Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak on this motion introduced by our hon. colleague from Kootenay—Columbia, and I want to congratulate him for this initiative. I must inform you that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Lotbinière—L'Érable.
It is important to recognize that there was cause to be concerned that this motion might be defeated in this House, given the position expressed moments ago by the secretary of state. However, not so long ago, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade had passed a motion in support of the Taiwan's application for observer status at the World Health Organization.
So, it seems reasonable to fear the possible defeat of this motion. Since this is an opposition day, it is highly likely that the government will turn this into an issue of confidence. Given the government position expressed a few moments ago, there is reason to fear that the government will ask its members to vote against this motion. If so, if this motion is defeated here in the House, this would, for all practical purposes, nullify the motion adopted by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. This would be a terrible shame, since this committee had made a non-partisan statement, unlike what we are seeing here today.
I think, therefore, that the results of the vote in committee were much more representative of the position of parliamentarians than the potential result at the end of today's debate. It would be preferable for the House of Commons to add its voice to those of the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress and admit the truth, which is that Taiwan must necessarily be granted observer status at the World Health Organization.
I shall begin with a brief outline of my view of the situation. The secretary of state was telling us that political considerations must not have a negative effect on the health of the Taiwanese population. All very well, but that is exactly what the politics are doing now. The politics are holding the health of Taiwan's population hostage. Moreover, the health of the whole region of which Taiwan is a part is being held hostage, and so, by extension, is the whole world, because disease, like poverty, does not respect borders. Diseases ignore borders.
In this era of rapid communication and frequent travel across the world, that is truer than ever. Disease knows no borders and takes no sides in political disputes. Even though the People's Republic of China has decided to act as if Taiwan were one of its provinces and, as a consequence, refuses to allow it observer status in various international bodies, this does not mean that the situation in Taiwan is not serious.
The Canadian government, for political reasons once again, is going along with this hostage-taking, affecting the health of the Taiwanese people and the health of the people in surrounding counties and all over the world. All of that because it wants to spare the feelings of the government of the People's Republic of China, which is not a very honourable way for a country to behave when it has such a well-established international reputation as Canada has.
My former colleague from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, Antoine Dubé, asked a question of the Minister of Foreign Affairs a few weeks ago, about the potential admission of Taiwan as an observer at the World Health Organization.
The minister replied, somewhat offhandedly, that the problem with Taiwan is that it is not a member of the United Nations and that the WTO is a UN organization. How insincere. How glib.
It is important to remember that, until 1971, Taiwan was a member of the United Nations. If Taiwan is no longer a member, it is because it chose to withdraw, which paved the way for the People's Republic of China's admission to the UN. At one time, the international community considered Taiwan to be a full fledged member. This still holds true today, since Taiwan received special status, but status nonetheless, at the World Trade Organization.
So, if other international bodies can give Taiwan this status, given its international importance—Taiwan has a population of 23 million; it is the world's sixteenth economic power and its third largest foreign exchange reserve—why can the same not be done at the World Health Organization?
This is the question, and I think it is time to consider that the future admission of Taiwan to the WHO would have significant advantages not only for Taiwan, as I was saying earlier, but also for the rest of the world. If Taiwan can benefit from the support of the WHO to deal with crises like those we are seeing today, such as SARS, then obviously, the Taiwanese people will benefit in turn and, by extension, as I said earlier, so too will the people of neighbouring countries and the rest of the world. Just consider the effect of travel by people and the business sector on the economy; it is quite clear that, given Taiwan's economic strength, we simply cannot think that there will be no travel to and from Taiwan. Consequently, there are people travelling to and from Taiwan.
It is important to note that a number of young Canadians go to Taiwan to teach. In other words, a significant number of people are travelling between Taiwan and Canada. The Department of Foreign Affairs has a publication that outlines what young Canadians need to do if they want to teach English. It goes even further. On the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade web site, Taiwan is referred to as a country.
Why this doublespeak? First, Taiwan is treated as a country; then, it is treated as though it is not part of the international community. I think that Canada would do well to be consistent in its dealings with Taiwan and also in the principles it upholds on the international scene.
I will read a few excerpts from the World Health Organization's Constitution. The preamble states that:
The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, political belief—
I said that illness knows no political boundary.
The text also adds:
—economic or social condition.
The health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and is dependent upon the fullest co-operation of individuals and States.
The achievement of any State in the promotion and protection of health is of value to all.
Unequal development in different countries in the promotion of health and control of disease, especially communicable disease—
Such as SARS, for instance.
—is a common danger.
The extension to all peoples—
Note that it says “all peoples”.
—of the benefits of medical, psychological and related knowledge is essential to the fullest attainment of health.
I think it is time to face reality. There is a historical analogy I could raise, but unfortunately my time is up. I will therefore close by simply stating that it is time to face reality and to recognize that admitting Taiwan to WHO observer status would not be contrary to the policy of the Peoples' Republic of China and would have considerable advantages for the health of the people of Taiwan and for world health.