Madam Speaker, we are debating today the official opposition's supply day motion relating to the current world health concerns over severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the fact that Taiwan's aspirations to be recognized as a member of the World Health Organization should be supported and championed by Canada. The motion reads:
That this House, acknowledging that health issues transcend political borders as seen with the recent outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), express its support for the admission of Taiwan as an Observer to the World Health Organization and call upon the government to actively urge other member states and non-governmental organizations to support this goal.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary East.
SARS developed in Guangdong province in southern China in November of last year. It was not until March of this year that it was reported to the World Health Organization. The People's Republic of China has been roundly condemned by the international community for trying to deny this outbreak rather than exposing it immediately, as one would assume would be its responsibility as a World Health Organization member. Essentially, the PRC broke the rules of membership and yet wants to continue to retain a veto over Taiwan membership.
It is worthwhile to remember that in the middle of March there were more reported SARS cases in Canada than there were in Taiwan. There were 11 cases in Canada and three cases in Taiwan as of March 18. It was clearly evident in the case of both Taiwan and Canada that the SARS victims were a consequence of people travelling to and returning from mainland China.
Canada has a strong vested interest in displaying leadership at the World Health Organization and in ensuring that Taiwan and mainland China are active participants in the World Health Organization because of the high number of ethnic Chinese living in Canada and the highly developed travel and trade between mainland China, Taiwan and Canada.
In fact, each year more than three million Taiwanese citizens travel to China. Over 150,000 Taiwanese travel to Canada and tens of thousands of visitors travel to or arrive from mainland China. It is no surprise to anyone to realize the health and economic consequences of the SARS epidemic in Canada and Asia.
On March 28 Canada listed Taiwan on a health advisory authority, at a time when Taiwan had less reported cases than Canada and had no deaths, with the rationale that Taiwan was geographically close to Hong Kong and mainland China with 20 flights a day between Taiwan and Hong Kong. Canada then took great exception when the World Health Organization issued a health travel advisory for Toronto on April 23.
Historically Canada has been very influential at the World Health Organization. The WHO is a specialized agency of the United Nations created in 1948. The first director general was a Canadian. No country, other than permanent Security Council members of the UN, have been elected to more three year terms than Canada, a total of nine times.
Given this circumstance and our participation as a SARS infected and vulnerable jurisdiction, it is incumbent upon Canada to take the lead in bringing in the only remaining sizeable territory in the world whose people are excluded from the benefits of WHO engagement. Full membership was rejected for Palestine and Taiwan in recent years. The U.S. opposed Palestine's application and the People's Republic of China opposed Taiwan's application. Observer status was granted to Palestine in 2002 as an entity and Taiwan is applying for observer status as an entity. Taiwan's application is being supported once again by the U.S. and by Japan.
Japan and the Japanese minister of health, labour and welfare have recently once again demonstrated strong support for Taiwan's bid to join the World Health Organization as an observer. Taiwan has made annual submissions to join the World Health Organization since 1997 and the People's Republic of China has been criticized in Japan since then for annually blocking Taiwan's efforts to join the health organization. Japan has large foreign direct investment in Taiwan and China, and these countries are geographically close. Japan has a one-China policy similar to the Government of Canada, but this has in no way detracted from its position and desire to support Taiwan's World Health Organization application for observer status.
The Japanese vice-ministers decided on April 17 that in order to prevent the spread of SARS, Japan should once again actively support Taiwan's bid. This is in strong contrast to the Canadian government's position, which is not being overtly opposed to Taiwan but leaving the onus on Taiwan to deal with China in reference to its application, an impossible situation for progress on the basis of unwavering opposition to Taiwan's application emanating from the People's Republic of China. Lack of Canadian leadership on this crucial international and domestic health issue clearly is demonstrable and constitutes a public health risk.
The U.S. congress and the European parliament have not agreed on many issues recently, however the U.S. supports observer status for Taiwan at the WHO and the EU has expressed similar support. This leadership from others in the international community is in stark contrast to Canada's position and yet Canada has been more directly impacted by SARS than any other country outside of Asia.
The U.S. administration does not support Taiwan's membership in organizations that require statehood for membership and yet clearly states that Taiwan's application at the WHO meets this test, contrary to statements made from time to time by our own Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In an increasingly smaller and globalized world, where one can fly to any region or country within 24 hours, it is increasingly unacceptable to exclude Taiwan from the benefits of WHO engagement and to exclude other WHO members from the advice which Taiwan could provide through membership.
I just returned from Asia nine days ago. Our trade committee did not go to Singapore or Beijing as originally planned because of concerns about SARS. We did travel to India, Thailand and Japan.
When one is in Asia, it further concentrates the mind as to the threat from diseases like SARS. Clearly we are not involved in an academic discussion. The posture which the parliamentary secretary and secretary of state took in today's debate were weak, defensive and poorly researched. The status quo Canadian position is bankrupt and has been exposed, warts and all, through the foreign affairs committee, the efforts of individual members of Parliament from all parties, and today's Canadian Alliance motion.
As of today, the WHO website reported that a cumulative total of 8,202 probably cases, with 725 deaths, have been reported in 29 countries. New cases in the last two days were reported from mainland China, Taiwan, Canada and Hong Kong. While we must continued to report new cases in Toronto, it is anticipated that Canada is over the worst and we are getting on top of the disease. We certainly hope this is the case and we congratulate our courageous health care workers. In China and Taiwan there is an ongoing problem which cannot with certainty be predicted as to when it will be controlled. There is a real danger that a SARS outbreak in an area of poverty in the developing world could create untold tragedy and consequences.
Taiwan's health care delivery system, research and medical schools are world class. Taiwan can contribute much to the WHO and it is time that it be given this ongoing opportunity. Let Taiwan join the community of nations, the Order of Malta, the Holy See, the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as the PLO, as a participant in the World Health Organization.