Good afternoon, everyone.
This is the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. It is meeting 12, Thursday, February 7, 2008, and we are meeting here this afternoon to discuss committee business.
I'll tell you right now my intentions are that this committee will be stopped at 5:30. There are planes to catch and places to be.
Does anyone have a problem with that? We're okay that at 5:30 or before we will adjourn?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: All right. That would be wonderful.
The first order of business is to ratify the report that came out of the steering committee prior to this meeting. Your steering committee met and made two points. First of all, it recommended that the list of witnesses on Afghanistan from the previous session be resubmitted to the committee and agreed to, that new names be added, and that the meetings on Afghanistan be held next week, which would include the February 12 and February 14 meetings. The second point in the steering committee report recommended that the committee hear from the department, as well as other witnesses, dealing with Sudan, on February 26.
Are we all in favour of accepting that report as read?
People may want to submit some witnesses. There have been a couple already. We're uncertain as to the timelines, but we'll hear from the department and in the second hour we'll hear from witnesses. I know we have STAND, some of those students, and we have others who want to attend.
Is that carried?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: All right. The report is adopted.
I'm going to ask you to look at item 2 on the agenda. This is what we were discussing when your committee last met, that following the tabling and release of the government's response to the advisory group on the national round tables on corporate social responsibility in the Canadian extractive industry in developing countries, tabled on March 29, 2007, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development invite the Minister of Foreign Affairs to appear before the committee to explain the government's response.
We did make an amendment to that, which stated that we would invite the relevant ministers, and as I recall, at the last meeting it was with regard to the time of the invitation to go out to these ministers.
We'll go Mr. Obhrai and then Mr. Wrzesnewskyj. I believe Mr. Obhrai was speaking when we left the other day.
Go ahead, Mr. Obhrai.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I don't even know why we're discussing it.
Following the tabling and release of the government's response, there's no tabling and there's no correspondence. We've been waiting for 10 months. It could be after the next election, and nobody knows when it's going to be.
I would just prefer to have the minister here, or to ask our distinguished colleague when the government intends to give a response. That report is not a report by the committee. For a report by a committee, they need to give a response within three to six months. Whether it takes a year or two years, it looks like they don't intend to respond, because we already have a response.
You can pass all the motions you want, but after the tabling, as we say in French, aux calendes grecques, or forever.
It was very encouraging to see that the motion was put forward and the government supported it as is. As in the past, there has been a lot of cooperation and a lot of work has been done. The government went through all the objections.
In my view, it's absolutely appropriate that rather than creating more amendments, arguing and debating, and then leaving at 5:30 for our flights, in the interest of achieving something on this committee, we go back to the original motion.
The position has been indicated by the parliamentary secretary. I'm sure the member who tabled this motion will be pleased that the motion is supported, accepted, and so on. So why do we have to bring about unnecessary and unrequired changes to the motion and go backwards rather than going forward?
I hope agrees with that and we can accomplish something here.
I will talk on two points, Mr. Chair.
First, to my friend Borys, there is nothing embarrassing about this 10 months. It may be embarrassing to him, but the point of the matter remains that it was a round table conference. It was a very comprehensive conference. There were a lot of stakeholders who came in there. There were a lot of good recommendations made at the round table conference.
When you have such an extensive study, with all these things on the round table conference, it covers a lot of areas of law as well as other things, as you know, being in the government. It does take time to make a response, because this will have a major impact down the road.
Therefore, the government is, as it said, committed to provide a response to this. We have stated that and we will provide a response. It is not a question of when, but rather when we have finished and are able to do the right work with the right legislation at the right time and not do it on the basis of what you, as the opposition, are pushing us to do. It doesn't work that way.
Secondly, you must listen to my friend Bernard Patry, who happened to be the vice-chair before Mr. Wilfert came, and he had a lot of knowledge. It being an outside report, you cannot force a government to come out with timelines. This was not a report that was tabled in the House.
Angela, am I right?
Absolutely, sir, and I hope this time Paul is listening to the motion.
Mr. Chair, in seriousness, food security has become very important. With almost 800 million people in the world living with hunger, food security is becoming a very critical aspect of global peace and stability.
CIDA has been assisting with some aspects of food security around the world. The Foodgrains program is one of the best examples, wherein Canada has been very successful in working with other countries to provide food security.
What we want is to have a comprehensive study, to see what kinds of barriers and situations exist for food security and to ensure that Canada takes a leading role. We want the foreign affairs committee to take a leading role and do a comprehensive report to say what hurdles and barriers there are at this time. It would form an overall strategy for what our food aid program would be.
We had people come here from Kenya a month or so ago, in the last session, who talked about a food security program in Kenya as well as in another African country. Kenya was there, but there was one from west Africa. I think it was Ghana, if I'm not mistaken.
Were they from Ghana?
I know it was Kenya, because I talked with them.
They talked about climate change and the effect climate change is having on the food security program. They were highly concerned about climate change.
They came with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, didn't they?
Most of them zeroed in on the fact that climate change was also having a major impact upon farming in those countries and on the inability of those countries to mount an effective campaign to work towards food security. They brought that up and appealed to Canada for assistance.
Within that context, this study on food aid would be a comprehensive study, looking at all of these issues to create an overall strategy for the Government of Canada—and for CIDA as well, since CIDA would be and is involved in food aid security—to give them direction from us. The most important aspect of this is giving direction as to what....
What did you say?
An hon. member: Just keep going, Mr. Obhrai. We're hanging on every word here.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai: I am not going to do a filibuster for six and a half hours.
Here we go again. These friendly amendments of Borys—
No. I will highlight what we heard in the committee. I'm bringing this up so that we understand that it's not as if the witnesses who came in front of the committee just walked away; we listened to them. That's why it's coming up here, and that's why I'm putting this on the record.
You may want me to cut the debate short, but I'm also putting on the record who came, what came, and why we are doing this, so that it's on the record and when they listen to it they can say that at least their journey to Canada and to the committee was successful, that it was not in vain.
In light of that, you can use closure here, but I'm putting it on the record. This is for the record and for the Hansard.
Having done that, I think I'm going to go on, Mr. Chair.
Also, there has been a lot of demand on CIDA's involvement in this thing. This would also be a good way to see what CIDA is doing--CIDA's involvement, CIDA's money--by calling CIDA officials. I can say my government is as concerned as any Canadian about the effective use of CIDA dollars. This would give them this thing.
We want to see what recommendations we can make so that we can have a really targeted approach to work towards reduction of poverty and food security.
Having said that, I think my colleagues will not find it very difficult to support it, but they're all welcome to speak on it. I'm open to debate.
Mr. Chair, I understand the intent of our colleague from the Bloc, but once again we are opening another can of worms, acknowledging another area for study that could consume a whole lot of time and take attention away from CIDA's policy framework, recognizing the importance of food security to allow people to protect and sustain their broader livelihoods. Just as poverty is a major cause of food insecurity, food insecurity can also reinforce poverty.
This is a very broad study. I think it is very important in this crucial study to focus on the real issues rather than go into the production of these countries. As Mr. Obhrai said, we can focus here and then expand into those areas, rather than take the focus away from this very important, crucial study.
If you keep a focus on food distribution, the security of food supply, the caloric intake of those people, and what the needs are and how CIDA itself is investigating whether and how processes work, whether they are effective, and how they can be improved....
I think it's a good motion. It has very good intentions. I'm sure our colleagues across would agree to that. If they want to do this, perhaps they can bring another motion, or expand this while the witnesses are here. But I think the key focus here is to concentrate on poverty, the distribution of CIDA aid, and how to improve it: is it working or is it not working?
I have no problem with what Madame Barbot is saying, but at the same time, bringing a change into this motion would, I feel, take away from it. It will take away the focus; we'll go into several different areas and not accomplish what we intend to accomplish on food distribution processes, health, and poverty alleviation. I think those are very crucial. I'm sure our colleagues have no question about how important it is to focus on poverty alleviation.
Therefore, I request our colleagues to please leave this the way it is. Let us concentrate on the work at hand so that we can achieve some results and assist those who need it the most.
Yes, it may be part of the food convention, but if you look at this motion, the intent of our motion was to study Canada's food delivery system, Canada's food policy.
would like to put forward another motion to do what she has just proposed. That's her motion, but I want to restrict this motion to Canada's food policy and whether the current methods of delivery meet the objectives.
In all fairness, when you start going into the local production capacity of a third world country, the developing countries, you are going into something that, by itself, is a huge study that would require a tremendous number of witnesses coming from overseas. I don't want just one or two witnesses showing up here and saying, “This is what is happening in the third world countries.” I have already stated quite clearly that the witnesses who have come over here have stated that climate change has become a very big problem, and the capacity of those countries is diminishing.
But we have to look at it from the aspect of what we are doing here ourselves, within our food aid programs, what the Foodgrains Bank said Canada can do.
Now you're going into the convention issue, and of course the convention is a very broad one. Why don't we just take the whole notion of the convention and say, let's go for the convention, if you want to pick this one here and that one there?
Let me just say, when you start talking in reference to production delivery of developing countries, if you go down to the Chiapas State of Mexico, where there are small-scale farmers, what you see is the impact of NAFTA that is happening there. These small-scale farmers find it extremely difficult to make a living, and in Mexico they don't have the cooperative factors.
I can go back to the time I left Tanzania. There was a policy of the Government of Tanzania, under President Nyerere, called the Ujamaa policy, where he moved people, where they were having this food aid, to try to bring a centralized delivery system—what she was talking about, giving the delivery thing.
And you know what was the result of that? A country that was exporting food. The whole system collapsed.
I am going to talk about socialism, because I grew up in that country and saw what happened in that country. I saw what she wants to talk about, a delivery system, and how a country that put the whole thing.... And for her to laugh at what has been my own experience in having seen this shows how they don't understand the international...or what happened. Now they want to make jokes of a country that has actually collapsed due to its social policy of bringing the small-scale farmer and delivery system....
They can laugh as much as they want, but this is a serious matter. I lived and grew up in that country, where at one time you had food available and then, within five years, you had no food available in the market. People were starving, and yet that country was rich, and it's all because of exactly what they want to....
An hon. member: That's exactly what we're talking about.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai: No, it's not. This is a bigger, stronger study. It's not a joke; it's a study. This here is talking about Canada's food aid program to help them, not this.... We can bring country after country after country as examples of how.... Zimbabwe is an example. Let's talk about Zimbabwe for a minute here. Zimbabwe was a country that was exporting food, and today people are starving there. Why? Because of this thing.
Are you going to do a study? Let's go in and do a study. Put all your motions out there.
But this motion, Mr. Chair, deals with Canada's food aid. It doesn't deal with how delivery systems in other countries fail.
Let's talk for a minute about Afghanistan and how its whole agricultural system has collapsed.
Now when you want to bring such an important international study—we're talking about the delivery system of developing countries—then you start talking about bigger issues of where and how government policies fail, where there were no cooperatives out there, where issues like this.... It is not a small issue, and it will take attention away from this motion that we brought forward.
The problem I have is that this is a political aspect from there to go onto that. If they want such a thing, they should put forward their own motion to do this comprehensive study. But I am not willing to have six people sit over there and talk to us for about an hour on this whole issue and say, now, we know about international third world development over there and why their food security is falling down. It is a comprehensive issue as to why in the developing countries their food aid is falling down. It is a bigger issue, and you can take country by country to see why it is going down. For example, there is the effect of NAFTA on Mexico and southern Mexican states, because NAFTA now allows corn to be exported. So it's breaking down.
So why are we going to change the focus of this? I said I have no problem if she wants to do it. You said very rightly that the Bloc has the right to put forward a motion. If they want to amend this motion, I'm not going to accept it. But they can put forward their own motion and we can debate the motion and say what witnesses we want on this thing. But it will deviate from what is out here, Mr. Chairman, what we are trying to do and what I am trying to do.
So for that reason, Mr. Chairman, I can't accept that.
Now, let me talk about, for a change, what is happening in Kenya today. This tribalism taking place in Kenya, this thing, has already had an impact on agriculture and the delivery process out there. So are we going to study Kenya? I remember when I was in Kenya, they used to have a cooperative called KCC, Kenya Cooperative Creameries, where they went to small-scale milk people out there—
An hon. member: And they kicked out a lot of countries.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai: They joined together to create a cooperative. Today that cooperative is not able to provide the kind of management needed, so it's gradually falling down. Is that a study you want to do?
Which countries do you want to study? I only talked about Kenya. Now I'll talk about Tanzania. Let's talk about Uganda for a minute out here.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Deepak Obhrai: We want to talk about the international system. Let's talk about the international system.
Of course, is not listening. Why?
Let's talk about the international systems of delivery and the capacity building. I'm talking to you about the international system of what is happening in each and every country. Do you see this group? They're all unelected. Why? And that's why I think we are--
An hon. member: We don't need a study.
Some hon. members: [Inaudible--Editor]
Mr. Deepak Obhrai: I'm not trying to kill time. You asked for an international study and I'm giving you country by country by country of what has happened over there. How many international studies do you want? We know what happened in Haiti. We did a Haiti report here, on the deforestation that has taken place in Haiti and everything. Let's talk about Congo. Let's talk about Congo-Brazzaville. Let's talk about what is happening in Chad. These are all countries that have delivery problems, and your amendment of this motion is calling for an international delivery system. So I am--