Madam Chair, thank you very much.
I just want to say, colleagues, thank you for welcoming me to the foreign affairs committee at a time when I think our nation is faced with a number of challenges.
I want to take this opportunity, Madam Chair, to thank the outstanding officials who are standing with me. Many of them have been working 24-7 for the last few months, I would say, and they have been doing their utmost to provide the best services to Canadians in difficult circumstances, whether in coronavirus assistance in Japan and China, to efforts in Iran, where we had to face a number of challenges, and then obviously in our relationship in trying to obtain the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and clemency for Mr. Schellenberg.
Madam Chair and honourable members, thank you for welcoming me to appear before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to speak about our government's foreign policy mandate and our current priorities.
I would like to begin by emphasizing that Canadian interests, values and principles are the heart of everything that we do on the international stage, from our commitment to multilateral institutions to our trade agreements and our defence and promotion of human rights. This approach is critical in an increasingly unpredictable world where the rules-based system is under strain.
This is evident in the rise of populism and protectionism and the growth of economic and technological inequalities around the world.
This is evident in the serious doubt being cast upon multilateral institutions and the rules-based international order.
This is also evident in the decline of human rights and the increasingly selective enforcement of international law.
Increasingly, human rights are under threat, from the plight of the Rohingya to the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to attacks on human rights defenders. Add to that an immense demographic transformation. By 2050, the world's population could increase by 2.2 billion people, and 2.2 billion people will also be facing the existential threat of our time, which is, obviously, climate change.
This observation may, of course, seem daunting, even insurmountable to some. However, there are also encouraging signs that give hope.
Inspiring people are advancing our societies and improving the lives of marginalized people the world over.
There is also a growing consensus on human rights, including women's rights, LGBTQ2 rights and democratic rights, around the globe.
Madam Chair, major international challenges require global solutions, and I think we're seeing it today with the coronavirus in particular. Hence, the importance of a rules-based international order that every country can count on to defend their interests while ensuring the collective interests of all.
However, that rules-based international order, as you well know, my dear colleagues, is under threat in many, many corners of the world. This is why we must support and modernize the multilateral system to ensure its sustainability, and this is where Canada can, and indeed must, play a leading role.
Canada has a voice in almost every major international forum: the G7, the G20, the Francophonie, the Commonwealth, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, the North American Aerospace Defence Command, or NORAD, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, to name but a few.
The very principles on which the confederation of our country is based—peace, order and good government—resonate in many parts of the world. Our reputation and credibility as a country rest on our ability to demonstrate to our partners and allies how our principles and values concretely guide our diplomacy around the world.
Let me now present to you the priorities that guide my mandate so far.
First is Iran and the tragedy of flight PS752. If anything, it illustrates the importance of diplomacy and multilateralism. Faced with this tragedy, we chose engagement, while remaining firm so that justice could be done for the families of the victims.
Canada led the creation of the international coordination and response group for victims of flight PS752 to ensure that the international community could speak to Iran with one voice, and despite the pitfalls, despite the lack of diplomatic relations with Iran, we were able to quickly dispatch investigators to the field and repatriate the bodies of the victims in accordance with the wishes of the families.
Much work remains to be done, Madam Chair, for Iran to assume full responsibility, including a complete and transparent investigation, the downloading and analysis of the black boxes and swift compensation for the families. We are working hard to make progress on all these fronts. We will continue to hold the Iranian regime accountable, and as I've said many times, we will judge Iran not by its words but by its actions.
Let me now turn to China.
The year 2020 will mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and the People's Republic of China. Unfortunately, the relationship between our two countries is currently undergoing a turbulent period.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been arbitrarily detained for over a year now. Our top priority remains securing their release. We are also working to obtain clemency for Robert Schellenberg who, as you know, Madam Chair, has been sentenced to death in China.
International partners share our opinion. The action of a state within the framework of an international treaty must never generate reprisals against its citizens abroad.
However, our relationship with China remains complex and multidimensional. Finding the right balance is a delicate operation. There will always be issues where we will have differences and issues on which will have overlapping positions. So we must learn to live with this new complexity.
For example, it is possible to work with China on reforming the World Trade Organization, or WTO, while having divergent positions on human rights.
One thing is for sure. Our relations with China will always be guided by the interests of Canadians and by our commitment to the roles and principles enshrined in international law.
Another priority, Madam Chair, is our campaign for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As I've said before, a seat on the Security Council is not an end in itself: It is a vehicle for promoting the principles and the values that shape our vision of international relations. We are witnessing a major questioning of the capacity of international institutions to respond to the crises of our time, particularly in Asia and Africa and Latin America. There's an urgent need to develop new approaches and create new consensus to face these challenges. Our campaign for a seat on the Security Council is therefore a great opportunity for Canada to demonstrate leadership: to assert our interests, principles and values; and to strengthen and adapt multilateralism to the realities of today.
Some will say that the fight for a seat on the United Nations, or UN, Security Council is not worth it or that it may be too late. However, it is never too late to fight for women's rights, human rights, the environment or democracy.
Some will even criticize the Security Council, saying it is obsolete or even ineffective. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most important forums in the world where major decisions on peace and security are taken. It is a forum where Canada can have both a relevant voice and an influence.
Finally. I'd like to say a word about our relationship with our neighbours to the south, the United States. We are inseparable allies, partners and friends because of our geography, our personal ties and, of course, our economic ties.
The new NAFTA opens another chapter in our relationship, one of prosperity, opportunity and stability. As evidenced by the sometimes difficult negotiations over the last two years, our government will never compromise on the interests of Canadians.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Prime Minister and my predecessor for their tireless work, which brought increased stability and predictability to our commercial relationship with the United States, our biggest and largest trading partner.
To conclude, some may say that in a minority government we have to act quickly to achieve our objectives, but as an African proverb I've quoted before says that if you want to go fast, you go alone, but if you want to go far, let's walk together.
Hence the importance of an inclusive approach, such as the one I am proposing to you today, where provinces, territories, businesses, non-governmental organizations, artists, civil society and members of Parliament from all parties, in cooperation with our international partners, work with us to build a greener, fairer, safer, more inclusive and more prosperous world.