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Speech by the High Commissioner

Speech by Mr. James R. Wright

High Commissioner for Canada

BACS 2010 Conference

Cambridge, April 7, 2010


Bonsoir mesdames et messieurs.

Good evening professors, academics and students.

It is a pleasure for me to be here in Cambridge for this your 35th annual conference.   There are many familiar faces – and a large group of new ones – always a good sign.   I have been impressed by the wide variety of subject matter being covered at this BACS conference.  And I want to congratulate you all – and in particular your president, Susan Hodgett and her team - for the way in which you have put together the programme.  

The conference theme, built on the idea of “democracy as a work in progress”, is an enormous one.  But an important one.  Every country needs to understand the nature of its democracy: where it has come from, where it is going, and how it is being expressed. For countries like Canada – that takes their international role as a defender and promoter of democracy, human rights and the rule of law seriously – this is doubly so.

And it is a particularly good theme for this year as Canada is playing a leading role on the world stage, putting into practice our foreign policy which in many ways is the expression of our democracy and our values beyond our borders.

In February and March, Vancouver and Whistler in British Columbia hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Thousands of athletes, visitors, coaches, officials, sports fans and media from all over the world were on hand to take part in a modern celebration and spectacle that has grown well beyond a sporting event.

Canada welcomed the world to share in our excitement for winter sport and through the world-wide media coverage, millions of people got a glimpse, not only of the awesome beauty of the west coast of our country, but also an appreciation of Canadian values, such as diversity, inclusiveness, fair play, respect for the environment and warm hospitality.

From the biggest sporting event of the year, we move on to the world’s foremost diplomatic summits: the G8 and the G20. This year, Canada holds the G8 presidency and is jointly with South Korea leading the G20 process that began here in the UK last April.  In June, Prime Minister Harper will chair the G8 Summit in Muskoka in Ontario, to be followed immediately after by the broader G20 Summit in TorontoBoth summits are opportunities for Canada to take a leading role in addressing key global issues, and in promoting Canadian values and interests on the world stage.

We continue to face serious threats to global security and stability, and Canada has outlined a number of specific areas of focus for the G8 agenda this year:  including nuclear proliferation, strengthening the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, addressing fragile and failing states and working to improve maternal and child health in the developing world.

At last week’s G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting in Gatineau, Quebec, Minister Cannon announced the G8 Afghanistan Pakistan Border Region Prosperity Initiative which focuses on one of the least economically developed regions in the world. Improving the socio-economic situation in this region is an important step in building community resilience against violent extremism that is fueling the conflict in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan we are working with the UK, the US and our other allies to enhance global security, to improve the lives of the Afghan people and to help them rebuild their country as a stable, democratic and self-sufficient society. The 3,000 Canadian soldiers and civilians who are engaged on the ground each and every day are tangible demonstrations of the strength of our commitment. But our engagement in Afghanistan involves much more than military intervention. Canada is spending close to $2 billion in development assistance. While Canada’s military mission will end in 2011 – there will be ongoing diplomatic and developmental engagement -- and our goal is clear: to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans. An Afghanistan that is better governed, more secure, more confident and more prosperous. 

As well as helping to improve the lives of Afghans and strengthening regional stability, Canada’s G8 aim is to tackle how, together, we can improve the coherence and effectiveness of our efforts in helping other vulnerable countries.

As President of the G8, Canada is championing a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world’s poorest regions, two key millennium development goals set by the UN.  Each year, 500,000 women lose their lives during pregnancy or childbirth and 9 million children die before their 5th birthday.  Far too many lives have already been lost for want of relatively simple and inexpensive health care solutions.

The cost of clean water, basic health care and better nutrition, as well as the training of health workers to care for women and to deliver babies, is within the reach of any country in the G8.  Setting a global agenda for improving maternal and child health is ambitious, but working with other nations and aid agencies on the ground makes it an achievable goal.

On non-proliferation, 2010 will be a pivotal year given that President Obama is hosting next week a Nuclear Security Summit which will focus on the threat of nuclear terrorism. This is followed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 10 year review conference in May.  And at the same time, the G8 is working diligently with others to pressure Iran and North Korea to stop pursuing their worrisome nuclear ambitions.

 When Canada last hosted the G8 in 2002, we initiated a program called the Global Partnership where G8 countries allocated 20 billion dollars over 10 years to reduce the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction. The program has delivered real results, through the destruction of stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, the decommissioning of old nuclear submarines and finding alternative employment for former weapons scientists in the former Soviet Union. It has been a tremendous success making the world a safer place, and a success that the G8 can build on.

 When you talk about vulnerable or fragile states Haiti comes quickly to mind. Canada is already playing a leading role in helping Haiti deal with the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake that has claimed so many lives.

 At last week’s Donor conference in New York, Canada pledged $400 million toward Haiti’s reconstruction. Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, when he was recently in Port-au-Prince announced that Canada will help construct a Temporary Government Administrative Base for the Government of Haiti. The base will accommodate key Haitian ministries and other public servants and will serve as the operational centre from which they can more effectively manage and coordinate the hard work ahead.

 A few devastating minutes in Haiti’s history will take years to rebuild. We now need to look beyond the immediate need for food, water, shelter and medical assistance; and the New York conference was the first step in creating a long term development plan for Haiti, focusing on ways to help the Haitian people meet the current challenges and prepare for the difficult task of long term stabilization and reconstruction.

 On the G20 agenda, Canada is well placed to lead. Last year we all stood on the brink of a global financial crisis.  Britain, as last year’s G20 chair, helped to keep us focused on the immediate task of stepping in with significant fiscal and monetary support for our economies, and financial support for the global financial system.  In 2010, we face the equally important task of responsibly winding down that support, putting in place reforms to strengthen the global financial architecture, and delivering on the commitments that have been put in place through the G20 process over the last year. Canada, with our economic house in pretty good order, will share both our experience and the values of fiscal prudence and smart regulation that have shielded us from the worst of the world economic turmoil.

 And as if that wasn’t enough for one year, we are mounting a vigorous effort to gain international support for a Canadian non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2011-2012 term. The case for Canada on the UN Security Council is solid. Canada’s credentials on international security, governance, human rights, and peacebuilding are as strong as ever.  We have served about every ten years on the Security Council, and we hope to continue in that fashion contributing to the international system.

 So in many ways this is Canada’s year. We have stepped up to the plate and are engaging in focused ways on the range of key challenges facing the world.  A conference like this one, that seeks to step back and look at the nature of our democracy, is therefore very timely.  Canada’s actions on the world stage are rooted in our values at home that are put to the test each day as we develop and grow as a democratic society.  In many ways Canada is home to the world – we have opened our arms to people from all across the globe to come to Canada and build a new life, while also helping to build our country.  And so taking a step back and looking at the society and the democracy that we have built together – indeed at the idea of Canada – is not only a laudable endeavour, but a necessary exercise.

 So I raise a glass to you all as you share the fruits of your important research into better understanding Canada. It is a pleasure to be here, and I wish you a successful conference.