Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to this important motion by my colleague from Thornhill and for the first time on a foreign policy issue in my capacity as the deputy shadow cabinet minister for foreign affairs for our caucus. I look forward to working with our leader, and the member for Durham, as well as members of all parties on the important challenges facing Canada in a rapidly changing world. As I often say when I speak to students in my riding, our role in the opposition is not always to oppose the government. Rather, it is to support it when we think it is right, and to oppose it when we think it is wrong. On questions of foreign policy in particular, we will always seek to be constructive, while still being forceful and emphatic when we feel that its direction is at odds with Canadian values or Canada's interests.
In my speech today, I would like to cover some of the ground again on the situation in Venezuela. However, I will first articulate some of the underlying principles of our conservative foreign policy that animate this motion and inform our particular recommendations in this case.
As Conservatives, when it comes to foreign policy our core conviction is that our approach to the world must start with a clear definition of our values and objectives, and that those values and objectives should reflect principled conviction. We reject the vagaries of post-modern relativism, the idea that morality or human rights may differ from nation to nation or from culture to culture. We hold that human beings are human beings wherever they live, and that human rights, which arise from nature as opposed to custom or state diktat, are the same, regardless of the willingness of state or cultural institutions to defend them. It is important to say that we reject extreme Wilsonian idealism, which suggests that the world can be easily remade perfect. We understand the importance of pursuing human rights advancements as a process, of pursuing realistic and pragmatic improvements over time, but we also reject the idea that the violation of human rights and human dignity is ever acceptable, whether justified by ideology, culture, or political expediency.
In this sense, our political tradition is both idealistic and pragmatic. It is the inheritor of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France and of Thomas More's Utopia, the first of which invites us to eschew extreme revolutionary change that would present risk to the good of society, and the second of which invites us to imagine different possible realities that are far outside our present experience. We can hold fast to absolute principle while also believing that the only way to build a better world is to take modest and pragmatic steps. Still we must never allow ourselves to deny our principles or to step backward further into the mists of injustice.
We also believe in multilateralism and engagement, the multilateral engagement that is rooted in our values and our desire to work with partners to advance our convictions on human rights and human dignity.
Our view is distinct from that of this government, a government that believes we can ignore human rights abuses or even praise human rights abusers if it achieves some instrumental good. Most often the good the government seeks is the approval of other nation states and the election of Canada to the United Nations Security Council. As abrasive as it may sound, it is hard to deny that fact. We have seen the government champion closer relations with Russia and Iran, even talking about aerospace opportunities in Iran. It has ignored repeated calls from the opposition to prioritize a response to the ethnic cleansing of Muslim Rohingya in Burma. It applauds the legacy of Fidel Castro. It has praised China's political model. In the case of Cuba and China, it has parroted those regimes' myths. The former foreign affairs minister praised Cuba's allegedly low crime rate, and the Prime Minister has praised China's alleged commitment to efficiencies and environmental improvements.
A more honest reckoning would observe that those political structures are characterized by outrageously harsh punishments even for non-violent crimes, and yet still very serious corruption in both cases. Praising other states is likely about currying favour and getting on the UN Security Council, although perhaps in some cases it may unfortunately represent a genuine romanticizing of these regimes.
The government's response to our criticisms of their relativistic and one-track UN Security Council focused foreign policy is to sometimes accuse us of being isolationist. It is actually quite alarming that the government would speak in this way, that somehow it believes that anyone who rejects their “go along to get along” approach is an isolationist.
Ours is a doctrine of principled engagement and selective multilateralism. We will work with any nation in a way that, and the extent to which that engagement, advances our values and our interests. However, we will not engage in a way that is contrary to our values and our interests. As I said, our core conviction when it comes to foreign policy is that our approach to the world must start with a clear definition of our own values and objectives, and that those values and objectives should reflect principled conviction. Those are the principles and convictions that animate our commitment in this particular case to the advancement of justice and human rights in Venezuela.
Venezuela has a particular significance for me, because my mother was born there. My grandfather was working as an engineer in the Venezuelan energy sector before returning to Canada, the country of his birth. It is important, I think, because Venezuela is a resource-rich country, full of potential. It was the sort of place where, at one time, Canadians like my grandfather might go to seek good employment and opportunity. It is hard to imagine that happening today, as a country of such potential continues to see that potential squandered by a cruel, hard-left, anti-democratic government.
Before his death in 2013, the revolutionary government of Hugo Chavez oversaw a dramatic economic decline and dramatic growth in corruption and crime. His successor, Nicolás Maduro, has continued his failed socialist policies. The public response to declining conditions has led the Maduro regime to institute repressive new measures and the population has responded with intensified demands for freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, recognizing that these things are also the basis of prosperity and well-being. People are courageously demanding free and fair elections. They are going to prison and even giving their lives in their fight to finally take their country back.
The Chavez and Maduro regimes were built on a revolutionary principle, one that believes that any evil can be justified as a means to advancing toward an idealized socialist utopia. This is a starkly different concept of utopia than the one advanced by Thomas More. More invited us to imagine a better possible future, but understood that getting there required us to always act with goodness and justice in the present. Socialism, on the other hand, in the name of utopia, is used to justify any present action, however unjust or evil.
I call on all members to firmly renounce any residual romanticism they may hold about these revolutionary socialist ideologies. It is a curious feature of our politics that some, even on the centre left, romanticize tyrants of the far left. The government has now sanctioned officials within the Venezuelan government, and for this we give it credit, but Venezuela is going down a path well trodden by China and Cuba. The Prime Minister said this about the late Cuban leader:
Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and health care of his island nation.
About China, he stated he has “a level of admiration...for China”, and went on to say:
...their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime, and say, ‘we need to go greenest, fastest—we need to invest in solar.’ I mean, there is a flexibility that I know Stephen Harper must dream about of having a dictatorship that he can do everything he wanted, and I find quite interesting.
This is a strange quote because it was not Stephen Harper fantasizing about dictatorial socialism. It was the Prime Minister, in this case, before he was the prime minister, expressing his explicit admiration for this kind of revolutionary socialism that we see in Cuba and Venezuela. The government is appropriately sanctioning Venezuela, but it is particularly rich in light of the Prime Minister's own admiration for extreme far-left revolutionary regimes. Our foreign policy must be rooted in consistent principle, principle that applies in all cases in order to be clear and credible.
The situation in Venezuela, along with the crisis in Burma, North Korea, and Syria, did not merit mention by the Prime Minister in his address to the United Nations last week. It was a significant missed opportunity for him to be on that world stage and fail to address any of these significant challenges with dramatic human rights implications. It was a missed opportunity to advance Canadian values and interests.
We know where we stand on this side of the House, firm in our commitment to universal human rights, democracy, the rule of law, universal human dignity, justice for all, and the prosperity and human flourishing that flows from a dedication to these principles. We believe that our foreign policy should reject revolutionary idealism and all-ends-justify-the-means thinking and, instead, champion fixed and unchanging principles, champion Canadian values and interests.