Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to address the House of Commons to celebrate, as we do every year on March 2, Canada's strong commitment to the Commonwealth, its values and its principles.
More important, it is an occasion for me to underline Canada's strong partnership in the Commonwealth. Partnership is a word that is often used these days. In some ways it is almost in danger of becoming meaningless by the fact that it is so often used in so
many contexts, unless we give it meaning with real substance, real force and real action.
In my previous portfolio of human resources development we worked very actively in partnerships with the business community, local communities, charitable communities. We learned that the most effective partnerships were those where everybody had a voice in the process, where the objectives of the partnership were clear and where action was taken collectively to achieve our ends.
Often the most complex and seemingly difficult problems could be cracked wide open when the right people were brought together to collaborate, work and make sure their energies were used in a new synergy.
I believe that the Commonwealth can provide the active dynamic partnership to find solutions to many of the very complex, difficult problems affecting people around the globe.
We have proven before that developing solutions and bringing collective pressures to bear can produce important results, such as the change in the apartheid regime in South Africa which is one of the notable accomplishments of the Commonwealth over the past decade.
With 53 countries and 1.5 billion people represented, we have at our fingertips in the Commonwealth a potentially enormous force for wisdom, power and influence. The leaders of the Commonwealth can use that force to bring about important objectives to which we all aspire.
Our collective commitment to promoting democracy, good governance and greater respect for human rights is a high priority item of our Commonwealth program. This commitment was reaffirmed by the Harare declaration and during the summit of Commonwealth heads of government. We must act according to the old saying "Charity begins at home".
Obviously we are saying that we must begin at home.
In my recent speech to the non-governmental organizations in preparation for the 52nd UN Commission on Human Rights meetings, I stated the first principle of Canada's human rights policy must be a commitment to continue working on domestic agendas with particular regard to aboriginal people.
Such individual action by countries must be complemented by a collective action, if you like, a new partnership. By adopting the Millbrook action program, heads of government in Auckland this past year responded to a personal initiative by the Prime Minister to provide the Commonwealth with a much more expanded and explicit mandate to work for democracy and to respond in a preventive way to problems before they arise.
The creation of a Commonwealth ministerial action group as a part of this initiative is an ideal and important vehicle for carrying out that statement.
Currently this meeting of action groups of ministers is facing an enormous challenge in the form of the brutal regime in Nigeria. The execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other political prisoners during the last Commonwealth meeting was a call to action to which none of us can afford to be in any way indifferent.
The Commonwealth is at the forefront of condemning those killings. We must now take the lead in trying to bring about timely changes in Nigeria and not to be overtaken by events.
It is our partnership with all the forces described above which can advance to the next Commonwealth ministerial meeting in London in the next month, give real impetus for driving changes and creating a more open society in Nigeria. Like any successful partnership, we must have a clear objective and the means by which that objective can be achieved.
It is something to which the government is dedicated and we hope we can call on the support of all members of Parliament as we work within the Commonwealth to bring about major evolution and devolution of practices in Nigeria, to open up the system and to protect human rights.
In addition to the official Commonwealth that brings governments together, the Commonwealth is also a growing association of ordinary people having thousands of transactions across many borders every day of the year. Thousands of Canadians are active in international voluntary, professional, development and service organizations which are based on the Commonwealth.
Direct contacts between Canadians and individuals from this broad array of countries to these organizations are an important force in building international understanding and ensuring that Canada's position and reputation in the world can be enhanced.
I would like to conclude by reaffirming my personal commitment and that of the Government of Canada to the Commonwealth and the partnership it represents between peoples of different languages, different races, and different faiths around the globe.
We must join our efforts and work relentlessly to create a tolerant and stable world.