Mr. Chair, colleagues, I welcome this opportunity to discuss our estimates and CIDA's role in the world.
Under the leadership of the Prime Minister and this government, Canada's international assistance will be more effective, focused and accountable. Long gone are the days of Liberal hollow promises and inefficient, unaccountable international assistance. Our government is working to make Canada's aid more focused, effective and accountable. This government is showing compassion for the less fortunate.
Recently, Canadians have witnessed our government's quick response to the natural disasters in both Burma and China, but we did not believe that funnelling millions of dollars to a military regime halfway around the world would truly help hundreds of thousands of people who were suffering. We acted responsibly. We immediately announced $2 million to groups with access on the ground to those in need, such as the Red Crescent Society. We loaded emergency shelter kits to protect some 10,000 people against the elements and harsh conditions.
This week the Burmese government granted more access to international aid workers, and so, just last week, I announced that Canada would be matching individual personal Canadian donations to organizations with the access, capacity and ability to deliver the needed aid directly to victims. This aid will provide food, shelter, emergency health care and clean water.
In response to natural disasters, it is our goal to act quickly, efficiently, accountably and with compassion.
In our development work our goal is to help developing nations gain the skill and the expertise they need to be self-sufficient and able to provide basic services to their own people, and so, we are refocusing our mission in Afghanistan. As the independent panel report, the Manley report, stated, progress is being made in Afghanistan, but more work is to be done. As a government, we agree with the recommendations of the report.
With the report as a guiding principle, we have put more CIDA officers in the field and delegated more authority to staff on the ground. We are working to ensure better cooperation and coordination through our whole of government approach. We are continuing our efforts to inform Canadians through regular briefings with the media.
As one of the top donors in Afghanistan with $1.3 billion through to 2011, I am confident that with our international partners we can make a difference in the lives of the Afghan people.
As Kai Eide, UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, said, “The way you in Canada spend your [aid] money is an example I would like to see for other countries”.
As more security gains ground, we will be able to see more girls in school, more female teachers, greater strides in economic development and increased access to basic health services. Currently, as the House knows, the cabinet committee is establishing priorities, benchmarks and timelines.
Working with the Afghan government and our international partners, Canada can be proud of our part in bringing Afghanistan closer to a stronger, freer and self-sustaining country.
As you know, Mr. Chair, our government has also made a significant commitment to Africa. The Prime Minister announced funding for the Canadian-led Initiative to Save a Million Lives. In Africa, our contribution will train over 40,000 front line health care workers. Our funding will help combat measles, guard against diphtheria and fight pneumonia.
A promise our Prime Minister made is that we are doubling our aid to Africa, a substantial increase over the previous government's support, and this is a promise we will keep. However, we will do it effectively, accountably and with compassion for the less fortunate.
When I visited a small school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I witnessed young boys and girls gaining the knowledge that will not only enrich their lives but also the lives of their family members. There is no doubt that education and literacy is key to a better life, leading to improved health care and more opportunities toward self-sufficiency.
However, we must also remember to remain flexible, able to respond to emerging issues.
Recently, caused by many factors, the world found itself facing a quiet tsunami: the food crisis. Those who live on the lowest levels of income are struggling to feed themselves and their families, and Canada again answered the international appeal.
Canadians can be proud that of all the developed countries in the world, Canada has been the third largest country contributor to the World Food Programme over the last two years under this government.
However, I was shocked to learn that the former government, after signing the international Food Aid Convention, shortchanged the world's hungry by over 200,000 metric tonnes of food. In fact, since 2000, the Liberal government failed to meet its food aid commitment more times than it met it.
Since becoming government, we have met our commitment on food aid each and every year we have been in office. It is through partnerships with organizations like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank that we are helping to address the global food crisis.
Last month I announced an additional $50 million, a 28% increase in our food aid and the untying of our food aid. This means our food aid will be more efficiently acquired and delivered and can be used to support local or regional farmers in areas across the world. This will make a difference to people in Africa, Afghanistan, South America and Haiti.
As the executive director of the World Food Programme has said:
This generous contribution by Canada will help protect millions of children from severe malnutrition and hunger.
This is a global crisis and our government will ensure that we are part of the international effort to not only meet the immediate emergency need but to find the longer term solutions. Canada will always be part of international efforts to support the victims of conflict and poverty.
In conclusion, I remind the House that the Prime Minister stated:
We are a country of the Americas, re-engagement in our hemisphere is a critical international priority for our Government. Canada is committed to playing a bigger role in the Americas and to doing so for the long term -
I just returned from a meeting at the Caribbean Development Bank where I heard that Canada's significant contribution to the bank's special development fund is supporting many countries in the Caribbean and helping them meet their developmental needs.
As one of our main missions in the Americas, we recently came to Haiti's aid with $10 million in additional food aid, as well as $10 million in accelerated programs that will ensure food is available.
In the Americas, we are working to promote Canada's foundational pillars of security, prosperity and democratic governance. We are developing programs but I must say that the appreciation I heard for the past two days from different countries across the Caribbean, as well as representatives from Central and South America, is that we are doing our part.
Canada is doing its share around the world in its international development efforts. Our government is focused on achieving effective, accountable, measurable and sustainable results.
I want to assure Canadians that when Canada puts forward its international assistance, we will ensure that it does in fact help the people it is intended to help. We will always be responsible, not only about making large announcements and large monetary announcements, we will ensure that the food, the water, the shelter and the medicine that people need will get to those who are in need. That is a commitment from this government.
We do have priorities. We have a priority to ensure Canadians can trust this government to represent them well, to be responsible and to show the compassion that Canadians feel for all people.