Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak virtually from my constituency office in Brampton West about the work of Global Affairs Canada.
Before I delve into the important work that Global Affairs Canada does on behalf of Canadians every day, I would like to take a moment to recognize the individual contributions by Canada's diplomats on behalf of all of us. Whether Canada-based or locally engaged, Global Affairs Canada's political officers, the trade commissioners, development professionals, counsellors and staff work tirelessly to advance Canadian prosperity, security and influence in an evermore difficult and complex world.
Many of them worked in places plagued by violence, conflict and natural disasters. These staff are largely unsung and unknown except every few years when events propel them into the minds of Canadians and this is such a year. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of them on behalf of all Canadians and all members of the House.
In 2020, Canadians from all walks of life realized the benefits of the work done by Global Affairs Canada. Small and medium-sized businesses saw their export opportunities increase because CUSMA, CETA, CPTPP and their rights protected as Canada fought protectionist measures and advocated for a rules-based trading system.
Canadian security was enhanced because of international assistance investments made. To build peace and to eradicate poverty, to counter terrorist organizations and to combat foreign interference in our democracy, Canadians' values were reinforced through advocacy, at multilateral institutions and in standing up to the autocratic regime. Thousands of Canadian families were supported when they and their loved ones needed help getting shelter or transportation, stranded by the pandemic, while others needed to be visited or have remains of their loved ones repatriated.
The rule of the ministry of Global Affairs is fundamentally to project the values and culture of the people in the world, to protect the country's economic, political and security interests and to foster the relationships necessary to achieve these things. That responsibility has perhaps never been so significant as it is in the fraught, geopolitical and economic landscape that we currently face. I can confidently say that Global Affairs is admired for the work it accomplishes and the manner in which it does it and achieves value for taxpayer dollars daily.
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped our world in profound ways we have yet to fully understand. It changed the lives of Canadians in ways that we could not have imagined a year ago. The scope and scale of this pandemic has tested every community, every country and international institution. As I said previously, we are living without question through a once-in-a-generation moment.
Even as COVID-19 was emerging as a global pandemic at the beginning of this year, 2020 was already an extremely hard year, with significant implications for Canadian foreign policy.
Between January and March, Global Affairs was already managing several concurrent flashpoints, including the heightened and persistent tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which directly and dramatically impacted on our country when Flight PS752 was downed near Tehran, killing 85 Canadians; fraught relationships with China, with the arbitrary detention of two Canadian citizens, and significant unrest in Hong Kong; trade and economies' tension, including the persistent threat of the U.S. trade actions on steel and the oil price shock prompted by the price war between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Russia; the persistent acute humanitarian stresses in Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh; and an ongoing social unrest in jurisdictions important to Canadian interests, including several democracies where Canada has been engaged.
The pandemic did not occur in a vacuum. Indeed, the crisis is amplifying and exacerbating existing global trends, including geopolitical competition among significant economic and political powers, rising protectionism, increased inequality, challenges to democratic values and threats from climate change.
It is against this backdrop that the Conservatives stand here today to propose to cut the budget of Global Affairs Canada. It would be surprising for most, but I am not surprised at all. We all remember that it was the Conservative Party that pledged to cut foreign aid by 25% in the last election. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that requires global solutions, yet the Conservatives want Canada to play a smaller role. Simply put, we strongly disagree with that.
One of the reasons for this is that Canadians want their government to have a strong presence abroad, given that every year there is an average 200,000 requests of assistance from Canadians abroad. This past year, we saw the importance of this very clearly in some key examples.
First is the department's response to the flight PS752 tragedy. From the very first moment, the commitment to supporting families of victims has not wavered. The department continues to lead the international coordination group, which Canada founded, working closely with the governments of the U.K., Ukraine, Sweden and Afghanistan, to push for transparency, to seek justice and accountability and repatriations for families of those affected.
Second, through its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Global Affairs Canada delivered the largest and most complex peacetime repatriation of stranded Canadians in history. Beginning in January, the department organized to safely repatriate hundreds of Canadians from China and hundreds more returned home from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
As the virus spread, the extraordinary public servants at Global Affairs Canada mobilized every asset in creating new tools, such as a COVID-19 emergency loan program, to ensure that the needs of Canadians could be met. At headquarters and through Canada's network of 178 missions in 110 countries, the focus was on providing critical, on-the-ground support to Canadians despite the risk to their own well-being. All missions remained opened, arranging and negotiating flights, ground transportation, permission letters, quarantine exemptions, urgent shelter and filling prescriptions for folks who had not expected to need more.
I have a few numbers to give an idea of the magnitude of our efforts. Since March, Global Affairs Canada has facilitated the safe return of over 62,580 Canadians and brought 692 flights from 109 countries. This was a consular crisis management at a level never seen before, a real-time illustration of the network and contacts cultivated by Global Affairs Canada staff and their resilience and commitment to serve Canadians.
COVID-19 also featured in the departments bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral efforts this past year. Canada demonstrated this necessary and valued real-time leadership in convening diverse partners to shape global efforts to respond to the global health implications of the pandemic, to sustain open supply chains, to support the most vulnerable as economies recovered.
The far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 underscore the importance of countries working together and addressing the pandemic and showcase Global Affairs Canada's strengths in carving out spaces for dialogue and enabling international co-operation and action.
For example, Canada co-hosted a pledging conference on vaccines and therapeutics alongside the EU and Japan, which raised $8 billion U.S. to better test, treat, protect people and to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in vulnerable countries.
In partnership with the Jamaican prime minister and the U.N. Secretary-General, the Prime Minister co-convened a special U.N. high level meeting to identify and to advance solutions to the economic crisis and development emergency precipitated by the pandemic.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs established a ministerial coordination group on COVID-19 at the very start of this pandemic. Initially set up as a venue to coordinate our responses to multiplying travel restrictions, this forum has become a key channel for exchange on multilateral responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes trade and emergency measures, which includes maintaining air, land, marine transportation links and supply chains. It also includes coordinated support for international institutions, especially the U.N., the WHO, and particularly in addressing the particular challenges facing Africa and small island developing states.
These efforts have been complemented by the minister of trade's support for Canadian businesses during the extraordinary time of global uncertainty and tightening credit conditions. Through our leadership role at the Ottawa Group and WTO reform discussion, the Minister of International Development has also been at the forefront of international efforts on issues such as providing equitable vaccine access, preventing food insecurity due to supply chain disruptions, enabling continued education for children in developing countries during the pandemic, facilitating women and girls' continued ability to secure sexual and reproductive health services, and mitigating violence against them. The minister also jointly established, with the U.K., the development minister's contact group.
The department's efforts are framed by three strategic pillars for action where Canada can make immediate and direct impact. First is fighting the pandemic by strengthening capacities to deliver the health-related, sustainable development goals supporting access to COVID-19 testing, treatments and vaccines. Second is seeking to manage financial stresses and stabilize economies through the restored global supply chains, enabling financial equity and stability for developing countries. Third is supporting the most vulnerable and reinforcing recovery through our humanitarian response, support for food security and education, and by addressing longer term, socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.
To date, Global Affairs Canada has been responsible for deploying some $1 billion in response to the pandemic to support the poorest and the most vulnerable in partner countries. This has meant working with Canadian NGOs, the international organization partners, to adjust program approaches to be flexible and to encourage innovative practices. These efforts reflect a belief that none of us are safe until all of us are safe from this virus. We can build back better to advance sustainable development goals going forward to encourage an inclusive and green recovery.
While the pandemic has been an overarching preoccupation for our department, many other geopolitical challenges have nevertheless also required the ongoing attention of Global Affairs Canada. We have managed our important relationships with the United States, the EU and China, sought solutions to protracted political crises in the Ukraine and Venezuela and in the Middle East, and reinforced democracy and human rights in Belarus. All these circumstances required on-ground assessments from embassies and headquarters personnel, the development of options for cabinet consideration, implementation of policy and actions.
Global co-operation facilitated by effective and accountable international institutions relies on nimble alliances, new partners and partnerships. That is why the department has continued to manage key relationships and to reinforce ties with traditional allies, while pursuing new collaborations with emerging partners.
I already talked about the leadership role the Minister of International Trade took in response to the global pandemic. Let me review in more detail the recent achievements of Global Affairs Canada in advancing Canada's prosperity, enabling them to continue to benefit from diverse trade and investment opportunities.
Trade accounts for nearly two-thirds of Canada's economy and supports 3.3 million jobs, which is one out of every six jobs. Open, rules-based trade creates opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs, and ensures that people have access to essential goods and services, like food and medicine. COVID-19 should not and cannot be used as an excuse to stop trading or to turn inward with protectionist policies. Global Affairs Canada works to enhance market access to increase opportunities that flow from trade agreements and to further diversify our trade.
This year, we have worked closely with international partners from the G20, WTO, APEC and others to ensure that our supply chains remain open, our businesses continue to work, and their crucial goods and services flow. Canada's leadership of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform demonstrated our commitment to shape the future of multilateral, rules-based trade, which is really key to global prosperity. Now more than ever, we must continue to strengthen our rules-based global trading system so that it is robust and resilient.
I have addressed the significance of the work Global Affairs has done to respond to the international assistance dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic and how the health and prosperity of Canadians is intertwined with an effective and coordinated global response and recovery. Until we have solved this crisis globally and contributed to building a more resilient and sustainable socio-economic system, we will continue to be impacted by it domestically.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries were challenged to achieve inclusive and sustainable economic growth, maintain social cohesion and manage crises. While tangible gains were made to reduce extreme poverty with Canadian support, including increased access to education, health and nutrition, not everyone was benefiting equally. The more than 1.3 billion people living in poverty faced multiple and interrelated challenges, often exacerbated by inequalities, and in many cases, protracted humanitarian crises or the impacts of climate change.
Given this, Global Affairs has continued to work hard to implement the feminist international assistance policy, which provides an essential framework not just to meet the needs of this unprecedented pandemic, but to build a more peaceful, inclusive and prosperous world.
We have focused on helping the poorest and most vulnerable, especially women and girls and those living in fragile states and conflict-affected states, to achieve peace and stability and promote dialogue for conflict resolutions. This includes country-specific peace building and stabilization initiatives for countries such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.
The ministers' and the department's work with the UN agencies, the Red Cross movement, and Canadian and international NGOs has helped to provide humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of more than 135 million people in 62 countries and territories.
The department also effectively and responsibly managed more than $6.3 billion in grants and contributions programming. These resources have reduced poverty and increased opportunities for people around the world, saved lives, increased sustainable livelihoods and increased peace and security.
Let me conclude by stressing again a principle lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is the absolute necessity of effective international cooperation. This was true when Global Affairs was first established more than 100 years ago, and it is true today. Through a diplomatic presence, consular services, trade support and international development programs, the department works hard to deepen Canada's engagement with the wider world to advance and protect Canadian interests and values.
In a time of profound change, complex challenges and considerable opportunities, Global Affairs staff delivers, and will continue to deliver, necessary thought leadership on the world stage. They seek to play a constructive role in shaping the rapidly evolving global order for the benefit of all Canadians, not just today but for the long term.