Posted on 2012-03-07
Questions asked by Senator Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis on March 7, 2012.
Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Chair: The Honourable A. RAYNELL ANDREYCHUK
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Issue No. 9
Third and fourth meetings on:
Establishment of a “Charter of the Commonwealth”
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association — Parliament of Canada:
Russ Hiebert, M.P., Chair;
Joe Preston, M.P., Member.
Richard Bourne, Senior Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London (by video conference);
Arthur Donahoe, Former Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (by video conference);
Nick Hare, Former Commonwealth Deputy Secretary (Development Cooperation).
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary-General.
Organisation internationale de la Francophonie:
Pierre de Cocatrix, Chief of Cabinet of the Secretary General;
Eric Pelletier, Advisor responsible for Cooperation.
MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE
The Honourable A. Raynell Andreychuk, Chair
The Honourable Percy E. Downe, Deputy Chair
*Cowan (or Tardif), De Bané, P.C., Finley, Fortin-Duplessis, Johnson, *LeBreton, P.C. (or Carignan), Mahovlich, Martin, Nolin, Robichaud, P.C., Smith, P.C. (Cobourg), Wallin
* Ex officio members
Changes in membership of the committee:
Pursuant to rule 85(4), membership of the committee was amended as follows:
The Honourable Senator Finley replaced the Honourable Senator Stratton (March 7, 2012).
The Honourable Senator Martin replaced the Honourable Senator Segal (March 7, 2012).
The Honourable Senator Stratton replaced the Honourable Senator Finley (March 7, 2012).
The Honourable Senator De Bané, P.C., replaced the Honourable Senator Jaffer (March 2, 2012).
The Honourable Senator Johnson replaced the Honourable Senator Raine (March 1, 2012).
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: I have three short questions that are important. First, what is the measure of comparison between parliamentarians from the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Secretariat?
Next, how can this proposed new charter facilitate closer cooperation between the two? And finally, as Canadian members of Parliament, are you satisfied with the level of effectiveness of the Commonwealth as a world organization?
Mr. Preston: The relationship between the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is exactly as it sounds: The Commonwealth is made up of heads of state and governments. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, although complementary to that, is made up of parliamentarians from those states, some of them even being in opposition.
There is a drastic difference. If a charter were to be established, I see a far greater ability to work together because, as it stands now, obviously if I go somewhere from a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I am not representing government; I am representing our parliament. Through what we are calling “moral suasion,” I can certainly have conversations one-on-one with other parliamentarians about ethical issues, but I cannot speak on behalf of our government at that place.
That would be where I would go with it.
Mr. Hiebert: You did a good job of explaining the difference. I will answer the second question, which was related to closer relations. Anything that would require governments to pay more attention to the values that bind us together will help parliamentarians, absolutely. Remember that they still have to play a role in passing legislation and a role in holding their respective governments to account. If they, too, can point to these documents — to this charter, or this updated values document — I absolutely think it strengthens their ability to do their job.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: And you, as Canadian members of Parliament, are you satisfied with the level of effectiveness of the Commonwealth as a world organization?
Mr. Preston: Yes, I believe I have seen democracy in different formats around the world by being a member of this organization, but I think it is a forward-thinking, forward-striding organization and can be called that.
Mr. Hiebert: I agree. I think it does a lot; certainly at the CPA level, we do an awful lot. We not only visit countries but bring many parliamentarians to Canada to help educate them about what it means to be a parliamentarian. The feedback we always get is an expression of incredible gratitude for the work we do.
I think they are effective organizations. Do I think they have greater potential? Absolutely; I think there is much more that could be accomplished through these organizations and this document will help along those lines.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: I have a question for Mr. Donahoe and another one for Mr. Bourne. I will ask both my questions and each can think of his answer.
First, my question for Mr. Donahoe: in the 26 countries that make up the Commonwealth, there are countries that are well-developed and others that are less developed. In your opinion, what can the parliamentarians of these developed countries do to foster mutual aid and to contribute to making all these countries equal?
My question for Mr. Bourne is: if the Commonwealth Charter is not created perfectly and adopted, do you think the survival of the Commonwealth could be jeopardized?
Mr. Donahoe: During the course of my time with the CPA, I visited in a Namibia. We visited a vocational school. I had a badge on me which said, “Arthur Donahoe, CPA, London.”
The principal of the school was showing us around and I started talking to him. He said, “Oh, you are from London.” I said, “Well, I live in London now but I am a Canadian.” “Oh, you are a Canadian! Come, come, let me show you something” and he took me to a classroom that was filled with computers and he said “These are the gifts of the Government of Canada through the Commonwealth.”
His whole attitude changed towards me. If I might say so with due respect, Mr. Bourne, he originally thought I was British. In any event, this is just a small example of the way in which the developed Commonwealth countries assist those that are less developed. I am sure Mr. Hare, through his experience with the Commonwealth Secretariat, could tell hundreds of stories similar to the one I have just recounted.
Mr. Bourne: If I may answer, also, I completely agree with what Mr. Donahoe has said. The sense of mutuality and solidarity within the Commonwealth is real, particularly in practical matters of development assistance.
However, could the Commonwealth survive without a charter? Of course; it has survived a good many years without one so far. As Mr. Donahoe said when he was talking about the Commonwealth some years ago, he always made the point that this was a voluntary association that did not have a charter. I know that a charter is not a treaty, and the Commonwealth will still be a non-treaty body, but I think that, certainly, some governments that are a bit cautious in this area worry a little bit about making the charter more like a United Nations charter with obligations, commitments and an arrangement within the structure, which they would say is a move away from the rather flexible arrangements and evolutionary arrangements of the Commonwealth.
Mr. Donahoe has teased me about being British. I have to say I am from one of the two Commonwealth states that does not have a written constitution, and some of those from New Zealand and United Kingdom could argue that one of the advantages of not having a written constitution is that you can make changes all the time and where the Parliament is able to pass acts of Parliament. For example, in our case, we were able to achieve devolution for Scotland and Wales, which a written constitution might have made difficult.
Therefore, it is not an absolute no-brainer to say that the Commonwealth has to have a charter, but if we are to have one, I think it could be rather better than the one on the table.
Mr. Hare: My impression is that yes, the Commonwealth would survive without this charter, precisely for the reason that has just been given, that is that we did not have one at the beginning of the Commonwealth. Perhaps if we don’t do our job well, there won’t be another.
Regarding the Commonwealth role of establishing equality among countries, there is a relatively big program for a small organization like the Commonwealth. It provides technical assistance for the poorest small countries, those that are developing. You will see that at practically all meetings, since it is the only fund really dedicated to that, this issue is on the table. There are experts within the secretariat who are responsible for helping the most impoverished countries receive ad hoc aid, where big institutions like the World Bank are not able to, because for them, a project that is not worth two or three million dollars is not a real project. Our specialty is providing ad hoc aid to those who cannot obtain it easily.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: My question is for Mr. Hare. He left the Commonwealth Secretariat 12 years ago, and I imagine that when you spend a significant part of your life working somewhere you have an interest, you follow things. Have you noticed, over the past 12 years, whether the Commonwealth has improved or deteriorated?
Mr. Hare: There is always change. All of a sudden, we have a charter to discuss, and that is a certain type of change. I was very surprised, when I read this, that many of the issues we discussed 12 years ago are still present today. There seems to be a pretty clear will to address them or to find another way of operating.
However, I am not there. My little guide is this now, which is a big improvement. It covers practically all the issues within the Commonwealth, regarding cooperation and more.
One of my issues is that, if you look at the number of recommendations contained in the report, you get an idea of just how far we could go to change the Commonwealth if we so desired. But essentially, it remains the same institution that has done more or less the same job and is still just as useful. In my opinion, it is a jewel because the Commonwealth does things differently from other large international institutions.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: My final question is directed to each of the witnesses. In your opinion, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the draft charter?
The Chair: We have about one minute for an answer before we must conclude, if anyone has a pithy comment to make. Mr. Hare has his hand up.
Mr. Hare: It is too long.
That is my pithy comment.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Too long to answer?
Senator Nolin: No, the document is too long.