Mr. Speaker, it is great to get a chance to rise to speak to the report and the good work that the foreign affairs committee has been doing and that this minister has been doing. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has done an outstanding job on the world stage representing Canada. I will be sharing my time with the member for Prince Albert.
We have been working on a number of things at committee and I want to review some of the committee business. Obviously this is a report that was done last year, one that we think is important. When we look at some of the multilateral organizations we are involved with, the OAS is certainly important for the southern hemisphere. The organization has had some challenges over time, but we still believe it is important.
When we were in Washington meeting with various ambassadors and in talking with people, they said it is still important to engage with the OAS and to work with it. We are involved with a number of multilateral organizations, some of which are not always perfect, but we see how important the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, is in terms of election monitoring, what is going on in Ukraine and the job that Canadians have done over there, the large delegations we have sent, and how important the role has been for Canada.
I want to read some of the conclusions and recommendations of the report, and give the House the framework, just to remind people who may not have had a chance to read the report online. I will read from the conclusions and recommendations for the record. It says:
As the discussion above illustrates, the OAS is not a perfect organization.
I just alluded to that.
It is, however, an important one for Canada and for the hemisphere. The Committee is of the opinion that Canada's long-standing commitment to the OAS as the premier multilateral organization in the Western Hemisphere should continue, focused around the OAS' core competencies of democratic governance, human rights, security, and economic development.
One of the things we heard when we were in Washington was that there was sort of a mission creep. The OAS has looked at maybe continuing to expand its mandate, which multilateral organizations will do from time to time. We heard from various ambassadors and people we talked to in the organization is that maybe the OAS should return to its core, return to some of the things it does well. That is why I say that if we look at some of the competencies of the OAS, such as democratic governance, human rights, security, and economic development, we see that if it could get back to some of those core things, it would make the organization more effective. I will continue on with the conclusion:
That being said, there is a clear and urgent need for reforms that can put the financing of the organization on stable and sustainable footing and return its emphasis to this core work.
One of the issues that were raised was that once again, as usual, Canada is punching away above its weight in terms of financial contributions. Certainly organizations that belong to the OAS pay very little if not much at all. I have a list here that we included in the appendix. I just to want to share some of those:
Such reforms would enable the organization to implement its responsibilities in an effective manner and live up to its purposes as established in the organization's founding Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Canada has and should continue to negotiate reforms in these areas.
We saw in Washington, as we talked to people, that Canada has taken a leadership role in this organization in terms of championing reforms. Canada is also very well respected by all the countries around the table. We are seen as an honest broker. We are seen as somebody who is there to represent the needs of everybody, not somebody who is always trying to implement their will and demands on everybody else. We are seen as somebody who is willing to sit at the table and help negotiate, help lead, and help move forward with real and practical solutions. I will continue. It says:
The Committee is under no illusions about the novelty of these observations, or about the difficulty of realizing reforms.
As I say once again, we understand that the organization is far from perfect, but we also understand that this is one of the few ways that we can help engage in the Americas and why we still need to be at the table.
Canada is one of 34 member states that participate in an organization that works by consensus, and working by consensus is always a challenge. We do not always get everything we want. That is one of the challenges others have as well.
The basic problems facing the OAS are well known. Solutions have been proposed over the years from within and from outside the organization, but decisions that inevitably involve trade-offs in financing or programming, or both, are not easy to reach in any political forum, let alone one representing millions of people from diverse countries that stretch from the north to the south poles.
The context has also changed since Canada joined the OAS in 1990. The emergence of sub-regional blocks in the hemisphere and political divisions within the OAS are an added complication to the efforts to address the organization's longstanding challenges. We are not so naive to think that the organization does not have issues, but we still believe it is an important one and we should still remain at the table to participate.
However, the existence of the OAS since 1948, its body of concrete accomplishments, and its ability to adapt its work to changes that have taken place in the hemisphere since its founding, are a testament to its value. They are also evidence that the OAS is capable of being dynamic. Moreover, as a multilateral forum, the OAS has and continues to provide space for dialogue and co-operation and the pooling of resources, expertise, and experiences, thus helping to establish conditions to which compromise and shared purpose are possible.
Based on some of these conclusions, here are some of the recommendations the committee put forward as a result of a report on the work that was done down there. The first committee recommendation was:
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to support the Organization of American States (OAS) as the premier multilateral organization in the Western Hemisphere.
We believe that, while the organization may not be perfect, this is one of the few areas where we can engage with the southern hemisphere. That is why we believe we should still be at the table.
The second committee recommendation we had was:
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to push for reforms to strengthen the OAS with its like-minded partners through the OAS General Assembly and Permanent Council.
In talking with our ambassador and staff, who are well respected there, they and our government realize that this organization needs to continue to look at reforms to strengthen it. We realize there is more that could be done. We realize that, in terms of some of the things we have been involved with over the years, it has continued to require more and more resources and, if it were to sharpen its focus on some of these things, this would make it a more effective organization.
Therefore, as part of that, the second recommendation was to continue to push reforms to strengthen the OAS and its like-minded partners through the OAS general assembly and permanent council. These possible reforms would:
a. Return the organization's focus to its core areas of work, namely democratic governance, human rights, security, and development;
There have been a number of different areas in which OAS is involved. We believe that, if it would go back to the core, that would be more effective and certainly more focused and important.
b. Result In a substantial reduction in the number of existing OAS mandates, principally those that fall outside of the organization's core areas of work (as listed above);
Once again, mission creep has happened here in terms of where it is at.
c. Lead to a formula for increasing member states' assessed quotas to the OAS regular fund to a degree that is at minimum sufficient to cover annual inflationary and personnel costs;
While we believe that we share the leadership role there, we also believe that other countries should do their fair share, and probably more, in terms of financial support.
d. Encourage consideration of the proposal to reduce the United States' quota to 49% of the OAS regular fund, so long as doing so would not result in a reduction in the regular fund's total budget;
e. Institute a process whereby new mandates cannot be added to the OAS' portfolio of work without funding sources being identified, accompanied by an analysis of the rationale for OAS action in the relevant area; and
f. Ensure that all reasonable OAS activities related to the promotion and protection of democratic governance and human rights are fully, consistently and predictably funded.
Once again, as we look at some of the things in which this organization is involved, the recommendations of the committee were to go back to its core, to focus on what it does well, and to make sure it continues to represent democracy in that area.