Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to appear before you today. We're very much looking forward to talking to you and having a discussion and fielding your questions.
Indeed I am the assistant deputy minister for strategic policy at Global Affairs Canada. Today I'd like to provide a brief overview of the structure and work of Global Affairs Canada. My colleagues will then go into more detail on elements within their respective responsibilities. If there are any questions today that are outside our expertise, you may want to ask other colleagues to appear at future meetings of this committee, but we'd certainly be very keen to come back again ourselves.
I recognize the specific interest of this committee in foreign affairs and international development, but I ask your indulgence in that in speaking for an amalgamated department, in my opening remarks I will take a global approach that considers all of our international policy, including a little bit of international trade.
Global Affairs has three ministers, as I'm sure you know: the , the , and the .
The mandate of the department, as set out in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Act, is to conduct the external affairs of Canada, including international trade and commerce and international development.
More specifically, the department conducts all diplomatic and consular relations on behalf of Canada and all official communication with other countries and international organizations, and manages international negotiations. It also coordinates Canada's international economic relations and fosters the expansion of Canada's international trade and commerce. It fosters sustainable international development and poverty reduction in developing countries and provides humanitarian assistance during crises. In addition, the department manages diplomatic and consular missions and coordinates the direction given to them. It administers the foreign service of Canada, and fosters the development of international law and its application in Canada's external relations.
To accomplish these tasks, each minister is appointed a deputy minister: a deputy minister for foreign affairs, a deputy minister for international trade, and a deputy minister for international development. The deputy ministers are supported by 15 assistant deputy ministers in our amalgamated department, some of whom have a geographic focus, some of whom have a thematic or functional focus, and some of whom deliver corporate services to the department. We'd all be happy to go into more detail about how the department works in the question-and-answer series.
Global Affairs Canada is responsible for managing Canada's network of missions abroad, which provide information, establish international networks, advocate Canadian positions, deliver development assistance, and provide assistance directly to Canadians. We have 174 missions in 107 countries. Of the department's nearly 10,000 employees, 51% work outside of Canada.
Canada's network abroad doesn't just consist of Global Affairs Canada. It also includes representatives from other federal departments and agencies, and in some missions, from provincial governments. In total, our network abroad includes over 7,600 personnel, of whom just a little less than a third are Canada-based staff, the remainder being locally engaged.
I'll move from a broad overview of the department and how it works to some of the main objectives guiding Global Affairs Canada as we work to deliver on our ministers' mandates. As you all know, ministers' mandate letters are public, so you can see exactly what we're working with, and what our responsibilities and objectives are.
First, we will advance Canada's values and interests through leadership and constructive engagement on key global issues, including at the UN and other multilateral institutions. Last week UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Ottawa and met with Prime Minister Trudeau. The PM's strong support for the UN during this visit signals the government's renewed commitment to multilateralism. At the UN and elsewhere, for example, we will work to make Canada a leader of international efforts to combat climate change.
We will also increase support for peace operations, mediation, and conflict prevention. Canada's contributions to international peace and security are diverse, and they are valued by allies and partners. For example, last week Canada announced its new strategy to address the crisis in the Middle East brought on by the so-called Islamic State.
We will also champion the values of inclusive and accountable governance through the UN and other multilateral channels, share our experience of building peaceful pluralism and respect for diversity, and continue our commitment to defend human rights, including the rights of women and refugees.
Second, we will contribute to Canadian-inclusive global prosperity, with an emphasis on expanding and deepening trade and investment relationships with both traditional partners and large, fast-growing markets. The department is developing a trade and export strategy, which, among other things, will help Canadian businesses leverage the opportunities of existing free trade arrangements. This work falls very much in the domain of the Standing Committee on International Trade, so I'll leave the details to my colleagues when they appear later this week before that committee.
Third, we will leverage Canada's relations with the United States, Mexico, and other key bilateral partners to advance Canada's interests and values. There's a clear government commitment to renew relations with the United States and Mexico as well as to strengthen trilateral North American cooperation. The United States, of course, is our closest ally and most important economic and security partner. We will develop a positive and ambitious agenda to reflect the complexity and breadth of our ties. We are putting new emphasis on how we can collaborate with the United States on continental and global issues of concern. Prime Minister Trudeau's visit to Washington in March, the first official visit by a prime minister in nearly two decades, will be a concrete demonstration of that renewed relationship on both sides.
Last month Minister Dion hosted a North American foreign ministers' meeting in Quebec City to help set the stage for a North American leaders' summit later this year. Cooperation on climate change, environment, and energy was a signature theme for the foreign ministers' meeting, and work is under way towards a North American environment and clean energy agreement. We are also engaging with Mexico on a range of bilateral issues, including the decision to lift the visa requirement for Mexicans visiting Canada.
Beyond these priority partnerships in North America, we will engage constructively with other countries throughout the globe.
Lastly, we will strengthen Canada's contribution to the reduction of poverty and inequality, and respond to humanitarian needs.
Thanks to its development assistance, Canada contributes to the goals of eradicating poverty, reducing inequality, and addressing vulnerability. International development assistance is an expression of Canadian values and also supports our broader international policy objectives.
Our international assistance also responds to humanitarian needs during complex emergencies and natural disasters. Canada's humanitarian assistance aims to save lives, alleviate suffering, maintain human dignity, and strengthen disaster preparedness in developing countries.
We have seen Canada's leadership in this area in its recent response to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.
In conclusion, the department is hard at work supporting our ministers in fulfilling their mandates. We are renewing our diplomatic and security ties, particularly with multilateral bodies; we are promoting inclusive Canadian and global prosperity; we are cooperating with key partners to advance Canadian interests; and we are reinforcing our international assistance to meet the challenges faced by the world's poorest people.
I'll stop there, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much. I'll pass the reins to my colleagues.
Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, I'm Alex Bugailiskis, the assistant deputy minister for Europe, the Middle East, and the Maghreb. That means that I'm one of four of what we call geographic ADMs who cover the globe. My other colleagues cover Africa, Asia, and North and South America.
I have the privilege in our branch of covering 74 countries, almost a third of those in which we have representation. We have 53 Canadian embassies, consulates, and delegations in those 74 countries. Our priorities are wide-ranging, from assisting Canadian businesses in their commercial efforts to promoting security and stability and implementing development projects that reduce poverty and assist the most vulnerable.
Today I'm going to focus on four key issues in my region: our relationship with the European Union, the situation in Ukraine, our response to the crises in Syria and Iraq, and our evolving relationship with Iran.
Let me begin with the European Union.
The EU is facing unprecedented challenges, from the migrant crisis to a potential British exit, called “the Brexit”. It remains a major global player, the world's largest economy, and a vital, like-minded partner for Canada.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, is at the top of our agenda. It is Canada's most ambitious trade initiative, broader in scope and deeper in ambition than NAFTA, and a game changer for Canadian businesses. Once in force, CETA will make Canadian products, technologies, and expertise more competitive in a market of 500 million people.
The second key aspect of our relationship is the Canada-EU strategic partnership agreement, or what we call the SPA. Canada is one of only 10 strategic partners with the EU, and the SPA will expand and deepen Canada-EU cooperation on a wide range of issues that include climate change, human rights, and international security. The agreement is currently being translated, and we hope that we'll be signing and implementing it this year.
This year is a very special one for Canada and the EU, as it marks the 40th anniversary of the Canada-EU framework agreement that was signed in 1976 and of the establishment of the EU's diplomatic mission here in Ottawa.
Let me now turn to the situation in Ukraine.
Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and ongoing support to the insurgency in eastern Ukraine have unleashed the most significant crisis in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
From the onset of the crisis, Canada has been at the forefront of the international community in supporting the Ukrainian people and calling Russia to account for its actions, including by imposing sanctions against more than 270 Russian and Ukrainian individuals and entities involved in the violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Canada's most recent sanctions were announced in June 2015. They imposed additional economic sanctions on 17 Russian individuals and entities and several prohibitions against illegally occupied Crimea.
Canada's sanctions and those of partners are having a significant effect on the Russian economy. The combination of low oil prices and sanctions has weighed heavily on investor confidence, prompting large capital outflows from Russia.
Russia must fulfill the obligations it agreed to under the Minsk agreements. These include a complete ceasefire, withdrawal of its troops, and the regaining by Ukraine of control of its borders with Russia.
Since January 2014, Canada has announced more than $700 million in international development assistance and financial, humanitarian, and security support to Ukraine. We are helping, for example, to reform the judicial system and strengthen the management of public finance. reiterated Canada's strong support for Ukraine during his visit to Kiev two weeks ago. He encouraged Ukraine to continue on the path of democratic reform. He also clearly signalled that possible Canadian engagement with Russia would not signify diminishment in any respect of our support to Ukraine.
I will now turn to the other half of my portfolio, advancing our interests in the Middle East and Maghreb.
First, as you know, the Prime Minister presented Canada's new strategy to address the crises in Syria and Iraq last week. As Minister Dion underlined, this strategy provides a comprehensive, integrated, and sustained approach, bringing together military, political and stabilization efforts, and separately, humanitarian and development assistance. Together, these components will address the diverse challenges contributing to and resulting from the conflicts within the region.
Through this new strategy, we will build the capacity of communities and countries hosting significant numbers of refugees, such as Jordan and Lebanon, to withstand crises and maintain stability. This is what we call “building resilience.”
Canada will also be increasing its diplomatic presence in the region, which will allow us to enhance our engagement with local and international partners and to participate more actively in achieving political solutions. The new strategy will be discussed more extensively in Parliament tomorrow.
The second hot topic in the Middle East I would like to discuss is Iran. Canada has long opposed to Iran's earlier ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons. We therefore welcomed, along with the international community, the adoption of the Iran nuclear deal last year—known as the joint comprehensive plan of action.
In recognition of progress on the nuclear file and in light of similar actions by most of Canada's like-minded partners, Canada amended its nuclear-related sanctions against Iran on February 5. We removed the broad prohibitions against exports, imports, and financial transactions.
At the same time, a number of sanctions remain in place. Canada continues to fully implement UN-mandated sanctions, as well as robust autonomous sanctions, including tight controls on proliferation-sensitive goods. We also maintain sanctions against a list of individuals and entities of utmost concern in relation to the risk of nuclear proliferation and to Iran's ballistic missile program.
On the diplomatic front, Canada is prepared to engage with Iran in a step-by-step manner, but with our eyes wide open. We are cautiously but expeditiously evaluating our process of re-engagement. In particular, the human rights situation in Iran, as well as the regime's regional policies and its support of terrorism, continue to be sources of deep concern for Canada. We will remain extremely vigilant and call on the Government of Iran to implement its human rights obligations.
This very brief overview of the key issues in my region cannot do justice to the complexity of the files we handle.
I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Good afternoon. My name is Mark Gwozdecky, and I am the assistant deputy minister for international security and political affairs. I'm one of those “thematic” assistant deputy ministers that Mr. Rigby referred to.
We try to take a leadership role in coordinating what we call coherent whole-of-government responses to international peace and security challenges. Depending on where those challenges are, we will typically work in tandem and in partnership with our geographic colleagues, such as Ms. Bugailiskis. Because of the nature of her region, the Middle East, we find ourselves working together a great deal.
In my branch, we also are responsible for the promotion of Canadian values such as democracy, inclusive and accountable governance, peaceful pluralism, and the respect for diversity and human rights. These are a core part of our engagement with allies and international partners.
In addition, I have a role as a political director, which means I provide direct support to our in coordinating with our partners and allies on issues of security or political crisis and on major deliverables for summits such as the G7.
Now I will turn to the issue of international crises.
A key responsibility of the branch is responding to international crises, both man-made and natural disasters. The crisis in Syria and Iraq is a case in point. Working with our geographic partners, like Ms. Bugailiskis, as well as a range of other government departments such as the departments of National Defence and Public Safety, we have contributed to the whole-of-government strategy that was announced last week.
While Ms. Bugailiskis' team were the lead on that file, we contributed in several important ways–by ensuring that our strategy would complement the overall approach of the global coalition against the so-called Islamic State, by making sure that key issues such as sexual violence and the protection of civilians in conflict areas were adequately addressed as part of our efforts, and by applying several important security and stabilization programs that I manage on behalf of Minister Dion. These programs play critical roles in terms of stabilizing communities post-conflict, helping countries manage threats related to weapons of mass destruction, and building the capacity of countries to counter terrorism and crime.
I am also responsible for the stabilization and reconstruction task force, known as START, which plays a lead role in coordinating Canada's whole-of-government response to international conflicts, complex political crises, natural disasters, and the risks associated with fragile and conflict-affected states. Canada's responses to the Nepal earthquake in 2015, Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and the Haiti earthquake in 2010 all serve as notable examples of START's role in these efforts. The global peace and security fund is a key instrument in delivering that support.
I will speak more about security and stabilization programs later. At present, pursuant to the government's commitment, we are updating our approach to multilateral peace support operations, which is part of a broader effort to reinforce UN capacities for conflict prevention, mediation and peacebuilding.
The issues of international terrorism and transnational organized crime are also major responsibilities of our branch. We coordinate Canada's whole-of-government international engagement on preventing and combatting violent extremism, including the threat posed by foreign fighters. This includes our response to the UN Secretary-General's recently announced plan of action on preventing violent extremism.
One of the security programs referenced earlier is something we call the counter-terrorism capacity-building program. This program allows us to buttress our policy with concrete capacity-building support provided to partner countries. The program focuses on six areas: support to law enforcement, military, and intelligence; legal assistance; border and transportation security; combatting the financing of terrorism; countering improvised explosive devices; and combatting violent extremism and foreign terrorist fighters.
Our anti-crime capacity-building program supports foreign states in their anti-crime efforts. Like the counterterrorism program, it provides this support in the form of training, equipment, and technical advice to address the following problems: migrant smuggling, human trafficking, drug trafficking, corruption, money laundering, security sector reform, crime prevention, and cybercrime.
Both of these programs are based on the understanding that when our partners are better able to address terrorism and crime, the risk to Canada and Canadians will be reduced.
Disarmament, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and space security are also important areas of engagement. We are the custodian of the full suite of Canada's commitments under a wide array of international conventions in this area. We're responsible for ensuring that Canada fully complies with its international obligations under these treaties and that others do as well.
Through another of our security programs, the so-called global partnership program, we implement projects with partner countries and international organizations to mitigate threats posed by proliferation or by terrorist acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. In doing so, the program addresses the full spectrum of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons and related materials security.
Promoting core Canadian values is fundamental to our efforts in addressing international security. My branch works with our large network of ambassadors to champion the values of inclusive and accountable governance, peaceful pluralism, and respect for diversity and human rights. Our goal is to ensure that these values inform our decisions and are supported in our actions and programs.
Yesterday, for example, hosted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Ottawa and announced new core funding for the important work of that office worldwide. The minister also announced that in two weeks he will be travelling to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva as a demonstration of Canada's engagement on human rights in the multilateral context.
That ends my statement. I'd be happy to answer your questions at a later point.
Thank you very much. Good afternoon.
I'm Sarah Fountain Smith, director general, international organizations, and I'm here today on behalf of Diane Jacovella, who is the assistant deputy minister for global issues and development at Global Affairs Canada. She is currently out of the country; otherwise, she would be here today.
I'm accompanied by my colleague Heather Jeffrey, who is director general for international humanitarian assistance.
I'm here to tell you a little bit about the global issues and development branch's mandate, which is focused in three broad areas.
The first is providing policy direction and specialized knowledge on global issues for the department and managing global investments in these areas. The second is to deliver effective, needs-based, humanitarian assistance in response to complex emergencies and natural disasters in developing countries. The third is to lead Canada's engagement with multilateral and global organizations, including the United Nations, international financial institutions, the Commonwealth, and La Francophonie.
As part of our work to provide policy direction and specialized knowledge on global issues within the department, we provide guidance on such areas as health, nutrition, environment, governance, child protection, economic growth, gender equality, education, and food security. We also develop and deliver innovative global programming to advance these global issues with a focus on helping the poorest and most vulnerable.
For example, our branch is supporting Canada's commitment to improve the health and nutrition of women, children, and adolescents. We oversee the coordination and management of Canada's $3.5-billion contribution for the period 2015-2020. As part of this commitment, we're seeking opportunities to support the full range of sexual and reproductive health services for women. We're also actively engaged in Every Woman Every Child, a high-level movement that mobilizes and intensifies international and national action to address the major health challenges facing women, children, and adolescents.
We also work to advance the rights of women and girls in a number of key areas. These include the elimination of violence and harmful practices against women and girls, including child, early, and forced marriage, as well as supporting women's economic empowerment.
Our branch is also responsible for ensuring that programming on climate change benefits the poorest and most vulnerable, including helping to deliver the $2.65 billion in climate financing announced by the last November, which will contribute to achieving sustainable economic growth in developing countries.
Additionally, we provide support to our geographic branches within the department in our areas of focus.
The second key role we play is to deliver effective, needs-based humanitarian assistance in response to complex emergencies and natural disasters in developing countries. We ensure that our provision of humanitarian assistance is based on needs in response to both immediate and ongoing natural disasters and conflicts in fragile states, for example, our response to the Syrian–Iraqi crisis.
Currently, we are implementing the recently announced multi-year commitment to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance, such as urgent health services, water, shelter, protection, and food, for the most vulnerable people caught in conflicts in the Middle East. We also oversee the Syria emergency relief fund, which matches donations by Canadians.
Canada's new commitment of $840 million in humanitarian assistance funding over three years will allow Canada to meet the needs of more vulnerable people, more effectively. It will also ensure that we remain among the top humanitarian donors helping to alleviate suffering caused by the crises in the region.
Our branch also leads on Canada's engagement with multilateral and global organizations, including the United Nations, international financial institutions, the Commonwealth, and La Francophonie. This includes advancing Canada's priorities and values within these organizations, including by leading and sponsoring initiatives and resolutions on key priority issues and promoting accountability and transparency in the governance of these organizations.
We're working actively to implement Canada's renewed commitment to multilateralism and leadership at the United Nations. The visit of the UN Secretary-General to Ottawa last week was an important milestone in this regard.
We also manage Canada's role in multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank, to address poverty reduction through inclusive, sustainable economic growth and by mobilizing private sector engagement, working together with Finance Canada. Our role is to ensure that these banks focus on their core development mandate and are well governed. We do this by working with them to improve their accountability and transparency.
In conclusion, the global Issues and development branch supports the work of the department by providing policy leadership and specialized knowledge on global issues, as well as by supporting global investments, delivering effective humanitarian assistance, and overseeing engagement with multilateral and global institutions. Our focus is on assisting the poorest and most vulnerable in order to make a tangible difference in the lives of those living in developing countries.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
To our colleagues from Global Affairs, thank you very much. We always appreciate the great work you do in representing our country. We'll make sure we take up every opportunity we have to thank you guys .
My questions are probably going to be towards Ms. Fountain Smith, given some of the things I'm curious about. They actually came out of your speech, and I think that's great as well.
The three questions I have are not in any particular order. I want to touch on the development finance initiative a little bit; I want to talk a little about the commitment to climate change of $2.65 billion; and I want to talk a bit about multilateral or global organizations.
My first question, Ms. Fountain Smith, is this: where are you in terms of the development finance initiative? I know it was in budget 2015, but could you tell us where you are with it? Then, would it be helpful for this committee to do any work on its behalf or to offer up any suggestions? I realize it's probably going to fall under Export Development Canada in some respects, but where are you with it, or what could you tell us?
The question is going to Mr. Rigby? That's perfect. Thank you.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
We're here to confuse you.
I probably should have told you what my responsibilities were as ADM strategic policy, but one of them is to work on the private sector in international development. I also worked quite extensively with my team on the development finance initiative under the previous government.
You're right that it was unveiled in the last budget. The Budget Implementation Act made amendments to the act for the Export Development Corporation, so it is basically on the books, but we still need to make a decision on whether we go forward with it and, at the end of the day, it is also a question of whether this government is completely comfortable with its being within EDC.
Those deliberations are taking place right now. We're having broader discussions with ministers—Minister Bibeau in particular, Minister Dion to a certain extent as well, and Minister Freeland—about the role of the private sector in development. Certainly they understand the important role of the private sector. Official development assistance really is not the only player in town any more, as I think you know. The approximately $135 billion a year is dwarfed by private flows—by remittances and things like that.
I think the importance of the DFI in getting private sector money into developing countries, into those frontier markets where they may not otherwise want to go because of the risk, etc., is something very much on the new government's radar. As I say, we're in deliberations with them now, and I hope they'll make a decision soon.
We're doing a lot and we're doing it in various fora.
We participate in a more globalized coalition of countries called the global coalition against terrorism, and inside that global coalition there is a working group dedicated to terrorist financing.
We also participate in something called the anti-ISIL coalition, another coalition of countries. One of its lines of effort has to do with terrorist financing. There we also work with allies in sharing information and sharing best practices in determining how best to cut back these flows.
The best example I can give you has to do with the question of where ISIL gets its money and how we can cut it off. We're working with our partners, for example, to deny them access to the international financial institutions, and I think we've had a good deal of success in that regard, but our adversary finds different ways to move money and is not always using international banks. That's a bigger challenge for us, but we're working, with our allies in the region in particular, on that challenge.
One of the other major ways in which ISIL raises money for itself is through the smuggling of oil and through illegal taxation of residents of the area. That's much more difficult, because it is happening on the ground. I should say that the coalition is taking direct action against these illegal oil wells and is actually bombing some of those facilities and taking action against oil tankers that are syphoning the oil out, and I think we're having some impact there.
We're also taking action at the global level under things such as the Financial Action Task Force, whereby we're looking at the use of international financial institutions. We're working at the regional and local level, taking direct action against terrorist groups like ISIL.
Yes, I can respond to that.
We're in what is really an unprecedented situation in terms of the demands that we're seeing globally for humanitarian assistance. The figures have tripled since 2005. The UN consolidated appeals that were just launched for 2016 are requesting $30.5 billion Canadian for this year to respond globally.
The challenges are great, but the international community is responding. Canada as well, of course, has increased its humanitarian assistance in order to respond to the increased need. This need has been driven primarily by the rise in protracted conflicts, which are not being resolved, in places like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and South Sudan. This year we responded to over 64 country situations, ranging from natural disasters to conflict-based humanitarian demands, with over $900 million of assistance. Canada is in fact a key donor to humanitarian assistance internationally, and we are the sixth-largest country donor in humanitarian response.
We are working hard, along with our international partners and non-governmental organizations, in the lead-up to the World Humanitarian Summit, which is coming up in May in Istanbul. There, the international humanitarian system as a whole, along with all of the UN member states, will be looking at how we can work together better and more effectively to make the most of every dollar we spend in order to respond to these unprecedented challenges.
I think that question is a little bit out of our remit, because none of us at this table is actually directly responsible for Latin America and the Carribean. Colleague David Morrison is the assistant deputy minister for the Americas. I was talking before, as was Alex, about the four geographic ADMs. David is responsible for the Americas, including the United States and Mexico.
Having said that, maybe I can throw out a few ideas. Hopefully David won't rap my knuckles when I get back to the office.
I think we've engaged quite heavily in Latin America and the Carribean over the last number of years. The areas you've identified—in terms of prosperity, in terms of security, in terms of projecting values, in terms of democracy promotion—have also been pursued in that region by Canada. If you look at our presence in the region, you can see it's not just in terms of government but that there is also private sector engagement, in particular in the financial sector and in extractives. I think outside of Canada, our largest presence in the world from an extractives perspective is in Latin America, in Peru and countries like that.
We have very strong relationships with key countries in the region. There's Colombia and its free trade agreement; it's a country of focus for our development. There's Peru, and there's an emerging relationship with Brazil. On the development side, we have a memorandum of understanding with Brazil on development assistance.
There's a lot happening right across the board. I think it's for the government to decide how they want to build on that and how they want to engage regionally through the OAS, as well as bilaterally through various countries and what have you.
Falling back on the mantra we've had, we'll see where the government wants to go at the end of the day. The mandate letters are very ambitious. I think we'll be playing in a lot of different places, so we'll have to see.
Thanks to all of you for appearing before the committee today, and thanks to Canada's foreign service professionals who serve the country around the world in challenging and often dangerous circumstances, very often without the recognition they truly deserve.
Among the government's various Iran initiatives, of which we in the official opposition are very skeptical, is the plan to reopen an embassy in Tehran. Of course, our government closed the embassy in 2012 out of concern for the very safety of the foreign service professionals who were serving there.
I wonder if you could give an update, given the Iranian regime's selective application of the Geneva convention on diplomacy in terms of standing back and occasionally inciting attacks and assaults and damages on diplomatic missions. We've just seen the Saudi mission ransacked, and before that the British embassy, and of course we can go back to the occupation and destruction of the U.S. embassy after the Islamic revolution.
In this update, perhaps you could tell us the considerations with regard to acquiring a new embassy or a new mission. Tell us about its physical characteristics, and since it is among the most dangerous and hazardous postings in the world today, tell us the security precautions that would be essential to putting our at-risk Canadian staff in place.
Second, what is the counterbalancing provision for reopening the Iranian mission here in Ottawa, which was found by our government previously to have been deeply engaged in working to provide prohibited goods, particularly on the nuclear side but also in terms of ballistic missile development, through the mission here in Ottawa?
I'd also like to ask about the possible reopening of our embassy in Tehran.
Obviously, I approach the matter from a different viewpoint, being one of those who believe in the importance of engaging in dialogue with parties even when we have a dispute with them. We will keep our eyes and ears open to see how things develop in the months ahead.
Seeing as I'm already making a few comments, I will take this opportunity to echo what my colleague said about the Global Fund. It's essential that we support the Global Fund given all the incredible work it does.
I'd also like to say a few words about the local employees in our embassies abroad. My understanding is that their expertise, in-depth understanding of the country, and network of contacts make it possible for Canadian representatives to do their jobs properly. They are, in my view, essential to the process. And that's it for my comments.
Now I'd like to come back to the topic of sanctions. Mr. Chemezov, Mr. Yakunin, and Mr. Sechin are on the list of individuals against whom the Americans have imposed sanctions. These Russian oligarchs have business dealings with Canada, and yet their names have never been added to the list of those subject to sanctions by Canada.
Will that situation be corrected soon?
It's not a problem, Hélène. We wouldn't start without you.
I appreciate the opportunity to spend a couple of minutes on what I was thinking about. I'll run this by the committee.
There are two notices of motion. I've asked Hélène to consider tabling them and sending them to the steering committee, because if the steering committee is going to be effective, I'd like to have the steering committee have a look at our work and develop our strategy as a group around the work we want to do, unless there is some political urgency to notices of motion or motions.
It's early days, and one of the things that I've been communicating to the staff here is that I'd like to do things a little differently from what we do in the House in many committees. For example, we invite some of the most outstanding witnesses the country has to offer, and then we give them 20 minutes to talk. I find that to be somewhat disheartening, frankly, and maybe disrespectful, and I'd like to see the committee try to develop a strategy around this situation. If we're going to get into some really substantive issues, we're going to ask people to spend a little time with us and make sure that we do ask the right questions and do get the right information.
I'm asking our colleague in the NDP to refer these to the steering committee. They will come back for a vote. They have to come back; we all know how the rules work.
I'm looking for the steering committee to meet on Thursday, when we'll have a discussion of what we think the issues are that we would like to focus our attention on. We'll then come back to the full committee on the following Tuesday with some advice. Then we'll have a full debate on the issues that we're bringing to your attention and maybe of others that we didn't.
That's the approach I'd like to take with the committee. As well, at some point the committee should be made aware that for fairly small studies of $40,000 or less, I understand, we are our own creature and we have our own abilities to manoeuvre around reports like that, but if we're going to get into substantive work that has a fairly large budget and may have a component of travel, we have to go to the Liaison Committee to have that discussion.
Before we get anywhere near that, we need to have a good discussion among all parties in this committee. If I go to the Liaison Committee, I want to make sure that my colleagues in the NDP and CPC are supportive. If we're going to talk about going outside this country and having these kinds of discussions, we'll need support in the House, as you know, to travel, and obviously we'll need the Liaison Committee to advance a fairly significant budget if we do that kind of work.
All that is to say that I'd like to start with the simple way of dealing with this, and that is to go to the committee—the steering committee, as we used to call it—and then have this discussion. At this stage, I don't want to put the committee to the test of either approving or not approving these motions, because I think they have merit and I don't want to see the committee having to react too quickly without having some discussion. I don't think that's fair to the mover and/or fair to the subject matter and the people out there who think very strongly about some of these matters. As you know, you've been lobbied already on some of them.
Those are my thoughts today. I want to move this over to Hélène to give me her thoughts, because it's her motion.
I don't think I need a motion. All we're doing is tabling it to a meeting down the road.
Our steering committee will meet on Thursday. Dean, you're on the steering committee, right? Are you too, Peter? No.
The two Liberal members on the committee will be Peter and Marc, I think. That will work out. We'll get the clerk to inform you of where that meeting will be, and then we'll get into a very broad discussion.
Is there any further business of the committee?
Now, if you're following my train of thought, there's a lot of discussion by the present government of doing things differently, if I can put that way, but what exactly does that mean? I think we have an opportunity as a committee, independently of government, to have a look at these matters, to find out for ourselves, and to develop an understanding of what that means. I think it's important.
There's another thing I wanted to throw out there for you to keep in mind. There has not been a comprehensive review of our role in the world since I think 2005 or somewhere in that area. It's been a long time since we sat down and went through a complete and full review.
That may sound like a lot, but it can be broken up into pieces. I just throw that out there for something to think about as we work our way through this.
That wraps it up for today.
I noticed that a number of deputy ministers or assistant deputy ministers were not available today. We will make them available as soon as possible. For example, on the discussion about Latin America, the proper official wasn't here. We will extend invitations to officials.
Just so the committee is aware, I will be asking the ministers to come as soon as they are able and comfortable to come to the committee, because I think it's important to do that.
Finally, I very much believe that this committee's number one function is to look at the estimates. It is our most important role as members of Parliament. For those who are not very familiar with estimates, you should get to know what they mean, and why we look at them. There have been a lot of decisions made over the previous government. Now there will be estimates, and then this new government will be making decisions. It's our role to make sure we look at the nuts and bolts of what is going on at Global Affairs. That's our major function as a committee.
I hope you will agree with me that we won't spend a political afternoon with the minister and an afternoon on the estimates with the officials and think we're done. It should be a lot more in depth than that. I don't see it as a negative; I see it as a very positive thing for everyone, because we get to know exactly what the budgets are in each area and we have discussions about our effectiveness. I think it would be a positive thing for all of us.
I want you to think about that as well, because I'm at the disposal of the committee. If the committee says no to that longer process for estimates, it will be up to the committee to decide. I just wanted to give you that sense of how I'd like to proceed.
Having said all that, I'll see the steering committee on Thursday and my colleagues in full committee on Tuesday, a week from today. Thank you.
The meeting is adjourned.