Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, committee members.
My name is Arjan de Haan and I am the director of the Inclusive Economies program, which includes the Governance and Justice program, at the International Development Research Centre.
We are honoured to appear before the foreign affairs committee today, as we did in 2007, to provide testimony for an updated democratic development study.
IDRC is a Crown corporation that plays a key role in Canada's foreign affairs and international development efforts. Our approach to democratic development is based on the belief that researchers and policy-makers should be empowered to address the barriers to democracy in their own country with tools and solutions rooted in local realities.
An ongoing illustration of this approach is an initiative with Global Affairs called Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar. This supports democratic transition through policy research. The intent is to nurture a new generation of state and non-state actors who will engage in open public debate, generate sound research to support evidence-based decision-making and encourage the voices of women and other vulnerable groups in government.
Besides the initiative in Myanmar, I'd like to share three examples that demonstrate how IDRC supports research that bolsters the building blocks for democracy. The first example is how reliable sources of information contribute to democratic processes. Fake news and misinformation are alarmingly commonplace around the world. Just last week, in anticipation of this year's election here, Canada announced $7 million for literacy programming to improve Canadians' ability to critically analyze online news and reporting.
Rumours of false information can be dangerous. They prevent people from making informed decisions; they stoke hostilities and generate suspicion; and at their worst they cause violence and conflict. For example, in southeast Kenya in 2012, false rumours about clashes or imminent attacks fuelled violent conflicts between two ethnic groups. As many as 170 people were killed and 40,000 people were displaced.
IDRC teamed up with a Toronto-based NGO called The Sentinel Project to determine how these rumours were being spread and how they could be eliminated. The lack of reliable information in the region was primarily to blame. In response, a mobile phone app called Una Hakika was launched to help restore peace. It's a simple concept. When a worrying rumour is making the rounds, subscribers report it to the service for verification. Community volunteers and local police investigate the rumour and report back via text message, voice calls and Facebook. In only two years, an estimated 45,000 people were regularly using the free daily service for accurate information. Word spread, and in 2017 Una Hakika services were used to reduce tensions during Kenya's general and presidential elections.
Today, this crucial service is reaching an additional 250,000 people in Kenya, and it's also being scaled to a similar extent in Myanmar where a sister project is dispelling anti-Muslim rumours. Its popularity continues to grow, and now our partners will be adapting the service to local contexts in seven countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
The second example I'd like to share is about encouraging women's voices in government. Even though women's perspectives are crucial in the development of truly democratic societies and governments, they still aren't being appropriately represented. In parliaments worldwide, women's participation has been stagnant at only 24%. The international group called the Open Government Partnership promotes accountable and responsive government, yet even among their 3,000 commitments, women were the focus of only 1%.
This is why IDRC is supporting the new feminist open government initiative. It builds on these existing commitments to help women raise their voices in government. It will support research that investigates the social and cultural factors that limit women's political involvement, and it will identify solutions to increase their participation. The goal of the feminist open government initiative is to ensure that by the end of 2019, 30% of the 79 member countries will take concrete actions, policies and practices to raise the level of women's political participation.
The third example I'd like to share is how improving crucial services can help to stabilize the lives of refugees and the host countries that welcome them. Stability is key to developing democracy, of course, but with more than 68 million people on the move worldwide, it is difficult to achieve. Of these people, 25 million have had to flee their country and are considered refugees. Developing countries host 85% of internationally displaced people, but they have limited capacity to support and integrate them. The social and economic burden of this is heavy. Citizens often perceive new arrivals as a threat to their well-being. This stokes tensions and breeds populist movements that can destabilize countries and indeed entire regions.
In Lebanon, a country that itself had to rebuild after the war, one in six people is a refugee. There, IDRC supports research to develop an understanding of how to make the best use of precious limited resources in health care and other services. Poor-quality health data makes it difficult for decision-makers to accurately assess needs and provide services. For example, refugees often have distinct mental health needs.
The research we support is identifying where resources are needed most and how to use them in the most efficient, effective and equitable way. This support helps to ease the health care burden and stabilize the situation in Lebanon while improving care and services for the refugees who desperately need this.
In conclusion, IDRC thinks about research as a long-term investment that builds evidence and promotes informed decisions. It also identifies opportunities to create societies that are supportive of equality, equity, diversity and prosperity. IDRC believes that this can be achieved, as I hope I have illustrated, by providing reliable sources of information to contribute to democratic processes, to encourage women's voices in government and to address the factors that could destabilize already vulnerable states.
As I hope our testimony illustrates, multisectoral research can help to promote democratic development. Our approach focuses on supporting the building blocks for democracy by equipping local researchers and policy-makers with research data and tools to generate the evidence that can help build prosperous and democratic societies. We think that research, with the right care, can help to usher in a new era of hope and change.
In closing, I'd like to sincerely thank the committee for having invited the IDRC to testify on this key study.
I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have on our work and to provide further information to your offices.
That's good. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you for inviting me.
I have written a paper that I'd be happy to distribute to the clerk once it's properly formatted. I'll speak to that paper extemporaneously and it will be a more substantial offering that you're free to peruse in your own time.
I'm delighted that the Foreign Affairs committee is picking up the standard of the 2007 Foreign Affairs committee and its landmark report. I want to comment on some of the recommendations of that 2007 report, why I think they are still valid and to make some comments on what has changed in the decade since that report and urge this committee to return to the central findings of your predecessors for Canada at this critical time in the world to make a very clear statement not only about its values but also by creating agencies and institutions to give them effect.
The first point and the absolute centrality of the 2007 report is that democratic development is a crucial part of overall development. It is hard to reduce poverty. It is hard to increase life chances if governments are authoritarian, corrupt, and are working to create division as opposed to creating opportunity. Beginning in the early 1990s, the World Bank made that fairly obvious point, but it was a breakthrough at that time to state that governance had to be considered part of the overall development approach.
The committee in 2007 argued for the centrality of democratic development and that it should become a major priority and motivating force in Canadian foreign policy. It had always been part of Canadian foreign policy—I'll speak in a moment about Mr. Pearson—but it had never been central. It had been part of the overall approach, with more than lip service, but never was a motivating or guiding force for either resources or the activities of the men and women who made up Global Affairs and our foreign policy infrastructure. Your predecessor committee said that it should be. They did so for two reasons, both of which I think continue to apply today.
First was the critical issue of morality, that freedom, liberty and equality of opportunity are central to Canada's identity and our traditions. But it is not enough for democrats here to enjoy their liberty. It is equally important to try to do our best to ensure that others in the world are in a position to do so. This important finding is that it's not enough to talk about our values; one has to act on them and put the power of government and civil society behind them.
Second, in 2007, the committee argued that not only was democratization a moral issue, but that it also had definite security implications. We know there are very few laws or semi-laws in international relations. One of them is that democracies very rarely, if ever, fight against each other, that if one brings citizens into the decision-making, the appetite for adventurism, certainly against another democracy, is very much diminished. There are also security dimensions to improving democracy and human rights around the world.
We know through international relations that the best policy by far is to prevent crises from occurring rather than dealing with their aftermath. That's what human rights and democratic development do, if they succeed. By creating a culture of liberty and pluralism, the system itself allows dissent. Dissent, therefore, does not have to inch over into civil war and violence. Therefore, as well as a moral argument, there is a security argument why democratization should be at the centrepiece of our foreign policy. That was the argument in 2007.
Does it apply today? When the committee made its report more than a decade ago—if we look at the various waves of democracy—it really made its report at one of the high points. There was definite progress on governance and democracy on virtually every index that measures international relations. It was the high noon of the democracy movement.
What has happened since? Ladies and gentlemen, it's all straight down. For 13 consecutive years, according to Freedom House, on all of its indices of democracy and freedom, there have been declines. Its 2019 report came out a couple of days ago. In 2018 it reported that about 39% of the world's population was free, 37% was in authoritarian repressive societies, and another 37% was partly free.
We have nearly 40% of the world living under authoritarianism. By the various indices we see, for example, in the last year that Turkey declined by 35%; Venezuela by 27%; the Central African Republic by 30%, and the list goes on and on. The point I'm trying to make to you is that if democratization was a useful and important initiative in 2007, it is desperately needed now. Never has the need been greater. We've had more than a decade of tremendous difficulties in that area.
In terms of the security dimension, I hardly need to tell you that this week in Ottawa we had the meeting of nations on Venezuela. That is just the latest in the crises to show what happens when authoritarianism grows and takes hold of a society with conflict arising. Three million Venezuelans have fled—almost 10% of the country. A million of them are now in Colombia, another country that has tried hard to move democracy along and is having tremendous difficulties in coping with the refugee crisis. In Syria, we know that there have been six million refugees and hundreds of thousands of lives lost. It is a destabilizing conflict not only in the Middle East but is having an impact across Europe. Both those dimensions are more important today than they have ever been.
What has caused this tremendous decline in the last decade? I'll address that and then wrap up on what Canada can do about it by endorsing some of those central recommendations in the 2007 report.
What has happened? One of the first and critical elements is the new self-confidence of authoritarian states. Russia is now a great disrupter. Helping that disruption is another aspect that is different from the situation 2007, namely, the efficiency of the tools of cybersecurity and cyberwarfare. It costs virtually nothing to have a series of analysts get together to destabilize a country, to create emotion, to use Facebook. These tools are very supple and are being used by people who do not share our value system.
China has a belt and road initiative, the largest economic development plan since the Marshall Plan—maybe a trillion dollars. It has many good aspects. It's certainly fair to say that human rights and democracy are not among the many goals of the belt and road initiative. As China increases its sway in the world, the authoritarian camp is ever more strengthened.
Second, there has been an ebb tide in democratic support. When we look at those who led the democratic effort for many years—but also in the mid-2000s when the report was made—we see now that Europe is convulsed with the impacts of the debates over refugees and immigration, in part resulting from the Syrian crisis.
Populist nationalism is making many countries turn inward. The outward-looking goal of improving others has declined as nations are fighting to maintain their democratic standards at home.
Then, of course, we have the example of the United States, which created the National Endowment for Democracy in the early eighties, but now has a president who gives, if not support, at least acknowledgement, to authoritarians around the world while he attacks many of the institutions of democracy, such as a free press and a free media.
Thomas Carothers, the great democratic theorist, says that with the United States now, there is an “autocratic relief syndrome” for dictators, given the oral abuse by the president. But suffice it to say that those who used to support democracy have declined. We have a bigger problem and we have less support. It's very different from 2007.
Lastly, Chair—and not to take up too much time—what can Canada do? We've already started to do some things. We have a long tradition. In 1949, when NATO was created, one of the great initiatives of Canadian foreign policy, with Mr. Pearson and a variety of others.... We should never forget that it was Mr. Pearson who put in article 2, which committed the NATO nations to strengthen their freedom-loving institutions. So, right from the start, when we began to build the post-war world in Canada, freedom and those institutions were at the heart of it.
We then moved along with the Mulroney government, which responded very favourably to the joint Senate-Commons committee by creating the Rights and Democracy agency, a very welcome initiative by that government in 1988.
What I'm trying to say here is that support for liberty and democracy and economic opportunity is a multipartisan commitment in Canada. Nobody is opposed to this. We have many examples of when we have moved. There's the Pearson initiative, there's the Mulroney initiative. In the mid-1990s, Mr. Chrétien brought out a handbook on democratic governance to be one of the themes of CIDA. Over the next 10 years, he dispensed something like $1.5 billion or so to 900 projects with democratic governance at their heart. So, we began to use some substantial moneys in CIDA.
Then, with Mr. Harper's government—
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I thought I would be second and the government side would go first, but that's fine by me.
Monsieur Axworthy and Monsieur de Haan, thank you both so much for being here today. It really is a pleasure for me.
Monsieur de Haan, I was actually in Kenya this summer. Their work at devolution has really been something for their democratic processes there. They are moving government closer to the people as they devolve.
Prior to being a member of Parliament, I was at Global Affairs Canada for 15 years as a foreign service officer. I had an incredible career abroad, largely based in Latin America. I served as a deputy head of mission twice. Certainly democracy was a big part of that.
Most recently, and the reason I'm here today subbing for our shadow minister for foreign affairs, —who I think has done a wonderful job of truly standing for democracy for the official opposition and Canadians—as the shadow minister for democratic institutions.
Mr. Axworthy—and, as well, Monsieur de Haan—you touched on technology, and specifically cyber-dispersement. Of course it is a great concern to me as we go towards the 2019 election that we guard our electoral processes from negative foreign influences, which we saw in previous elections. In fact, the Communications Security Establishment has indicated that they believe a significant increase will occur in 2019 from the level in 2015. Of course, we certainly saw this in both Brexit and the United States' democratic process, with their president.
As well, I am very proud to be a member of the Trilateral Commission, along with Madame Laverdière here. At our recent meeting in Silicon Valley, they did indicate that they thought 2018 was really known in the world as a time when democracy took a turn for the worse.
With that, it's very interesting, Mr. Axworthy, that you said that actions speak louder words. We are here, of course, as the official opposition Conservatives.
I want to comment, first of all, the government for bringing forward this Conservative, Harper-era initiative, when the government at the time I believe absolutely stood for democracy abroad. I think of my predecessors, Jason Kenney, whom I followed in my own riding, and John Baird, for whom my husband worked for a significant amount of time. These were people who took a strong stand for democracy both at home and abroad.
With that, we talk about action speaking louder than words. However, isn't it the actions and the words of our greatest leaders that have the greatest impact on democracy abroad?
Mr. Axworthy, you mentioned all of the falling democracies in the world right now. Who, ultimately, is responsible for Venezuela? It's Maduro, on the heels of Chavez. It's a big part of that. In Russia, it is Putin who holds the keys to democracy—or not. In Turkey, it's Erdogan.
As I mentioned, I'm very proud of the history we have as Conservatives, with leaders who truly stood for democracy. Therefore, I would like to pose the question—perhaps to you, Mr. Axworthy. Do you think that when our current does things like praising China's dictatorship that it perhaps has a significant negative influence when it is heard internationally? Perhaps it could even possible negate an incredible initiative such as this.
We just had a discussion a moment ago about the good work that Global Affairs has done for many years on this file. The argument of the 2007 report, and the 2009 panel report, is that in addition to that work and that background, a new and more flexible instrument was needed, namely, a standalone agency that would report to Parliament but would independent from the government. It's another tool that can be added to the kit bag when one is trying to promote a democracy and human rights. Ambassadors are very busy people. They have a host of activities. They have to, yes, we hope, promote democracy and human rights, but they also are promoting trade, they're also dealing with a series of consular activities. They're very busy folks. What one needs is an instrument that is working daily on the kinds of issues we've enunciated.
I would call the Venezuela issue high politics or high democratic politics. It's engaging the foreign minister and the Prime Minister. However, most of what you do in democratic development is low politics. You're building democracy brick by brick by working on judicial systems, by working in villages. Therefore, you need an instrument with men and women who can speak to opposition leaders who may not be in favour with the government, who can talk with civil society.
There are things that an independent instrument can do that ambassadors cannot. As I'm sure your committee has heard—I know that NDI and the International Republican Institute spoke to you—we have tremendous capacity in Canada. Canadians everywhere are advising on a charter of rights, on the court system, on federalism, on party development. The whole world is employing Canadians on this except Canada. We haven't brought them together in a dedicated instrument to work. It's something that we have lost by not having such a flexible instrument. So that's important.
How does one then do that? Yes, it should report to Parliament. It should have a board, a relatively small board, but be advised by a much larger advisory group. I would call that a democracy council, where you would bring in practitioners. The board should not just include Canadians, but others who are the recipients of the program, from the countries we are trying to help. The members of the board should be the result of multi-party consultations. Everybody should be consulted about who should make up the board.
In our panel report we actually did alternative budgets at differing levels to show what could be achieved with a $30-million annual appropriation, and a $50-million and a $70-million one. If we look at NDI and some of the European foundations, they are at about $100 million to $125 million. They are substantial when they're in the $100-million range. We recommended that we start at $30 million, build to $50 million and get to $70 million over a multi-year period.
We have models on how this can work. One of its cores should be working locally. You can't make democracy work by having consultants come in and out. You really need people on the ground. For that to happen, we recommended that there be field offices in countries of particular importance that would do the daily work that ambassadors can't do. However, field offices cost between $3 million and $5 million to keep them going. So depending on the number of field offices you have, as well as the program side and donations to other organizations, that mix determines how large your budget is.
We actually did the blueprints for budgets for three different kinds of funding, with specific suggestions on the structure of the board, the membership of the democracy council and the programs the centre should undertake on evaluation, research and so on.
I'd like to put my first question to Mr. de Haan and zero in on some of the nuts and bolts of how we do things.
The Sentinel Project is tremendously encouraging. It addresses what I assume in most cases are these organic inter-ethnic rumours that lead to, as you said, suspicions, which then lead to potential conflict and violence. The success of this type of project is encouraging.
What happens when a government methodically, meticulously begins the process of inter-ethnic conflict, as opposed to that happening organically?
I'd like to turn to the work we were trying to do in Myanmar. We had huge hopes. It was almost euphoria. We were granting citizenship to individuals, and a few years down the line we had a genocide. Clearly, we got it wrong. We hadn't identified the processes that were already being put in place.
Do you have any idea about a different style of project? And I'd like to turn to a different part of the world. We've had a parliamentary internship project for some 25 years with young Ukrainian students or postgraduates. It's not a government project; it's actually a diaspora project. There are I think over 1,000 of these individuals who are now at all levels of government: municipally, oblast-level, provincially, federally. We've had ministers, mayors, and the experience they had here was invaluable.
Do you not think that perhaps your body, or another body, should be set up that focuses in on these emerging democracies, countries in transition, to do...?
It doesn't happen overnight. We thought it would start in Myanmar. It's a long process. To disrupt democracy is very easy. Putin is finding it incredibly easy.
Should we not be looking at those types of projects? Then, when it comes to the parties, should we not have parliamentary internships for these countries, where parliamentarians would come and spend time in our offices, just as these young leaders did who then turned out to be national leaders in their countries?
I thought I'd put that question to you.
I have two quick points, Chair.
The first—and you've put your finger on one of the largest issues in international politics—is that we know that prevention is better than emergencies, but to get the world to actually work on preventive diplomacy and preventive measures is one of the most difficult things, because, alas, our systems seem to respond to crises. They don't really work in a forward manner.
The problems in Syria were advertised long before the Syrian civil war. In almost every area, there are people, like international crisis organizations and so on, who are forecasting problems, but to get states to move on that—we have a former representative from Global Affairs—and to get states to look at the prevention agenda, which is an investment agenda when there's not a crisis and to persuade the public that's important to do, that's a real difficulty in democracies.
On your second point, you're absolutely correct. We are seeing an ebb tide in established democracies that work on these issues because they're bedevilled by internal divisions around immigration, migration and refugees at home. That's all the more reason, Chair and members of the committee, for Canada, at this point in time, to take the lead. We have to offer some encouragement and optimism to the democratic community around the world.
Thank you, Mr. Chairperson, and honourable members.
Let me start by quickly setting the table as to my background, so you have an understanding of where I'm coming from through my presentation.
I am a lawyer based in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia. I was an MLA in Nova Scotia for four terms—nine years. For four of those I was the House leader of the official opposition. Twelve years ago, I left that work and started working full time in the area of international parliamentary development and political party assistance.
In that time, I've had a chance to work mostly with the United Nations Development Programme. In recent years I've also worked with the American government, the British government, the European Union and the Swiss government. I've worked with more than 50 parliaments around world and with MPs from more than a hundred countries.
Having said that, let me take a few minutes just to talk about the last report in 2007, which I'm sure you've all had a chance to see. I had the opportunity back then [Technical difficulty—Editor] my political career to make a presentation before your previous colleagues on the same committee.
Having read the report in July 2007, I can say that I agreed with almost all the recommendations. In particular, the two that I want to focus on today are recommendations 12 and 15.
Recommendation 12 recommended the Canadian democracy foundation as an overall organization that would provide democracy assistance. Recommendation 15 recommended the establishment of a centre for multi-party democracy.
Let me talk now about some of the key points I'd like to raise. Please understand that my focus is based on my experience working for international organizations in the area of democratic governance. I've done almost no work for a Canadian organization, but given the number of countries I have worked in and the amount of work I've done, I would have expected to see more of a Canadian footprint globally.
As I said in 2007.... I think if you have my written report in front of you, I do have the specific quote that is in the report from that year. Generally speaking, I just want to say that from my experience over the last 15 to 20 years of doing this work in one form or another, I rarely, if ever, see Canadian organizations or Canadian-funded projects through other international organizations in the area that I work.
I said it in 2007 and I still think it's the case. Canada is not a serious player in the areas of democratic governance, particularly around political governance, which is what I focus on.
There might be one exception and that would probably be Ukraine. It's a place where we have probably invested a significant amount of resources—primarily through American organizations, I understand—but overall, the activity in this area is....“limited” would be a nice way of putting it.
The second point I want to make is that since 2007, there is less leadership being presented at a global level—thinking of new ideas and creating innovative approaches. For awhile, in New York, when I was the UNDP's global adviser on parliaments and political parties, there was a process by which UNDP, the World Bank, and DFID from the United Kingdom came together with other implementers and were providing thought leadership on a biannual basis. We were presenting new approaches and new ideas and sharing information. In the last five or six years that's no longer happening. UNDP and the World Bank no longer have global footprints, or even global advisors. The resources have really almost contracted to some extent.
I think there is an opportunity for Canada in both political party assistance and parliamentary development. I think there's a real opportunity for someone to step forward and show leadership. The United Kingdom is trying to do that to some extent. If you haven't seen it, back in 2015 the International Development Committee of the House of Commons in the U.K. came out with its own report on parliamentary strengthening. That report really promoted the idea that the United Kingdom needed to have its own version of the American foundations, like NDI and IRI.
Since that time, they've put a lot of money into the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. If you haven't had a chance to engage them as a committee during this study, I would encourage you to do that. At the moment, though, I would say that they are in the process of expanding their physical presence, though I haven't necessarily seen the impact on the ground of those engagements. There is a space there. There is a vacuum. There is a void. I think there is an opportunity, if Canada were to step forward in the coming years, to be able to provide that leadership at a global level. From a Canadian perspective, I think that it is unique. I see in many of the countries where I work that the fact I'm from Canada does mean I provide a different perspective from what people are hearing from other countries, whether that's the U.S., Canada, Australia, France or the European Union.
My final point is this: Whereas in the last recommendation they talked about a separate political party centre, a multi-party democracy and a separate democracy foundation, I think all of the work needs to be combined into one institution. This would allow—and I speak from my experience in formulating projects and implementing projects—for a Canadian institution, a large institution that would be able to work sectorally with Parliament, political parties, media, civil society, elections and local government. All of that can be done at a sectoral level but it also creates opportunities for cross-sectoral work. I think that would be critical to any success.
Again, as I said in 2007 and as I still think is the case, Canada should identify a core group of countries; this time I would say 15 to 20. We should invest deeply in them and become the leading donor in the area of democratic governance in those countries. Then I think we also need to ensure that invest in them for the long term. I think it is important to reflect that engaging in democratic governance—supporting transitions when people and governments are ready to transition to democracy—is something that takes a long time. It's not going to happen overnight. We need to be prepared to invest heavily in select countries and to do it over the long term, in order to ensure that we can have the results and impact that we want from that investment.
Mr. Chairman, honourable members, thank you very much for the opportunity to address this important topic, Canada's role in international support for democratic development.
I'm going to be focusing particularly on the establishment of a new arm's-length Canada foundation, or an institution like that. I also want to echo the comments we just heard. I think one institutional focus for this work rather than a multiplicity of splintered mandates is the way to go.
I also want to start by perhaps giving you a sense of where I'm coming from and my perspective in this work. I am a lawyer, as you heard, but I have an unusual practice. I don't represent individual clients anymore. I work mainly at an institutional level with the UNDP, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. I've also worked with the European delegations of the European Union in a number of countries. I've worked in four sub-Saharan African countries, including Rwanda after the genocide, in setting up two of the three institutional pillars that marked the unity government's mandate in the post-genocide period, as well as in Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and central Asia, Southeast Asia and China.
My remarks are going to be divided into two main categories. The first is a high-level overview of areas where, in my view, Canada can provide significant added value in the area of democratic development. I also want to talk a little bit about lessons learned for setting up an arm's-length institution like a Canada foundation, if I can use the term that was in the high-level briefing document.
I would like to begin by emphasizing the central importance of human rights in any discourse involving democratic development. I know there was language to that effect in the 2007 report. Interestingly, it was absent in the high-level document that was circulated.
Most people take the position that human rights are buried in, subsumed in or implicit in democratic development. That is not a view necessarily widely shared everywhere. I do think that Canada has a unique perspective, both in terms of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the international instruments and international law principles that Canada seeks to abide by and to contribute to as part of its international commitment and legacy.
The first point I want to make, obvious as it may seem, is that any institutional initiative like this be clearly and explicitly grounded in human rights as well as in democratic development. It should not only be attentive to human rights, but actually have explicit and focused attention on human rights as the central raison d'être of any institutional strategy promoting democratic development. In my view, the two must go hand in hand, and it should not be assumed or implied that democratic development necessarily brings with it an appropriate focus on human rights. I would point out that now more than ever, perhaps, this is extremely important. We're seeing a number of so-called democracies starting to witness the erosion of the rule of law. Freedom House, as some of you may know, just came out with its report stating that we're witnessing a retreat of democracy and democratic values at a global level.
I think we should all be alarmed by that, but at the same time see the opportunity for Canada to renew and indeed establish its commitment.
The idea of what democracy means changes depending on where you are. I know that might sound alarming to some, but the reality is that there are lots of different views about what democracy is. There is no single, established international instrument that determines what democracy is, beyond free and fair elections, of course. On the other hand, there are international standards around what human rights means, and I think the two must go hand in hand.
This brings me to another area where I believe Canada adds value, which is in building stable, transparent institutions.
I was involved, as I mentioned earlier, in the Rwandan government. I helped to set up and strengthen the human rights commission in that country in the post-genocide period, as well as the unity and reconciliation commission, which was modelled to some extent on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Canadians, including myself, were central in those initiatives. It was the same with the Ethiopian ombudsman organization of the Ethiopian commission; the Sudanese commission, which, as you might imagine, is struggling; and a number of other institutions worldwide.
I would echo the remarks that we just heard. Of all the countries I've worked in, Canada was certainly not the go-to country—though I think “irrelevant“ is too strong a word—in any of the rule of law projects I was involved with. Nobody ever said, let's go see Canada, in any of the institution-building projects I was involved with. They said, let's go see Sweden, let's go see the Netherlands. I mention Sweden and the Netherlands because it's easy to brush aside the critique I just made by saying, of course, the United States is bigger, of course, the European Union is bigger. But when you start to deal with countries that have institutions such as Sweden's SIDA, or the RNE—the Royal Netherlands Embassy— and others, it's quite clear that Canada has been dwarfed.
I would also agree with the earlier statement that there are specific countries where what I said that is not true. These are countries, such as Ukraine, and, I would add, Afghanistan, historically at least, and currently Haiti. However, other than with them, Canada continues to punch well below its planned weight.
If I may bring a particular example to the fore, Cameroon is an area where, it seems to me, Canada could have significant value to add. We are not a colonial power. Both the International Crisis Group and Freedom House have identified Cameroon as one of the top 10 areas of risk and concern and international conflict. Canada is nowhere in that regard. Global Affairs continues to take the position that this is a conflict in which bad things happen, not recognizing the serious problems that have been raised. It is important to recognize that this is an area where Canada could, because of its tradition of bilingualism and bijuralism, offer something to a country like Cameroon that very few other countries can. Those are areas where we could add value beyond simply adding to a pot of money at a geopolitical level—although, of course, that should not be discounted.
I also want to talk briefly about the fact that institution-building is important from the top down, but also that it's important to work from the ground up. You need to have both. Canada has unique expertise and something to offer in response to an idea that has been circulating in the international development community, namely, enabling civil society and working in a human rights-based framework to ensure that civil society organizations are supported and enabled. Of course, when I say “civil society”, I mean civil society organizations that are grounded in a human rights framework—so I don't include the Ku Klux Klan, for example, as a civil society organization.
This is a non-partisan exercise. This is the reason why I think a Canadian foundation would be well-placed to do this kind of work.
I think I have a couple of minutes left. I just want to make a couple of remarks about what this entity, institution or foundation, might look like.
It's important for us to learn from our mistakes. The Rights and Democracy debacle and controversy may have happened under the previous government, but the seeds of it were sown, I think, by the government that created it in not allowing it to be meaningfully at arm's length. That means you need to have real independence. You need to make sure that the political exigencies of the day are not such that organizations can be either corrupted or presided over by persons whose background does not suggest their presence in an organization like that. In order to ensure that political and partisan concerns are met, the organization would probably need to be fully endowed from the get-go, as opposed to receiving ongoing streams of funding. The IRPP in Montreal, for example, was fully endowed and has been able to continue to exist on that basis. There is precedent for this.
In closing, I would urge you to ensure that whatever institution you set up is meaningfully at arm's length—financially at arm's length—and that its governance structures are at arm's length from whatever political party happens to be in place at a given time.
Perhaps I'll close with a similar remark to my predecessor. Despite our self-description as champions at the international level, Canada has not been batting even close to average. We have a real opportunity here to change that, and I congratulate the committee for taking this initiative.
Thank you very much, Chair.
I'm very fortunate to have been at Global Affairs Canada for 15 years, and I now serve as the shadow minister for democratic institutions.
Mr. Deveaux, you talked a lot about a lack of leadership that we've seen since 2007. Certainly while the work on the ground is absolutely important, leadership always starts from the top. We talked a little in the previous panel about relationships and approaches to relationships.
It's very interesting. I even think of the comparison of something such as our leaders' trips to India, where the relationships and the perception of those trips between the and my leader, , came across very differently, both abroad and within India, and certainly within Canada.
That moves me to Cuba. I had the good fortune of serving as policy adviser to when he was minister of state of foreign affairs for the Americas. It was very interesting. At that time, the Conservative policy regarding Cuba was that we only engage with dissidents.
Similar to the spirit that my colleague, member Vandenbeld, has taken with this great initiative, I really was looking at the broader perspective, because I recognized that if Canada weren't there, certainly who would be? Well, it would be Russia filling the void; it would be China filling the void. Even though Brazil had just recently won the World Cup and the Olympics, I could see that it was not nearly as strong a developed democracy as it was getting credit for at the time. Of course, this was 2009.
That said, when our , for example, laments the death of a dictator and his close relationships with that family, does that affect the work you do on the ground?
The short answer is that my work is done for other organizations, multilateral organizations, mostly the UNDP, UN Women, and World Bank, so I'm able to distance myself from any of the political machinations happening in Ottawa.
To me, what you're hitting on, though, is something like Cuba. I haven't had the chance to work there, but I've worked in Turkmenistan and in Uzbekistan, two countries that are also fairly closed off, it's fair to say, and unreformed in some ways, particularly Turkmenistan. The best way that Canada can show leadership there is not always to be the one in the front, because there are always going to be challenges and perceptions of any country, coming forward, whether it be Russia, U.S., Canada, or Brazil. However, there are ways that you can do that through multilateral organizations.
Again, if Canada were consistently engaged in the UN at the agency level, and not necessarily worrying about whether it will get a seat on the Security Council, which I don't think has much bearing and much impact, but if we actually invested in agencies such as UNDP and UN Women and through them, where they have that neutral position, to be able to put the pen in the door, to be able to begin to open up and show and share knowledge, that eventually would build something as reforms come about and could be a way of doing it. It would allow us to build relationships indirectly through other institutions, while at the same time being able to actually begin to support the reforms we envision.
Thank you very much. I'll be directing my questions to Mr. Deveaux.
Kevin, it's good to see you again. I recall the years that we spent working with the global programme for parliamentary strengthening with the UNDP and, actually, your words about that and the fact that there is a void right now internationally in this area.
I know that at that time, GPPS was really building the best practices in a field that had not previously really had norms and practices. Right now, Canada is uniquely positioned, I think, to be able to do this kind of work. You referred to it as an opportunity for thought leadership.
I would just like to put to you that while Canadian organizations or Canadian funding may not be as present as before, Canadians are. I think that we see that around this table, and we see that in the experiences that you, I and others have had. Most of the work that I did prior to being elected was for multilateral organizations, American organizations. Only once did I work for the Parliamentary centre. Most of the work of Canadians, however, is outside of Canadian organizations. In fact, in one case, I was hired by NDI, an American organization, using Canadian funds. They hired a Canadian to go in and do the project.
Could you maybe talk a little bit about that, because the expertise is there? We have the international credibility. As Pearl mentioned, we haven't been a colonial power. We understand the two different legal systems. We understand Westminster democracy. This is why organizations like NDI and IRI are hiring Canadians, yet we are not within the sort of framework where we can actually really pursue this from the perspective of Canadian values. I'm wondering if you might be able to elaborate a little bit on that.
Thank you, Ms. Vandenbeld. It is good to see you again, even if it is halfway around the world.
I thank you for bringing that up because it is true, and I think I raised this in my 2007 presentation as well. Even though the Canadian organizations are not out there and Canadian funding at times is scarce—more than at times, but most of the time—there are many Canadians doing this work.
I'll give you a very personal example. Next week, I'll be in Malaysia. Malaysia's first change of government in 60 years was last year. They came to the Americans and asked if the latter could help them—NDI, IRI, and then there is another organization called DAI, which is working under USAID. As for me, I'm going there to work with the Americans because it's a Commonwealth country and their system is not one that the Americans have much expertise in, but they look to Canadians.
Elizabeth Weir, for those who may know her, is a former MLA and leader of the NDP in New Brunswick. She is doing work with NDI there. The Americans often turn to Canadians.
I always recall that NDI, in my time working for them, was probably made up of about one-third Canadian employees, so there are plenty of Canadians doing this work, absolutely. It's a matter of harnessing those resources under the Canadian flag. I really do believe that most of us would be honoured to be able to do that.
Thank you very much for the question.
There are two answers to that question.
First, the fact is that expertise issues are intimately linked to financial issues.
This is what I want to say. When I am around the table in Tadjikistan or East Timor, people say that they have to pass the hat to see who will subsidize a project. In the countries where I have personal experience, everyone knew that Canada did not have the funds and that often, unfortunately, it did not have expertise at the official level, if you will, to go forward.
That said, what my colleague said is entirely correct. Canadian men and women are very involved and very present internationally. We have to be able to reach these people and rally them within the framework of a global institution.
In short, it seems very important to me that the funding be there, but also that Canada be present, and have an independent voice to express its values. It's important to contribute to the global financial effort, but often we lose our voice.
I would also like to say that I support the point which was just made.
I will switch to English for this second part because my thinking on this has been in English. A key point of funding has to be around core funding. This idea of project funding that became popular in the early 2000s, which characterizes government funding and sadly has bled into funding of major Canadian foundations, has condemned civil society workers and non-governmental workers to subsistence salaries. It means that we cannot be sustainable because we're always thinking about the next project and we're always building our way of behaving and doing around the next project. I would strongly urge this committee, especially if it is thinking about a foundation, to set aside the idea of project funding and really focus on human rights, to really focus on political governance, to really focus on what it is trying to achieve as a concept and as a holistic idea rather than this really retrograde idea of project funding.
You cannot projectize human rights. You cannot projectize political governance. These are broad projects that have to be engaged in holistically and, in my view, multilaterally.