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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

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Excuse me. We're having a little problem with the mikes.

10:15 a.m.

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

Roxanne Dubé

Okay?

Go ahead.

As I said previously, just at the time the cabinet was seized of its discussion with respect to the inclusion of Canada in extraterritorial...[Technical Difficulty--Editor]

Is it okay now? We'll try.

At that time, we were seized of the request by the Italian government to hold an election that would provide for Canada to be an extraterritorial constituency. I want to say that because it is our expectation that host governments in Ottawa would request such a privilege of the Canadian authorities.

At that time, we felt it would be useful to clarify the policy as a whole and not adopt an ad hoc response to these things. That's why we proceeded to cabinet at the time. We established the policy, but given the few days--literally--in which we received this request, we thought it would be the right thing to do to allow the Italian authorities to proceed with this system.

Since then, through diplomatic relations, and oftentimes bilateral diplomatic relations, we have communicated the new policy adopted in 2008. In light of the requests that we've received recently from France and from Tunisia, we thought it might be useful to have a circular, which we sent to all of the embassies, and yesterday we met with a quite well-represented diplomatic corps to re-emphasize the policies.

I wish to underline that we were quite confident that the approach of Canada was well understood, because as I said earlier, just in 2010 and 2011 we have received no less than 37 requests by governments to hold absentee voting. In fact, Mr. Chair, if you would like, I would be pleased to circulate the list of those countries and the particular elections in case.... Mrs. Martin has brought that list.

We think the Canadian approach with respect to elections in Canada is quite well understood.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

I would appreciate it if you could table that list, Ms. Martin. That would be helpful.

10:20 a.m.

A voice

I think it has been.

10:20 a.m.

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

Roxanne Dubé

Oh? It has already been circulated.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Okay.

Just to clarify, then, with respect to any future Italian election where there might be a constituency that includes any of the territory of Canada, what is the policy?

10:20 a.m.

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

Roxanne Dubé

We would expect that the policy adopted in 2008 would prevail.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Okay. So there's no grandfathering or anything of that sort?

10:20 a.m.

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

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

I know there's been some misunderstanding about that in the media.

Then on the question of the French elections, my understanding is there is no direct election by any Canadian or anybody resident in Canada of any member of the Senate or the National Assembly in France. Is my understanding correct? So there's in fact no difference in the treatment of people of French nationality or people of Tunisian or any other nationality?

10:20 a.m.

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

Roxanne Dubé

Absolutely.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Okay.

10:20 a.m.

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

Roxanne Dubé

This is not about any particular country. This is a policy that applies equally to all countries of the world.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Mr. LeBlanc, sir, the floor is yours.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you for the interesting presentation.

I have two quick questions.

I understand the idea of an extraterritorial or foreign constituency. I understand all that. However, I just feel like there is some confusion here.

In the example of the French Senate, unless I am mistaken, Ms. Dubé was trying to show that it was like a constituency that included the whole world and not just 24 countries. If we were talking about 120 and not 24 countries, it would have perhaps been more...

[Technical Difficulty—Editor]

I have a final question, Roxanne. This is not a legislature in the typical sense. It's a constituent assembly. If I understood the Tunisian point, it's not a legislature that's going to legislate laws that will apply on a territorial integrity in terms of Tunisia, but a unique one-year mandate...[Technical Difficulty--Editor]...some democratic elements and after one year it's

obsolete.

It's not an ongoing legislature in the traditional sense of...[Technical Difficulty--Editor]. I'm wondering if that unique example might not provide...[Technical Difficulty--Editor]

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

This ends in 20 minutes. I was hoping we could get you through before we reboot the system. Let's reboot the system now. We're going to suspend for just two minutes to get this working. Then we'll come right back to you.

10:29 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Mr. LeBlanc, we are ready for your eloquence again. We're going to restart the clock--

10:29 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Well, Mr. Chairman, if members have heard the questions, I'm not sure we need to. It's the constituent assembly angle that I'm interested in, which I think makes a unique point, as opposed to a typical legislature.

The other example is this: aren't we splitting hairs a bit by saying that if it was the whole world other than France, it would be okay, but because it's 24 or 23 countries or something, it's different?

I'm wondering if Roxanne could address that.

Merci.

10:30 a.m.

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

Roxanne Dubé

Allow me to explain in detail how things stand with the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad so that you can understand. Afterwards, I will explain very quickly what the new request we received from the French embassy consists of. The new request has been discussed bilaterally, and I won't go beyond a quick mention, just to clarify the subtle difference between the two.

France does have an Assembly of French Citizens Abroad or the AFE. That organization is headed by the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs. It was established in 2004 and plays an advisory role in the discussions and studies on issues faced by French nationals living abroad.

The assembly consists of 155 advisors elected by French citizens abroad, including Canada. The assembly is not part of either of the French Parliament's two houses. As Ms. Laverdière said, the assembly elects 12 senators to represent French citizens abroad. So we are talking about an indirect vote. Therefore, the French senators do not represent a specific region or country. They represent the whole world. So, as you can see, it is very indirect.

In this respect, there is no problem because Canada is not considered as an electoral constituency with a representative who would sit on the French National Assembly or the French Senate and who would represent the interests of Canadian nationals. That would be a problem for us.

That needs to be looked at in conjunction with the new proposal we just received from the French embassy. As you know, the French Constitution was amended in July 2008. A new clause was added that provides French citizens living abroad with representation in the French National Assembly.

The legislation for implementing that amendment was passed last April. The next election of French National Assembly representatives will be held in June 2012. Under the new legislation, the election should enable French nationals living abroad to be represented in the National Assembly.

In addition, that electoral law proposes 11 geographic constituencies, one of which would include Canada and the United States. We have received the French government's request and we are discussing it. We hope that, as with the Tunisian government, we will come to an acceptable solution while clearly explaining the ins and outs of the current 2008 policy to which we do not foresee any exceptions.

As for the talks with the Tunisian authorities, I prefer to leave it at what I have already said. I have mentioned our offer to the Tunisian authorities to establish balloting stations in their consular and diplomatic missions. I think that everything that comes after those discussions is done through bilateral relations. We are here today to explain the policy as a whole.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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.