Mr. Speaker, I posed a question with regard to the closing of the consulates in Japan, Italy and Russia. At the time, I was told that there would be no difficulty and that the government would be able to respond effectively by using handbooks.
I point out to the House as an example that in Osaka, Japan, 25 million people live in the Kansai region. Japan has the second largest economy in the world. It is a major trading partner. In fact, it is our number two trading partner for direct investment as well. Yet we were going to close that consulate, in which there is a GNP greater than that of all of Canada. The government response was that it wanted to save money. This is at a time when the government is flush with dollars, yet it wanted to cut these consulates, and more will be on the chopping block.
I would point out that I put a motion forward at the foreign affairs committee to have the minister appear. He did appear, but his answer was not sufficient. I see the minister smiling over there. I would point out to him that if we are going to be global, if we are going to compete with the Americans, the Australians, and others, then we have to be a player. We cannot do it simply from the capital.
The former Japanese ambassador raised questions about this. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan opposed this, as did the Canada Japan Society.
Everyone knows about doing business. Japan is an example. We closed those two consulates in Japan on March 31. Everyone knows that we need to make friends first. Business comes second. We need to have those contacts. By closing those consulates, we unfortunately sent out a very damning statement about our interest in that part of the world. We did the same in Milan, Italy, which was a jumpoff point for our business people in eastern Europe. Suddenly it has been closed and the opportunities for us are gone.
Now we learn that 19 more may be on the chopping block, including one in Riga, Latvia. This again sends a very negative image of Canada.
The government says that when the Liberals were in power we closed consulates. I would point out that when we inherited a deficit of $42.5 billion some consulates were closed by our government. Now the Conservative government is awash in money. I respect the minister, but he should know better. He received letters indicating the problem with closing these consulates. If we really want to be competitive, if we really want to be on the cutting edge, then we should not be closing them.
The Conservative government has not been honest. It has not answered the fundamental question. What is the overall strategy of the government when it comes to our representation abroad? What is the master plan?
Apparently there is no master plan. If there is a master plan, the government should be able to produce it. It should be able to tell us why it is doing these things. It should be able to tell us its strategy. There is no strategy on that side of the House.
Those members talk about wanting to be competitive internationally, yet they are closing consulates. They want to be competitive and yet they have no strategy. The government is not helping the business community, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which says the government has no China strategy either. At the end of the day, we have a government with no direction.
This is an important issue not only for our business community but also for Canadians who are travelling abroad. Essentially, we need a clear mandate as to what the government is all about when it comes to our representations abroad.