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N°65 - Premier trimestre 2004

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     Canada
 
  S.E.M. / H.E. Claude LAVERDURE

Canada: a country resolutely open  to the world

Four hundred years after the first French settlement in North America, France and Canada celebrate their common history. On this occasion, H.E. Claude Laverdure, Canadian Ambassador to France, spoke with us about the priorities of a country that is traditionally open, promotes cultural diversity and multilateralism, and is constantly seeking innovative options to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The Diplomatic Letter: Can you outline Prime Minister Paul Martin’s agenda? What measures will the new government implement in its plans for democratic reform?

H.E. Claude Laverdure: Since assuming office in December 2003, Prime Minister Paul Martin has put forth numerous initiatives that reflect an ambitious agenda centred around three principal objectives: strengthening our social foundations, building an innovative economy for the 21st century and ensuring Canada’s influence internationally. 
The Martin government’s first priority is to strengthen Canada’s social foundations, specifically health, education, and of course communities. Public health initiatives (over $1 billion), additional transfers to the provinces and territories ($2 billion), as well as the creation of a Canadian agency to fight diseases and to coordinate emergency health interventions as in the case of SARS, demonstrate a clear commitment to maintaining and strengthening the health care system. As for education, improved access for Canadians to post-secondary studies and professional development, as well as help for students from low-income families have already been undertaken and included in the 2004 budget. Child welfare, changes to the tax system for disabled persons and increased resources for Aboriginal people round out the agenda. I should also mention a redistribution commitment under a new “tax agreement” with communities so that municipalities can invest in the environment, infrastructure, housing, immigration and university research (tax refund of $7 billion over 10 years).
The government’s second priority is to build a robust and innovative economy for the 21st century based on growth and job creation through sound financial management, balanced budgets, controlled spending and debt reduction. I’d like to point out that as Finance Minister of Canada from 1993 to 2002, Paul Martin was one of the leading architects of the fiscal consolidation and government reform that enabled Canada to carry out the most significant budget consolidation in a G7 country since 1992: in 2004, Canada recorded its seventh consecutive balanced budget and, according to the OECD, will be the only G7 country to record a surplus in 2004. The government, convinced that the development of the century’s economy hinges on innovation, has announced that it will invest $100 million to facilitate the transfer of technology developed in universities, hospitals or other research centres. The Prime Minister has also committed to meeting and even exceeding the environmental commitments of the Kyoto Protocol and proceeding with a joint sustainable development policy along with the provinces and territories.
The third objective of the Prime Minister’s action program is to ensure that Canada has an influential and independent role in the world promoting peace and security, supporting multilateralism, communicating Canadian values and ensuring a strong voice for Canada. To this end, the government has initiated an integrated approach for its defence, aid and international relations policies. The first concrete measures came with the announcement in the 2004 budget of new funds to finance Canadian operations in Afghanistan, the international fight against terrorism as well as Canada’s peacekeeping contribution in Haiti. In accordance with the government’s commitment to double the budget in this area by 2010, Canada has increased international development aid, half of which will go to Africa, the first region to benefit from the new “Canada Corps” that will oversee international volunteer work by young Canadians.
In addition to these priorities, there is the “new era of governance” project initiated by the Prime Minister to revitalize the democratic aspect of the government. This project will involve such measures as renewing the role, influence and freedom of federal MPs by allowing numerous “free” votes in the House, strengthening Parliamentary commissions and providing for review of the vast majority of top government appointments – including those to the Supreme Court. “New governance” will involve, for example, the creation of an independent ethics commissioner, an agency to monitor excellence in the public service, and the launching of an ongoing expenditure review process under the aegis of a parliamentary commission.

T.D.L.: In 2003, Canada demonstrated a very sound economy, despite a difficult period as well as the SARS crisis. To what would you attribute the vitality of the Canadian economy? Given that 87% of exports go to the United States, where else is Canada looking to further diversify its trading partners?

H.E.C.L.: SARS, the mad cow crisis, the Ontario black-out, Hurricane Juan in the Atlantic provinces and the forest fires in British Columbia, in 2003, Canada’s economy was hit with a string of unforeseen difficulties. However, we were able to weather these events because of the soundness of the basic components of our economy, which still managed a growth rate of 1.7% in 2003, and which is expected to record growth of 2.7% this year and 3.3% in 2005.
Of these components, I would particularly like to mention the state of public finances, which makes Canada one of the least indebted countries in the world. Having dropped from 102% of GDP in 1996 to 71% in 2002, the Canadian government debt is at about 65% this year. The federal debt itself has dropped from 68% to 42% over the same period and the Canadian government’s objective is to bring it down to 25% of GDP within 10 years.
Although Canada benefits by paying off interest on the debt, above all debt reduction allows the country to build up a sizeable reserve to cover unexpected costs. The excellent budgetary situation also allowed for taxes to be lowered by about C$100 billion between 2001 and 2005.  This action offset the slowdown in exports that resulted from international circumstances. This has generated 800,000 new jobs since the end of 2002. However, our economy depends first and foremost on sound structures that will help us face future challenges. This is why KPMG has again ranked Canada first this year among countries with the lowest production costs in the industrialized world.
In a world trade system that essentially involves trade among neighbouring countries, Canada has the tremendous advantage of being next to the United States, a huge country poised to grow both economically and demographically. The Americas, Canada’s primary market, are very open to Canadian companies that can maximize their comparative advantages. Canada is aware of the economic opportunities they provide and has systematically sought to remove trade barriers in this part of the world and to open markets to Canadian investors and entrepreneurs. Canada is interested in concluding multilateral agreements (Doha Round), as well as regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements, particularly with the European Union, a significant trade partner that understands the attractions of the Canadian market. To this end, the negotiation of a Trade and Investment Enhancement Agreement (TIEA) is an ambitious initiative for our future, especially considering the EU expansion.

T.D.L.: As a cosmopolitan society, your country’s integration model is often held up as an example. What sets it apart? How would you define, today, the distinctions between English and French-speaking Canadians? Canada is a country of immigration. What is the basis of its integration policy?

H.E.C.L.: Born out of the meeting of the Indian first nations and the children of France and subsequently of England and the rest of Europe, Canada experienced a number of conflicts before fully appreciating the wealth of its pluralism. Today, respect for diversity in the pursuit of a common destiny is the essence of the Canadian identity. Canada’s federal structure satisfies this requirement, but it is this heritage that makes us unique: English and French are our two official languages and Canada is characterized by multiculturalism. Beyond that, we are particularly attentive to the needs of our Aboriginal people, as shown by actions like the creation of Nunavut, which demonstrates our willingness to act respectfully towards all of the constituents of our population.
As an open country that has made immigration a cornerstone of its development, Canada takes in 225,000 to 245,000 immigrants annually. The result is a unique dynamic in cities such as Toronto, where half of the residents were born outside of Canada, but also in Vancouver and Montreal, which have both become profoundly multicultural urban centres.  It is interesting to note, for example, that Chinese is the third most spoken language in Canada! Immigrants may apply for Canadian citizenship (80% do so) after they have been in Canada three years. Approximately 40% of these immigrants arrive under a policy designed to keep families together and to offer political asylum.  The other 60% are selected based on the needs of the Canadian economy – a condition, for us, of harmonious integration. Another strong element apart from language training and access to Canadian citizenship is the role of numerous associations of recent immigrants to Canada, who, having become mediators between their cultures of origin and Canadian culture, provide an essential function in welcoming and integrating immigrants.
One final pillar of our integration policy is our governments’ commitment to promote differences. Our employment equity programs encourage governments and businesses to fight discrimination in hiring and in professional advancement, also, if necessary, to favour immigrant candidates. The results of our ongoing efforts are conclusive: within a few years, the majority of immigrants are completely integrated and they become a wonderful testament to the Canadian identity.

T.D.L.: Ten years after the creation of NAFTA, trade among the three North American partners has developed fully. In light of the softwood lumber issue, what latitude does Canada have in resolving trade disputes within NAFTA? Beyond the trade aspects, how has this free trade area fostered the development of relations between your country and Mexico? On a more general level, how would you assess the North American economic integration process?

H.E.C.L.: Most trade in North America is conducted in accordance with clear and well-established rules set out by NAFTA and the WTO. However, within such a large area, disagreements are inevitable. Under the terms of NAFTA, when a dispute arises, the governments involved must seek an amicable resolution through committees, working groups or other consultative mechanisms.  If a mutually acceptable solution is not found, the Agreement provides for a quick and effective referral procedure to panels. The vast majority of trade conducted within NAFTA is not met with obstacles or difficulties and has helped integrate our economies to a greater degree and raise the standard of living of our people.
The implementation of agreements such as NAFTA has made Mexico the Latin American country with which Canada maintains the most varied and substantial relations. With this Agreement, the strengthened partnership with Mexico is an important element of Canadian policy in the region. Within this dynamic, we are seeing an increase in contacts between the two countries: a million Canadians visit Mexico each year and 70,000 Mexicans come to Canada.  Our cultural exchanges are deepening and giving rise today to the development of Canadian studies programs at Mexican universities and greater ease for Mexican workers in entering Canada to do seasonal agricultural work.

T.D.L.: While the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is planned for 2005, it would appear that the Miami ministerial meeting in November 2003 opened the way for a flexible agreement between the different countries. From this perspective, how do you view the American-Brazilian compromise? What are the repercussions for your country, a full partner in a free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico? More generally, how does your country plan to deepen relations with the rest of Latin America?

H.E.C.L.: The FTAA involves a population of over 830 million people. The FTAA negotiations should give rise to the world’s largest free-trade area for goods, solid commitments on access to service markets and increased investment protection in the region. Canada has been promoting the advantages of trade liberalization and investment for a long time. The WTO remains the cornerstone of our policy, however Canada also favours reducing investment and trade barriers at the regional and bilateral levels. Initiatives such as the FTAA can add to, if not strengthen, multilateral liberalization because more general far-reaching rules and disciplines can be established at a faster pace. While the FTAA rounds out Canada’s bilateral agreements with the United States, Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica, it will above all make it possible to improve its developing relations with the region’s other states. We must remember that the FTAA will coexist with previously signed agreements such as NAFTA. Not counting our NAFTA partners, the region of the Americas represents a C$368 billion market for our exports and has received 15.4% of Canadian foreign investment.

T.D.L.: With Canada’s refusal to join the English-American coalition against the regime of Saddam Hussein, American-Canadian relations went through somewhat of a tense period. As special foreign policy advisor to former prime minister Jean Chrétien when the Americans invaded Iraq, what is your take on the situation in Iraq today? As a traditional partisan of multiculturalism, what is your country’s assessment of the new international order that is emerging?

H.E.C.L.: With reconstruction of Iraqi society at every level-political, socio-economic, judicial and civil-Iraqis now face enormous challenges. We have observed a determination expressed by all to identify common approaches for overcoming these challenges and are pleased to note the UN’s role in this effort. Canada has announced an aid package of $300 million, making us one of the main contributors to the reconstruction process – whether it be through humanitarian aid, infrastructure projects or strengthening security. One of our areas of involvement is in training Iraqi police officers. We must look to the future and help the Iraqis to calmly and confidently do the same.
We must also draw from all of the lessons of the Iraqi situation. In fact, the situation in the wider context of the Middle East is the result of profound international changes that came about after the Cold War, changes that the international community must understand and overcome. It is in this context that the Prime Minister, when he came to power, asked Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham to carry out a comprehensive review of Canada’s foreign policy, the results of which are expected in the fall. Some of the findings of this review are obvious: new power relationships, new threats and new international players are emerging. Faced with these challenges, however, Canada is not disadvantaged, since it possesses a number of significant attributes: openness to the world, diverse networks of dynamic partnerships as well as enormous economic potential. It is just a matter of using them to help build the new world order that will bring prosperity, democracy and human security to the greatest number possible.

T.D.L.: At the beginning of March 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that he would be sending Canadian troops to help stabilize the situation in Haiti. Given your experience in that country, how do you interpret this latest political crisis in Haiti? What is driving Canadian involvement in this internal conflict?

H.E.C.L.: Unfortunately, the recent crisis in Haiti demonstrates once again how very fragile that country is. With no natural resources or industry, Haiti will have to depend on foreign aid for the next while. Haitians must be provided the means to get through this crisis by being empowered to develop their own innovative solutions. Therein lies a major priority for the new Canadian government: our common membership in La Francophonie and Canada’s large Haitian community create strong, special ties between the two countries. Haiti is a beneficiary of our largest development aid program in the region and Canada ranks second in countries providing assistance to Haiti. More generally, since the Americas constitute a major thrust of our foreign policy, a lasting solution to the Haitian crisis would undeniably contribute to hemispheric stability and prosperity.

T.D.L.: Based on its traditional peacekeeping role, Canada has been involved over the last decade in resolving conflicts in Rwanda, Kosovo and Afghanistan. How does Prime Minister Paul Martin intend to carry through with his desire to assign Canada a more active role internationally? Given the changes to the mission of the Canadian armed forces and the aging of its military equipment, how does your country plan to strengthen its ability to continue assuming this role?

H.E.C.L.: The Canadian forces have earned an enviable reputation for their professionalism and skill in peace missions and Canadians are very proud of their actions. Since the end of the Cold War, we have witnessed an increasing number of threats to international stability that require diverse responses. That is why Canada became involved along with its allies during the armed conflict in Kosovo and in the international antiterrorism campaign while maintaining its forces in peacekeeping missions. The announcement by the Prime Minister to deploy 600 members of the Canadian Forces to Afghanistan following Canada’s current commitment in August is part of this approach. But this action means that increasing demands are being placed on our forces and that the operational pace is accelerating. The government has clearly stated that from the perspectives of diplomacy, development aid and international trade, defence remains an essential ingredient of our foreign policy. From this perspective, it has instituted a comprehensive study of its international policies, which will enable Canada to modernize its strategies and to strengthen its role in the world. We will also continue to invest substantially in the military equipment needed to carry out today’s missions: putting light armoured vehicles into active service, modernizing CF-18 fighters and maritime patrol aircraft, adopting mobile gun systems and acquiring new shipborne maritime helicopters.

T.D.L.: By committing $2 million per year to the “northern dimension” of its foreign policy, Canada is giving priority to Arctic development, which is still marginal within the international system. Faced with the challenges of global warming and melting glaciers, what economic and sustainable development policy do you envision for this region? On a more general level, how would you define the objectives of Canada’s development aid policy?

H.E.C.L.: In response to issues related to the development of the Canadian North, Northern residents and the federal government have established various planning and management programs to foster sustainable development. The Beaufort Sea Integrated Management Planning Initiative (BSIMPI) is a good example of a collaborative effort among the government, Aboriginal people (the Inuvialuit) and industry to ensure that the resources of this sensitive arctic ecosystem are managed in a sustainable manner that meets environmental, economic and socio-cultural needs. Although the challenge of sustainable development in these sectors of the economy is considerable, activities based on renewable resources such as forestry, fishing and tourism make it possible to diversify the economy. To support the sustainable use of wildlife resources, Canada, along with its Aboriginal populations, has developed numerous initiatives, from the Canada-EU Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (to re-establish the fur market), to the creation in the Canadian Arctic of national parks and other protected areas in an effort to protect biodiversity. In a similar vein, the Aboriginal peoples were involved in providing traditional knowledge and expertise in the development of Canada's proposed Species at Risk Act. Faced with the threat of global warming, Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol in December 2002. We are an active partner in the international community and are planning to implement this protocol as effectively as possible. 
 
T.D.L.: As major trading partners, Canada and the European Union made a commitment at the joint summit held in Athens in May 2003 to further develop their relations. What key areas will be specifically targeted? While the idea of a Canada-EU free trade agreement has often been raised in the past, what do you feel stands in the way of such a project? On the basis of the tensions resulting from the Iraq issue, what role can your country play in strengthening transatlantic ties?

H.E.C.L.: The very successful Canada-EU Summit chaired by Ireland, which brought together our Prime Minister and European leaders in Ottawa on March 18, 2004, capped a considerable diplomatic effort on both sides of the Atlantic. Based on both our common values and interests, our relations have become incredibly diversified. Canada finds allies in Europe on economic, cultural and social issues. The reverse is also true. On March 18, with our European partners, we approved two innovative documents which, in the end, will serve as a model for other avenues of bilateral cooperation between the European Union and its various partners: a partnership program and the negotiation framework of a future Trade and Investment Enhancement Agreement. This is an ambitious action program in so many areas such as the strengthening of multilateralism, cooperation on common security challenges, and the development of people to people contacts. The Agreement marks a new beginning by fostering international trade and investment in order to build on the already significant investment by Canada in Europe and by Europe in Canada.

T.D.L.: 2004 marks not only the 400th anniversary of the first permanent French settlement in Canada, but also the 60th anniversary of the allied landing in Normandy. With respect to the common history shared by Canada and France, how would you qualify the two countries’ relations? What is Quebec’s role in the development of these relations? With the aeronautics sector clearly dominating, in which sectors can industrial and trade cooperation between France and Canada be increased? How do you explain the attraction your country holds for many French students and researchers?

H.E.C.L.: Relations between France and Canada have developed remarkably. As President Chirac said, [translation] “this relationship has never, ever been better.” That was in the context of commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first permanent French settlement in Canada, an outstanding opportunity to strengthen and expand our cooperation and conduct exchanges on the challenges of modernity. Our two countries, on both sides of the Atlantic, share blood and historical ties as well as a language, culture and values. France is the ancestral country of a quarter of Canada’s population. Canada’s foreign policy reflects the aspirations and values of this important element, a founding pillar of our nation. France is also a vital ally for Canada in our promotion of a social model that combines economic liberalism and social solidarity, an international system based on the values we cherish. For example, Canada and France are both involved in the campaign for cultural diversity and humane globalization.
In the area of trade, our deep and varied relations will tend in the future towards strong mutually beneficial partnerships geared towards innovation in the sectors of air and rail transportation, information and communications technologies, biotechnology and agri-food technology. It is important to bear in mind that France ranks second as an investor in Canada, after the United States. Having discovered that Canada offers original solutions to the issues of our day, many French politicians, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, artists and students are expressing keen interest in our country. In keeping with this mutual curiosity, the agreement on youth mobility is a special youth initiative that will open the way for 14,000 young people to stay and work in our countries each year.
Our relationship is diverse but also quite decentralized. France has an interest in every region of Canada, and the reverse is also true of Canada. Canadians and Quebeckers in France are working cooperatively to promote and defend our common interests, those of the artists, academics, students, industrialists and all citizens who have an interest in France.

T.D.L.: More generally, from 2004 to 2008, which will mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, the “French fact” in North America will be at the heart of Canada’s celebrations. Can you outline the major events connected with this initiative? Based on its key role in promoting La Francophonie, where does this cultural asset fit within Canada’s foreign policy, particularly with regard to its relations with Africa? What are your country’s objectives within Francophone institutions?

H.E.C.L.: As a major thrust of Canada’s foreign policy, La Francophonie is a natural area of influence for Canada along with the Organization of American States or the Commonwealth. A place of affirmation and development of the French fact in Canada, it is a multilateral forum for dialogue where Canada can use its influence to promote democratic, cultural and economic values that Canadians wish to share: democratic development, strengthening of the rule of law, human rights, peace and human security. Canada is also helping to foster cultural diversity and to promote the upcoming adoption within UNESCO of an International Convention on Cultural Diversity. It is Canada’s hope that the profile of  La Francophonie is raised and that it becomes a forum for all Francophones. That is why Canada is helping to forge stronger links of interdependence for an effective, dynamic community, a challenge further complicated by the fact that a large number of the 56 member states and governments of La Francophonie are developing or East bloc countries.

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