Tthank you, Mr. Chairman.
Let me begin by thanking the Committee for inviting me here today. Your study is especially relevant to the work we do at CIDA, because I think we all recognize that freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law are essential for development. Simply put, accountable states are more stable and more likely to deliver results to their citizens. As a recent book by US expert Morton Halperin has noted, “citizens living in democracies live a decade longer; 50 per cent fewer of their children die before their fifth birthday; and twice as many children attend secondary school...”
Democratic governance is about free and fair elections. But it is also much more. For an international development agency like CIDA, we see four essential elements. The first is the existence of freedom and democracy based upon strong electoral, legislative and party institutions that are rooted in a supportive democratic culture including an active civil society and vibrant, free media.
The second is the rule of law, with fair and effective laws, accessible and timely legal institutions, and an impartial judiciary.
The third is the presence of human rights practices and institutions within the State and held to account by an active civil society.
And finally, the fourth is public sector institutions that manage the economy and public funds and deliver key social services such as health and education effectively — and without corruption.
This is an enormous project. It matters to us because we know that democratic governance abroad contributes to our own security and prosperity at home. Our commitment and investment to it have been growing ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And progress is being made. You can see this in the handout information that CIDA officials have prepared for you. We can also see this in the Freedom House's Annual State of Freedom Index, which measured a 23 per cent gain in global democratic practices between 1975 and 2000.
We saw a wave across Eastern Europe in the early 1990s. What we need to learn more about is how, after difficult post-colonial transitions Africa is experiencing its own new wave of democratization. For example, Freedom House reports that 62 per cent of African countries demonstrated progress in freedom and democracy between 1990 and 2005. We have to continue with our resolve in this area because there is still more progress to be made. We must help to deepen the new democracies, to make them full democracies. And we must help them to survive by helping them deliver the economic and social goods that citizens demand.
What have we achieved? CIDA makes the largest investments in democratic governance abroad of any Canadian organization. These amounted last year to over $375 million. Our Handout offers many examples that illustrate the range of countries, projects and partners we have supported.
Let me highlight just a few of these. We have supported many elections, including key ones in Afghanistan, Haiti and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And through our support to Canada's Parliamentary Centre, we have followed elections up and helped build stronger parliaments in Africa and Asia. Our colleague John Williams has built upon this base in his work to engage parliamentarians in fighting corruption. Our work with court administrators in Ethiopia and judges in the Caribbean, the Philippines and China have all helped to strengthen the rule of law. Our support has strengthened official human rights institutions in Indonesia and Bolivia. In Columbia, it has helped build local civil society groups which protect the rights of children against violence and in Bolivia employment rights of women. Through Montreal-based Equitas, we have trained and networked human rights promoters in 75 countries.
Our support for public sector institutions has meant that India now has a more modern tax system, that Ghana is gaining a more coordinated public administration and that Mali has a strong and assertive auditor general.
In some countries we are strengthening our aid effectiveness by using multiple projects to achieve an overarching goal. For example, in Ukraine, CIDA contributed to governance reforms by helping strengthen the policy capacity of the public sector and foster democratic awareness among youth, public servants, the judiciary and law enforcement personnel.
CIDA helped Ukrainian civil society ensure fair media coverage and increase voter participation. And, as you know, we supported observers for the crucial rerun of the second round of the 2004 presidential elections and for the 2006 parliamentary elections.
We are now working with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in an effort to strengthen Ukraine's Central Election Commission. We see even greater challenges in fragile States like Haiti, where reconstruction efforts will fail without establishing the democratic institutions that can ensure security, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
With its international partners, Canada is helping the Haitian people and their institutions to meet those challenges. Recently, we helped secure credible elections. Millions of ballots were distributed — sometimes on horseback — to all corners of the country, a long-term international observer mission was organized, hundreds of local observers were trained and 106 Canadian observers were dispatched. As well, more than three million national identity cards were delivered to citizens, establishing the basis of a civil registry, a key ingredient for long-term stability.
Before and beyond the elections, high-level technical expertise was provided to the presidency and the Prime Minister's Office, ensuring a smooth transition and a strong beginning for the new government. Much remains to be done and our commitment to Haiti is long term. We will continue to invest in strong and stable public institutions that serve the Haitian people. These include the Parliament and key ministries such as planning, finance and justice.
What have we learned and how are we responding? I believe our investments are achieving results. And I want to share with you some of our key lessons learned on how we can work better. First, and because we have learned just how important democratic governance is to the overall development agenda, we will be doing more of it. In future, all of CIDA'S major country programs will assess and support democratic governance.
A second lesson is that achieving democratic governance is a complex, knowledge-based endeavour. It requires a comprehensive strategy and vision. It also requires a concerted and coordinated effort — nationally and globally.
As Minister McKay noted in his presentation, democratic governance is a foreign policy priority for the Government of Canada. I hope that your committee's efforts in the coming months will help us in confirming several other vital lessons. We must recognize that one size does not fit all and that change comes gradually, over the long term.
While democratic values are universal, the institutions that express them will be unique to each country context. Another important lesson is that the needs of fragile States will differ from those of stable or middle-income countries. Learning these lessons have helped our partner organizations shape a unique Canadian approach to democracy assistance that is recognized and welcomed for its adaptability to different contexts and stages of democratic governance. Your endorsement will strengthen their resolve to continue.
It will help us determine our areas of national strength that should guide our work in the future.
Democratic governance is essential for progress in developing countries and for ending poverty in the long run. I'm pleased to have had this opportunity to highlight the contributions that Canada, through CIDA and its partners, is making to this global challenge. I am also encouraged that you have undertaken this study. I welcome the careful consideration and fresh perspective that your study will bring to the work you do. I wish you the best in your remaining work and look forward to hearing your recommendations.
Thank you for your question, Mr. Patry.
I will endeavour to provide you with an answer that covers both of your questions.
None of the funding earmarked for Kandahar is being withheld. I can assure you that each and every one dollar of the $100 million provided in the budget is being spent in Afghanistan. We expect to spend $15 million in Kandahar between now and the end of the year.
As you know, CIDA believes in working in partnership with the people of Afghanistan. This approach has meant that barely 1 per cent of our projects have been attacked and destroyed by the Taliban. We firmly believe that working with Afghanis is the best way to guarantee the security of our projects.
As you know, the situation in Kandahar is more difficult. In order to allow humanitarian workers in field to carry out their mission, it is imperative that we work closely with security and defence services. Allow me to give you some concrete examples of what we do: we build roads, bridges and wells; we have provided women with sewing machines so that they can set up small businesses; and, together with the Montreal-based organization called Rights and Democracy, with which I am sure you are familiar, we have provided training to various groups of women. In addition, I recently announced $5 million in funding to be used to vaccinate 7 million children — this will particularly benefit Kandahar. We have also built schools.
Microcredit is a useful and important tool. It allows women to take control of their future. One hundred and fifty thousand of the 193,000 Afghanis who were granted microcredit loans were women. These women opened small bakeries, craft shops, sewing work shops, etc. These are examples of the type of aid that we are providing all over Afghanistan; and, once again, I would reiterate that no money is withheld by CIDA.
It is important to understand that we develop projects in partnership with the local population in order to have their support and ensure sustainability. Our intent is not to impose our views and ideas, but to help the people of Afghanistan. Projects are developed in response to the wishes of the local population.
And thank you, Minister, for coming.
Madam Minister, I would like to say it's just amazing how this member opposite came on the attack and said that the Afghanistan aid policy was a failure, when we remember that it was his government that sent people over there and committed money. Not only that, but standing up in the House of Commons last time, he doesn't want to help the people of Afghanistan--the poor, the women--and support the reconstruction that has been done over there. He even stood up in the House of Commons and said he wants to invade Sudan. Can you imagine that? He wants to invade Sudan in the 21st century. Colonialism is gone, I say to my honourable colleague out there.
What I want to say, Minister, is I came back from the Great Lakes region of Africa. In August I was there. You just mentioned the Democratic Republic of Congo. I met over thirty NGOs out there who came out and said that Canada, CIDA, was doing an excellent job in bringing peace and stability there. I just came back with the foreign affairs committee, which was meeting in Europe, and over there, every country--the Scandinavian countries--had a high degree of respect for CIDA, for Canada, doing its humanitarian work out there. CIDA is well regarded. In the recipient countries they look to us for security and for providing what they really need. And yet these gentlemen over there, across--
An hon. member: We have good people in CIDA.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai: Because it is not the flavour of the day, he's attacking Afghanistan. I want to tell this honourable member that in Afghanistan we are there for reconstruction. It still remains number one, if we're going to fight for security.
What I want to say, Minister, is CIDA has done a good job and we have a very high degree of respect wherever we go.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to talk to you about the core of what we're doing in our study, which is democracy promotion.
Right now there is a backlash against democracy promotion in a bunch of countries around the world. In Russia earlier this year they brought into effect a law against civil society organizations, basically restricting them severely and preventing them from doing their work. They've effectively shut down independent media, certainly in the electronic realm, in Russia. In Belarus you have a total clampdown on civil society. It's virtually non-operable, except in clandestine ways. Similarly, the media is virtually all state-controlled. In China you have the situation, with their getting Internet companies, of agreeing to freeze the word “democracy”, and so on. In Cuba and North Korea they don't even have a backlash; they never even started down that path. Some of these groups are now even meeting together in a Shanghai cooperation group to try to shut down democracy.
I look at this as something that as a government we find difficult to do. Another thing we find difficult to do as a government is to support political parties and political party development abroad. We've had submissions from Tom Axworthy, respected former chief of staff to Pierre Trudeau from the Liberal side—and we've heard from others—that the way one can do this best is by creating an arm's-length kind of organization, whether it be on the model of the British Westminster Foundation for Democracy or the National Endowment for Democracy.
I look at the summary you have presented and I see, for example, that under the sample programs, the word “Russia” never appears, the word “Belarus” never appears, the word “Cuba” never appears. That illustrates part of what I was saying about the limitations of being able to do aggressive work promoting the freedom part of the agenda.
We've done some “rule of law” work, for example, in China, trying to train judges and so on. Some people might be critical and say that actually helps support regimes. We're hoping that some of our rule-of-law approach rubs off, but one can be afraid of the opposite.
My question to you is this. Is there value in looking to a more arm's-length approach to some of this kind of work, on the model we've seen in the Netherlands, in Great Britain, in the United States, of creating an arm's-length form of funding that political parties can still be involved in and parliamentarians can still be involved in, but that gets into some of those more challenging things the government has trouble doing?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's a pleasure for me to be back here with former colleagues from, as one says, all sides of the House of Commons.
I want in my brief opening comments to deal with some observations about democratic development—if you like, a framework for a modern democratic state: what we should be doing as one of those modern democratic states who help facilitate the development of democracy.
I'll begin with a series, more or less, of assertions, for which I apologize, as opposed to developed arguments, in a sense. But then I hope we can discuss these points.
For me, in the last fifty years there have been two transformational developments in the democratic world and indeed in the globe. One is the post-1945 period in which the wartime leaders—Churchill, Roosevelt, and Attlee— launched a framework for global development to take place after Second World War, made the key decisions during the war, and set up the key institutional structure that held for many decades. This included the creation of the UN itself, the Bretton Woods agreements that in part were to deal with financial equity on a global basis, and third, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted in 1948. These were all considered to be part of a package, in a post-war period after the Second World War, that would hopefully avoid the tragedy of the 1930s and put in place, if you like, a framework for what we would now call global democratic development.
The other transformational period, I would say, began really at the end of the Cold War, and we're living with it. I want to pick up my specific suggestions, as a matter of fact, based on experience since the beginning of the end of the Cold War; that is to say, beginning with the 1990s.
I vividly remember the years immediately following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the coming to an end of the Cold War. The heads of almost all democratic governments proclaimed at the time that the subsequent decade would see the global spread of democracy and of market-based economies.
Unlike the World War II democratic leaders, however, they put virtually exclusive emphasis on creating a global market. They didn't trouble themselves with these other major institutions I've already talked about that the wartime leaders put in place—that is, the major political dimension. In fact, many of the democratic leaders early in the 1990s who should have known better, and some who did, blithely asserted that human rights, the core values of a democratic civil society, could be relied upon to emerge willy-nilly on their own after the core institutions of a market-based economy were put in place.
Based on my six years of experience as head of Rights and Democracy, and a long time—some would say too long—in federal politics, I would like now to offer some suggestions on what can and should be done to further democratic development in a world in which the majority still live in authoritarian societies.
First, in addition to protecting narrowly defined national interests, our foreign policy must help foster the development of democracy, and this should be done by persuasion, trade, and aid, and by the development of globally enforceable international human rights law.
Second, this can best be achieved by a combination of bilateral and multilateral state-to-state democratic institution-building, and in particular through assistance to human rights-oriented NGOs in countries where they are allowed to exist. In 1970 there were only 55 international NGOs at a UN-organized conference in Tehran. There are now more than 2,000 such organizations. Preferably assistance to NGOs within a developing country should be funded by other international NGOs working at arm's length from any government.
Third, assistance in the peaceful development of democracy within any state by outsiders can only be provided when the government of that state allows it. This has happened in recent years in a number of quite diverse nations. I'm only going to give you some examples that as president of Rights and Democracy I happen to have been—not as a politician, but as the head of that institute—directly involved in: South Korea, Thailand, Tanzania, Pakistan, Guatemala, and Mexico.
Fourth, at no time should the priority of agendas for any category of rights implementation by a developing country be determined by outsiders, whether these outsiders be other NGOs or established democratic governments.
In the 1990s, we at Rights and Democracy, with, I want to emphasize, money provided by the Government of Canada and with the support of all parties then in the House of Commons, worked in developing countries with other NGOs from Sweden, Germany, Norway, and the U.S. and helped to implement the rights of women, indigenous peoples, workers, and human rights organizations themselves in Thailand, Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, Tanzania, Pakistan, Egypt, and Indonesia. At all times, specific rights, priorities, and agendas for these countries were set by the indigenous NGOs or the governments themselves, not by us.
For example, in supporting women's rights in Pakistan, we and our international partners did not propose an agenda appropriate for women either here in Canada or in Europe. Rather, we supported the priorities established by that country's leading women reformers, such as Asma Jahangir. By the way, that courageous woman describes herself as a Muslim, woman, lawyer, and human rights activist.
Similarly, work in recent years with Mexican NGOs--and the government, eventually--on election-related rights proceeded according to their priorities again, not ours. It helped to produce free and fair elections a few years ago and the legitimate transition of power earlier this year.
We worked for years in Tanzania and finally in partnership, in this case, with the Canadian high commissioner. Our high commissioner at that time was a remarkable woman, very imaginative. We cooperated with the then one-party government, other NGOs, other newly emerging parties, and a newly independent media to shape a practical agenda that led peacefully to a transition to a multi-party democracy in Tanzania.
The fifth point relates to how not to do it.
There is only one country I wanted to talk about in terms of how not to do these things.
Mr. Chrétien was right about Iraq. The imperial hubris of the present administrations in Washington and London may well have included a deeply believed in agenda for democratic reform. Even if this were the case, military invasion, whether here or elsewhere, to make it happen is a deeply mistaken court of action. As a consequence of this western violation of international law, thousands of lives have been lost, a nation's infrastructure has been ruined, terrorism has increased, and international and regional religious conflicts have worsened. Ironically, the major national beneficiary of this has been Iran.
If there is an emergent so-called parliamentary democracy in Iraq in the months ahead, it will be characterized by profound mistrust and deep religious and regional tensions. When it comes to tolerance and stability, Germany's Weimar Republic, in retrospect, would be seen as a model of civility and goodwill by comparison. There can be little doubt that the war in Iraq, waged predominantly by white Christians in the name of democracy and human rights, has besmirched the good name of each in the eyes of millions of Muslims and others throughout the world.
I'll go on to my sixth point.
We in the developed democracies need to remind ourselves of the multi-faceted and multi-partisan roots of our own rights. As I have noted, as a follow-up to one of Churchill's coalition cabinet decisions in the 1940s, following the war, he and Roosevelt ensured that a wide range of rights were to find their place as part of a new postwar order. These rights ultimately became an integral part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. First drafted by a Canadian, John Humphrey, they ultimately became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
The crucial point here is that when added to the political and civil rights, the new social and economic rights became the core of the modern welfare states that flourished in the North Atlantic democracies for decades after the war. As Tony Judt, one of the world's leading historians, has recently and brilliantly argued in his book Postwar, such welfare states, with a mix of political and social rights, were largely responsible for the disappearance of parties on the extreme left and right and for the increasing degree of a sense of social justice and stability that came to characterize most of the advanced democracies.
It's then our own modern history that should guide us in understanding why economic globalization is a mixed blessing for democracy. As the World Bank has recently noted, amidst growing prosperity for many, there are also millions in abject poverty in Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Large numbers of them believe that established democracies no longer care about social justice. They see our governments and elites as acting too often in collusion with their own elites, being more interested in their natural resources and property rights than in the civil and social rights of the vast majority.
The fact that the President of Venezuela could be applauded by many in the UN's General Assembly in September for calling President Bush the devil should be seen in part as symptomatic of a widespread sense of injustice and not merely as a rejection of Mr. Bush's invasion of Iraq.
The depth of inequality and the absence of social reform in so much of the world can and does produce romantic, extremist, and intolerant religious and secular movements. It happened in recent European history. It can repeat itself again, only this time globally.
I think I'll conclude there, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
It's great to be here again. It's always a pleasure to be in front of the committee talking about the kinds of things with which you are regularly seized.
As most committee members will know, the council is an organization of about 100 non-governmental organizations working to end global poverty and ensure sustainable human development worldwide.
The committee members, of course, know that there are lots of things that can be said about democratic development. It can be about electoral politics and balloting, judiciaries, the recognition and implementation of the rights of citizens. It can be about economic, social, and cultural rights. It can be about lots of stuff.
For those of us who work in the international development cooperation field, who are preoccupied with questions of global poverty, democratic development very often goes to the role of citizens' organizations and social movements in the fight against poverty. And it's a key role. There are more than a billion people around the world living in absolute poverty; a further 1.5 billion who are desperately poor by any reasonable standard, living on less than $2 a day; and together, their combined number approaches half the population of the planet.
The thing about this poverty is that it's fatal. Every day 50,000 people die of poverty-related illnesses and insults readily avoided. More than 800 million people go hungry every day of the year. So the resources to address global poverty, through levels of aid, equitable trading arrangements, and cancellation of the debts of the world's poorest countries, matter immensely. What matters equally are the approaches taken by donor states around the world, as well as by developing country states, to democratic development and human rights.
The Nobel Prize-winning development economist, Amartya Sen, demonstrates pretty incontrovertibly that there will be success in ending poverty when the rights of the vulnerable and the poor are recognized in the face of very highly unequal cultural, social, economic, and political power relations. And with women forming the majority of the poor and the vulnerable, issues of gender equality and processes for women to claim their rights are central, absolutely key, to tackling poverty reduction. Absent these things, we will certainly, but certainly, lose the fight against poverty.
The millennium development goals roll up, in list form, a number of targets from a host of global meetings that occurred throughout the nineties under the auspices of the United Nations to chart social objectives for the planet. They articulate some of the more achievable goals developed at those meetings as an action agenda for the first years of this century. But whether it's about hunger or potable water or access to basic education or HIV/AIDS or malaria or tuberculosis, what is at the heart of it is the question of rights and the circumstances of those whose rights have been denied.
That's why people sometimes talk about the millennium development goals as the minimum development goals. It's a cautionary comment meant to signal that while it is important to set out targets, there is no list, really, that captures poverty. Looked at through a human rights lens, there is no single set of needs that, when materially met, can be said to settle the question of poverty. Poverty is all about impoverishment. It's about a process, and inequality and marginalization are the twin engines of poverty. If our aim is to beat it, equality and inclusion are the ways to go.
Civil society organizations working with a human rights framework know that effective sustainable development change will not take place in the absence of engaged citizens. That's the key ingredient. It is the thing without which success will not occur. And just as in Canada, as members of this committee know well, actions to counter poverty are inherently a political process.
Government actions, national political will, and building the capacity of governments are certainly terribly important, but they are in and of themselves insufficient to support sustained development impact. You get the full picture when you include political and social movement organizing a direct engagement on the part of those who are living in poverty or who are otherwise marginalized by their society. It's the other part and the key part, the crucial part, of democratic development.
In the course of your study of democratic development, it is almost certain that you have run into the Paris Declaration of March 2005, in which donor states agree to approaches to development assistance that help to establish ownership of development programs in developing country economies themselves, that align donor policies with beneficiary state policies; there's an agreement to harmonize, to manage for measurable results, to in some measure accept mutual responsibility and accountability in the development process as between donor and developing country states.
Important as they are, these new donor strategies focus pretty single-mindedly, almost exclusively, on donor-government relationships, aiming to express institutional reforms in both donor and beneficiary states for a more effective and efficient aid system.
For civil society groups, the final question has to be how much aid actually reaches the poor and mobilizes them to address their own problems. That's the key question for measuring aid effectiveness, and it is a question that the Paris commitments have yet to answer. So Paris is important when it comes to donor practices, but it's more about aid than it is about development.
It's when we get to this development vision side of things that issues such as the role of citizens, their social movements, the way in which aid can be used to mobilize people's participation, come increasingly to the fore; it's where democratic development arises. And it's a very good thing, therefore, that states are now tracking to a key meeting in Ghana in 2008, where the role of civil society actors is going to come in for some very special scrutiny and the question of the inclusion of this important piece of the puzzle will be raised.
In this connection, I think it's very worth noting that this committee, in its previous incarnation during the last Parliament, reached some key conclusions when it gave its twelfth report to the House of Commons. The committee called not only for increased resources to attain the internationally accepted standard of 0.7% of GNI as an aid level, but also called for steps to improve accountability and the quality of Canada's aid, with all parties agreeing—all sides of the House. The committee cited the need for aid legislation that would ensure that, beyond humanitarian assistance, aid spending would be targeted specifically at poverty reduction with an approach that takes account of Canada's human rights commitments and a rights-based approach to development, and that aid delivery would occur that takes respectful account of the perspectives of those actually living in poverty.
The committee also said that in order to ensure aid effectiveness, CIDA should take account of the particular contributions of civil society organizations both in Canada and in the developing world overseas.
So the committee's report to Parliament, which got unanimous support in the House of Commons, puts democratic development and a rights-based approach at the centre of the development paradigm.
I want to say congratulations for having got it right in the last Parliament, and I encourage you very much to keep on this track as you continue to look at these questions of democratic development, which are so key to poverty eradication.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, gentlemen, for coming.
Mr. Broadbent, in 1999, the UN Commission on Human Rights, now the Human Rights Council, passed a resolution on the promotion of the right to democracy. In 2000, as you know, the UN at the Millennium Summit declared that we should spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law.
I have generally been supportive of projects that CIDA has done, and I'll give you an example that I'd like you to comment on.
To promote democracy I believe the best way to do it is from the ground up, and obviously at the village level, particularly in places such as Asia, such as Cambodia. We were very much involved, as you know, in the commune elections. What has happened, however, is that it appears to be a scattered approach, because we were there and we supported them, but the attention has drifted away. What is happening now is we see a government in Cambodia, Hun Sen's government, that has basically stifled both public dissent and human rights.
Do you have any advice for this committee in terms of how we could be in for the long haul? What kinds of approaches should we be looking at for monitoring sustained development of human rights in countries where we're going to spend the dollars to do that?
I think you eloquently pointed out that in Iraq, a top-down approach does not work. I'd be interested in your comments.
It's a totally reasonable question and my answer is that there is no easy answer, no guarantee.
As I mentioned, we did a lot of work, we being Rights and Democracy. It is a very interesting model of a government-funded but an arm's-length institution supported, as I said, by all parties. We worked predominately with NGOs in developing countries. We did some work with governments too, but mostly that was done by CIDA and not by us. We worked in Thailand. We did a lot of work, and Thailand has made a lot of progress, but as we know, there's been a military coup there. It's ongoing work and an ongoing project.
The two big names in history who have written about democracy are Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill. No one has done anything better than they did in the 19th century. What they talked about that is fundamental, and it is what Gerry Barr has talked about here in modern terms, is the crucial role of a democratic civil society, a whole range of freedoms that become ingrained in the practices and institutions, if you like, below the superstructure of elections. And that takes time. It really does take time.
I read an article recently on the Crusades and was reminded with great horror how systematically Jews were exterminated, and Muslims were exterminated, and so on, in the name of good Christian action. We went through a long period ourselves. We--those from a Christian, white, Anglo-Saxon background I'm saying here--went through a long evolution when we were, in modern terms, quite barbaric. To get this evolution of groups that will be tolerant, civil, and respect individual rights as well as social rights takes time, and there is no magic answer.
Part of what Gerry Barr and the minister have said in terms of general principles and the role of CIDA, what Gerry Barr has said about the importance of civil society, and what I've said all mesh, in my view, if they're carried out. What we musn't have is a top-down approach using force, certainly military force, or imposing our rights agenda. They have to come to it, if you like, the groups within their society, where they are free to act. Somebody mentioned Cuba, China, and these other countries and what we are doing there. We're not doing anything there because they won't allow anything. They won't allow the Rights and Democracy type of organization there.
I've taken some time to answer the question to say that there is no foolproof solution. Democracy is an evolving thing and it's very important, but what is crucial, though, is the civil society structure. It's not just the electioneering or periodic elections. It's getting the institutions to allow the free flow of rights in society.
Okay. I don't have an easy answer to deal with that. Again, the institution Gerry Barr works at would probably give you a better.... I mean, we could do as some countries do, direct all our aid just to the poorest countries. I don't have an easy answer to that.
I think there are some reasons for us.... We're with countries we have historical associations with—some French speaking, some English speaking—and there are certain trade patterns. We may have contacts and historical connections with certain countries that we don't have with others, and it may well make sense for us to choose them perhaps over others. But basically, I guess my general criterion is that those in greatest need should get our greatest priority.
On the Afghanistan question, I'm kind of with you. I'm glad I'm not a politician today; I don't have to have an answer, in one sense.
Initially I supported the action, in an entirely different situation from Iraq—entirely different. You had a barbarous government that was supporting a barbarous international terrorist movement. There was a response to this—and one, I repeat, that I personally thought was appropriate.
Then you raised the question that we're in there now, and how do we deal with that terrible dilemma? On one hand, my friend and colleague Alexa was asking questions about the ratio of aid spending to defence spending. I don't know what the answer to that is, and I also frankly don't know what it should be, because I know there's both a security dimension that has to be dealt with and an aid dimension.
What Afghanistan illustrates, if I can put it a different way, in one sense with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, is the wisdom of George Bush senior in the Gulf War. In the Gulf War, Mr. Bush senior was urged by a number of his, in this context, American conservative colleagues, some hawkish, to continue into Baghdad after Saddam Hussein was pushed out of Kuwait. He asked the appropriate question: “What'll I do when I get there?”—a very serious question. And he didn't go, because if he had gone, then there would have been under Bush senior the mess we now see in Iraq today.
Canada is involved, with our NATO partners and with UN sanction, in trying to square that circle of helping to create security so that we can put the emphasis on aid. And we're doing it in a country that, historically speaking—and I don't want to be misunderstood in this—is from the standpoint of democratic development behind even where Iraq was originally. There are much more complex and historically medieval structures in Afghanistan.
I just think it's a problem without a ready answer.