House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was foreign.


Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I declare the motion carried on division.

The House resumed from February 11 consideration of the motion that Bill C-32, an act to amend the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Department of Foreign Affairs Act
Government Orders

February 14th, 2005 / 3:25 p.m.


Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-32. The purpose of the bill is to enact the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act and other acts as a consequence of the establishment of the Department of International Trade. DFAIT is splitting into two departments. There has been thorough debate on Bill C-31 dealing with the issue of international trade. I wish to take this opportunity to speak about the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In this Parliament I have had the rare privilege to be the associate critic of foreign affairs Asia Pacific, as appointed by the leader of the Conservative Party. In that period of time I have taken the opportunity to learn a little more about Asia Pacific. It strikes me that there are many ways Canada could be doing a far better and more creative job with respect to foreign affairs than it is presently doing. This comes about as a result of three particular incidents that I would like to report to the House.

First I should say that we as Canadians still have the aura, we still have the leftovers, as it were, of Lester B. Pearson. Those leftovers are really wonderful because he and the people of that era gave Canada a particular reputation. It is unfortunate that we are only able to trade off of that reputation today as opposed to being able to expand our influence in Asia Pacific and in other parts of the world.

I have experienced some frustrations. When I and other Canadians who carry the title of member of Parliament, Speaker of the House, or senator go into an international forum, we do so with an unbelievable amount of goodwill preceding us as we go through the door. As I said, we are trading off of Lester B. Pearson and the wonderful work that Canadians of that era did, particularly as peacekeepers.

Unfortunately the situation now with the Department of Foreign Affairs is the Liberals, who have been in power since 1993, are timid in the area of foreign affairs. There is goodwill as we enter the door but then the people with whom we are going to be conversing say, “Okay, now what are you up to? What is Canada up to at this particular point?”

We have done away with our great nation's tremendous history of involvement as a leader in the world community. We have done away with our ability to trade off of our strengths. We are followers rather than leaders. Let me give some examples.

I would like to draw to members' attention the situation as it respects the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China with Taiwan. We have ended up in a position of timidity in the face of rather bellicose belligerence on the part of the PRC. We have permitted the People's Republic of China to bully foreign affairs into taking very timid action.

I will give a chronology of six recently denied visits of Taiwanese high-ranking officials to Canada.

In July 2001 Canada rejected the visit of Dr. Ming-liang Lee, minister of health of Taiwan. The reason given was that it was not convenient.

In August 2002 Canada rejected the Taiwanese prime minister's stopover visit. He was on his way to Central America. This was just a stopover on a normal trade route of our airlines.

In September 2002 Canada denied a visa to Taiwan's foreign minister, Eugene Chien, for his private visit to Canada because it was inconvenient.

We note that at the same time Canada welcomed General Chi Haotien, China's defence minister, who was the operational commander at the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Chi also met with then prime minister Jean Chrétien.

Taiwan's foreign minister came for a private visit to Canada. He was not permitted to be here because it was inconvenient, yet the PRC defence minister was.

In June 2003 Canada denied a visa again to Taiwan's foreign minister, Eugene Chien for his private visit to Vancouver.

In August 2004 Canada denied a transit stop in Canada to democratically elected Chen Shui-bian on his way to Panama.

In September 2004 Canada denied a visit to Taiwan's foreign minister, Tan Sun Chen, for his private visit which did not include meetings with any Canadian officials.

This is a timidity that is unbecoming of a sovereign nation. This is a timidity in the face of belligerence on the part of the PRC. We are not talking about the recognition of Taiwan as a nation. We are simply talking about the fact that there are elected officials who from time to time want to make private visits to Canada, or who are simply in transit, who should be permitted to land in Canada.

It shows a timidity unbecoming of a sovereign nation. I introduced a motion in the House which was supported by all members of the House, including many people who at present are on the front bench of the Liberal Party of Canada. They voted in favour of a motion to recognize Taiwan as a health entity at the World Health Organization. Those same people who were backbenchers and who are now on the front bench, without a doubt under the direction of the foreign affairs department would vote against the same motion in the House. It is a timidity unbecoming of a sovereign nation.

I am also very familiar on a first-hand basis with some of the goings on in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, a misnomer if I ever heard one. The people of North Korea are in a very precarious situation. They are under the most severe repression in the world. There is no nation in the world that has a tighter rein on its people than the regime in North Korea.

When Lloyd Axworthy as our foreign affairs minister decided that he was going to recognize the DPRK, we had an opportunity at that particular point to show some real strength instead of timidity and to carve out a course of action that would have been independent. As I recall it, the recognition by the former foreign affairs minister happened fully two years prior to the North Koreans' announcing that they had nuclear weapons. The question is very much in the news today, but it is still a question, do they or do they not have nuclear arms?

We had the ability at that point to become players in that particular game. We are on the cusp of a potentially serious world situation. Canada could have been, would have been and should have been right at the centre of that simply by showing some strength of character and engaging the people of North Korea. They do not see us as being a threat to them in the same way that they would see the United States as being a threat. They see Canada as having the ability to influence the U.S. and to have contact through Canada to people in the western hemisphere and yet we have been timid.

NGO after NGO have gone into North Korea and are there in a very strong relational way with the decision makers in North Korea. They have far more influence than our great nation of Canada, all because of the timidity of our foreign affairs policy.

Last month I had the privilege of working in concert with the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont on an issue of political prisoners and on an issue of human rights in the nation of Vietnam.Through the interventions of the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, Senator Mac Harb and myself, we had an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue with the regime of Vietnam. The regime of Vietnam was going to be releasing under a political amnesty 8,000 prisoners.

We had an opportunity to speak with the officials of Vietnam who were trying to become a part of the world community. We had a very constructive discussion with them. As a consequence of that, we were directly involved in the release of certain prisoners.

How many people in Foreign Affairs Canada, who are involved on a day to day basis, have that opportunity? I suggest not many because there is a timidity on the part of Foreign Affairs Canada.

Whether we are talking about Taiwan, North Korea, Vietnam or about the relationship between Canada and South Korea and, in turn, its relationship with the six party talks and their relationship in turn with the North Koreans, we have a place in the world community that we are presently not exerting.

I would hope, in taking a look at Bill C-32 and in taking a look at the reorganization, that at the same time we would see our current Minister of Foreign Affairs begin to exert a more imaginative and outward-looking posture in the world, that we would begin to see our defence minister doing the things he needs to do so we can be taken more seriously as a nation of nations, and that we would regain our strength and our position in the world community.

Although Bill C-32 is fundamentally a housekeeping bill, it gives us the opportunity to take another look at how we as a nation relate to other nations in the world.

I would say that what we need as Canadians is more of a backbone and less of a wishbone.

Department of Foreign Affairs Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.


Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to raise a question with the member. I agreed with many of his comments, not all of them, but that will not surprise anybody.

As one of several foreign affairs critics in the House, I was extremely disappointed that the government chose to introduce Bill C-31 and Bill C-32 while not only the Minister of Foreign Affairs was abroad on an exceedingly important and sensitive mission to the Middle East, but all of the foreign affairs critics were away as well. Although I do not think the Conservative foreign affairs critic accompanied the mission, it is true that the former foreign affairs critic for the Conservative Party acquitted himself extremely well as a member of that mission.

I am disappointed not to have heard the previous debate in the House. I have not been able to fully catch up with what other points of view were presented in debate having just come home yesterday from the Middle East.

I was interested in hearing the wrap up comments from the Conservative member who just spoke, in which, if I understood correctly, he suggested that perhaps Bill C-31 and Bill C-32 were good bills in that they would give us a chance to look at how the foreign affairs' functions of the government were discharged and in what ways it may make sense for us to introduce improvements.

If I understood his comments correctly, I wonder if the member could address two questions. Does he not find it troublesome that we now find ourselves with after the fact legislation in front of us? It is now close to two years since the government separated foreign affairs and international trade. Those two departments have been functioning under that new arrangement pretty much ever since because of an order in council that allowed the government to do that before any such debate took place in the House.

We now find ourselves basically being asked to rubber stamp something that has already happened. If we stand in the way of this, it will be suggested that we are being obstructionists and that we do not get it. It will ask us why we do not just get with its program. The government has done this without any parliamentary authority and it wants us to put up or shut up.

Is it not also equally problematic that, at the very time the government purports to be in the process of launching a major review of Canada's foreign policy, we are faced with such legislation? At the very least one could say that the government appears to have put the cart before the horse when it went ahead and separated these two departments without allowing the rationale for doing so to be fully divulged and fully understood, let alone the opportunity for there to be meaningful input from the Canadian people who are about to be invited, which is what we have been told, to give meaningful input into Canada's future foreign policy for the country.

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3:45 p.m.


Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to agree with my friend from Halifax. One of the difficulties we have in this chamber is that very frequently the government does exactly what she has described, which is to treat this House as a rubber stamp.

This has been going on for a two year period and my comments were directed to the fact that in spite of being in a better position of being able to act and react within the world because of the split of the two departments, nonetheless we continue with this timidity on the part of the government.

To the second part of her question about having a review of Foreign Affairs Canada, it is exceptionally important that the people of Canada have an opportunity to have some input. However, with the way things are going over at the PMO, it strikes me that with the dithering of the Prime Minister and the fact that the PMO cannot really make a decision, I do not have much faith that we will have any real consultation or that we will see anything inventive. The point of my intervention was specifically that, that it is up to the people in this chamber to direct the people in the bunker.

While I sincerely recognize the hard work, the dedication and the knowledge, particularly of people in the diplomatic corps who are serving our nation well around the world, it seems to me that there is a timidity on the part of the bureaucracy here in Ottawa that in many instances stifles any inventiveness on the part of politicians who want to drive a more outward looking policy, and also stifles the ability of people, whether they are in Hanoi or Dar es Salaam or wherever they are, to actually enact anything that is at all creative.

We have so much goodwill as Canadians and as a nation and we should be trading on that goodwill and doing better things in the world than we are presently doing.

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3:45 p.m.


Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a follow up question.

Given the concerns expressed by my Conservative colleagues, again with which I substantially agree in this instance, a rare occurrence, and the suggestion that we are here being asked to rubber stamp yet another piece of legislation or twin pieces of legislation, and given the suggestion that this is really reminiscent of the arrogance of the majority Liberal government, to which we were subjected for many years, can I seek confirmation from the member about whether his party will also vote to oppose this really arrogant, unaccountable behaviour?

One of the things that I think Canadians welcome a great deal in this minority government environment is that we are trying, wherever possible, to cooperate and collaborate in the House to make government work, to make it work in the parliamentary context and to make it work in the international context. Frankly, the initiative taken by the Minister of Foreign Affairs over the last eight days is a good example of the best kind of cooperative and consultative effort. I have no hesitation in saying that I was proud to be associated with the kind of initiative that took place in the Middle East to seek out what Canada's contribution could be to help support the peace effort in the Middle East, but it seems to me that this legislation and the fact that it is barrelling ahead is the opposite of that.

We have a chance here for all opposition parties to tell the government that it cannot introduce legislation two years after going ahead with doing something on which there was no real consultation. We have a chance to tell the government that we will not facilitate this being put through before a full and proper comprehensive review takes place of the international policy review effort.

I wonder if the member could take the opportunity to indicate whether the Conservative Party will be in concert with the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois in using the opportunity to stand together to insist that this be approached in a more democratic, more accountable and more forward looking way.

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3:50 p.m.


Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a tremendous amount of empathy and sympathy with what the member for Halifax has said. However, in this instance, as she pointed out in her first intervention, we are two years into this process. While it is deeply regrettable that the government has chosen to treat the House as a rubber stamp, nonetheless at second reading she, as an experienced parliamentarian, will know that the vote for the bill is as a matter of principle.

If we were to see the bill, we would vote in favour of it. If we saw the bill move forward, in a minority Parliament we would have an opportunity to request, indeed demand hearings at committee. This would be part of the parliamentary process. Rather than simply stalling the bill or killing it at second reading, we have an opportunity, as parliamentarians, to put it into committee where the committee, because it is a minority government, would have an opportunity to deal with the kind of issues about which she has spoken.

It is an alternative approach to the one proposed by my friend from the New Democrats, but it is perhaps a wiser approach in that it keeps the process in the parliamentary system and it permits us to hold the government more accountable than simply killing the bill.

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3:50 p.m.


Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity to raise a couple of questions with my Conservative colleague. I am totally mystified by the position that his party appears to be taking on the legislation. The Conservatives have quite thoroughly criticized the bill and properly condemned it for a long list good reasons. Then they suggest that we should, even though the legislation is ill-conceived, ill-timed, arrogant and unresponsive to the real needs for change, put it into the hands of the foreign affairs committee and utilize a great deal of the committee's time. There is a very long list of urgent and pressing matters that need to be dealt with by the foreign affairs committee.

The parliamentary secretary can attest to what I have said. We have a long list of urgent matters, not the least of which is how we will deal with the lessons from the tsunami disaster and how we can better have a more coordinated and timely response to such disasters. I am pleased this subject is on the agenda.

We have not had anything that could remotely be described as a full consultation around the issue of missile defence. Unless the government is prepared to say here and now that we will not proceed one step further into the quagmire of missile defence, which is absolutely on track toward the eventual militarization of space, then we need to have a more thorough hearing. Mr. Dithers over there in the Prime Minister's seat keeps it dangling as a threat before Canadians. I do not get the point of it, but that seems to be the case.

We need to continue to give Canadians an opportunity to appear, share their expertise and make their views known, and that includes going across the country. If the government is not yet persuaded of the reasons why four times as many Canadians are strongly opposed to missile defence as they are strongly in favour, then perhaps the government needs to hear from some more Canadians.

Let me turn to the legislation at hand. I have tried hard to find anywhere where anyone can offer a clear, coherent, persuasive, positive reason for the decision of the government to split foreign affairs and international trade into two separate departments. In fact, the only answer I have been given in all my attempts over a period of more than a year, since I became the foreign affairs critic, is that there is only one reason, and he is not saying much about it. The reason is the Prime Minister wants it to happen. I find that very worrisome and pathetic.

I combed through the debate that took place in the absence of the foreign affairs minister and the foreign affairs critics from the House last week because we were in the Middle East. I tried to find a clear, coherent argument supporting this decision.

Rather than attack the parliamentary secretary or some of the other government members who attempted to put forward something that would sound reasonable, I am more inclined to feel that I should stand here and offer my sympathies. I felt as though condolences were in order to Liberal members, especially on the frontbench who had to somehow try to sell the legislation.

I will not say that I read every single word. I tried to go through all the debate and all the comments on the introduction of the bill by the parliamentary secretary, on the wrap-up of the previous reading from the parliamentary secretary and others who intervened. They did not have anything with which to work.

I am not usually into making excuses for why the parliamentary secretary is taking a certain course of action. In fact, I think more often than not he is on his game and on the ball. Without fear of contradiction, he has shown himself to be very capable in dealing with many of the consular service matters that are now in his direct line of responsibility. He was very hard pressed. He had a very shallow pool in which to fish to try to come up with some real explanations as to why this division had taken place.

In the an absence of any good reasons from the government that could move anybody in the direction of supporting this initiative, let us look briefly at what 270 former Canadian ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general have said about the proposed initiative.

I will quote from a letter that was sent to every member of the foreign affairs committee and I believe a letter substantially the same, on which we were copies, was sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of International Trade, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and, finally, the Minister of International Cooperation. Before I quote briefly from that letter, and I am certainly happy to put it in its entirety on the public record, there might be some who would ask what 270 senior foreign service personnel know about this matter or would they not somehow have some narrow self-serving myopic view of this, looking through a rear view mirror instead of looking to the future.

I find it absolutely offensive to hear such suggestions and attempts to discredit the considerable persuasive arguments offered in opposition to what the government is doing by the heads of mission who have served the country so well.

Our week in the Middle East was just another of many reminders of how, despite some of the bungling and mishandling by the government at various points around various international issues, no country has a more highly respected set of ambassadors and foreign service officers in this world than ours. Once again I was reminded of why they are so respected. It is because of their depth of experience, breadth of vision and dedication to the task at hand. If we do not pay attention to what 270 retired ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general have to say in condemning this legislation, then we are acting very irresponsibly.

Let me briefly quote from the letter of December 8. It states:

Our deeply concerned about the future of the Canadian Foreign Service. Recently, we have had to come reluctantly to the conclusion that our Foreign Service is being gradually dismantled. One clear manifestation of this happening is the recent decision to split the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade... As former diplomats and officials of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Commerce, Immigration and Canadian International Development Agency...our members have personally experienced the difficulties of integrating coherently these two crucial sectors of Canada's foreign policy. Thus, we believe that the decision to partition the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is unfortunate and a step backwards.

A step backward might be one way of describing it. That comes from the collective experience of 270 such highly esteemed servants of the country in the international arena.

I did an estimate, and I am not sure how accurate it is. As a kind of rule of thumb, suggesting that the average duration of service of those senior foreign affairs personnel would be about 20 years, we are talking close to 6,000 years of collective experience that group of people brings to bear on its downright condemnation of the government's decision to rend asunder the foreign affairs and international trade department.

At the very least, in the absence of there being any real persuasiveness in the government's position, it is puzzling why this would be a priority, given all of the other priorities that are needed and the considerable costs involved. The costs go far beyond what we can measure in dollars and cents. It costs a pile of money to disentangle two departments like that. It is the actual cost in terms of the changing of everything from the stationery, the signage, and all of those kinds of formal things.

The costs go far deeper and are more serious when it comes to the loss of synergy that takes place in pulling those departments apart. Confusion is created. At the very least, the government is failing to take into account, if there could even be a case made, and we have not heard the case made persuasively. There still has been no real answer to the question of why would it be a priority to spend time and energy in the House, in committees, and at the departmental level to pull these government departments apart when overwhelmingly Canada is respected for the integrated coherent approach that is taken by foreign affairs and international trade.

Having said that, one of the reasons why there is great alarm about where the government is going with this is not because it cannot explain it, but because some of its recent actions and inactions, some of its acts of omission and commission of late, cause grave concern about the real motive.

Given how little interest the government has shown and how little responsibility the government has taken for the issue of human rights in the international arena being observed, respected and upheld in relation to some of our trading relationships, there is a genuine concern that the real driving force behind this is coming from the multinational corporate friends of the government. They are saying to whisk the international trade portfolio away from foreign affairs so that they will not find themselves having these nasty questions raised about what kind of trade relationships they are entering into, without any kind of protection for human rights, and without any regard for child labour.

We heard this afternoon in question period once again from the NDP critic for international human rights, the former leader, now the member for Ottawa Centre, about something as simple as Wal-Mart. There is little concern for the fact that even in the United States Wal-Mart has been found guilty again and again, and is charged further with violations around child labour, the discrimination of women as employees, and the trampling of the most basic rights for workers to organize.

If the government cannot be concerned about that, because the government does business with Wal-Mart, then what on earth are we going to see in the way of even worse abuses becoming still worse than they are now? In some cases, and I hate to say this, it seems quite clear that CIDA is actually entering into relationships where it is not just condoning but supporting the draconian actions of some Canadian corporations in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia and so on.

Let me underscore “some” because that is not true of many Canadian corporations, but there are corporations that are being supported in what they are doing that is simply unacceptable in terms of trampling on basic human rights.

The idea that international trade would somehow not have to be bothered by the overall foreign policy priorities of the government, which surely to heavens are going to continue to show some commitment to international human rights, is something that is deeply worrisome to people who have concerned themselves with what the government is up to. It would be equally seen as unacceptable if more Canadians really knew and understood what was happening.

Maybe some government members, or maybe the parliamentary secretary, will jump to their feet in indignation and ask, why would any such allegations or accusations be made? I must say that in the vacuum that is created here, in the absence in this debate of any clear, articulated position for why the government is doing what it is doing, we cannot blame opposition members from looking beyond the sort of vague words to what some of the practices are that are worrisome, and to predict some unacceptable outcomes from what the government is doing here.

Former diplomats and ambassadors refer to this legislation as a step backward. Another way of looking at it would be to suggest that it is very much after the fact legislation. I do not want to use up the time with my question that I put to the Conservative member who spoke before me. I raised the issue of this being at the very least, ill timed because we were promised, since before the election, a commitment to an early, full comprehensive dialogue across the country on the government's intended international foreign policy, and so we have been waiting.

The commitment was made that this paper would be disclosed to the public and tabled in the House. The original commitment was that it would already be tabled by mid-fall. I remember by the time the foreign affairs minister came before the committee in mid-fall, we were already impatient to have the paper because there had been ample time for it to be prepared. We wanted to get on with planning our work plan for our priorities as a foreign affairs committee. At that time the foreign affairs minister gave the undertaking that the paper would definitely be in the hands of the committee and revealed to the public before the end of November.

We are now coming to the end of February three months later. There is still no paper and no explanation about where it is, why it is being bogged down, and what it is we are waiting for. Meanwhile we are putting the cart before the horse. Another description of the legislation could be the cart before the horse legislation.

Presumably, if the government has its way, although the value of there being a minority government is that the government does not have to get its way on this issue. In fact, the three opposition parties should block this legislation here and now. Frankly, that is the position of the New Democratic Party and I for one, as the foreign affairs critic, intend to strenuously defend this position. Right here and now is the time for us to put this legislation on the backburner, if not bury it for all time.

Let us talk about a compromise. Let us put it on the backburner while we receive the government's international policy review paper and then have an opportunity to study it. That is our work plan in the foreign affairs committee. Then we should go out across the country and consult with Canadians, which is also in our work plan. After we have received an opportunity to see the government's vision and to hear some of the specific directions and initiatives that it wants to put forward for consideration, and after we hear from Canadians, then we will know if the legislation in any way makes sense or if it is legislation that goes in the exact opposite direction of what is really wanted.

I must say, for those who used as an argument for separating these two departments in their rather flimsy defence of the legislation, that there is nothing I can dredge up from the earlier foreign policy dialogue that took place under the previous foreign affairs minister that suggests that this was the way to go. In fact, the contrary would be the case as far as I can recall.

I have searched valiantly and diligently to find anybody who could give a clear explanation of why the government has chosen to barge ahead with this ill conceived and ill timed initiative. The New Democratic Party will be voting against it at second reading. Let us do our homework. Let us then view this issue in the light of the international policy review and the response of Canadians to it.

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4:10 p.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East


Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity on this day of all days, the great feast of St. Valentine to thank the hon. member for showing restraint and in fact demonstrating, if I understood correctly, the odd compliment in there too.

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4:10 p.m.


Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

That's because it's Valentine's Day.

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4:10 p.m.


Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

The hon. member has me blushing red right now. I do not just blush red. I believe red is my philosophy. It is my life.

I also want to congratulate the hon. member and all members, the member from the Bloc, the critic for foreign affairs, the member from the Conservative Party, the member for Cumberland—Colchester, for attending the very important meeting which took place last week and the events that surrounded that.

The hon. member is quite correct. It was very good timing, and of course we hope that what has happened in the Middle East in the last week or so will break new ground and that we will all strive toward a just and durable peace in years to come.

I have carefully reviewed the debates of last week and in the hon. member's absence I want her to know the hon. member for Churchill did a very good job. I suspect that should the hon. member move up and move on there will be a very good and very effective replacement in the member for Churchill.

However, I want to point out a couple of glaring mistakes in the assumption about this being the cart before the horse, or Parliament not approving this. There is no one here suggesting that Parliament should not place into effect the creation of these two new departments. They give in fact expanded powers to the minister and to the departments.

What happened by order in council in 2003 is indeed consistent with the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act which gives the governor in council the ability to transfer portions of the public service administerial powers, duties and functions in one part of the public service from one minister to the other.

Given my work in getting private members' bills to be votable, having probably passed more bills than a lot of members who have been in this place, I understand the hon. member may want to include that in her panoply of bills that she may want to look at. But be that as it may, it is clear that Parliament is not rubber-stamping, but is in fact involved and engaged.

What is more interesting and I want to come to the question very quickly because the hon. member made a very interesting point. She could not find a valid reason and yet pointed out four very important areas that give rise to the need for us to treat foreign affairs policies quite separate from commercial interests.

She referred to ballistic missile defence. I take it that there is no commercial outcome in terms of our involvement with that as to whether or not Canadians want to participate for reasons of sovereignty.

Regarding the tsunami, it is clear that in the past 40 days an event of epic proportions took place and our response had everything to do with the human commitment, not with commerce and trade.

She talked about consulates and gave me a bit of a compliment in the process. Some 200,000 Canadians use our services. It has nothing to do with commerce.

She also mentioned Wal-Mart. I invite the hon. member to look at my work, when I sat on the industry committee, about concentration of the retail sector and the effect it is having on jobs. More importantly, the issue of human rights is clearly and decidedly one of a policy reaction that has a lot to do with how Canadians see themselves, how they see their rights being advocated in Canada, and the kind of rights that we can champion at various forums of international conventions of the United Nations and so on.

These are issues that demonstrate the maturation of foreign policy quite separate and independent from commerce. I find it strange and perhaps this is the question. How can the NDP reconnoitre a policy which in effect says international commercial trade should always be something that one takes into consideration in tandem with pure foreign policy?

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4:15 p.m.


Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge, not just because it is Valentine's Day, that the last question the member asked was a pretty fair question.

Would people not expect New Democrats to be among those who are saying for heaven's sake, get those commercial issues and trade policy matters as far away from foreign affairs as possible? In that way decisions would be made entirely on the basis of what is in the interests of peace in the world, or what is in the interests of the most genuine human development or overseas development policies that we should adopt. I would give two responses.

Increasingly a concern which people have, and certainly which New Democrats have, is that the government would like nothing better than to remove trade policy as far as possible from humanitarian policy and peacekeeping policy and so on. It would do so precisely to avoid issues about whether the trade policies being pursued do more damage than good to our overall commitment to reduce poverty in the world, or our overall commitment to ensure that we contribute to peace in every way possible.

The reality is that either our trade policy adds further problems to the world's poorest nations, or the opposite. The reality is that our trade policies are either consistent with many of the international obligations into which we have entered as a matter of foreign policy, or the opposite. We cannot divorce the two altogether.

The second thing I would say is that if something is not broke, let us not fix it with misguided policies. I am not saying there is not always room to improve what we are doing within foreign affairs, and a foreign affairs that is in tandem with international trade. However, there has to be some willingness to recognize that Canada has distinguished itself internationally with the kinds of policies and practices by and large that have been implemented under the joint department which was put together I believe in 1982.

Twenty-three years later, one should never argue that we should go on doing it because we have always done it, but there is a very powerful argument for continuing with them under the same umbrella because it has worked well, by and large. There are things we could do to improve it.

In the meantime there are a lot of other priorities that are more pressing for the use of the public dollar, for the use of our personnel who get utterly exhausted in the process of this disentanglement and distracted from the job at hand. Just to create the appearance of newness around something that is generally applauded and appreciated in its current form is not a smart policy to pursue. It does not seem very practical to me.

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4:20 p.m.


Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member for Halifax is now getting the idea that there are good reasons for us to not argue from a commercial perspective, but in fact to recognize that if we only look at the cataloguing of events that have taken place in the past few months, balanced with the recognition that many departments within government have a foreign international dimension, requires us to be able to form a policy that is quite separate from our commercial interests.

The hon. member has just travelled to the Middle East. I can say with some certainty that if we are to be successful as a country in reflecting Canada's values overseas, as the integrator of all the values and policies that we have in this country and to advocate Canada's values and interests in the international fora and arena, then we must try to accomplish something here. I take the hon. member's comments about the very busy agenda at committee. I said to an hon. member from the Bloc last week, that we have never in my time as parliamentary secretary been involved on committee with issues that deal specifically with trade. We accept that trade is going to go its own route.

We also believe on this side of the House that there is far more merit in understanding the consequential effects of some of the major events that have transpired just in our time, as evidenced by what the hon. member has just given in terms of her concerns about BMD, the tsunami, consular interests and human rights. It seems to me we must reasonably conclude that while we may not agree on report stage or third reading, at least it would be important for us to respect the will of Canadians certainly in terms of their contribution to get this legislation to committee where we can study it, notwithstanding the very heavy agenda that we have there.

I would call on the member of Parliament, the critic, the very capable former leader of the New Democratic Party to redouble her efforts. It might be an opportunity for her to at least give us an indication of whether her party might now think about getting this bill to committee, so that we can study this very important objective which I think all Canadians support. If I understand her answer very clearly, she is not as ambivalent as she was earlier.

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4:20 p.m.


Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is wishful thinking on the part of the parliamentary secretary. It certainly was not an indication of good listening skills.

I made it absolutely clear that it is the intention of my party, 19 members of Parliament to vote against this bill at second reading. We have not heard one bit of persuasive argument as to why we should proceed with this legislation at this time.

I also think that the parliamentary secretary put out a bit of a challenge when he said that we should vote to send it to committee and have it come back at third reading to respect the will of Canadians. I do not know what he is measuring as the will of Canadians. Certainly Canadians did not express their will on this issue in the dialogue that took place with the previous foreign affairs minister.

If the parliamentary secretary takes the majority of members' views as the will of Canadians, at least in the parliamentary arena, the majority of members are opposed to this legislation. That has been made clear by the Conservatives, the Bloc and the New Democratic Party. That is another way of measuring the will of Canadians.

Would the parliamentary secretary in his comments wrapping up second reading debate indicate on what basis he deems this to be an expression of the will of Canadians? Maybe he has some kind of polling results which seem to be the main basis for the policies of the Liberal government. Perhaps he has some polling which would show that Canadians are deeply concerned about the issue of whether foreign affairs and international trade are operating within the same department. I would ask him to share with us those polling results and any other basis for this position which he could put forward.

Again I say that I have valiantly searched. I have made it a point to talk to foreign affairs personnel in every corner that I could, both here in Ottawa and overseas, about their views on this. I have not found anyone yet that favours this. Most of the departmental personnel with whom I have talked, from the newest, youngest recruits all the way to the most senior diplomats and some who are retired say, “We do not even know why we are doing it”. I would say that is reason enough to vote it down, along with all of the other reasons that have been presented to the government to which the Liberals seem not very willing to listen.

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4:25 p.m.


Francine Lalonde La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was in the Middle East and I could attend only the first part of this debate. However, I would have liked to join my colleague, the international trade critic. By the way, he too is totally against dividing this department, which, I believe, has been Canada's strength. I say that in passing because, like the hon. member for Joliette, I want Quebec to become sovereign. I would make sure a sovereign Quebec has a department of foreign affairs that oversees international trade, international development, human rights and, if possible, immigration. Indeed, foreign affairs is the best way for one country to establish relations with another country. This approach to establishing relations with another country includes certain elements, which must be integrated.

I do not understand in the least what could have motivated, justified or explained how we ended up with this fait accompli. For almost two years now they have been working on splitting up this department. I do not understand how this happened. It makes me angry. It is quite shocking that for something as important as Canada's foreign policy, its rapport with international agencies and with foreign countries, they arrive after the fact, without consultation or justification, after nearly two years in the House of Commons, with two meagre little bills. It might be a coincidence, but the international trade bill is thicker than the foreign affairs bill. This comes to us as a fait accompli.

I listened with pleasure to the speech by my colleague from the NDP. It was an excellent speech. A number of the aspects that she listed I will go over. However, I will begin by saying that by separating the departments we are losing the coordination among these aspects we need in our approach to reaching out to foreign countries and international agencies.

I decided to go back a bit into history and find the previous bills—I stopped at the one from 1985, which was adjusted a bit in 1995—to see what the powers and functions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs have been. Let us look at what he was doing or might have done if he had continued to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. First, he heads Canada's diplomatic and consular relations. Fine. Next, he is responsible for official communication between the Government of Canada and the government of any other country and between the Government of Canada and any international organization. Surprise. In the bill on the Department of International Trade, we find it is now the Minister of International Trade who is responsible for official communication between the Government of Canada and the governmentof any other country and between the Government of Canada and any international organization.

Perhaps this is an error, but it seems the Department of International Trade is responsible for official communication. Perhaps in looking at both these acts—because it is not explicit in the other—that there are two ministers responsible for official communication between the Government of Canada and the government of any other country and between the Government of Canada and any international organization, on subjects which may intersect. In fact, how could they not intersect? The problem of coordination is already apparent.

Third, in subclause 10(2)( c ), it says “[the minister shall] conduct and manage international negotiations;”

We live in a time of rapid globalization. Increasingly, countries meet to discuss all sorts of issues that concern them. Coordination is indispensable. Previously, it was the minister who led international negotiations. That does not mean he participated in all negotiations, but he was ultimately responsible.

Where has that responsibility gone? We see, in the Department of International Trade that it is the minister who conducts and manages international negotiations. The minister is also the person responsible for conducting and coordinating Canada’s relations regarding international trade and international investment. Is there not a relationship between international investments and international development, international assistance and international monetary policy? It will now be the role of the Department of International Trade, surprisingly.

When it comes to the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs, it must of course stimulate Canada's international trade. We understand that this role will now belong to International Trade, but I wonder, do they not think that international trade is still involved in our relations with other countries? How can Canada present any consistent positions. How can departments establish priorities when they are dealing with countries that might, for instance, have human rights problems? We know that if there are such problems in a country, either the international community or our own policies will dictate that we cannot trade with it. That is a foreign policy decision.

When the Minister of Foreign Affairs meets with leaders from a developing country and there is a discussion of our relationship and the desire of Canada to help them, he will of course be discussing international trade but will he not add the possibility of increasing international trade, under certain conditions? Even if stimulating Canada's international trade would appear to be the responsibility of the Minister of International Trade, this is not always the case.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs was also responsible for CIDA, and that will continue.

I have, however, just questioned the connection between international development and international trade. Is this not the coming trend? We saw that at the Kananaskis summit, in connection with Africa, former PM Chrétien's pet cause. The first way to help the countries of Africa would be to establish trade links.

This is, once again, proof of the close connection between foreign policy and international trade policy. There is no way to disentangle the two in real life. This applies to the duties of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who ought to continue to be the one responsible for everything involving Canada's relations with other countries but it also applies to the embassies.

It is very interesting. In recent weeks, we have been asking questions in the embassies. They assure us that nothing will change, but they also tell us that the staff is greatly concerned. Some of them came in via the foreign affairs route but specialize in international trade, and others, vice versa. How will they sort it out? They do not know and they are greatly concerned. I will address this again later if there is any time left. I do, however, want to raise the point now because it is a serious problem. The effectiveness of embassies depends on their skilled and devoted staff, but they are very worried at this time. We have already heard the criticism of the former heads of mission.

We can see that the Minister of Foreign Affairs shall coordinate the direction given by the Government of Canada to the heads of Canada's diplomatic and consular missions. That is fine, but the heads of Canada's diplomatic and consular missions also have international trade responsibilities. What are the priorities? How will human rights requirements be taken into account?

The next subparagraph reads, “have the management of Canada's diplomatic and consular missions”. Management, it says. In these two bills, there is nothing about the management of priorities between these very important components, as if priorities were to be set by the Prime Minister's Office. The question needs to be asked. There is no mention of where priorities will set. Will the two ministers get together to discuss them? That makes no sense.

I read further, “foster the development of international law and its application in Canada's external relations”. Did you know that this was part of the bill on the international trade department?

The Minister for International Trade shall, “foster the development of international law and its application as it relates to Canada's international trade and commerce and international investment”. It is as if they could have totally separate mandates, with no overlap; as if contacts could be avoided between departments—and I have said nothing yet of the committee—regarding their mandates with respect to trade issues or foreign affairs issues. As I said before, those issues go hand in hand.

I read further, “carry out any other duties and functions that are by law assigned to the minister”. When I look at what functions remain with the Minister of Foreign Affairs after many were assigned to the Minister of International Trade, I notice that there is not much coordination left for him to do. Coordination involves management, and management involves strategy development.

The great concern with these two bills is that they seem to have been hastily drafted in response to some imperative that I am still unaware of, perhaps in keeping with what my NDP counterpart said. Is it because certain business people complained that they were obligated to comply with constraints imposed by Foreign Affairs on the Exports Credit Insurance Corporation, which now bears a different name? Could that have something to do with it? If so, this information must be shared and very soon.

We talked earlier about the public. People must know what drives Canada's relations with other countries in terms of trade, international aid, immigration.

As for these two bills, both of them are missing something. There is a complete lack of coordination between the two and the impossibility of coordinating two departments that share the same playing field. This leads me to say that dangerous improvising is going on, which will result in abuses.

I find it very strange that this bill was introduced the same day the new Minister of Foreign Affairs was sworn in. This is very strange. This means that not only were Parliament and the committee not consulted, but the subcommittee on international trade was not consulted either. It seems to me, too, that the ministers themselves were not consulted.

So we find ourselves in a disturbing situation because we are in the dark. We do not know what is behind such an ill-advised policy. When I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he appeared before the committee, what he thought, he was quite evasive. He said that there were always consultations with the business community. That is what he said. Would this have been after pressure from the business community? I want to say once again that if this is the case, it must be admitted because this is extremely ill-advised and incomprehensible and it distances us from so-called Canadian values—in many cases, they could be considered universal ones—which Canada wants to champion or says that it does. We are in extremely dangerous territory.

Community groups in Quebec with an international focus are also very concerned. They can worry all they want, because they are not getting any answer.

It seems that there is no priority amongst trade, foreign affairs, human rights and international development. If such priorities do not exist, who will set them?

Will international trade be excluded from the requirement to respect what are considered Canadian values and could even be considered international values?

As my colleague from Joliette, the international trade critic, pointed out, what business people and world leaders talk about when they get together in Davos is not how to make more profits, but rather how to fight world poverty. This way of fighting world poverty requires—and some people admit this—that trade be regulated and that natural resources developers in developing countries be forced to respect laws. If those laws cannot be made at the local level, they must be made at the international level. We cannot attempt to protect the environment and at the same time let the African mines be operated the way they are now.

Time flies too fast. We will be discussing this issue again in committee, but the Bloc will certainly not accept this decision to split a department that allows us, in response to pressure from various people in society of course, to have one policy, to speak with one voice. To all those who believe in international development, in the fight against poverty and in establishing trade rules while promoting economic development, this decision is extremely harmful and damaging and they will be working to make sure that it does not become final.