Address by Minister Cannon Marking Canada’s 20th Anniversary of Membership in Organization of American States

No. 2010/8 - Ottawa, Ontario - March 8, 2010

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We are all honoured tonight to welcome the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, a prime minister whose vision and political courage 20 years ago made this event possible.

Under Mr. Mulroney’s leadership, the Canadian government profoundly reoriented its foreign policy focus. This visionary leadership was evident in the negotiations first of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement [FTA] and shortly thereafter of NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement].

While controversial at the time, for Mr. Mulroney this was a statement of the obvious—Canada is at home both in North America and in the wider hemisphere.

So it was really only a logical extension when, in the fall of 1989, Mr. Mulroney announced that, after decades of standing on the sidelines, Canada would seek full membership in the OAS [Organization of American States]. 

Our relationship with the Americas is one of the Canadian government’s key foreign policy priorities, and our engagement in the OAS confirms this.

In recent years, we have increasingly extended our vital continental partnership with the United States and Mexico to pursue common values and interests in the Americas, a region for which my colleague Peter Kent [Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas)] has particular responsibility.

When he visited the region in July 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stressed that “engagement in the Americas is a crucial international priority” for Canada, which was “committed to playing a bigger role in the Americas, for a long time.”

Now, together with our partners in the Americas, we are enhancing regional stability and security by addressing the threats of drugs, organized crime, and health pandemics.

We have also acted quickly, and in a sense of solidarity, when our neighbourhoods and our neighbours have needed us when natural disasters struck, as the recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti have demonstrated.

As a Chilean, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has been personally impacted by the region’s latest natural disaster, and we extend our deepest sympathy to all those who have been affected by this tragic event.

I would also like to extend the Government of Canada’s appreciation to Secretary General Insulza for his leadership in generating and sustaining the support of the hemispheric community following these tragic events.

Over the past few years, Canada has made significant progress with our trade partners in the hemisphere, with a very active free trade agenda.

We have successfully negotiated free trade agreements with Colombia, Peru and Panama and, now under the direction of Peter van Loan [Minister of International Trade], we are conducting negotiations with CARICOM [the Caribbean Community], the Dominican Republic and Central America.

Canada is also engaged with Brazil through the revived Joint Economic and Trade Council, which met in October last year for the first time in a decade.

These efforts will help to build dynamic and growing economies, and promote responsible investments and open markets, in order to create new opportunities and new jobs.

Over the course of our 20 years of membership, we have seen Canadian values reflected in the work of the OAS.

As Canada affirms its values and interests on the international stage, I can assure you that, as Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, I could not hope for a better source of inspiration and model of determination than the man I now present to you.

It was probably not obvious many years ago, at the Chien d’or tavern in the city of Québec, but Irish Quebecers do have an interest in international affairs.

Mr. Mulroney gave Canada a new stature in the family of the Americas.

That achievement was one of several bold initiatives: the FTA and NAFTA, of course, but also a major role in the fight against apartheid in South Africa and in facilitating the reunification of Germany after the end of the Cold War.

Because he stood up for Canada’s interests and values 20 years ago, Canadians can stand proud in the world today.

Thank you.