Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand today in debate on Motion No. 128, following great speeches on both sides of the chamber on an important issue that should and does bring all parties together.
I want to particularly compliment my colleague the MP for Calgary Nose Hill, who spoke on this issue and has advocated for it and, of course, my friend, colleague, and seatmate, the MP for Thornhill, who has long been an advocate for the oppressed around the world. He has seen it first-hand, in his career both as a journalist and as a parliamentarian. He uses the privilege we have in this place to bring forward the cause of people that most Canadians will not be able to see or encounter first-hand. As parliamentarians, we have an obligation, especially in Canada, one of the most free, diverse, and wealthy nations of the world to point out where there is abuse and suffering. This is why we are here today on Motion No. 128.
In fact, the motion's title is the official recognition of the suffering of the people of Venezuela. I think all parliamentarians have heard from the diaspora of Venezuelan Canadians who are greatly concerned about family members still there, about the tragedy, the corruption, and the loss of life, which has been staggering since 1999.
What makes it a true tragedy is that Venezuela is a country of immense potential. It is rich in so many ways, starting with its people, but of course extending to resources, agriculture, and the ability to produce and trade with the world, which that country was doing.
Parliamentarians need not go far from here to see the statue in Ottawa of Simón Bolivar, the big liberator of that part of the world. He helped establish the independence of Venezuela in 1830. The government of Venezuela dedicated that statue to its friendship with Canada in 1988. Many of us have seen that statue not far from here, down Wellington Street.
How sad that things have changed from 1988 to today, and how unfortunate that the sad situation of the plight facing the Venezuelan people did not make the Prime Minister's speech at the UN last week. There is a lot to speak on, and he did speak of challenges we have here inherently in Canada, but that general assembly is an opportunity to point out areas of the world that need global attention and global pressure to make sure that the oppression, corruption, and denigration of a people and a country will stop.
We need only look back to the start of the regime of Hugo Chávez in 1999. He had previously been a mercenary and someone trying to bring a coup forward in that country, and was able to form government. The dictatorial leanings of that person showed through immediately. Institutions started being eroded and filled with his cronies from his revolution. The constitution was changed to allow him to further his own personal interests, to suppress democratic debate, and to really crush his opposition. He then began to nationalize businesses and the economy in a way that has really seen the potential of that great country squandered through neglect, corruption, and evil in many ways. We should call it what it is.
We saw a rich, oil-producing country for a few years able to use the wealth that was created on a nationalized basis, but when the United Socialist Party of Venezuela took over a lot of levers on the economy, as we saw the economy falter, we saw hunger increase. As we saw foreign investment to that country dry up, we saw inflation begin to rise. As we saw a once strong quality of life and earning potential for that part of the world start to decline, we saw the rise of murders, crime, and the disappearing of opposition people. These are all hallmarks of a brutal regime that was intent on enforcing its will, suppressing dissent, and creating a corrupt state. It truly is a tragedy of epic proportions.
A stunning memory I have of our Canada 150 year was the day after Canada Day, when I took my children and a few of their cousins to WE Day on the Hill. I was coming down before the festivities began to see how we could get on to the Hill, and I ran into a family of Venezuelan Canadians wearing their proud Canadian gear. They recognized me and they asked me what Canada is doing to help the people of Venezuela. It struck me. We were on the lawn and about to celebrate the amazing parliamentary democracy we have here in Canada, the immense wealth, the immense opportunity, and this family, who was visiting from outside Ottawa, Canadians now, festooned in Canada 150 gear, wanted to talk first about how a parliamentarian could help their family back in Venezuela. This family is worried, because when the Chávez regime ended, it was picked up in 2013 by his lieutenant, his right-hand man, Nicolás Maduro. The Maduro regime has continued its corrupt and destructive path for those people. This family that stopped me on the Hill knew that Canada welcomed it and many others, both as immigrants and refugees, but wanted to know what Canada is doing to apply pressure.
I am proud to say that, in the last government and in this current government with some of its recent moves, we are trying to apply that pressure through the Organization of American States, with debates like this that my friend from Thornhill brought to Parliament, and by the sanctions announced by the minister last Friday with respect to freezing assets of people related to the regime. I want to see that continue, and there are a number of key ways we can see that continue now.
First is the debate we are having today on Motion No. 128. Second, and my friend from Etobicoke who spoke just before me supports this suggestion, is a rapid passage of the Magnitsky Act, which is a tool that would allow this pressure to continue on corrupt regimes by freezing their assets, by doing what the international community should be doing, which is calling out the despotic rule of the Maduro regime, freezing its assets, trying to root out corruption, and showing our support for opposition leaders who in some cases are being detained and imprisoned. This motion starts the debate today. I would like to see quick passage of the Magnitsky Act.
I saw first-hand, when I worked for Procter & Gamble in Canada, how even a lot of the companies in Venezuela have been slowly moving operations from that country—companies like General Mills, Colgate, Pepsi, Ford, and others. It is not just the oil nationalization that started ruining the economy. The nationalization of the economy led to investment fleeing that country, to talent fleeing that country. Let us not lose sight of the fact that there is potential to bring that back if we see democracy in the future.
I will end by moving an amendment, seconded by the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan. I move:
That the motion be amended by replacing the word “referendum” with “election”.