Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you as well to distinguished colleagues and committee members, officials, and those from the public who are joining us.
Let me begin, Mr. Chair, by thanking this committee for being what I would describe as among the most active, if not the most active, in Parliament. I commend you for the work you do.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to celebrate with you Le jour de la Francophonie and to discuss important elements of the government's foreign policy and the contribution of my department in serving Canada and Canadians.
First, Mr. Chair, a word or two about the government's foreign policy. Our foreign policy is very clear and focused. It is aimed at restoring Canadian leadership in the world. It is focused on priorities, and responsive to the needs in emerging circumstances. And it is implemented through action, not through empty rhetoric or promises that cannot be kept.
The Prime Minister and I have spoken repeatedly about our foreign policy priorities. So have other ministers, so let me restate them. Our priorities are to play a leadership role in peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan; restore Canadian-United States relations to a respectful, businesslike relationship; rebuild our defence capabilities; promote Canada's values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law; and ensure Canadian competitiveness through internationally playing a stronger role within our own hemisphere, where we have shared history, substantial interests, and growing people-to-people ties.
Our actions over the past year and more are evidence of a focused foreign policy agenda. It is one that will advance our interests and our values in an increasingly complex world.
I've been asked to address four issues, you're correct, Mr. Chair, and I beg your indulgence; this perhaps will be a longer presentation because of it. The four substantive areas are Afghanistan, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the consolidation of our diplomatic representation abroad, and the department's main estimates, including our report on plans and priorities.
First, Afghanistan. At my last appearance before you, in November, I spoke of a complex, changing world, one in which Canada's interests and values were very much at stake through this mission. I said that Canadian security and prosperity depended on global, economic, and political developments, and on the quality and depth of our engagement with them. As a result, Canada needed to influence and shape the world as best we could.
Nothing has occurred in the time since then for me to change that view. In fact, the intervening months have only strengthened it. Canada's mission in Afghanistan is a central priority of my department. We are committed to it, not just for today but over the longer term.
The Government of Canada is drawing on the skills and determination and courage of the personnel of other government departments as well—most notably, National Defence, Public Safety, RCMP, CIDA, Correctional Service Canada, and Border Services—to help build an Afghanistan where human rights are respected, where development, rule of law, and good governance are taking root.
Let me remind this committee of the reason why the Government of Canada is so committed, so determined, so focused on achieving success in Canada's mission in Afghanistan.
First, a stable Afghanistan, free from extremism, strengthens international security and thus Canada's security. We are there to protect the security of Canada and Canadians by providing stability, security, and development and humanitarian assistance to the people of that country. That's a primary responsibility.
This NATO-led mission is solidly supported by the international community through a UN Security Council mandate. We are there to help the Afghan people and their government implement the Afghanistan Compact, of which we are signatories. The compact commits the international community, along with the Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations, to achieving progress in three interrelated areas: security; governance, which includes the rule of law, human rights, and tackling corruption; and economic and social development.
So how is Canada's mission in Afghanistan doing, and what is our prognosis as spring approaches?
I encourage committee members and all Canadians to read the report that ministers O'Connor, Verner and I tabled in Parliament three weeks ago. It is called “Canada's Mission in Afghanistan: Measuring Progress”.
This report measures progress and identifies what yet needs to be done. It is a frank, realistic assessment. It harbours no illusions about the difficulties that lie between where we are today and where we would like to be over the longer term.
There is real progress that can be measured. It is occurring in expanding security, in building democratic institutions and public infrastructure, and in providing development assistance. There has been Canadian assistance in providing food, water, and basic necessities. The assistance has also gone to schools, to villages, to communities, and to microcredit for individuals, especially women, so that they can start small enterprises and businesses of their own.
I've seen this progress myself. I've taken two trips to Afghanistan, most recently in January, and I've seen the difference Canadian-financed microcredit loans are making for women, allowing them to take their rightful place in Afghan society. I've seen it in the faces of young boys who are learning to be carpenters and tinsmiths thanks to a Canadian project that gives them a trade and a stake in their own future, plus the tools to go out into their communities and begin to work and train others. I've seen it in the eyes of young girls who are going to school for the first time, who display enthusiasm about learning to read, who dream about being teachers themselves. I've seen it in the pride displayed by graduates of a police studies program, graduates who swore to uphold the law, who celebrated and supported and saluted their own country.
This is the progress we are seeing there, Mr. Chair. It gives us cause for optimism and encourages us to continue our efforts. The tough questions we ask in the report should, and do, keep us focused on what works, what challenges are yet to be addressed, and what lessons have been learned thus far.
As you know, the Prime Minister recently announced that Canada is providing an additional $200 million for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. This is in addition to our annual allocation of $100 million to development activities. That now places Canada among the leading donor nations in Afghanistan. Indeed, Afghanistan is already our number one recipient of Canadian foreign aid.
We're continuing to look for partnership programs with countries like Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. New money will go to proven Afghanistan-designed and UN-supported programs throughout the country. Performance-based success criteria are part of that decision-making.
What's more, Canadian assistance is helping to kick-start the local economy. Not only does it have the effect of raising people's confidence and hope, but it also gives them a real stake in the continuity and success of Canada-funded initiatives and projects.
Here I'm thinking of our funding for the supply of police uniforms, for example, which were made by the people in the community. I'm thinking of water projects, roads, bridges, and one very unique project that I'll describe for you. A boxcar or a large container—filled with such agricultural implements as hoes and rakes and seeds and rain clothing and boots and the other types of necessities that farmers need—is taken out into a community and locked. The keys are given to a member of that community, an elder or other representative, who decides how they would use it. That aid in a box is instant aid, and it immediately makes a tangible, touchable impression in a community.
One of the additional $200 million to $120 million will go to the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund administered by the World Bank. Portions of this will go to three successful development programs: the national solidarity program, the Government of Afghanistan's primary program for community development; a program to provide operational support to the Government of Afghanistan; and the national microcredit program, to which Canada has already committed $40 million.
When I was in Kabul to meet with the community development minister for the Karzai government, I saw a map that showed the various areas of concentration that the Afghan government itself was making in disbursing development aid and programs throughout their country; $20 million will go to the UN office on crime and drugs to combat illicit drugs and international crime—another high priority—and $10 million will go to the counter-narcotics trust fund, to improvements of Afghanistan law enforcement and criminal justice institutions in support of the Afghan national drug control strategy.
Also, $20 million will go to the law and order trust fund in Afghanistan, which allows police officers to draw their full salaries directly from the banks, thus furthering the creation of a more professional police force and ensuring security for Afghans. This amount builds on the previous Canadian contribution of $20 million. I can tell you that this is very much a necessity in an area where the Taliban are, in some cases, trying to recruit these same said officers.
If we are able to enhance the ability of the Afghan government to ensure that the officers' salaries are paid, allowing them to earn a decent living for their families, this will make an enormous difference in recruitment and training, in the building of a professional police force.
Finally, another $20 million will support the UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan, which will take us further towards our goal of making Afghanistan free of mines and unexploded ordinance. An average of 60 Afghans are killed or injured every month by mines. Half of those victims are under the age of 18. Again, that's a clearly identified need.
Mr. Chair, $10 million will go to the Asian Development Bank, which is supporting the construction of a vital transport link for Kandahar city, a priority of the Afghan national development strategy. Not only will this help farmers get their products to market, but the road's construction will provide much-needed local employment.
Canada maintains such key bilateral programs as vocational training and food aid for war widows. In Kandahar, 16 vocational courses are currently funded by the national solidarity program, and we hope to replicate these types of successful programs further, throughout Kandahar.
Canada is also assisting in the immunization of more than 7 million Afghan children as part of a polio eradication initiative. A $5 million contribution made last October is currently supporting the immunization of 350,000 children in Kandahar province. We've distributed women's wellness diagnostic kits to Kandahar University's medical program. The provincial reconstruction team has donated medical supplies and linens to the Afghan National Police hospital in Kandahar.
Mr. Chair, this is by no means the whole list of what Canada is doing for development, reconstruction, and education. But it serves to illustrate, I hope, a fundamental point: there is huge and measurable progress, and impacts are being felt all over that country. The has made the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade the lead department in coordinating, focusing, and implementing the Government of Canada's policies in Afghanistan. His former foreign and defence policy adviser, David Mulroney, has become associate deputy minister for foreign affairs, responsible for interdepartmental coordination and for ensuring foreign policy coherence for Afghanistan.
I believe Canadians are gaining a better understanding of this international mission, the mission of the Afghan people, the challenges, and what's at stake in the region. They are hearing more about how Canada is helping the Afghan government and the people reach and achieve their objectives. They understand that Canada's efforts include development and humanitarian assistance, diplomatic and governance support, and the much-needed presence of our troops to provide security in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
I underscore that point, Mr. Chair. None of the previous programs—the aid, the humanitarian work—can happen without the security perimeter provided by the NATO forces, which include our troops.
From coast to coast, Canadians have shown their appreciation for these troops serving on this mission. Whether by wearing red shirts on supportive red Friday, attending rallies, or writing to the troops, Canadians are showing how proud they are of our forces. I extend my condolences to the families and friends of those who have suffered, from those soldiers who have sacrificed their lives—most recently Corporal Kevin Megeney, a young man from my hometown in Stellarton, who lost his life just a few short weeks ago.
Our support for those who have sustained injury on this mission in the name of Canada can never be expressed often enough or loudly enough. But only if there is security in Afghanistan can development workers and humanitarian assistance specialists get on with their task of helping Afghanistan through these economic development, education, and reconstruction projects. Only if there is security can the fledgling steps in democracy and democratic governance and rule of law be consolidated and extended throughout the country. Only if there is security can human rights in Afghanistan be grounded and protected, in law and enforcement, in public.
Thanks to the skills and professionalism and courage of our soldiers, the nascent peace stretching over the country has now been extended to large parts of Kandahar province. We are now consolidating these security gains, and using this opportunity to increase our focus on bettering the lives of civilians, pushing ahead with reconstruction, building schools and roads, encouraging small businesses, implementing governance programs.
Measuring progress in Afghanistan's difficult environment is also a challenge. Nevertheless it's encouraging to see the people themselves in Afghanistan, with their government, starting to take ownership over their development agenda and priorities, building a professional army and police force.
Mr. Chair, again, to give you a personal observation, when these roads, bridges, and projects are built by local citizens, they fiercely defend them from the Taliban. They take ownership over those projects. There is an intrinsic pride that takes hold in the way in which they defend those projects.
Mr. Chair, this will continue. We'll continue to keep all development projects under constant review to ensure that our efforts align closely with the intent and purposes that have been set out in the annual UN Security Council resolutions and the benchmarks established by the Afghanistan Compact.
True, Canada's mission in Afghanistan is demanding, but the costs of failure and abandonment would be very high. Afghanistan's poverty, their narcotics trade, and the Taliban insurgency in the south, combined with Afghanistan's complex political situations, pose a huge challenge for the Afghan people.
You will recall the words of Chris Alexander, who appeared before this committee. He stated:
||The billions of dollars spent in the last five years assisting Afghanistan would go up in smoke, while the very existence of NATO and the UN would be threatened if the west withdrew. And most tragically, none of us around this table would be able to explain to the families of the 44 Canadians who have lost their lives in Afghanistan what the purpose of that sacrifice was.
James Appathurai, a spokesman for the international defence committee staff, also gave testimony, I believe. He spoke about the disastrous and devastating impact that Afghanistan would feel should the NATO mission be withdrawn.
Mr. Chair, it poses a grave and continuing risk to stability and safety in the region, and as we saw five years ago and more, it can spill out into the world and into our own continent.
Canada is taking action to ensure that Afghanistan is not becoming a haven again for those who would threaten international peace and security, including Canada's security. Canada is also delivering on its promise to support the people of Afghanistan. Canadians can be rightly proud of our role and our accomplishments.
The Government of Canada will stay on track, and I can assure you my department will lead the way in this regard. It is our government's highest foreign policy priority.
Now, Mr. Chair, if I might, I'll turn to another issue on which I have been invited to speak today. It concerns the important recent developments in the field of international human rights, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 13, 2006. The convention will be opened for signature in 10 days' time, on March 30, at a special signing ceremony at the United Nations in New York.
The UN convention is a significant development in international human rights law. It is a specific application of existing human rights to respond to the situations and realities of persons with disabilities. As such, it promises to be an important tool in the protection and the promotion of these rights. For this reason, we believe the development of the convention was long overdue. At its core, the convention is a legal instrument aimed at preventing discrimination. Canada thus welcomes the strong equality rights provisions contained therein and the significant contribution this convention makes to development of the concept of reasonable accommodation so crucial to ensuring the full participation in society of persons with disabilities.
Mr. Chair, Canada is proud to have contributed to the new convention through our active participation in its negotiations and fully supports the principles reflected therein. Throughout this process the federal government has worked closely with the provinces and territories in connection with this convention and with respect to any agreement that may affect their areas of jurisdiction. This is an example of what the Prime Minister calls flexible federalism, Mr. Chair. We have conferred frequently with the members of civil society throughout the negotiation of this instrument and have recognized the particular importance of this agreement to them, both in practical terms and symbolically.
We are now engaged in the provincial and territorial consultation process required prior to signature, and I personally reached out to every single province and territory over the past two weeks with a view to moving this file forward expeditiously. I understand and I share your strong interest that Canada proceed with the signing of the convention at the earliest possible opportunity. Therefore, I wish to assure you of my commitment to remain actively engaged in this matter and I certainly hope to see a positive conclusion to this matter in the near future.
I would like to address the next item, Mr. Chair, which is the consolidation of our diplomatic representation abroad. The Government of Canada is strongly committed to the responsible and effective spending of tax dollars in pursuit of our foreign and international trade objectives. Following an extensive departmental review, a review process that examined how to best allocate and reallocate our resources, the decision was taken to close the consulate general in Milan, Italy; the consulate general in St. Petersburg, Russia; and the consulates in Osaka and in Fukuoka, Japan. The review found that the embassies in Rome, Moscow, and Tokyo were able to provide at reduced cost a wide array of programs and services to promote Canadian interest in these countries.
These mission consolidations are part of the spending restraint exercise announced by Canada's new government on September 25, 2006. The closing of missions reflects the government's readiness to reduce costs, set priorities, review existing expenditures and make choices, hard choices at times, in the interest of Canadian taxpayers.
Just to give you an idea, Mr. Chair, of the ebb and flow that come with shifting resources to priority areas, during the period of 1993 to 2006, Canada closed 31 missions while opening another 43 missions in new locations. The new Canadian embassy in Kabul is but one example, a prominent example, of a new embassy.
The countries in which we have consolidated services currently have excellent transportation and communication infrastructure with which to facilitate continuing client service. As another example, our consul in Osaka is developing a strategy and a handbook for the trade program in the Kansai region. He will be reassigned to another post in Japan, so he's not leaving. Meanwhile, the embassy in Tokyo and our consulates in Nagoya and Hiroshima will take over the strategy and the handbook and will continue to develop it.
The mission consolidations are thus in no way a reflection of a downgrading of the importance to Canada of the countries that are concerned. Our relations with Italy, Russia, and Japan remain strong, excellent. They are key G-8 countries and important partners. We have strong people-to-people contacts currently, and we will facilitate our continuing partnerships with these countries in the future.
Countries affected also understand our position very well. They are facing similar challenges; namely, how to maintain diplomatic contacts and deliver a range of services at a time of rapid globalization and major security challenges. So are our allies and our friends. No one is escaping the need to stay flexible, to shift resources, to strengthen representation in some areas, while consolidating in others, to reduce costs where possible.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is a department that has, for nearly 100 years, had a strong tradition of engagement in the world, of defending and pursuing Canada's interests in the world, and of ensuring that the voice of Canadians is heard internationally. The has been very clear in recent public statements that standing up for Canada's interests and values internationally is one of the government's top priorities. Indeed, international issues have increasingly been at the forefront of Canadians' concerns. Recent high-profile consular cases underline the need to protect Canadians abroad. We have, in fact, Mr. Chair, approximately 2.3 million Canadians living, working, or travelling abroad.
Let me sketch out briefly how the department's budget is to be apportioned. Maintaining Canada's network abroad takes up just half of our total budget, but this network isn't the sole preserve of DFAIT. What few people realize is that my department supports 20 partner departments and agencies, as well as three provinces, through mission networks or platforms.
Let me emphasize this point. When we speak of Canada's representation abroad, we are not simply speaking of DFAIT alone; we are speaking of Canada abroad, that is, a Canada-wide service for the whole of government. And when we speak of Canada's diplomatic missions, you may not find only foreign service officers working at them; you will find people from Citizenship and Immigration, RCMP officers, people from provincial governments, and specialists from Health Canada or Agriculture Canada. DFAIT's support of other departments and partnerships is not always well understood, and I believe it needs to be more widely recognized.
Another quarter of DFAIT's budget covers the cost of Canadian participation in international organizations, again on behalf of the whole of government. The remaining 25% of our total budget, which is about $500 million, is devoted to operational and program sectors.
At the same time, we, like other departments, are experiencing expenditure restraints. This is part and parcel of the government's economic agenda for controlling program spending and getting value for our money. I can assure you that DFAIT will do, as it is doing, its part in managing budgetary reductions, while remaining committed to providing the best service that we can to Canadians.
All good organizations are faced with challenges, and DFAIT is no exception. Good organizations respond by seeking challenges and seeing them as opportunities. Good management is all about identifying and seizing such opportunities, even as one is going through a belt-tightening exercise. We need to be flexible to respond to the important world events as they occur. We need to be in places where there are emerging opportunities and the interests of Canadians and Canada remain strong and where our presence can have a multiplier effect.
Take, for example, our office in Philadelphia. It reaps more than the usual consular office rewards. That is because Philadelphia is also the site of Pharm Expo, one of the largest biotechnology exhibitions around. That's where so many of the start-ups in biotech go for exposure. It's where Canadian companies go for market opportunities, and where we can help them through our department's commercial services.
This is what the department has been doing and will continue to do. We will continue to reallocate and shift resources from lesser priorities to higher-priority areas, such as the government's foreign policy priorities, which I cited at the beginning of my remarks. We will continue to do our level best to meet high standards, and wherever possible, to continue to improve services. To this end, we have taken important steps to improve DFAIT's management practices, to provide a more results-based diplomacy, clearer strategic alignment with the government's overall policy priorities, and better reporting and communication with the rest of government.
For example, the country strategies developed for each mission and the mandate letters that accompany them ensure that each head of mission has clear direction on priorities and expected results, and each is accountable for delivering on them.
We're also improving innovative new ways and implementing new ways of delivering Government of Canada services abroad to supplement its traditional bricks and mortar operations. One such initiative is the virtual trade commissioner, or the VTC service. This interactive tool enables our trade commissioners to distribute up-to-date, relevant information to all our clients and partners on a 24-hour basis, regardless of their location. Recently, the VTC won a Treasury Board Secretariat award of excellence. So did our public diplomacy online services and our consular affairs bureau electronic resource. These awards were for outstanding leadership and improving service for Canadians, Canadian businesses, and international clients.
DFAIT remains committed to ensuring that our resources are invested in ways that will allow us to effectively pursue the government's international agenda. The department's report on plans and priorities describes this in detail. Against this fiscal backdrop, my department is tabling its 2007-2008 main estimates and report on plans and priorities for the same year.
The main estimates for the department are $2.6 billion, $2 billion for budgetary items and a $670 million non-budgetary item for Canada's Export Development Corporation. If we exclude the EDC non-budgetary item, the department's main estimates show a net decrease of $142.8 million. The main estimates contain a considerable amount of detail on programs, activities, operations, and expenditures as well as our plans and priorities for the fiscal year.
I'm happy, of course, to respond to any questions committee members may have, either in our discussions or by subsequent written answers.
Mr. Chair, I'll conclude my remarks and I look forward to receiving your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much, Mr. Minister and departmental officials, for being here again—and for two hours. It's way better than the short time that we sometimes have to squeeze our questions into, so it's much appreciated.
Mr. Minister, at the outset you stated that Canada's chief foreign policy priority is restoring Canadian leadership in the world. I can't let that pass without a mention. And perhaps you don't want to engage around it; you might want to say “Go talk to the CIDA minister”. But if we're actually going to restore Canada's leadership and reputation in the world, it has to be said that as it relates to ODA, the very disappointing budget that was brought in can't possibly make sense if that is in fact the real priority.
And with some justification, Mr. Minister, you could say that it was not the Conservative government that dragged us from 0.53% of our gross national income for ODA down to 0.23%. Those were the Martin budgets and the Liberal government. But we have to start where we are and try to make progress.
Yesterday's budget actually will take us backwards from where we finally had climbed, out of the position of being the ultimate laggard, from 0.3% up to 0.34%. We did that in the previous budget. But yesterday's budget drags it back to 0.31%.
At the rate we're going currently, even if 600 million extra dollars had been put in the budget yesterday, it would take us 37 years to get to where we would meet our ODA obligation of 0.7%, and that, of course, was always meant to be a minimum.
Meanwhile, we go to countries like Sweden and Finland, as this committee did recently, to be reminded that they've already reached 1%, or 0.98%.
How do we end up looking like we've restored or resumed our position as a leader in today's world?
I have very little time for questions. I have two further questions I want to raise. As perhaps the easiest and most direct one, I want to start by congratulating the government for stepping forward when there was a lot of unease on the part of the community of persons in the country living with disabilities about the possibility that Canada was going to back away from participating in this signing ceremony that's coming up. I want to congratulate the government for being there, working in tandem with tremendous leadership of civil society, of the disability advocacy groups and so on, to be part of passing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I want to ask this very specifically, because you've raised further concerns, frankly, by your statement today—and perhaps I'm reading too much into this. You suggested there needs to be more collaboration with the provinces and territories before you can sign. Now, I'm hoping what you really mean is before you can ratify. Because as you've already said here, you've been engaged in some consultations with the provinces and territories. That will be ongoing. But of course to participate in the signing ceremony is the next important step. There's nothing in that signing that commits to legal obligations per se. It's really a way of saying we honour the point we've reached and we want to make sure that we continue to be a leader here.
So my question is asking you to clarify whether Canada will participate in the signing ceremony that's coming up, because it's going to mean a great deal to not just the huge number of persons in Canada living with disabilities, but to 650 million people living with disabilities in the world. If Canada is going to continue to resume its position as a leader, I guess I'd like to hear you confirm that.
Secondly, on Afghanistan, there are so many questions, and it's very difficult to deal with the complexities, but I want to go directly to the issue that has been addressed again and again, by people before this committee as well as in international venues, that there can be no real peace and security in Afghanistan, let alone genuine human progress, without there being engagement with the Taliban, with other political actors, and with ethnic groups that have been excluded, the Pashtun being the most obvious one.
Ten million Pashtun people in Afghanistan are excluded from, really, the whole political process, are excluded from government, are excluded from meaningful representation. This point has been made again and again by everybody, from Chris Alexander, who was very direct before the committee that this needs to happen, and by Brahimi, the key figure in the negotiation of the Afghanistan Compact, who said it was his greatest regret. Karzai himself said it when he was here in Canada, and he's said it since, most recently back in Afghanistan.
My question to you, Mr. Minister, is whether you are in agreement with the position, which has been articulated by so many people, that we need to bring the moderate Taliban into negotiations and we need to ramp up a robust diplomacy and peace negotiations and be more inclusive.