up with China on this issue.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Listen, we are deeply engaged with the whole situation in Syria.

I'm reluctant to talk about private discussions that we have among diplomats, but let me say this. We are deeply concerned about the violence in Syria. We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis on the ground. We are doing everything we can to work with our international partners, be it the Arab League or our NATO allies—the United Kingdom, the United States, and others in the European Union—to try to do everything we can to address both—

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

I understand we didn't specifically follow up with China or Russia to put pressure on those two countries.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

We have put pressure on both counties in this regard. With respect to Russia, I have had long discussions with my Russian counterpart about this issue and their lack of support for a resolution at the Security Council.

With respect to China, I think we have tried to say, “Listen, this is in your strategic interests. If the Strait of Hormuz is mined, that's bad for the Chinese economy. If there is a military strike, that would create instability. That's bad for the Chinese economy. If oil went to $150 a barrel, that's bad for the Chinese economy.”

We have been quite aggressive on that front as well. China obviously has a significant amount of political influence, and because of its commercial ties....

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Absolutely.

Thank you, Mr. Minister. Although those arguments work well, particularly with regard to Iran, my preoccupation was more with Syria.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Sorry. I apologize.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

No problem.

Minister, you will soon be introducing legislation to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. We know this is an important piece of legislation because the convention itself is extremely important. It is estimated that close to 98% of victims of cluster munitions are civilians, and often women and children.

Can you tell us when this legislation to ratify the convention will be introduced?

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

The treaty entitled Convention on Cluster Munitions was introduced in the House in mid-February. By the end of the 30-day time limit, we will be ready to introduce the bill in the House to adopt the convention.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Okay.

And—

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Let me say right away that it would be appreciated if this legislation could be debated very quickly at second reading so it can be sent to this committee for all members to have a good debate. I would be willing to come back to talk to you about the legislation, if possible, of course.

March 12th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

We would welcome that. We think it's important to have a thorough discussion of the proposed legislation.

We are quite preoccupied with what the legislation will do. Canada's lead negotiator on this treaty resigned from the department last year in protest of the government's plans. We know that a lot of allies within NATO are working very hard to ensure that the provisions of their legislation are very stringent. Are we going to have very stringent provisions too, or will the legislation introduce loopholes for interoperability that will water down the convention?

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

We have to recognize that all states are sovereign and that the legislation will define implementation measures applicable to the Canadian Forces under our command. If other countries have a different position, that is of course their decision, even though we want all countries to support the convention. If Canadian soldiers are under a joint command, it would be more difficult to impose on another sovereign country restrictions contained in Canadian legislation. Similarly, other countries cannot impose their restrictions on Canada.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

I fully agree with you. However, this is the situation faced by many other countries. Can we expect the Canadian legislation to be as narrow in what it allows and prohibits as the provisions of a country like France, which is also a signatory of the convention?

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I did not see the French bill, but I hope the committee will have access to the legislation in the weeks and months ahead and will be able to study its content.

I have to stress that we have sovereignty in everything related to our Canadian Forces. However, it would be difficult to draft a bill that would require another country to obey our rules. Of course, there are many exchanges. When Canadian soldiers are on a mission with forces from another country, we cannot require others to apply our rules.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Thank you.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We'll now move to the government side.

Mr. Williamson, you have seven minutes.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you very much.

Minister Baird, it's good to see you. It's good to see you both.

Minister Baird, you recently ordered that Canada's embassy in Syria be closed and that all Canadian diplomats be brought home. Until now, under tough circumstances, Canada has maintained its diplomatic presence in the country to monitor developments on the ground.

Can you explain to the committee how Canada will now proceed?

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I did not want to close the mission. I felt very strongly about that. It was our eyes and ears on the ground as to what was happening in the country. Our Canadian team there was able to meet and discuss, with many Syrians, the declining human rights situation, the declining security situation. At some point, though, it became a real concern about their safety and we had to make a difficult decision. So we very quickly wound down the mission.

We haven't cut off diplomatic relations. The office is closed, but the Hungarians are looking after our interests there.

We were very clear, though, repeatedly, over a good number of months, in telling Canadians that they should get out. We did the voluntary evacuation. I think on more than 12 occasions we made appeals for Canadian citizens to leave the country. A significant number of them are dual nationals and chose to stay, but it's obviously a challenging situation, and people have to assume personal responsibility for their decisions.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Are you concerned going forward about Canada's ability to assess the situation on the ground in Syria?

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I think we can continue to do it with others. We're supporting, for example, the joint UN-Arab League mission, headed by Kofi Annan. We're providing some financial support to it.

Earlier today I spoke with the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, who just returned, not just from Syria but from refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey. I spoke with her and got her personal assessment of things on the ground and the humanitarian situation there.

We'll have to do it differently. Our Canadian diplomats were not allowed to go to Homs or Baba Amr, for example, so we'll have to find alternative sources to inform our decisions.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you.

Turning to the domestic side, I was pleased to see your department has not been excluded from the deficit reduction measures the government is going to table at the end of the month. But on a kind of positive note that I think will please a lot of Canadians, I understand the government is looking at moving from a five-year passport to a ten-year passport. That's being explored now.

Can you tell us a little bit about this move and specifically when we might be in a position to deal with the passport office on a decade basis, as opposed to every five years?