Mr. Speaker, this is quite an interesting debate for me because of all the work I do with ParlAmericas and the work we have been doing in central South America, the Caribbean region, and of course in the western hemisphere.
I would like to give members some background information about ParlAmericas. ParlAmericas is a parliamentary organization of parliamentarians of all parties. It was created in the OAS and has a memorandum of understanding with the OAS to work on building the capacity of parliamentarians throughout the region.
A lot of the funding for ParlAmericas comes from the Canadian government. The project was originally funded through CIDA, and its goals are multifaceted. We were empowered with looking at how we could build capacity with parliamentarians throughout the western hemisphere, and ParlAmericas has been doing that over the last few years with funding from the Canadian government.
A women's working group is one of the branches of ParlAmericas. A woman vice-president of ParlAmericas sits on the board. This group talks about women's issues in general and women's issues for parliamentarians. They talk about the barriers for a woman who wants to become a member of congress or a senator and how those barriers can be taken down and how it could be made easier for women to reach all they want to reach and attain the goals they want to achieve. ParlAmericas has been working on these types of issues through a variety of workshops and events in the region.
Another example is in Mexico. There will be a meeting in Mexico City at the end of June for women parliamentarians from all across the western hemisphere. Men will also be there. They want to identify problems and solutions and share ideas and best practices. From that come better and stronger women parliamentarians, and male parliamentarians get a better understanding of the issues that women face in Parliament. That is just one of the areas on which ParlAmericas works.
Different topics have come up in the region; for example, security. When we look at security in the region, whether it be drugs or human trafficking, a lot of people in Canada ask why we would have a huge interest in that, why that would concern us. Canada is one of the consumers of these drug products, so we have an interest in the region and we need to be supportive. We have done work in Costa Rica and in other areas. We have talked about these issues and how we can support those countries as they take on the drug battle.
When it comes to organized crime and drugs, clamping down on one country is like clamping down on a tube of toothpaste. If we clamp down on it here, it pops up somewhere else. We cannot just do it country by country. We have to look at the region as a whole and we have to attack the issue as a whole to get true results. That is something Canada has done strongly, and an area in which it has been very active.
Promoting governance and transparency are other issues we have been working on through ParlAmericas. That involves working with parliamentarians to understand the importance of transparency and how it is in their benefit to have transparency, to have good governance. This again brings parliamentarians together to talk about best practices, what works, what does not work, how we can take something that works in Colombia and make it work in Honduras. Those are the strengths ParlAmericas brings together, and again, it is non-partisan. It is members of all parties sharing different ideas to build the capacity of parliamentarians, to provide a better parliamentary structure, which would bring better governance and allow them to make better decisions when they go back to their legislatures.
There is one interesting thing to note when we talk about public security. I still remember this. We were in Panama talking about human smuggling and kidnapping. It was very interesting to hear the guys from Colombia talk about what they did to counterattack kidnapping. The guys from Honduras asked them questions. As the exchange went on between the two members, they started comparing ideas on what worked and what did not work. Very substantial information was exchanged over a table.
The other thing that was important is that they started exchanging their contact information. They exchanged their BBM pins, because they all use BBM. They love BlackBerry down there, by the way—I will get that plug in. They started exchanging ideas on how to talk to each other.
Therefore, not only did the discussion take place around the meeting table in Panama, but those discussions are now taking place among legislatures and parliamentarians in various countries. That is good to hear because they are sharing best practices. They are looking at the issue as a regional issue. They are looking at how to attack these things on a regional basis. They are working together.
The Canadian section of ParlAmericas has also been very active in the region. Members from all parties just finished a trip to Peru where we toured a Canadian mine site. It was beneficial for all parties to see exactly how Canadian mining companies act in Peru. We toured the site. We saw how they treated their employees. We saw the safety precautions and the level of business professionalism of Canadian companies in that region.
They are running that mine as if it was in Canada. They are basically looking at the regulations we have in Canada and are applying them to make sure they have the same working conditions there as they would if they were in Canada.
It was very interesting to listen to my colleagues from the NDP talk about how good this was. That shows exactly what Canadian companies, in being responsible, are doing abroad.
I was talking to a person in the embassy who said that the Chinese companies, when they are looking at a new mine project, are actually trying to hire Canadians to lead these projects, because Canadians understand how to do it properly, how to engage the local communities, and how to make sure the benefits reach throughout the region and not just one specific area.
That is something Canada brings to the table, not just in Peru but also in Colombia, Chile, and other regions. We are actually setting the bar at a higher standard with respect to the environment and the co-operation of the aboriginal people and how to engage them. That is something Canada is very strong in. We should be proud of that and should encourage that.
Another thing we talked about when we were in Peru was security issues. They gave us an overview of the human rights abuses. They talked about some of the challenges, such as growth challenges in Lima.
Again, this bilateral visit allowed parliamentarians from all parties to get a good view of exactly what is happening in Peru.
The member talked about trade in his opening speech, and I found it very interesting. Trade is definitely one of the tools, in fact a major tool, for helping out in those regions. The best thing we can do is take them from a very poor existence and livelihood and give them proper jobs so they can actually take care of their families and be active contributing citizens in their society.
If we look at the Honduras trade deal that is in front of us, that is what they are looking for from trade. They are looking for an alternative to the drug trafficking crimes and those types of things where that is the only type of employment they have.
Let us look at companies that are in Honduras, such as Gildan. What would those employees be doing if Gildan was not there? Gildan is another Canadian company that is doing a great job. I have actually toured their facilities. Again, the facility is something we would see here in Canada, with the wages and the way they treat their employees. They actually have a hospital on-site to take care of their employees. Again, here is an example of Canadian corporate responsibility actually being enacted in other parts of the world.
As trade increases, and Colombia is very good example, the middle class actually grows. We can start seeing less and less crime. It is a very direct link. As trade goes up, crime goes down and the economy starts to emerge and flourish. Colombia is a prime example of what can happen when trade and commercial activity is allowed to happen. It is very interesting to look at Colombia over the last 10 or 15 years and how trade has impacted it.
Chile has more trade agreements than Canada. Chile was very aggressive. We can see how Chile has progressed in the region compared to other countries in the region. It is because it has embraced that model to allow openness and to put in a good structure. Investment in Chile is a fairly secure investment.
Canadian companies are very active in Chile. This is what Honduras is looking for, and that is why I think the trade deal with Honduras is as much a social deal as it is a business deal. What it will do is provide opportunities for Canadian companies and Honduran companies to import and export products, to take advantage of each other's strengths, and to partner.
The benefit will be, and has to be, the people in Honduras, so they have good quality jobs to go to, so they can take care of their families, and so they do not have to look to crime and the negative aspects of society to make a living. That is where trade is very important, and it is just one piece of the puzzle.
When we go back to the ParlAmericas and the work we have been doing and the work I have had the pleasure to be involved with as chair, we can see the growth. We can see what is happening in the region. They are like-minded. They want to achieve. They want to do what is right for their citizens. They want to grow the economy. They want to have the things Canada has.
One thing I am told when I am down there is that they need more Canada in the region. They understand that Canada has the ability to bring people from different cultures together, to grab that strength of different cultures and utilize it. We have done a very good job of that. It fascinates them. They look at Canada and say that we have been so strong. We are punching above our weight and yet are so fair and decent. That is what they want.
When it comes to Canada and our role within the region, we should be very proud of what we have been doing and very proud of the minister. I know that he is going to be engaged in the region again in the next couple of weeks. He has been very active in the region in the past, and we need to see that continue. It is in our interest to see them succeed.