Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This is a particularly important point. I want to ensure there are at least some members here to benefit from it.
We are debating a motion with respect to the foreign policy of the government. It comes forward in a particular context. That context is that the government has sought to extend the hours beyond the usual hour at which we adjourn. We are now in a situation where Monday to Thursday every week the debate continues to progress until midnight, but only motions or bills that the government has brought forward. It is not the case for opposition motions. However, the government has now extended debate to the end of the day. It has done so, allegedly, with the goal of implementing its very important legislative agenda. In fact, it was so important that the government not only introduced a motion for extended hours, it brought in a motion of closure with respect to extended hours.
Here is what the government House leader said on this issue. She said:
We have much to accomplish in the coming weeks. Our government has an ambitious legislative agenda that we would like to advance in order to deliver on the commitments we made to Canadians in the last election. Let me reflect on our recent legislative achievements before I turn to the important work that lies before us over the next four weeks.
In our last sitting week, the House and Senate were able to reach agreement on securing passage of Bill C-37, which would put in place important measures to fight the opioid crisis in Canada. I would like to thank members of the House for the thoughtful debate on this bill and for not playing politics with such an important piece of legislation....I would also like to point out the passage of two crucial bills related to trade...The first, Bill C-30...I am proud that our government continues to open the doors to trade and potential investment in Canada to grow our economy and help build a strong middle class.
In looking forward to the next four sitting weeks, I would like to highlight a few priority bills that our government will seek to advance. I will start with Bill C-44, which would implement budget 2017. This bill is about creating good middle-class jobs today while preparing Canadians for the jobs of tomorrow....
Sitting a few extra hours for four days per week will also give the House greater flexibility in dealing with unexpected events. While it is expected that the Senate will amend bills, it is not always clear which bills and the number of bills that could be amended by the Senate. As we have come to know, the consideration of Senate amendments in the House takes time. This is, in part, why we need to sit extra hours. I know that members work extremely hard balancing their House duties and other political duties. I expect that extending the hours will add to the already significant workload.
I wish to thank members for their co-operation in these coming weeks.
The government assured us that it had a robust legislative agenda that it had to get through before the summer. That is why we needed to extend hours.
Our party was willing to support extending hours under certain conditions that involved protecting the fundamental rights of the opposition. Those considerations were completely ignored by the government. It put through closure, it ran through its bill, and we carry on.
Now we are working under the framework established by Motion No. 14, which was designed to respond to the government's allegedly important legislative agenda.
Then we have the government bringing forward this motion. This motion was not promised. It is not something the government had ever committed to doing. It is not at all substantive. In general, motions in the House do not impact legislation. They can change the Standing Orders, theoretically, but that is it. They cannot change the law of the land. This motion was not effectual. Really, if we drill into the text of the motion that has been proposed, it looks more like it is designed simply to boost the self-esteem of the government. It is a motion that says, “Hey, we're doing a really great job.” The government seems to need to use the time in the House to debate and seek a vote on a motion telling it that it is doing a really good job.
I have a spoiler alert. This motion is probably going to pass. The government has a majority. If it wants to pass a motion saying, “Hey, we're doing a great job”, it has the numbers in the House to do it. However, it is a ridiculous exercise. It speaks more fundamentally to the question of why the government needs a motion of the House of Commons to boost its self-esteem with respect to what it is doing on foreign policy.
Let me read the motion for the benefit of members so it is very clear what I am talking about.
The motion reads:
That the House (a) recognize that the government is committed to a foreign policy that supports multilateralism and rules-based international systems, human rights, gender equality, the fight against climate change, and economic benefits being shared by all; (b) recognize that further leadership on the part of Canada is both desirable and required; and (c) support the government’s decision to use the foregoing principles to guide Canadian foreign policy.
Basically, it is a motion. It does not speak to specific foreign policy situations. It does not seek the endorsement of the House to proceed in a particular way with respect to a particular situation. It just says, “These are some important principles and aren't we doing a great job at implementing them.”
Put another way, I would say this is the selfie of parliamentary motions. It is put forward purely for image and has absolutely no legislative effect, yet a government that was so concerned with needing to get through its legislative agenda has put this motion on the table.
When a government needs to bring forward a motion like this, it actually reminds me of a dialogue from Game of Thrones, where Tywin Lannister says to Joffrey, “Any man who must say 'I am the king' is no true king.” This is the “I am the king” of parliamentary motions. It is the government members' attempt to simply remind themselves that in their view they are doing a very good job. It is perplexing as a use of parliamentary time when the government claims it actually has a robust legislative agenda. It is quite strange. I would say, if this is the “I am the king” of parliamentary motions, then the king is tired so see him to his chambers.
This is the second time they have done this in two days. Yesterday, they put forward a motion to reaffirm the House's commitment to the Paris accord. The House has already passed a motion to support the Paris accord. That already happened, but I guess government members felt that they just wanted to do it again. The new motion they proposed yesterday had no legislative effect. It was a rearticulation of the position of the government, but it had absolutely no substance or meaning, just as this motion has no substance in terms of the actual effect it has. Of course, as argument it has substance, but its passage has no concrete effect, especially with respect to Paris, since the House has already passed a motion.
Notably, we have had, twice in as many days, a government that needed to extend the hours supposedly for the purposes of advancing its legislative agenda coming forward with motions that really do not have any kind of substantive effect. In one case, it is very repetitive. They merely create an occasion for the government to, through a vote, say, “Look at us. We got our majority to vote to say we're doing a good job” on some issue or another.
On the issue of the Paris accord, as we are again voting on it, it is an accord that introduces nationally approved targets, which are not binding. In principle, there is nothing wrong with that, but it also needs to be recognized that it is not the be-all and end-all, because the effect of the Paris accord is going to be determined by the kinds of targets that nations actually set under it and whether or not they follow through with their targets.
It is the same approach that I spoke of earlier with respect to the Kyoto protocol. With the Kyoto protocol, the Chrétien government emphasized Kyoto and did a big public relations exercise on it, but in the end, it did not actually do anything about it beyond having that extensive public relations exercise.
Again, with Paris, we are seeing the government trying to use this as a cover for its desire to raise taxes. It is not following the effective example we saw under the Harper government, which actually led to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It is instead trumpeting the agreement and trying to use it as a cover to raise taxes.
This is what is going on here. This is the government wanting to extend hours and then using the time for these pretend public relations exercises, which actually do not have a substantive effect on outcomes on the ground. In the case of Paris, the motion has already passed.
In this case, if the government wanted to bring forward a motion saying such and such a thing with respect to our relationship with China, with respect to something that is happening in a particular area, then there would be a space to debate it. However, it is strange to try to wrap one's head around the government's strategy in terms of parliamentary time, never mind the broader hypocrisy with respect to its approach on foreign policy issues.
I would like to talk about some of the specific foreign policy initiatives that were taken under Stephen Harper's leadership because this should provide some examples to government members that they would do well to follow. I want to talk about our relations to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Sri Lanka, Russia, and then the United Nations and gender equality, then trade, and then a number of other issues.
First of all, with respect to Canada's relationship with Israel, I was certainly very proud of the work that was done under the previous government with respect to our relationship with Israel. We recognized the importance of that relationship, that it was a relationship based on shared values, that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and that Israel is a country that provides respect and provides rights to its minority. That does not mean that Canada never does or never could disagree with specific policies of the Israeli government. In fact, there are many Israelis who eagerly engage in debate about the direction of the government, and in its very dynamic proportional representation political culture there are a lot of differences of opinion even within the cabinet.
Supporting Israel does not mean we do not necessarily disagree with what the Government of Israel is doing, but it means that we have a commitment to the principle of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, not just the right of a country called Israel to exist but Israel's right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people. This idea is quite important, quite fundamental, and something that Stephen Harper in our previous government was very clear in terms of leading on. He gave a speech to the Knesset that was very powerful in terms of standing up for Israel.
I want to read a section of that speech. Stephen Harper said:
Let me repeat that: Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so.
This is a very Canadian trait, to do something for no reason other than it is right, even when no immediate reward for, or threat to, ourselves is evident.
On many occasions, Canadians have even gone so far as to bleed and die to defend the freedom of others in far-off lands.
To be clear, we have also periodically made terrible mistakes, as in the refusal of our government in the 1930s to ease the plight of Jewish refugees.
But, as a country, at the turning points of history, Canada has consistently chosen, often to our great cost, to stand with others who oppose injustice, and to confront the dark forces of the world.
It is, thus, a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is easy or popular.
It is, thus, a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular.
But, I would argue, support today for the Jewish State of Israel is more than a moral imperative.
It is also of strategic importance, also a matter of our own long-term interests.
Before I continue, because I want to read more from that speech, this a similar point rhetorically to what the minister made here. The minister talked about Canada standing up even in cases which do not directly inform our interests. Stephen Harper was speaking very specifically about that, about it being a Canadian trait to be willing to “bleed and die” in defence of freedom even when our interests are not immediately or obviously directly impacted.
The difference is that under the previous government, our words were backed up by actions. We were willing to step out and do the hard thing, challenge other countries, and stand up for fundamental human rights. We were willing to commit troops, for example, to the fight against Daesh, as opposed to the current government, which pulled back from that fight.
Therefore, there are some similarities in terms of the words being used, but there is dramatic dissonance in terms of the actual actions undertaken if we compare what is being done by the current government and the principled foreign policy of the previous government.
I have just a few more paragraphs from Stephen Harper's speech before the Knesset that I think are crucial here. He said:
Ladies and gentlemen, I said a moment ago, that the special friendship between Canada and Israel is rooted in shared values.
Indeed, Israel is the only country in the Middle East which has long anchored itself in the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Indeed, Israel is the only country in the Middle East which has long anchored itself in the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
These are not mere notions.
They are the things that, over time and against all odds, have proven to be the only ground in which human rights, political stability, and economic prosperity, may flourish.
These values are not proprietary. They do not belong to one nation or one people.
This is an exposition of the reasons for Canada's relationship with Israel, but also more broadly the emphasis that we took when it came to protecting fundamental human rights, and recognizing as well that these are not just Canadian values, that these are universal human values. When the minister spoke, she spoke about not wanting Canada to dictate to the rest of the world on these issues, but we have to recognize that when Canada is seeking to advance not just narrowly Canadian values but values that speak to fundamental human rights, these are things that Canada should be confident in standing up for.
When it comes to Canada's relationship with Israel, we recognize that Israel is a special country in many ways, but it should not be specially singled out for criticism when there are so many other countries in the region and throughout the world who are not singled out, whose human rights situations are rarely mentioned. Uniquely, Israel is often singled out for criticism.
In one more section of his speech, the former prime minister said this before the Knesset:
I believe that a Palestinian state will come, and one thing that will make it come is when the regimes that bankroll terrorism realise that the path to peace is accommodation, not violence.
All of us in the House, I think, would strongly desire a two-state solution in the region and to see the emergence of a Palestinian state that was based on the same kinds of universal human values we all share, but that has to be based on a rejection of terrorism. That was the strong approach when it came to standing beside Israel and standing up for fundamental human rights, which we saw as a core part of the foreign policy of the previous Conservative government.
I am going to talk more about the current government's approach to Israel later on, but the big issue for me is its decision to restore funding to UNRWA. UNRWA is an organization providing education in the Palestinian territories, but one that is severely compromised when it comes to concerns about radicalization in terms of the content of that education. It is one thing for the government to talk about supporting Israel, and I think there are many members of the government who genuinely do. However, when it comes to taking a principled approach to how we spend Canadian tax dollars and how we stand by and up for our friends in the region, realistically we need to say that involves not being involved in funding or supporting education that is compromised when it comes to real concerns about radicalization.
Another point that is important to make about Israel is that, for those members who have not been to Israel, it is a pluralistic, multicultural democracy. People will see a very large number of Arab and Muslim Israelis who have all of the same rights that Jewish Israelis do. Israel is, yes, a homeland for the Jewish people; it is a Jewish state but it is also a state that fully respects the rights of minorities. Muslims as well as Christians as well as Baha'i, as well as a range of other smaller and less-known minority faith communities find they are most safe in Israel.
Israel is one of the only countries in the Middle East where Muslims have a right to vote. In many countries in the Middle East, nobody has a vote. It is important to point out that Israel, in terms of its protection of the rights of its Muslim citizens, is far ahead of many of the other countries in the region. For those who would want to cast this as an inevitable clash of religious identities, the reality is that Israel is a Jewish state but also a pluralistic one that respects fundamental rights.
That alignment of values, shared interests, commercial opportunities, and Israel's vitality when it comes to innovation are things that indicate that there are major continuing opportunities in that relationship. We have to continue to prod the government with respect to these issues, and we will. There are areas of agreement with respect to the relationship with Israel, but there are areas where it needs to do better, especially on the issue of UNRWA.
We can also talk about comments the last foreign minister made along the lines of using this “honest broker” language. The implication of being an honest broker is that we have to somehow stand right in the middle rather than being principled in our advocacy of our values. Being principled advocates of our values means that at certain points in time, we will take sides. We are not just going to sit on the sidelines and try to balance things out. We are going to say that this is right, this is wrong, and so on and so forth. A big part of the principled foreign policy of the last government was standing up for and with Israel.
Let me speak now about our relationship with Iran. We need to recognize that there is a clear threat to international peace and security presented by Iran. We need to judge Iran by its actions, not its words. I want to go through and talk specifically about some of the crimes of the Iranian regime. There is a threat to international peace and security, but there is also the issue of the fundamental human rights of the people of Iran.
Iran will have so-called elections, not really, later this year. This should be a reminder to us that President Rouhani has failed to deliver on promises of meaningful reform. The Iranian regime remains a disastrous human rights basket case and a menace to its neighbours and the people it is supposed to govern.
The regime executes hundreds of people every year, many of them for non-violent so-called crimes, such as drug-related offences, same-sex relations, and religious conversion. Iran continues to execute children. The United Nations has noted the use of electric shock therapy on LGBT children, and media have reported the flogging of minors who have protested the firing of other workers. I mentioned earlier how the Liberal government had eliminated a program the previous Conservative government had set up to help gay and lesbian refugees fleeing from Iran.
The justice system in Iran is not worthy of the name justice. Rights of defendants are restricted, and human rights groups allege the use of confessions obtained through torture. Certain kinds of criminals can only select lawyers from a pre-approved group. Selecting a lawyer in Iran can be a lot like selecting a president. Iran has elections, but candidates have to be approved by the Guardian Council, whose criteria is certainly anything but transparent.
We know that journalists and ordinary citizens alike continue to face severe restrictions on freedom of speech and can be arrested and charged for the opinions they express. Websites and social media platforms remain blocked or restricted. Independent unions continue to be targeted. Those who speak out about human rights issues are also persecuted by the regime.
Discrimination against women is rampant in all aspects of life. Women require the approval of a male guardian to get a passport, to travel, and to get married, regardless of age. Marriage for girls as young as 13 is permitted. According to the UN children's rights committee, sexual intercourse with girls as young as nine years old is not criminalized, and judges have the discretion to not punish perpetrators of so-called honour killings.
In terms of minorities, the government denies basic freedoms to the Bahá’i community, converts out of Islam, and Christians who meet in private homes, so-called house churches. Cultural activities as well as political activities are severely limited for the country's ethnic minorities.
It is quite jarring to meditate upon that list of crimes, and it is jarring every time we go over it. It is probably particularly jarring to anyone watching who has family members who are affected by these crimes. I have a few specific points about them. First, these crimes are abuses of the Iranian people. When we speak out about human rights in Iran, we are not doing that principally for a geostrategic reason but out of solidarity with the suffering people of Iran. Second, we recognize the rich cultural heritage the Persian civilization has given to the world. The clear reality of the simplistic brutality of this regime does not in any way represent this enlightened tradition. These are not Iranian values the regime is acting on. The government is, in fact, betraying its people and its cultural heritage, and Iranians are its primary victims. That is the necessary starting point when we talk about these violations of fundamental human rights in Iran.
The second point is that we can see a continuum between the regime's disregard for human dignity domestically and its foreign policy, a foreign policy that undermines the security of the entire region. I have often said in this place that a regime that is a menace to its own people is also necessarily a menace to international peace and security. This should highlight the failure of this government's appeasement policy toward various brutal regimes around the world. When nations are abusing the human rights of their own people, and they are not following international law with respect to the treatment of their own populations or minorities within their countries, they cannot be expected to follow international norms and laws either. They will not. If they are not following international law at home, they will not abroad.
We see this continuity between those two aspects of ignoring international law with respect to Iran. Iran's actions throughout the wider region are exactly the way we would expect a regime to act that treats its own people in the way I have described.
I have contended that we must seriously confront human rights abuses out of a moral concern for those who are impacted by those abuses but also because addressing human rights abuses clearly, forcefully, and constructively is also in our strategic interest. Failure to do so leaves in place those who are or will become a menace to the global order and its stability.
I want to move now from talking about Iran to talking about certain other countries through this same prism. The Iranian regime is like the North Korean and Putin regimes. Both are human rights abusers and geostrategic foes in that they oppose both our values and interests. In that sense, therefore, it should be easy to criticize them. The Liberal government often fails to do even that, but it should be relatively easy to do so.
How forceful can we be? I have raised the question in cases where a regime is a human rights abuser yet is also a potential geostrategic collaborator. I have spoken a little about Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the government's reluctance comes from the potential benefits of geostrategic collaboration with Saudi Arabia. That is a present example. I think history would give us many more examples. At the same time, if I were to go through a full litany of Saudi crimes, they would come close, perhaps, in certain respects, to Iranian crimes.
The other interesting thing about Saudi Arabia is that states like Saudi Arabia are, in a certain sense, schizophrenic. They can promote one type of policy direction with one arm of government while promoting another type of policy direction with another arm of government. States may be human rights abusers but also be led by people who are trying to, in the process, change the system. Taking a principled approach to foreign policy does not mean being unnuanced or disengaged.
At the pure strategic level, in broad strokes, I believe we are witnessing a period of dramatic transition in the Middle East, a period that started with the so-called Arab Spring. Conservative non-radical authoritarian states in the Middle East, of which Saudi Arabia is chief among them, had for too long pursued a policy of buying off radical elements, especially through support for so-called international education. These radical elements grew as a result, and the Arab Spring marked the proverbial chickens coming home to roost.
Initially, radicals allied themselves with liberals to overthrow authoritarian governments throughout the region. Some governments survived. In Egypt, after the revolution, liberals effectively re-allied themselves with authoritarians, leading to a successful counter-revolution. Other countries, like Libya and Syria, unfortunately remain in chaos.
The House of Saud, in light of all that has gone on, has still remained in place, but the Saudi monarchy must know, and I think does know by now, that it cannot keep appeasing and buying off radical fundamentalists who ultimately want to destroy it. Saudi Arabia must change, and we need to help it change, because if it does not, then not only will we have the continuation of all the human rights abuses associated with its authoritarian brand of government but we will also eventually see the chickens come home to roost there in a serious revolution in a country with Islam's holiest sites and the world's largest oil reserves.
Coming back to Iran, in some sense, Saudi Arabia's ability to confront radical Sunni elements is limited by its ongoing proxy conflicts with Iran. Iran is a post-revolutionary radical power, not a conservative authoritarian power. Unlike Saudi Arabia, which funds radical groups that it actually fears, Iran is behaving more rationally in terms of its narrowly defined self-interest. It is seeking to spread a Shia fundamentalist ideology, which it sees as ultimately strengthening its position. Saudi Arabia must change or collapse, but Iran will only change if it is forced to, and this is one of several critical differences we can distinguish here.
Unfortuntely, western policy in general has recently been failing to recognize the real threat of the Iranian regime to its own people and to global security. Negotiations to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions are important, but it is striking that a nuclear deal supported by virtually every country in the west is actually opposed by virtually every country in the Middle East not directly controlled by Iran. It is not just the Israelis who oppose the nuclear deal. The Saudis, the Emirates, and many others express concerns along similar lines.
The money Iran gained access to through the deal has now allowed it to step up its support for radical activity throughout the regime. We know well the direct involvement of Iran in continuing and perpetuating the terrible conflict in Syria.
In the midst of all I have described in terms of the situation with Iran, the threat it poses strategically, and its complete disregard for human rights, we have a government in this country that is eager to strengthen and deepen our relationship with Iran. What the government fails to recognize is that Iran is a post-revolutionary radical state, and as a result, it does not play at all by established rules. It attacks embassies, putting international diplomats at risk. It uses its own embassies to intimidate people in other countries, and we have seen examples of this happening in Canada. It is not the only country that does it, by the way, but certainly Iran is one of the countries that does it. Iran seeks to destabilize any state that has not adopted its program. Not unlike the old Soviet Union, Iran does not play by the same assumptions we do with respect to the international system.
When the Liberal government talks about opportunities for deepening the relationship with Iran, we should be very concerned. That does not accord with the commitment to fundamental international human rights, to international institutions, and to the rule of law the Liberal government is supposedly committed to. Again, there is a dramatic and unmistakable dissonance between what the government talks about with respect to these issues and what it is doing in virtually every case. With Iran, we can see clearly the working out of this policy of appeasement, a desire to pursue closer relations with Iran, in spite of the very real risks that come with it.
The previous minister of foreign affairs during his signature speech at the University of Ottawa talked about so-called responsible conviction. He highlighted the fact that movies had been made the last time Canada had an embassy in Tehran. Movies were made, but diplomats have repeatedly been put at risk.
We can have back-channel dialogue with countries like Iran, but we should not give them something for nothing. We should not send the message that everything is fine, when everything is not at all fine in any sense with regard to the actions of this regime.
I want to move on now to talk a little about Canada's relationship with the remaining communist countries in the world, specifically China and Cuba.
Sometimes during question period we have referred to communists and there have been chuckles from the government benches, as if the members think that is not really a thing anymore, that we are sort of stuck in a Cold War story that is no longer relevant.
The reality is that we have to take seriously the fundamental threats from the world's remaining communist powers, the ways in which they perhaps have changed but also the ways in which they have not changed. We have to speak frankly about that. One of the things our government championed was recognizing the terrible crimes that happened by other communist regimes, and proceeding with a memorial to victims of communism.
Some objected to that proposal and said that maybe we should just have a memorial to victims of totalitarian communism, the bad kind of communism, without seeming to understand that all communism was, by its nature, totalitarian. That is the world view of communism. That is what it is in theory and in practice.
If we look at a country like China, we see the emergence of facially capitalist structures throughout the Chinese economy, but it is all undergirded by the continuing, sometimes unseen but still present, domination of the existing system, the substructure of Communist party control. We need to be aware of that reality when we think about a commercial relationship.
With respect to our relationship with China, the opportunities but also the risks, this is something Stephen Harper understood very well. I want to quote from an interview he gave on this point. He said:
First of all, let’s be clear what the government’s objective is. These are not mixed signals, as you put it. They are carefully calibrated decisions with an objective in mind. Let me be absolutely clear: the objective is not to have the best possible relationship we can have with China in terms of getting along.
The policy of our government is not to go along to get along. And the more we get along, the better the relationship is.
Our policy is not just to get along as well as possible. Our policy is to have the best relationship that is in Canadians’ interests.
That means parts of this relationship that serve our interests, and frankly serve mutual interests between Canada and China, we are trying to develop. Whereas when we’re faced with issues that we think may be in the Chinese interest but frankly not in the interest of this country, we calibrate accordingly.
That is a very important point. Our goal in a relationship with China, frankly in a relationship with any state, should not be to have the warmest possible relationship. It should be to have the kind of relationship that, to the greatest extent, advances Canada's interests and values.
Now, for countries like Israel, about which I have spoken, where there is significant value alignment, probably the kind of relationship that best serves our interest will also be the kind of relationship that is as wafrm as possible. However, for a country like China, where there is a significant divergence of values and interests, then we will hold back a lot of the time and say that we do not want to proceed in that direction with the relationship. Proceeding in that direction might be in China's interests but it is not in Canada's interests.
This was the kind of careful measured calibration that we saw taking place under the previous Conservative government, which we have really lost under the Liberal government. It is eager, falling head over heels, into that Canada-China relationship. Whatever the Chinese government asks for, it seems as if the Liberals cannot say no, when it comes to discussions with the People's Republic of China. If it is extradition, sure, they will talk about it. If it is free trade, sure, they will talk about it. Obviously, that is a very concerning set up in the kinds of priorities they have. The government's priorities should be looking to advance Canada's interests. It should not be with respect to currying favour with people internationally who have their own interests, not Canada's interests, at heart.
With respect to Cuba, our government was very clear about understanding the major problems associated with human rights abuses and standing up forcefully in response to the things that were going on. I am quite proud of our record with respect to these issues.
Before I move on to my next point, I want to talk a bit about the situation around religious freedom in Tibet and the importance of the government on raising these issues.
I had the pleasure of serving as the vice-chair of the Canada-Tibet interparliamentary friendship group, of participating in the friends of Tibet internship program, having someone in my office involved in that program, who is doing a great job. This is on the demolition of Larung Gar.
In 2016, the Chinese government began the wide scale demolition of Larung Gar, one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist centres in the world, with plans to downsize it by 50% and evict half of its 10,000-plus residents. The evictees were forced to sign a document pledging to neither return to the institute nor continue their practice in their home town.
In 2016, the Freedom House report ranked Tibet the second worst in political and civil rights after Syria. Similarly, Amnesty International has reported on the increasing restrictions on Tibetan monastic institutes by the Chinese government. Despite the continuing repression, Tibetans and Tibet have been at the forefront of the Tibetan's movement to fight for their fundamental human rights.
In 2016, the European Parliament adopted an emergency resolution on Tibet, condemning the demolition of Larung Gar and calling for the resumption of dialogue with Tibetan representatives.
This past February, on the eve of the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, six independent UN experts expressed concern over China's systematic religious crackdown and the violation of international human rights. The U.S. congressional delegation to Dharamsala last month called for a rethink of policies to defend and promote human rights in Tibet.
Given the international condemnation of China's Tibet policies, Canada should also stand on the right side of history. As the Canadian government seeks to develop stronger ties with China, it should be consistent in doing it in the way that is consistent with our values, seeking to have China adopt the middle way approach. The middle way approach, for members who do not know, is advocated by the Tibetan community, by the Dalai Lama himself. It calls not for independence, but for genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution.
The Canadian government has at different times called for dialogue, but it should go the next step and endorse the middle way approach, which is genuine autonomy for Tibet within the framework of the Chinese constitution. Certainly it is consistent with the principles of the self-determination of peoples that has established international law in which the government is supposed to believe.
When we think about the use of House time, the government could have chosen to bring forward a motion that dealt with something concrete and specific like a motion similar to the one passed by the European Parliament, specifically condemning the demolition of Larung Gar. Instead, though, the Liberals would rather talk in big generalities so they have an opportunity to pat themselves on the back without actually dealing with specific issues, such as this terrible demolition and some of the broader issues of human rights in Tibet.
It would be worthwhile, even outside of a motion of the House, if the Minister of Foreign Affairs made some specific statements about human rights in China, specific statements with regard to this demolition.
I wanted to ensure I got the Canada-China relationship on the record.
Another area where the previous government led with respect to principled foreign policy was in our approach to Sri Lanka. This is another clear example of how Stephen Harper was more focused on Canada's interests, on Canada's values than on going along to get along.
In 2013, Canada boycotted the Commonwealth summit happening in Sri Lanka. We did so specifically because we were very concerned about the human rights situation there, in particular about the situation affecting the Tamil community.
There are very legitimate and concerning reports about the conduct of the Sri Lankan government in the civil war with respect to the use of torture and the impact on civilians. Therefore, Canada had continued, under Stephen Harper, to put significant pressure, which included the boycotting of the 2013 Colombo summit. I was very proud of the leadership that our government showed on that. However, we have not seen similar leadership or action with respect to justice in Sri Lanka from the current government, in spite of its promise to do so. I will talk more on its response to Sri Lanka later on. However, the leadership we saw from the last government on that issue was certainly very clear, something all Canadians should celebrate.
One of the areas where Canada was able to be a very strong leader toward the end of our 10 years in government was with respect to Russian aggression in eastern Europe. Canada was very clear and forceful on this issue. This was an opportunity that Canada had, given our membership as part of international bodies and institutions, to put these issues forward and to effectively advance them.
As a member of the G7, Canada finds itself in a somewhat different position relative to the United States and our European partners. Perhaps because of the superpower relationship between the United States and Russia, there are certain things the United States has always been less inclined to say. There are certain things that our European partners are perhaps less inclined to say because of commercial relationships.
Canada, without being a superpower and without having the same kind of commercial ties, was able to act as a conscience at the G7. We were able to lead specifically and forcefully on the importance of isolating Vladimir Putin, on defending Ukraine, on standing up for international borders and fundamental human rights. Stephen Harper repeatedly spoke forcefully on those issues, and it had an impact. He was able to build and lead a consensus of the G7 on those issues.
I remember people asking me if it made a difference talking about or engaging in that conversation. It made a significant difference because he and Canada were able to ramp-up that public pressure. We were able to introduce sanctions, yes, but lead our partners on imposing strong sanctions against the Putin regime, sanctions which the regime has felt.
At the same time, we were providing important military aid and other kinds of support to Ukraine. This combined action of the western alliance helped to tip the balance. It helped to allow Ukraine to respond more effectively over time to the threat associated with the Russian aggression. This was Canada being principled, appropriately understanding its role, and understanding its capacity to raise issues in a particular way because of our situation, because of the membership we had in various groups.
I was in Ukraine last August for the 25th anniversary of the founding of Ukraine. This is obviously an exciting moment for Canada. It is our 150th birthday, but none of us were here 150 years ago, so it is not as imminent to us. It is a point of remembering something that happened historically. However, the spirit was so powerful around the 25th anniversary celebrations in Ukraine, a country marking 25 years of independence, noting a very painful history prior to that, which involved repression and occupation in so many different ways. This was the kind of leadership Ukraine was able to show through those 25 years, and the changes that happened.
I had the chance to observe a military parade. There is such a great deal of pride in how over the last two years, since the start of the war, which was effectively a Russian invasion, Ukraine has been able to significantly increase its capacity to respond. That is in no small part a result of the relationship that Canada has had with Ukraine, and the steadfast support it has given to this important ally.
It was also on the occasion of the 25th anniversary that Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney were awarded the Ukraine Order of Liberty, recognizing the fact that Stephen Harper was prepared to stand up to Vladimir Putin.
I think members will remember how, during the election, the Prime Minister said that he would stand up to Putin as well. Then, afterwards, he said he did not really think that was necessary. Stephen Harper's leadership in confronting Putin was critical.
That is an example of Canadian leadership, principled leadership, with respect to our response to the situation in Russia and Eastern Europe.
What about our approach to the United Nations?
Here is the issue when it comes to the United Nations. Our previous Conservative government always prioritized the values that the United Nations is supposed to embody over the politics of UN committees. We put the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the forefront of our approach to international politics. We sought to advance the protection of fundamental human rights—all of these rights that are not well protected throughout the world, quite frankly. We have a situation in which many of the countries voting on UN resolutions, many of the countries that are represented on bodies that are supposed to be all about advancing human rights, are actually not countries that appear to take seriously their obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It is important that we get this right. A principled foreign policy, with respect to the United Nations, focuses on those values. It certainly also recognizes that the United Nations is an important forum. It is an opportunity for us to raise issues, for us to refer to the founding documents and ask why certain things not happening that should be, given the direction given by those founding documents. However, we do not regard specific UN committees as sort of the final arbiters of truth.
The previous government sought a position on the UN Security Council. I will be the first one to say it would have been great if we had been elected to the UN Security Council. However, we were not willing, ultimately, to pay the price that would have been necessary to get there. The present government's approach is to make all kinds of unacceptable compromises in the pursuit of that objective, in the pursuit of trying to get on the Security Council. However, our approach was to refuse those unacceptable compromises, recognizing that there are honourable compromises but dishonourable compromises as well. We were not willing to compromise our support for freedom, democracy, human dignity, rule of law, and justice. We were not willing to compromise those things just to get on the Security Council. We were not willing to dial back our criticism of the worst violators of human rights just in order to get approval in the councils of the world.
The government's approach is just fundamentally utilitarian. It says we can ignore human rights, we cannot talk about human rights, but then, maybe in a few years, we will be on the Security Council and maybe then we'll talk about human rights.
The fact is that, if we are not saying anything then, by that time there will be something else to pursue and, again, the government is not going to change its direction at that point. I think we know that. Even still, it is not worth the prize. I believe that, yes, as the minister discussed, Canada is an essential country. The world needs Canadian leadership on human rights right now. That is not something on which we should be willing to compromise.
Canada showed real leadership, under the previous government, on the issue of promoting gender equality around the world. Canada worked hard to combat early and forced marriage, which is something we spoke about, we pushed back on, and we made strong and forceful points. This was not uncontroversial. There were some countries that did not want us talking about the issue of early and forced marriage because they felt it was putting them in a bad light. However, it was an important issue for us to talk about.
Our former interim leader for the opposition was a strong leader on the international stage, getting the United Nations to recognize International Day of the Girl Child and bring more attention to the range of issues that affect girls: issues like early and forced marriage but also sex selection, feticide, the lack of access to education, and how poverty and different kinds of health challenges disproportionately affect girls. These were issues that our former government led on, and we were able to drive a consensus that brought more attention to these issues.
When we talked about fundamental human rights and about the rights of women, our focus was always on women and girls who were on the ground, who were suffering around the world, and who had real needs to which we could respond. It was not about just emphasizing symbolic moves in high places. This is not to say that those things cannot be important, but what really matters is the impact that the advocacy we did had on the ground and the difference that we were able to make. This will be a big part of the political legacy of the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland. That was a core part of our emphasis.
The other area where we can look at the principled approach of our previous Conservative government was the emphasis we put on a principled approach to trade policy. We clearly had a robust, strong, active trade agenda. We pursued trade forcefully in all different avenues. Through trade negotiations, we were able to sign trade deals with the trans-Pacific partnership area group of countries and with the European Union. Had all of those agreements gone through, Canada would have had free trade with countries representing over 60% of the world's GDP. That would have given us an incredible trade advantage in terms of being a nation with strong trade links in North America, in Europe, and in the Asia-Pacific, emphasizing those trade links with like-minded countries.
Why was it important and why was it principled for Canada, under Stephen Harper, to pursue those kinds of important trade partnerships? There was the issue of the basic economic benefits of trade, that when we have freedom of exchange—people have the ability to voluntarily exchange goods among themselves—this is in everybody's interest because people can have the freedom to make mutually beneficial exchanges, and countries can specialize in areas of their comparative advantage. Free trade raises everybody's standard of living, and we know well the benefits of that. We know well the economic benefits that have accrued to Canada as a result of, for example, our membership in NAFTA.
However, free trade also is consistent with our belief in the value of an open society. It is curious to me that there are some members in this House, including members of the government, who seem to believe in the idea of an open society and yet are skeptical about the idea of an open economy. What better expression of the fact that people from different kinds of backgrounds and different kinds of countries can live together and work together than commercial relationships? Commercial relationships can facilitate understanding and indeed be part of what informs and helps build toward global peace.
Also, the previous Conservative government had a trade policy that really highlighted our interests, and it did so by seeking strategic partnerships with like-minded countries, like-minded democracies. The point needs to be made that the current government, in seeking a bilateral trade deal with China, will have a very hard time in the context of those negotiations, China being a much larger economy. It is not clear the Liberals wanted to, but even if they did, they would have a much harder time standing up for Canada's interests in the context of those negotiations. The alternative that we pursued was forming partnerships with like-minded countries as part of these broader partnerships like the TPP, and we need to continue to seek broader partnerships with other countries in a way that reflects our principles and our values.
I want to talk a bit about the principled approach that the previous government took when it came to LGBT issues, and this is perhaps something that is one of the less-known successes of that government, but it is a reality.
I want to draw the attention of members to an article in The Globe and Mail on November 29, 2009. The headline reads “Harper lobbies Uganda on anti-gay bill”, and it states:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has privately lobbied Uganda's president on the sidelines of a Commonwealth leaders' summit to jettison a proposed law that would imprison homosexuals for life in the African country.
“I did raise it directly with the president of Uganda and indicated Canada's deep concern and strong opposition,” Mr. Harper announced at the conclusion of the 53-country meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
“We deplore these kinds of measures. We find them inconsistent with frankly I think any reasonable understanding of human rights,” the prime minister said.
“I was very clear on that with the president of Uganda.”
Not all leaders at the summit were so forceful. Patrick Manning, Trinidad and Tobago's president, declined comment, saying Uganda's planned law was an internal matter.
These are examples that Stephen Harper spoke clearly and was willing to directly lobby the leader of another country. This is something that I have asked the Liberal government to do. He was willing to lobby directly and speak publicly about the fact that the lobbying had taken place. Of course, the parliamentary secretary is trying to make a point across the floor that this was a private conversation. The former prime minister had a private conversation with the president of Uganda and then spoke publicly on the record about the fact that the conversation had taken place.
When I ask the Prime Minister to actually raise issues of fundamental human rights with world leaders, I am not expecting him to necessarily include the media on the conference call, but he should still make the calls and then talk about the fact that he has made the calls, to help raise the pressure. The Conservative government raised these issues because we believe in protecting the fundamental human dignity of all people, and that includes standing up for religious minorities as well as the issues that I mentioned.
There is a follow-up story in Maclean's, which states:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper...is being hailed as a gay rights hero—in Uganda. “He’s a human rights activist,” said Brown Kiyimba. “Harper is a liberal guy,”—
I do not know about that, but maybe in that sense.
—added Emmanueil Turinawe. Both men are from Uganda’s gay community, which is under siege thanks to a bill that calls for life sentences for gays....
The article describes the context and notes that Harper's criticism has provoked a response from the government in Uganda. Further on in the article, it states, “For the first time, Museveni talked of the need for 'extreme caution' about the bill because it had become a foreign affairs issue.” In other words, the president of Uganda recognized that this had become an issue in his country's foreign affairs and, therefore, was responding to the pressure from Canada. It did not damage the relationship between Canada and Uganda. It was an example of Canada being willing to speak in a way that reflects our fundamental values.
This shows what can happen when Canada is simply willing to step up and actually talk about international human rights. This was the principled foreign policy approach of the previous government and it is one that, unfortunately, has not been carried on under the Liberal government. It is not discussing issues happening with respect to the LGBTQ community internationally. It has made statements for a domestic audience here, but we know nothing about direct advocacy that is happening. Liberals certainly have not been willing to talk about it. Again, I mention the cancelling of the refugee program for people coming from Iran.
Members will know that I have spoken before about the issues around religious freedom. I know I have somewhat limited time, so I will not go into the issues of religious freedom in depth, because I have put those statements on the record many times before. The previous government created an office of religious freedom, which had a small $5 million budget and was very effective in bringing about real change by funding programs on the ground that were building communal harmony. The office also brought greater public attention and awareness to issues of religious freedom around the world and helped to inform the whole Department of Foreign Affairs on these issues. It was a very effective model and yet one that, unfortunately, the Liberal government got rid of.
To sum up my comments on the foreign policy approach of the previous government, it is important to dig a little into the philosophy of what actually constitutes a principled foreign policy. In the summer, I published a book that was for the most part a collection of speeches I had given on foreign policy issues and I called it The Fight for a Principled Foreign Policy. The introduction is an exposition of the philosophy behind a principled foreign policy.
It says that in politics, whether it is a student union, where I started, or at the United Nations, to which I now pay considerable attention, there is always some balancing of principle and pragmatism. Almost no one seriously suggests that it is possible or desirable to be completely uncompromised. The precise way in which principle and practicality are balanced then is at the heart of many of our political conversations.
For some in public life all decisions are shaped by interests. Those interests could be personal such as one's own career advancement. They could be political such as the election of one's party. They could be class or group-based such as elevation of the relative condition of the poor or the preservation of privilege for a particular social or ethnic group. They could be national such as the elevation of Canada to the Security Council.
For those who think in an interest-based way, principles play a secondary role. As the example suggests interests are not necessarily good or bad. They can be selfish or noble and their realization can be socially desirable or undesirable.
In any event, the interest-based perspective would emphasize that interests are the only relevant considerations. Those whose politics have been shaped by a focus on interests, especially in the context of foreign policy, are many and are well celebrated, from Machiavelli to Kissinger and beyond. Nobody expressed this elevation of interests over principles better than Kissinger who once told a congressional committee, “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.”
The people shaping Canada's current foreign policy do not quite have the cut of a Machiavelli or a Kissinger, yet the significance of what is happening here should not be underestimated. The Liberal government knows what it wants and it is pursuing clearly stated foreign policy objectives. Their foreign policy doctoring recasts Canada's engagement with the world in interest-based terms instead of in principle-based terms.
There is an alternative to the politics of unmoored interests. It is the politics of principle. For me, the politics of principle rests on two interrelated ideas. The first is that there are certain things that have intrinsic value and that those things must be defended come hell or high water. Intrinsic value in this sense means value that is not dependent on anyone's interests for protection. Intrinsic value is not given as an act of someone's will and it is not the result of circumstance. Intrinsic value is the sense that particular kinds of value are embedded in the very nature of a thing.
For example, we say that a person has intrinsic value, meaning that a person is not valued simply based on their usefulness, their experiences, or their social circle, but rather based on the fact that they are a human being. The belief in the intrinsic value of people and of certain principles can have many different intellectual origins. It is not the exclusive domain of any particular political or moral philosophy or of any part of the political spectrum.
Historically, a principle-based concept of intrinsic value has been the basis of almost every claim about human rights. Human rights are rights that accord uniquely to humans on the basis of who and what we are, creatures with a certain inherent worth and dignity. History's great human rights defenders have understood that while compromises may be made in the pursuit of ends that are of intrinsic value, intrinsic values themselves must never be compromised or denied.
Second, the politics of principle holds that our interests individually, politically, factually, and nationally, are in the final analysis, best advanced by sticking to our principles. In the short term, principles can often seem to get in the way of achieving one's objectives; however, in the long run, there is not much sense in sacrificing principles in order to advance one's interests. Doing so is almost always counterproductive.
Principles may come from a sense of intrinsic value, but they are also useful tools of self-preservation. The identification and public defence of principles as well as consistent adherence to those principles increases the likelihood that others will adopt them and treat the proponent of them in the same way. Those who behave solely according to their interests implicitly invite others to do the same. We are all safer in a world where others treat us individually, politically, and nationally in a principled way.
This point is well illustrated in a dialogue in A Man for All Seasons, in which Thomas More tells his son-in-law:
This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast—Man's laws, not God's—and if you cut them down—and you're just the man to do it—d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
Regardless of where they come from, our common principles of conduct generally leave us better off. The politics of principle fundamentally contend that adherence to principle is both intrinsically right and practically useful.
Coming out of that statement, which I put in the introduction to my book, principles, politic, and foreign policy is not about taking a particular side in a conflict. It is not about rejecting pragmatism. It is about defining one's principles and then working from them in a way that refuses to compromise on those fundamental principles.
One cannot be genuinely pragmatic without being principled. Pragmatism, properly understood, is principle in action. Pragmatism is trying to advance a principled objective in a way that recognizes and accords with the realities of the world in which we find ourselves. In other words, if one is trying to be pragmatic without having principles, then one will not have any sense in terms of the direction one is trying move pragmatically. It is not even properly coherent to speak of pragmatism independent of fundamental principles.
Our approach is distinct from the government's approach, from what it wants to prioritize in terms of foreign policy. Notwithstanding the fact that we have a different Minister of Foreign Affairs, the previous Liberal minister articulated what the government's approach to this was in a speech he gave at the University of Ottawa, where he talked about his approach to these issues.
He said the following:
The guiding principle that I will follow in fulfilling this mandate is something I call responsible conviction. Let me explain what I mean by that.
I refer you to the traditional distinction that Max Weber made between the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility. Weber contrasted behaviour that remains true to one’s convictions, regardless of what happens (ethics of conviction), and behaviour that takes the consequences of one’s actions into consideration (ethics of responsibility). In isolation, the ethics of conviction of course lead to pure action, defending a principle or a cause, while ignoring the consequences. Pacifists who recommend unilateral disarmament in the face of the enemy are inspired by the ethics of conviction: they advocate non-violence at all times.
He goes on later in the speech to say:
Canadian foreign policy has lacked responsible conviction in recent years. It must be principled, but less dogmatic and more focused on delivering results. Responsible conviction must not be confused with some sort of moral relativism. Since the classic concept of the honest broker is now too often confused with moral relativism or the lack of strong convictions, I prefer to say that Canada must be a fair-minded and determined peace builder.
Unlike the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, the previous foreign affairs minister was at least willing to frankly look in the eye of what he was doing, which was a policy of appeasement. We see the consequences of this de-emphasis on principle. What he called being less dogmatic actually meant being willing to compromise. The previous foreign affairs minister gave every signal that the government would not be supporting Magnitsky sanctions. Fortunately, the government reversed itself on that point.
Whether it is China, Burma, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, the treatment of Christians, the way in which we engage with the Middle East around genocide recognition, our relationship with Russia and Ukraine, or any number of these human rights issues, it has been clear throughout the last 18 months that the Liberal government has been willing to sacrifice on fundamental issues of principle in order to achieve what it believes is its objectives.
I am calling on the government today to measure up to the words that were spoken during the minister's speech, to turn those things into concrete action, and not to make it all about its desire to curry favour in international institutions. Rather, for it to act in a way that accords with the values that Canada believes in: fundamental human rights, justice, the rule of law, and a belief in universal human dignity.
Canada must not be shy in standing up for these values. Canada must be confident and fearless in our advocacy for fundamental human rights.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs started this debate by asking, “Is Canada an essential country?” The answer is absolutely, yes, Canada is an essential country. Our values are essential, and they are not just Canadian values. They are universal human values embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I am proud to be part of a party that consistently put universal human rights and a broader understanding of universal human rights, rooted in a belief in universal human dignity, at the centre of its foreign policy, that was willing to be controversial and to disagree, and was willing to stand up for our convictions, regardless of the consequences, also recognizing that being true to who we are and standing up for our convictions, would advance our interests. That is exactly what I think Canadians expect of us. It is to consistently only carry on in a way that reflects our fundamental values.
It is important in the time I have left to highlight some of the failures of the government when it comes to the issue of religious freedom, because there is a real dissonance between what it has said on the issue of fundamental human rights and the issue of religious freedom. When we had the previous Office of Religious Freedom in place, here is what members of the government had to say about it.
I know the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Consular Affairs has been following this debate with great interest. At the time, when the Office of Religious Freedom was in place, he said:
As a part of broader efforts to cultivate long-term stability, tolerance, and respect for human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, Global Affairs Canada, through the Office of Religious Freedom, is supporting two projects in Ukraine to promote interfaith dialogue and to strengthen the capacity of local authorities to respond to hate crimes.
As the hon. member is aware, the Office of Religious Freedom has advocated on behalf of religious communities under threat, opposed religious hatred and intolerance, and promoted pluralism and respect for diversity abroad.
As the Minister of Foreign Affairs has already stated repeatedly, we are grateful for Dr. Andrew Bennett's service as the head of the Office of Religious Freedom and for his ingenuity, sensitivity, and competency over the past three years.
We clearly see the government talking about the benefits of the Office of Religious Freedom, yet showing a complete lack of willingness to support it. In fact, it decided to do away with the Office of Religious Freedom. It said it would leave in place the contact group, the advisory committee, yet I am not even sure if that advisory committee has met once since the office was done away with.
We heard the government talk about new programming with respect to communal harmony, yet I asked the minister during committee of the whole what was going on with that and she was not able to talk at all, in any specific terms, about programs they were actually doing.
We see clearly the failure of the government's foreign policy to measure up to the lofty words we hear some of the time from the government. I call on government members to reject the politics of appeasement and instead stand up for Canadian values and fundamental human rights around the world.
At this point, I would like to move that the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
the House recognizes that the government's foreign policy should have acknowledged the genocide committed against Yazidis and Assyrian Christians, including women and girls; refrain from attempting to reopen and normalize relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Canadian-listed state sponsor of terror as well as normalizing relations with Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation when it is illegally occupying Crimea and Ukraine; reopen immigration programs targeted towards vulnerable minorities; and reopen the Office of Religious Freedom.