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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

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Absolutely. There are consultations going on right now about that. The 10-year passport will be an option, and obviously that will be an option for adults, not for children. For children, the photo is already a bit of a stretch at five years.

It will also be an e-passport with a computer chip—an added security measure. Many other countries have done this. Canada has piloted the e-passport, and it has gone well.

We're in consultations about that, and I would hope we could begin it by the end of the year.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Let me say I applaud you for that. I applaud the government. I think it's a great, great change. It means we have to deal with the office on a decade basis, as they do in the United States currently, as opposed to dealing with it once every five years. That's a savings for Canadians, I think, and a savings of time as well. So good show on that.

Turning back to the foreign arena, last week you made your historic trip to Burma. I visited the country 10 years ago, for a number of weeks. Your trip, though, I believe was the first official visit by a Canadian foreign affairs minister. I'm really pleased to see Canada taking the lead in the international community and being a strong voice for democratic elements in Burma, or Myanmar, as it's officially known.

Can you describe your overall impression of your visit and why you believe engagement with this country is important?

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I think Canadians can be very proud both of the action we took in 1988 under the Mulroney government and of the action of Mr. Chrétien's government in 1997 to strengthen the sanctions. We do have the toughest sanctions in the world; I even had to give myself an exemption to be able to hand Aung San Suu Kyi her framed citizenship certificate, the sanctions are so tough.

I can tell you that last year we took the decision to exchange ambassadors to begin diplomatic relations. I don't think we could have appreciated that the situation would change this much in such a short period of time. I met my counterpart last July for the first time at the ASEAN post-ministerial forum, and I could never have imagined that in eight or nine months we'd see such a change.

Clearly, there are obviously big fights within the government in supporting reform and in supporting going in the right direction, versus those who don't want to see change. I think we have to support the reformers. I think we don't really have much of a choice, but I think the president has steered the country down a different path, as has the foreign minister, as has their Speaker of the Lower House, as has the minister for rail.

But as for the proof, while they've done a lot of good things, the big test will be the elections on April 1: are they free, fair, and transparent? We're not going to change any sanctions until we see the results of those byelections. I had a very good meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi and that was her strong advice. I strongly agree that it's the right thing to do. Having said that, I'll say that this is not a country with a history of anything like western-style liberal democracy. They will not be perfect. We should understand that. The question is, on balance, can we say they were decent? If they are, we're certainly prepared to review our sanctions and to begin to lift them if they continue to go in the right direction.

I have also offered to Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition groups that Canada would be very pleased to provide support in democratic development. We'd be very pleased to provide support to new members of Parliament who get elected. There's a new Parliament. It doesn't have a long history there, and I think anything we can do to support democratic development would be appreciated. That might involve bringing some of their members of Parliament here or sending experts in democratic development or members of Parliament there to provide them with support. She was very grateful for that.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

Mr. LeBlanc, sir, for seven minutes.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Ministers, and Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Patel, for being here.

Through you, Mr. Chair, to Minister Baird, I think when you were last here, Minister, I asked you about the START program, the stabilization and reconstruction task force, that your department has. It has been in effect for about seven years, I think. It started in 2005.

On the website of your department, in one of the interesting things about the START mission, it talks about how its mission is to “plan and deliver coherent, effective conflict prevention, crisis response, post conflict peacebuilding...and stabilization initiatives....” I would think this would be an ideal program to engage Canada in Libya in sort of a post-conflict capacity building context. Libya clearly has not had functioning democratic institutions for decades: things like a judicial system and some of the challenges in Burma that you have spoken about.

I'm wondering if generally you think the START program has been useful since you've been at the head of the department. Do you anticipate renewing it? If so, can we do more specifically in Libya through a program like that?

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

The START program does sunset in the year 2013, and obviously we'll be evaluating its success as to whether there are refinements needed and the like. Obviously, dealing with post-conflict situations is tremendously important; the area of Libya is obviously a perfect example of where the program can be helpful.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Has your department been involved with civil society in Libya or with governmental authorities in exactly that kind of work—helping them build institutions and basic notions of rule of law and other concepts essential to maintaining a democratic and free Libya?

5:25 p.m.

Morris Rosenberg Deputy Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

I'm not sure I can answer specifics on Libya. We have been involved in projects that the department for GPSF has been funding, projects dealing with sexual violence in Libya, for example.

We have been involved through START in the Middle East peace process in the Sudan, Afghanistan, and Haiti. To go back to your general point about START, under START we have this global peace and security fund to help us respond more effectively to situations where we want to enhance stabilization and reconstruction. An interim evaluation found that the program is effective in advancing our foreign policy priorities in those areas, and as the minister said, we'll be looking at that evaluation as we get ready to consider renewal next year.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

We'll certainly get back to you with that information specific to Libya.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thanks very much.

If I can change focus a bit, last week, as you may know, this committee heard some very interesting testimony from both civil society and some parliamentarians from Ukraine. They shared with us a real concern about increasing corruption and a lack of transparency, commitment to free and open elections, and a democratic government that enjoys the confidence of its citizens.

There are upcoming elections this fall, parliamentary elections, in October, I believe, and one of the concerns heard from all the witnesses was the real risk of a lack of transparency or a lack of legitimacy in those elections. They asked Canada to make a major contribution, as we have in the past, to sending observers, not only to the actual election on the eve of and for the day of the election, but also to become familiar with the circumstances in the days or weeks leading up to the actual vote.

I wonder if you share my view that Canada needs to remain very engaged in assisting the people of Ukraine in trying to push back on some of the worrying trends that appear to be developing there, and particularly in anticipation of the election in October.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

This is of deep concern for us, the whole situation in Ukraine. We were very pleased to have supported election observers the last time, in 2010, and we certainly want to do it again this time.

The problem is demonstrably bigger than that, though.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

No question, but that was the one direct request that we got of them. In the past there have been a great number of Canadian observers, including from the Ukrainian Canadian community, and there—

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I think there were over 300 in 2010, if I recall.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

No, it was over 1,500 in previous years, seven or eight years ago. It is a big concern and I'm glad you are conscious of that.

The final thing is that like all departments, your department is going to come under fiscal reduction, restraint. We notice some hundreds of millions of dollars in these estimates being reduced, and I think over 350 full-time equivalents in terms of personnel.

Our concern, Minister, is about the closure of embassies or consulates, reducing the footprint that your department has around the world. Have you any sense of whether embassies and consulates will close? You won't give us a list now, I'm sure, and you'll tell us that we should wait for the budget.

What criteria are you looking for if you have to make those difficult decisions? What will be the kinds of factors that you and your officials will look at?

Can you give us some assurance that for those consulates or embassies that remain open they will have enough program money to be able to get out and promote Canadian interests and Canadian values and the things that we all think our diplomats do very well across the country? We don't want a situation where they're effectively strangled so they're hiding in an office sending e-mails to people, as opposed to being able to get out and engage with the communities in which they are accredited representatives of Canada.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

The estimates before you have spending up $169.1 million in some areas and spending down $202 million in other areas. There is a small decrease, by and large, from sunsetting programs.

I do agree with the thrust of what you said at the end of your comment, that clipping people's wings, nickel-and-diming missions to such an extent that they have no capacity to do anything but sit in the office and do e-mails, is a wrong approach. We've been very mindful of that as we've gone through the proposals for a deficit reduction action plan.

Obviously we're getting close to putting the budget to bed, but no final decisions have been made. I look forward to sharing them with you after, when the budget is presented.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Perhaps when you're next here in the spring.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Absolutely.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

But it seems so spring-like outside now.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

I mean next week.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

We'll start our second round, and we'll go first to the government side.

Ms. Brown, you have five minutes.

March 12th, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Ministers, thank you for being here.

Minister Baird, I'm going to give you a little bit of a rest and direct my question to Minister Ablonczy, if I may, particularly because I have some keen interest in this area.

Minister, I'd like to say thank you, first of all, to your department for the good work you've done on the files that I've brought to you on child abduction. You know that they have been exceedingly stressful, very complex for the families involved, so I just want to say thank you, first of all, for all the work you've done.

You know that my constituent Stephen Watkins is currently undergoing proceedings with the Hague convention in Poland. His hope is to return his two boys to Canada, but we're waiting for that appeal to go through.

We have taken some steps as a government to try to ensure that these kinds of situations don't happen. We're trying to put some controls in place for parents who are taking children out of the country. I wonder if you could tell the committee the things we've done to help parents who want to travel with children.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

It's a very difficult area because these are distressing cases. There’s a lot of very strong emotion and grief when these abductions occur.

I don't know if you're aware, Minister Baird, but Lois has become a little bit of a go-to person in her area because she's developed some expertise and some real depth in dealing with these cases. I know other committee members may have experiences as well.

The first actor to get involved is always the province, because child custody orders are provincial orders in family courts. They generally will call in the OPP or local law enforcement, who often work with NGOs such as Child Find and other actors that provide support and expertise.

The Government of Canada is often asked to go and get the child and bring them back because the parent has a custody order and feels that somebody should enforce it, and they look to the government to do that. But that simply is not something the federal government is able to do. We have to work through the existing legal framework, both in our country and in the country to which the child is taken.

Many countries have signed what's called the Hague Convention, which is something Canada has been promoting. The Hague Convention essentially says that the child's custody should be decided by the country of their ordinary residence. That's been very helpful because it's kind of a quick and clear litmus test on which country has jurisdiction. We often claim the Hague Convention in asking for children to be returned to Canada.

Where it gets complicated is often these child abduction cases involve children with dual citizenship. Often we find that the country of other citizenship is very reluctant to cede to Canada their sovereignty over the child, even though the child also has Canadian citizenship. So there are appeals to the other court to ask that the Hague Convention be overridden in that case. These can be very complex legal cases, and generally are as a matter of fact.

There are a few things parents can do if they think this is going to be an issue for them and their children. One is that they can put the child on the Passport Canada's security list. The child's name is then flagged so that if the child is travelling under a Canadian passport or if the parent who intends to abduct tries to get a passport for the child, then the flag comes up and both parents will be consulted. There's some protocol to ensure that there's consent from all the players.

It helps for a parent to have a notarized consent letter when the child is travelling because that helps border officials sort out whether they should be concerned or whether they should be asking more questions. It's something also that our consular officials in other countries should be made aware of. So if you think your child might be taken to another country, just notify our mission there. We'll help them to be aware of the issue and to work with local officials, if in fact the problem develops.

But there are publications available on the travel.gc.ca website to assist parents in these heartbreaking situations. Parents should also be aware that in Muslim countries, strong preference is given to the father. In fact, a child in those countries cannot legally leave the country without the father's consent. That's another area.

We are working to get information about this widely disseminated. We had a briefing for members of Parliament and senators last week. Some of you were there. Knowledge is to some degree I think helpful for people, but the bottom line is that there are no quick fixes, so the care and concern of members of Parliament like you give a great deal of comfort and support to parents in these difficult situations.

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you.

We're going to move over to the NDP. Madam Laverdière will start.