Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I am delighted to appear before your committee today. And I am pleased to have the opportunity to tell you about the important work being done by Canada's IDRC—the International Development Research Centre.
IDRC is a crown corporation that reports to Parliament through the Minister of Foreign Affairs. An international Board of Governors, consisting of 11 Canadian and 10 international governors, eight of whom are from developing countries, is appointed by the Governor in Council on the advice of Cabinet.
For 35 years now, IDRC has been all about applied research in the natural and social sciences and finding innovative yet practical ways to help those in the developing world help themselves. IDRC is not about wishful thinking. It's about hard data and results.
For example, a major development problem related to agriculture is the low technology adoption rate among poor farmers. IDRC has for over a decade supported an approach that works to address this problem. Called participatory plant breeding, this method brings together the scientific expertise of agriculture researchers with the traditional knowledge of local farmers in order to improve plant yields, while at the same time conserving biodiversity. Results help improve food security for countless rural areas.
You will find more details about our results in the information kits we have provided you today.
My main message today is that research in developing countries can foster democratic development. It does so in four ways.
First, research is the foundation for open inquiry and debate. Freedom of expression, inquiry and open debate are the foundations for a vibrant democracy. The freedom to conduct and publish research, and have it publicly debated without fear of reprisal, speaks volumes about the state of democracy and human rights in a country.
Freedom of expression and inquiry are also crucial for encouraging the innovation that every society must create in order to have long-term development and growth. Societies cannot benefit from technologies developed abroad unless they have their own research capacity.
Secondly, research expands the range of practical solutions to enduring problems. Research broadens the range of practical solutions available to citizens, organizations, and policy-makers. Research highlights trade-offs, maps the complexities of problems, and gives voice to different perspectives. Research inspires debate and helps citizens think through difficult questions. Research feeds innovation.
For example, an IDRC-supported study by Tanzanian researchers on the introduction of insecticide-treated bed nets for malarial control--even before Sharon Stone publicized it--and improved allocation of health care expenditures saw a 40% fall in child mortality. The tools developed by the project researchers and piloted in health units in two districts are now being applied all across Tanzania.
IDRC also supported policy research in South Africa to help its transition to democracy. This included supporting research by South Africans on writing a constitution, on local government, and on trade and competition policy. Several of the first cabinet ministers in the newly democratic South Africa were involved in this research, including Trevor Manuel, now the minister of finance.
Funding developing country partners who have a stake in arriving at solutions to problems ensures ownership of research results. Indeed, research results from IDRC's applied research have sometimes been so convincing that governments are willing to invest their own time, effort, and money into using and applying them on a wider scale. In this way, a small initial investment from IDRC leverages much bigger downstream investments by others.
An IDRC project in Colombia in 1974 developed an improved tri-colour middle upper-arm circumference tape, called an MUAC tape, a sample of which is provided in your information package. This tape is now used by ministries of health, the WHO, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and many other groups as a standard tool for measuring child malnutrition rates, especially for rapid assessments during droughts and famines.
Third, research helps hold governments to account. Research provides evidence for supporting political accountability and unbiased judiciary and open and robust political institutions that safeguard citizens' rights. For example, in Guatemala IDRC supports a judicial observatory that brings together judges, defence lawyers, prosecutors, and human rights activists to monitor problems facing the criminal justice system in Guatemala. A report on local trial procedures created an uproar in justice circles in Guatemala, but it resulted in the creation of an administrative centre to better manage the criminal courts.
In Senegal, IDRC supported an NGO, called Forum Civil, to study corruption in the health sector. The findings, showing widespread corruption, received broad coverage in local media and stirred debate on how to change the system. The president of Senegal then publicly acknowledged the seriousness of corruption in the public services.
IDRC has also worked with the private sector, including Microsoft, to improve communications in the developing world. And better communications technology also helps foster democratic development.
Finally, research is the basis for evidence-based policy-making. IDRC has worked with the parliamentary centre, and you're going to be hearing from Bob Miller later this afternoon. We've worked with them to research the depth, distribution, and extent of poverty in west Africa, this information now being used by parliamentarians to debate proposed strategies to reduce poverty in their countries.
More recently, in June of this year, IDRC, along with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Parliamentary Centre, brought a group of Afghan parliamentary officers to visit and learn about Canada's parliamentary system. Democracy assistance policies should be based on sound research, but rarely are. This is one of the main drivers behind the creation of the Democracy Council, and Minister MacKay spoke about this when he appeared before your committee. This mechanism brings both the Department of Foreign Affairs and CIDA together with several arm's-length organizations to share lessons learned and better understand what does and doesn't work in supporting democratic development. And we're happy to be a part of this council.
Each of these activities underlines the necessity of basing policy choices on solid evidence. Mr. Chairman, research is important for democratic development. It is the foundation for open inquiry and debate. It expands the range of practical solutions available. It can help hold governments to account. And it is essential for evidence-based policy-making. Canada's IDRC plays a key role in promoting research for development and democratization.
Thank you very much.
I just said, Mr. Chairman, to Maureen that I would say that I'm in complete agreement with everything she said, but I may add two or three things.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
We are delighted to be here, and there are three reasons for that. The first one is that the topic that has brought us together is at the core of the mandate of Rights and Democracy, which, as you know, was created by Parliament in 1988.
The second one is that I believe it is necessary for us in Canada to periodically discuss what the country is doing to support democracy in the world.
The third one is that I am very anxious to see the assessment of our partners—IDRC and others—of the state of democracy in the world.
I think we have to say, at the outset of our work and deliberations—that's what we feel—that we live in a world that has moved substantially toward democracy in the past 30 years, and that the geopolitics of the world has been changed by democratic values. That's the case in Central Europe and Eastern Europe, that's the case since the 1980s, in Latin America, and that's the case, in a more limited way, in Africa. Some very large Asian countries have become democratic, like Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc.
The international political agenda is still one of growth and expansion of democracy in the world. No other item should take precedence today, in my view, internationally, for the reasons we have just heard, be it for research or for other reasons related to fundamental rights and freedoms.
I have already told this committee and I will not go over it again, we, the members of Rights and Democracy, have a vision of democracy that has as one of its essential elements all of the human rights that are recognized under international law and by the United Nations, as well as by governments that have signed and ratified the international instruments.
Mr. Chairman, your committee has asked us a lot of questions. I will try to summarize them into four questions and to provide two or three partial answers to each as a way of setting the stage for our subsequent discussion.
The first question you asked was the following.
Is the world moving towards acceptance of the global principle of democracy, similar to the development of international human rights standards? We have answered in our brief with a cautious positive answer--a cautious yes.
If we look at what is going on at the United Nations--the creation of a democracy fund at this level, the creation of a conference on failed and restored democracy, the electoral process that is sustained by the United Nations and other elements that you know better than I do--at the global level, the notion of democracy and the actual--
I was trying to say that democracy has changed our world and that we can answer with a cautious yes the question of whether the world is moving towards acceptance of the global principle of democracy. I was making a grand tour of the world to indicate where democracy.... If you look at the map of the world as it was 30 years ago and look at the map of the world as it is today, you'll see quite a change. It does not mean that we have to stop working; it means that we have to increase our activities, and I hope that Canada will do just that.
We mention in our brief, in the context of this globalization of democracy,
New requirements flow from this globalization of democracy. I see the reports of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and other groups that, a bit like us in Canada, work in the field of promoting democracy. Given that democratic values has become global values, I think we need to come up with a new language. Democracy is no longer just a western thing. It has been internationalized by India, which made democracy its political system sixty years ago. Fragile democracies have now been established in large Islamic countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Democracy has been established in all parts of the world, in all cultures of the world, in all spiritual and cultural traditions of the world. We can no longer do as we did 25, 30 or 50 years ago and export democracy. That would be an absolutely radical mistake.
I am building on what Maureen O'Neil has just said. We must therefore work together with our partners in countries that are seeking to consolidate democracy in their land or establish it where it is absent. That is a very profound change that we have to pay very close attention to.
Moreover, in the first phase of democracy, when it was
in its Euro-Atlantic confines, in a way,
it was a democracy of relatively rich countries.
Democracy is now established, in the majority of cases, in poor countries, in countries with huge social and economic problems. In terms of the work of promoting democracy in the world, we have to go beyond the mere assertion that democracy equals political rights.
Democracy must from now on be identified with full recognition of political rights and the accountability that goes along with it, of course, but also recognition of social rights and economic rights.
In major surveys in Latin America and in Africa, people living in democratic poor countries asked us what democracy actually brings. They know it brings significant political values like freedom of speech, freedom of movement and sometimes vague access to a new form of more independent justice, but people expect more than that. They expect employment, housing, access to food and water, policies that back up the fact that having this new relationship between citizen and state—this control over the state, in a wa —will be gradual, but will solve their problems.
Mr. Chairman, you have asked many difficult questions, and I do not know whether we will have enough time to do them justice. Nevertheless, I would like to say a few things about civil society. I work in an institution that, since its creation, has done a lot to promote the link with civil society.
A little earlier, I spoke of other groups around the world. I do not think that anyone will appear before you and say that it is possible to build democracy. However, there is a deep connection with civil society organizations in the countries where we are present. A democracy is built by its citizens. It is they who maintain democracy and who fight for it. And the work has to be done every step of the way.
I would hope that we could go a bit further. That is why I spoke about civil society. In Canada, we have a vast experience in the relationship between the state and civil society. I am wondering whether we should not reinforce the ties between civil society and public authorities, both here in Canada and abroad as part of our cooperation programs.
You spoke a little earlier about Senegal—why should governments discuss issues amongst themselves, without the presence of civil society organizations? People in many states, in the other world, do not trust the dialogue between governments because they feel that such dialogue is conducted at a level that excludes them, and the ensuing policies will never benefit them.
I therefore hope that we could push a bit further with regard to the role of civil society in our negotiations to build the new political systems.
For the reasons I raised a bit earlier—I will say a few words, you can find more information in our submission—I would really hope that the committee, as part of its consideration of Canada's work to support democracy around the world, include the important contribution from the private sector, the businesses who use their resources, budgets, finances, research teams and assumptions to go and spread democracy around the world.
There is a debate being held in the world today. A round table on corporate responsibility is afoot in Canada's major cities. Having worked in this area over the past 20 years, I believe that investments are very important. Investments play such an important role in development, private investments have such an impact on the lives of people and societies! We see it in Asia today, in South Asia, in India and in China. We have to reflect on the impact of these investments. Particularly with regard to the respect of rights and democratic values.
Lastly, Mr. Chair, I believe we have to recall something that we all know—sometimes, it is better to repeat things—that half, or exactly 50% of the world population, is under 25 years of age. There are 1.2 billion humans between the ages of 10 and 19. In all those countries where we work, in all those countries in the South, populations will increase over the next few years, and the dominant age group will be composed of people between the ages of 10 and 25. We have to speak to these young people about democracy, we have to find innovative means and have real programs to give them.
For example, I am thinking of a micro-credit bank to support projects by young people in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. Such initiatives would allow them to play an active role as citizens, to develop the political culture of their countries, to speak about the institutions, to raise awareness of their conditions, etc.
Mr. Chairman, we really do not have enough time. And yet I would still like to give a quick response to the very important question that you have raised.
Where should Canada concentrate its efforts in the future?
This is not something you can answer in two minutes. However, I believe that Canada has a very important obligation, which is to ensure that the idea of democracy building continues to be part of the international agenda.
Canada is a member state of the UN, the Commonwealth and the Francophonie and, on a more regional level, of the OAS. It takes part in APEC and has an impact on the African Union. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that a country like ours ensure, whenever possible, that the question of democracy continues to be part of the international agenda, discussions and projects.
In line with what I said earlier, Canada should review some of its policies, particularly the policy of the past few years with regard to the justiciability of social and economic rights.
Democracy builders in poor countries are mostly democrats, and countries like Canada have to find a way to indicate their interest in the issues that you raise:
What is democracy delivering in terms of social and economic evolution and in terms of social and economic change? We have to say something about that. It's at the centre of our discourse.
Time permitting, I will address issues related to world geography later.
At the start of our meeting, you asked a question dealing with the type of approach to adopt, or best practices. In preparation for our meeting, I read all the reports from the major international groups. I mentioned some earlier on. There are five recurrent ideas in the reports of those international groups who are in the same line of activity as we are, and with whom we often cooperate.
Democracy cannot be built from the outside. It must be from within in order to be sustainable.
First of all, as part of their work, all groups look to integrate, give meaning to and embody the idea in a concrete manner.
Second, each country is in a unique situation. In fact, our practices as well as those of our Canadian partners differ from those of Westminster, the High Commission and the National Democratic Institute. We have to be very careful to avoid adopting somewhat prefabricated models and believing that democracy can be built in Egypt the same way as it could be in Vietnam or Zimbabwe.
Everyone says the same thing over and over:
The western model and system are not perfect. We have to take into account the fact that there is a plurality of situations, a plurality of heritage, and a plurality of social and economic situations in the world.
I should add that the surveys made in Latin America are very clear on that. There is now developing in our world
A mistrust toward foreigners and toward us. The Arab world, for instance, is a bit wary of us for obvious reasons.
We are working in Africa as you are, Ms. O'Neil. Our African partners prefer seeing us work with African researchers, to work in cooperation with their centres and call on their expertise. There is a sort of mistrust out there, and this should lead us to pay extra attention to the models that we sometimes try to impose.
The third idea that is somewhat widespread is:
the specific nature of knowledge creation and transfer from this part of the world to the rest of the world.
A number of national and international institutions working in the development field have recently understood that it was absolutely necessary to have staff members who speak the language and are from the countries in which those institutions are active. Some work can only be done from inside the country, not outside.
The fourth and second-last idea is the following:
long-term commitment. It's nonsense to go to Vietnam for two years. Our Danish partner is there since ten years. They plan to be there in the next fifteen years. They have been able to enter into the system. I will not speak for them, but they have been able to go very far in the judiciary system in building cooperative programs because they have been there and have built trust with their partners.
Monsieur le président, I will be very pleased if the committee, at the end of its work, recognizes what I mentioned previously, the youth engagement, the youth capacity. At Rights and Democracy we have created networks of Rights and Democracy delegations in 40 Canadian universities. We are now twinning each of those delegations with two delegations somewhere else in the world. They build joint plans, joint projects, and it's beautiful to see what the young people from Morocco and Sherbrooke, from McGill and Kenya, from Afghanistan and the University of Alberta are building together. There is a wealth of ideas that they have inside of their own culture, their own sphere of activities, and I think we have to look at this very carefully.
Concerning the Canadian apparatus, the structure that we have, Maureen referred to the Democracy Council. We are part of it also. We have seen this experience developing for a year. We hope that the experience will evolve, and we'll be very pleased if the experience of the Democracy Council evolves into the creation of a regroupement of arm's-length, independent institutions, so that the Parliamentary Centre, yourself, Rights and Democracy, and others can organize our work together, see ourselves altogether, see what we have in common, what needs we have, and then have with Canada, with the Government of Canada, meetings to discuss with them.
I would hope also that the committee will look at, if such a thing exists, the interdepartmental committees that this government may have to see that what CIDA is doing, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and other departments, is convergent, and to see also between the federal government and provincial and territorial governments what kinds of committees you have. Some reports are prepared in this city, but it needs the input of all governments. We would like very much to see the committee look at those mechanisms that you have at the governmental level.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chairman, I must apologize for an earlier oversight. I wanted to extend greetings from Janice Stein, the president of our board, who could not be with us today because, as you know, Yom Kippur is an important celebration. I would also like to introduce you to the vice-president of our board, Mr. Wayne MacKay, from Halifax, who is a well-known Canadian lawyer and professor of law at Dalhousie University; Mr. Lloyd Lipsett, senior assistant at my office; and other colleagues whose presence is testament to their interest in your work.
Your question is very important and relevant in all countries and regions, except Europe, perhaps Japan, Canada, the USA, etc. Spirituality and traditional culture are still very present around the world, and continue to play a central role in people's lives, often influencing how they behave.
It is therefore important to find means to enter into dialogue with these people, particularly with opinion leaders. When it comes to democracy, the most important factor is education, education and more education. It is imperative that people go to school, yet too few do. Fifty per cent of the world's population is under 25, and 1.3 billion people are aged between 10 and 19. As it stands at the moment, nearly 200 million children will never even spend one day at school. Yet, at the same time, we nowadays talk about building democracy, developing the market economy, and so forth. Education is key.
My next point relates to what Maureen said earlier. People cannot influence societies that are not their own. It is therefore imperative to work with people who have great influence in their society, and who can educate people by talking in simple terms about issues that affect peoples' lives, people who can get to the heart of the matter. It is important to preserve the positive aspects of their heritage while filtering out those that are less beneficial.
I am increasingly convinced that our policy must also experience what I refer to in my brief as our “Copernican revolution”. We have to completely reassess our understanding of the world because it has undergone profound changes.
Let us take the example of women's rights. Which country has done the most, in terms of legislation, to advance women's rights? I believe the answer is India. The constitutional amendments introduced in India in 1992 requiring local and provincial governments to reserve one third of seats for women changed the agenda regarding education for young girls, public health, housing, sanitation, etc.
We have carried out several studies on this subject. A major conference on democracy in Asia was held in Toronto in June. It was attended by several Indian experts with experience in this field, including Ms. Gopal Jayal, who, although relatively unknown here, is very famous in Asia. With the support of a large team, she worked from 1992 to 2005 to bring about this constitutional change. Their analysis shows that the fact that, in two thirds of Indian states, one third of those elected to local and regional governments, and thus able to participate in public debate, are women has had a considerable impact.
Of course, there are problems, but we can learn from them.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, good afternoon.
The Canadian Constitution recognizes “peace, order and good government” as fundamental purposes of the state. It's now understood, if not universally accepted, by the international community that good government is a requirement and an essential element of sustainable development. Democracy--citizen voice in government and government accountability to citizens--is increasingly recognized as a global norm.
But democracy and good government do not happen automatically--far from it. They're the result of a long, hard, and frequently dangerous struggle by citizens over many years. Democratic development is the effort to assist that struggle through peaceful international cooperation. It follows that support for democratic development should be seen as a Canadian service to the world.
Some people believe that other countries do democratic development better than we do and that we should copy their approach. I believe that Canadians do this work as well as anybody in the world and that we should concentrate our attention on strengthening our own approach.
The Canadian approach has two key elements. First of all, over the last twenty years we have developed a strong family of institutions doing this work. In the early 1990s the Department of Foreign Affairs and ClDA began to fund programs in democratic development. Since then, that funding has grown substantially. Out of it has grown a strong family of Canadian institutions that specialize in delivering programs of assistance in many different areas. In our case, the Parliamentary Centre has specialized for the last fifteen years in a key area of democratic development, namely the strengthening of political institutions and processes in eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
Secondly, we've developed over those years a distinct philosophy of cooperation. Canadians have a clear and distinct approach to cooperation that's appreciated by many of our partners. We support the efforts of people to strengthen their own democratic institutions; we don't attempt to export ours. We share our rich experience and ongoing struggles to reform and develop Canadian democracy, while acknowledging both our successes and our failures. We try to keep ideological baggage to a minimum, preferring results to rhetoric. Most importantly, we believe that democratic development should be practised democratically, between equals.
Democracy is a complex of institutions, practices, and values--I don't need to tell the people at this table that--that develop slowly. It follows that assistance to democratic development must go beyond the relatively short-term, project-by-project approach that has characterized international assistance in the past.
The Canadian government has begun to implement a new approach to strengthening results. Among initiatives that should be recognized and I would say encouraged by the committee is the formation of the Democracy Council, which brings the Department of Foreign Affairs and CIDA together with a family of so-called arm's-length organizations of which the Parliamentary Centre is one. And secondly, I think it is important for the committee to recognize and encourage the fact that CIDA has been taking steps to develop a more strategic, knowledge-based approach to democratic development, particularly as it relates to the broader objectives of Canadian official development assistance.
Additionally, we recommend that the government invest in building a network of Canadian centres of excellence in international democratic development. An initiative of this kind would invest in competitively selected Canadian organizations to strengthen their capacity to innovate, apply, and share knowledge in key areas of democratic development. In turn, it would enable Canada to play a stronger leadership role in this critical area of international relations.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I want to emphasize the important role of this institution, the Parliament of Canada. Together with elections, parties, and civil society, parliaments are key institutions in democratic development. They are, or should be, institutional bridges between citizens and the state.
The Parliamentary Centre was founded in 1968 to help strengthen parliamentary democracy in Canada. Over the past fifteen years, we have evolved into a Canadian-based international organization, with staff and offices delivering programs in many parts of the world. Leadership in the centre comes increasingly from people like Bunleng Men, who heads our program in Cambodia, and Rasheed Draman, who is the director of our African program, based in our regional office in Accra, Ghana.
For more than a century, going back to the founding of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Parliament of Canada has participated actively in international organizations and programs intended to strengthen parliamentary democracy. Throughout the history of the centre, we have benefited greatly from the support and close cooperation we've received from the Parliament of Canada as well as from the provincial and territorial legislatures of Canada. This support adds enormous credibility, resources, and leverage to our work.
In the spirit of serving the cause of international democratic development, we believe it would be helpful for the Parliament of Canada to adopt a resolution affirming its commitment to international democratic development and pledging its continuing--and increased, if possible--support for programs of assistance in parliamentary development.
Thank you very much. I look forward to our discussion.
I'm honoured to be here, although it does strike me that coming to a committee of the House of Commons to talk about democracy is a bit like telling Prince Edward Islanders how to grow potatoes. However, I understand that the emphasis is on democracy in other places and on the practical support that Canadians can provide.
A few years ago I summarized the hemispheric portion of my experience in an article entitled “Election Monitoring in the Americas--Benefit or Boondoggle?” The benefits far outweigh the boondoggle. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Since 1990, the year that Canada joined the Organization of American States, 19 of its 34 members have had one or more of their elections monitored by international observers. In this period, the OAS alone has conducted over 80 observations. Millions of dollars, a lot of that money Canadian, have been invested, and hundreds of Canadians have been involved. This is clearly a major undertaking. But has it done any good? Has it changed the course of democratic evolution in the Americas? If you compare the dictatorship-dominated political landscape of the Americas in the pre-eighties period with the present, the answer is that the investment has been amply rewarded.
Unfortunately, there has been slippage. Very troubling in Latin America is evidence that popular confidence in the democratic system is eroding. That has little to do with the electoral process and much to do with the failure of expectations engendered by the promotion of democracy in the eighties and the collapse of respect for political parties—a bad situation, as political parties are of course the indispensable machinery of democracies.
Canada, especially through parliamentary networking and through the OAS, can do more to help parties and parliaments rebuild. CIDA has good governance programs in many countries. They need to be applied to political systems, not just to bureaucracies.
The usual mandate of an observer mission is to assess whether an election can be endorsed as genuinely free and fair. The approval of international observers helps to establish legitimacy both internally and externally. For countries undergoing a transition from authoritarianism to the beginnings of a democratic system, the observer process has been critically important, and if accompanied by long-term technical assistance has been shown to play a decisive role in facilitating that transition. In countries where a democratic culture has been all but extinguished by dictatorship or has never matured, expert technical assistance must start from scratch to build reliable voter registration lists and all the other electoral infrastructure.
The most spectacular vindication of this process was the Nicaraguan election of 1990. Another was South Africa.
In Nicaragua, the Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega had agreed to invite observers, in the firm expectation that they would be endorsing a Sandinista victory. When it became apparent that he had lost, Ortega had second thoughts and was eventually persuaded to accept the victory of Violeta Chamorro through the diplomacy of Jimmy Carter and Venezuelan president Carlos Andrez Perez. However, these individual efforts would have been futile if the observers and the advance preparations had not delivered a highly credible verdict.
More groundbreaking occurred in the Dominican elections of 1994, when the OAS mission of which I was the leader blew the whistle on election manipulation that had deprived the opposition of victory. A similar pattern was followed when the OAS withdrew from President Fujimori's rigged elections in the 2000 elections in Peru.
Not all observations have moved the democratic process forward; however, the evidence demonstrates that advanced preparation and election monitoring have contributed significantly to embedding a democratic culture. What is less understood is that these successes could not have taken place without disciplined attention to the professionalism of the observers and of the technical experts.
For several years the OAS would not accept Canadian candidates for observer missions, because they had been selected by ministers, often without regard for qualifications.
The present system works because international missions have developed high credibility. Success has meant that traditional electoral observation in many countries is becoming obsolete. Of course the objective is just that: to make observation by foreigners obsolete. Hence the importance of supporting local civil society organizations.
As a caveat here, we already work with civil society, but too often it is the civil society of well-educated and well-heeled elites. We must connect more effectively below these levels.
In those countries where uncertainties, corruption, or instability still call for outside observation, the approach is being rethought. The focus should include counts of what is happening at polling stations on election day, but sharpen on pre-identified weak spots in the process, such as abusive government control of the media, election transport, computer fraud, election financing, intimidation, the lack of transparency in the registration, and the improper security of ballots.
The principal observer organizations are sending in teams months in advance to determine the tilt of the electoral playing field and to locate the major deficiencies. In places where a democratic culture has not taken hold or is tenuous, the role of a few long-term observers can be more important than the activities of large numbers of observers who spend only a week in the country.
A major challenge for observer organizations is to find resources up to a year ahead of time. CIDA has begun to provide funding for election missions on an annual basis, and this helps enormously with planning. There are lessons learned from our participation in the Ukraine elections of 2004—and Mr. Goldring is certainly an authority on that and on other election observations—and earlier this year in Palestine.
One lesson is the absolute necessity of maintaining the impartiality of the observers. It is a mistake to recruit observers who have strong links to one side in a political contest. In Ukraine, the government party, with active support from Russia, was looking for opportunities to discredit the western observer missions by pointing to partisan links and behaviour. Some observers in the Canada Corps observers mission came very close to falling into that trap. Evidence of partial observation could have been disastrous, as the reporting of the western observer missions was one of the critical factors that allowed a peaceful transition to take place.
Twice in the last two years, the Canadian government organized election missions that were exclusively Canadian. There is a temptation to look upon these missions as opportunities to burnish the Canadian image at home and abroad. We go down this road at our peril.
Election missions must have credibility built on a cumulative track record to enable them to endorse or repudiate an election process. National missions inevitably carry political baggage or are susceptible to political baggage that can compromise that credibility.
What would have happened to the mission in Palestine if The Globe and Mail or Le Soleil had published religiously insensitive cartoons while we were in Palestine? Multilateral missions are better insulated from this predicament.
Of course elections are only one part of the process; other parts deserve more attention than they traditionally receive. We have successfully exported our access-to-information model to Mexico. This is a vital tool of the democratic process. We should do more of this. But it has not helped that a succession of prime ministers have been messing up our own model. Our image in this area and its value overseas would be greatly improved if we could reverse the steady erosion by governments of the powers of the Office of the Information Commissioner.
Some of the most basic lessons learned are about sensitivity to cultural differences, but that was covered before and I will leave it.
To conclude, I have been moving across a large waterfront and have not addressed one of your key questions: Where is the greatest need for our support? It's a tough question. There's a lot that we've done that's useful and we still should do in the Balkans, eastern Europe, Africa, and Central Asia, such as help with party architecture, including finance rules; governance at the municipal level; transparency; access to information; and support for civil society organizations. These are generally not high-cost operations, but with our limited resources I believe we should be guided also by knowledge of where we have credibility and potential to make a difference.
Here I will expose a professional bias. The logical area is Latin America and the Caribbean—places like Haiti, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Ecuador, Jamaica, and Guyana—neighbours in our hemisphere.
Some of this we can do bilaterally, some by supporting the work of the President Carter Center on the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Much should be done through the Organization of American States. No regional organization outside western Europe has struck out so boldly for the values of democratic governance. The OAS should nudge the region toward better governance, greater accountability, and more attention to the horrors of drugs and human rights abuse. It needs more support to do its job as the bulwark of hemispheric democracy.
These are big questions: the linkage between an election and a successful election. You were there, and it was a successful election. I think Elections Canada did a great job.
I would add that I think we were fortunate, because it was, as you point out, mostly Canadian. That did not get us into difficulty. Sometimes it will. There, it did not.
It did, as you know, help to create a more promising framework—and I use the term “more promising” as a very relative term—in Haiti. I have a colleague who is just back a few days ago from Port-au-Prince, and there is at the moment greater calm. There is greater promise that things will happen there than I can recall in many years.
The difficulty, of course, is fragility. It can go wrong very easily. Gangs can organize—gangs that are not yet disarmed—and there is now apparently an undertaking by MINUSTAH, the UN organization responsible for security under Brazilian leadership, to more aggressively disarm the gangs. If they can do this, that will make an enormous difference, because the authority that runs from the government in Port-au-Prince into the country is very limited and, as you know, sometimes totally non-existent.
One of the great responsibilities, I think, is to get the donors to pay more attention to the need for job creation. As long as you have a majority of the country, particularly the young people, who are unemployed or whose employment is only a fraction of their time, that's going to fuel the security problems around the country, and particularly in the Port-au-Prince area.
Despite all of the huge financial commitments to Haiti, there is not yet enough money actually on the ground to generate accelerating levels of employment, which are needed. Efforts are being made on education, but that's a sort of Sisyphus thing, with a huge stone up a mountain.
And more needs to be done to encourage a private sector. There is a small private sector there, some of which has an unsavoury reputation, but surprisingly there are parts of it that don't, and they can do more, with help and encouragement and the kind of fragile framework the elections created.