Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support the motion. I do this based on my experience, largely based in Latin America and doing development and aid work, primarily in El Salvador.
The experience that I had in El Salvador informs the approach that I think is missing on this file, and it highlights some of the challenges that we have when we look as a country at what is happening. It is one of the reasons why bringing responsible ministers to committee and probing them on this issue is about more than simply addressing the immediate, important and vital concerns around Ebola, its spread in Africa, and the possibility of its spread to other countries. It is also about trying to figure out how we can change our approach to these situations so that we stop finding ourselves in a position of constantly responding to crisis. Instead, we should rearrange, restructure and rethink our foreign policy and our support of developing countries in such a way that we are practising preventative measures so that we protect populations from crisis and prevent these situations from arising.
I do have some experience with friends who have done work in Africa. One in particular has run several large refugee camps in Africa and is now working for an aid organization out of Washington. One of the things that the western countries continuously do, including Canada and other developed countries, is to decide what is in their best interests as their approach to foreign policy and development work, instead of taking a look at what is working and what is effective in the countries where they are trying to do work.
Particularly in Africa, what was found through research was that western countries in Europe and North America were more focused on saving money in the delivery of aid than actually delivering aid effectively. Particularly around food, where Africa has had huge challenges with malaria and AIDS, the drought and famine dynamic in Africa has fostered the spread of disease. Because we have not built a transportation infrastructure to deliver aid to where people need it and where people are living, what we have done is create centres to which people have to come to get food and medical resources. They get concentrated around these aid camps, pick up diseases, share them among different people from different regions of the affected area, and then go back to their smaller communities and spread those diseases.
We have become agents of contaminants and disease precisely because of the way in which we deliver aid. This is a significant problem and it needs to change. The way it needs to change is by switching our foreign policy from one of purely economic development and looking for opportunities to exploit economically on behalf of Canadian companies, to one that gets back into the process of developing the social and physical infrastructure required in these countries to manage their public health, local government and social capacities in such a way that we prevent the problems from spreading.
I am a new member, and I neglected to inform the Speaker that I will be splitting my time with the member for Random—Burin—St. George's. I apologize for that.
To return to the issue at hand, in this current situation, we need to develop an aid policy that builds capacity. If we take a look at the on-site conditions in places such as Liberia, there are no public ambulances. Not a single ambulance in that country is operated by a public entity. I recognize that perhaps there are some on the other side who think that all health care should be privatized, but the trouble with having a privatized health care system like that is that there is no effective way in an epidemic to deliver patients to hospitals safely. There is no way to deliver medicines and goods to hospitals across a country safely if there is no effective public intervention in the transportation system. This is a problem.
With the ravages of AIDS and the dynamic of depleted professional populations through these various epidemics, we have also seen that doctors and the intellectual capacity of some of these countries have been significantly challenged by the way in which they have to manage these crises. As a result of that, doctors and laboratory assistants, the very expertise that we need to combat this on the ground, are not present in some of these countries. The hopes of developing this expertise are extinguished when we invest not in universities and training but simply look to exploit minerals or other economic opportunities.
We need to change the way we do foreign policy, share our intellectual knowledge and financial capacity, and reinvest our dollars and capacity as a country into restructuring, rebuilding and reinvigorating the social capacity of these countries. That is not happening.
When we have a foreign policy driven by trade and not by development, what ends up happening is that when one of these tragedies emerges, the capacity for the country to respond is not there.
That is why we send a field laboratory into Africa rather than simply facilitating the construction and arrival of a permanent laboratory in this part of the country that could do other work after Ebola, hopefully, disappears. It is also why we see in these sorts of catastrophes in a country such as Liberia, one of the largest producers of rubber, it has no capacity to manufacture its own rubber gloves or protective gear. It is mind-blowing in terms of the simplicity that we could drive into a situation like this by moving to create capacity in these countries.
Canada has other things it can share beyond simply sending drugs here, there and everywhere, and sending temporary support to these countries. For example, with the SARS epidemic, which took root in Toronto when the epidemic spread to our country, we have developed some of the finest public health protocols. Those health protocols are contained within our borders.
We have not set up the capacity to train public health workers in other countries. We have not used our acquired intelligence on these things to pursue a policy of developing capacity in these countries. Again, we return to a trade-based foreign policy instead of a social development policy. As a result of that, these crises emerge and they emerge unchecked in countries that are struggling to provide basic services to their people.
As I said, I worked in El Salvador. I have delivered aid directly to municipalities there. It was not a program supported by the federal government. It was a program supported by the City of Toronto. It was a city-to-city initiative that saw us taking decommissioned ambulances, repairing them, driving them to El Salvador and building the only public ambulance capacity in that developing country.
As a country, we have the capacity, the resources and the expertise to build and develop this capacity in Africa in places where not only Ebola but other diseases and famine and civil war are destroying civil society. We need to reinvest in our capacity to create civil society.
One comment that was made across the aisle that I think is an important one was about bringing more than just the health ministers to bear. Bringing the development minister and the foreign affairs contingent of the executive branch of government is critically important because we need to start reorienting our approach to foreign aid in such a way as we build capacity. That is missing from this debate. A focused and sustained conversation through committee is the way to start to change the way the government and our country responds to international dynamics.
We need to do this and we need to do it in a way that allows for our country's capacity and talent to shine on the international stage, rather than to simply respond and deliver the same message time and time again, that it is all about trade. It is as if somehow trade is going to stop a disease from spreading or that somehow trade is going to build capacity in a country where quite clearly the capacity has not been built, despite the fact that Liberia's gross domestic product has been outpacing most of Africa's, growing at a rate close to China for the last five years. That growth is now significantly threatened.
This is the direction in which the Liberal Party hopes to take foreign policy. This is the direction in which we hope to focus debate through committee. That is why we are asking members of the House to support the member's motion.