Address by Minister Valcourt at a Breakfast with Group of Heads of Francophone Diplomatic Missions Accredited to Ottawa

No. 2011/37 - Ottawa, Ontario - November 14, 2011

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Mr. Zeller, Ambassador of France to Canada, Mr. Wone, Ambassador of the Republic of Senegal and President of the Group of Heads of Francophone Diplomatic Missions Accredited to Ottawa, ambassadors, high commissioners, chargé d’affaires and distinguished guests:

I would like to begin by thanking Ambassador Zeller for his warm welcome, and Ambassador Wone for inviting me to meet and get to know you, and to have the opportunity to share with you the main focus of my mission and program as the Canadian government’s minister of state for La Francophonie.

First, let me congratulate all of you for this 2009 initiative—which has resulted in the creation of this Group of Heads of Francophone Diplomatic Missions Accredited to Ottawa—because it enhances cooperation between the member states of La Francophonie, and allows them to form solid ties within Ottawa’s diplomatic community.

Today’s meeting not only gives me the opportunity to meet you, but also to discuss with you my plans regarding Canada’s involvement in La Francophonie, a responsibility entrusted to me by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and to share with you Canada’s priorities in terms of international Francophonie.

This meeting is even more timely given the important upcoming meeting for the International Organisation of La Francophonie, namely, the ministerial conference that will take place on December 1 and 2, 2011, in Paris.

In addition, the very first French Language World Forum will take place in the city of Québec a few months later. It will be a new opportunity to celebrate our language and the cultural diversity of all the countries that use French as a common language, through broad participation in the forum, and in particular, Francophone youth. I hope you will all be there.

Today’s meeting also gives me the opportunity to state how proud we are in Canada to be a part of La Francophonie.

You may be aware that I am a native of New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province, and that I represent one of its ridings in the House of Commons. I am a product of the Acadie des Terres et Forêts region, which will host the World Acadian Congress in 2014—an event I invite you all to participate in.

In fact, perhaps you should consider holding one of your group’s official meetings there during the Congress.

Mr. Zeller has told me that you have accepted an invitation from officials in New Brunswick, and that your group is travelling to Fredericton tomorrow.

In Fredericton, you will find a government that is concerned about respecting the rights of its Francophone minority and promoting the social, economic and cultural vitality of Acadians and Francophones, all while addressing New Brunswick’s current fiscal, financial and demographic challenges.

The key issue for New Brunswick is creating jobs and wealth to balance its budget and eliminate a deficit that threatens its ability to provide its citizens with essential services such as health, education and security.

You have no doubt surmised that the key elements of my mission and program are part of our government’s foreign policy, and are also inspired and informed by my experience as a member of a minority language community.

In Canada, as I mentioned earlier, we are proud to belong to La Francophonie.

Through the hard work and ongoing commitment of our linguistic communities, particularly those in a minority situation, we have ensured that our francophone identity is well known throughout the world.

We believe that, in order to demonstrate its added value, La Francophonie must continually renew itself.

It must not only stay abreast of modern challenges and respond to them in a concerted, effective and powerful manner, but also realize and clearly express the shared values.

One of the major challenges of our time is the state of the world economy.

Indeed, the global economy is experiencing the worst financial crisis and recession since the 1930s: banks have been ruined, currencies have collapsed and governments have been shaken.

In Canada, we took rapid and effective measures to stimulate our economy, but it is critical that we continue to create more opportunities for the economic development of our communities, particularly with our partners to the South.

For Canada, global economic stability and development will occur by continuously forging new economic and trade ties.

Canada and the European Union are in the process of negotiating a trade and investment enhancement agreement.

We are currently negotiating foreign investment promotion and protection agreements with some of La Francophonie’s member states, including Vietnam, Mali and Tunisia.

We have begun negotiations with Morocco for a free trade agreement.

These are just a few examples of Canada’s willingness to work more closely with its partners in La Francophonie in order to develop the economic potential of those ties.

From a practical perspective, I also believe that we should determine whether we could add an economic dimension to our participation in La Francophonie. Benificiaries could be those who create employment for francophone Canadians. I intend to explore this possibility.

In fact, I think it is important that we take every possible opportunity to help the francophone communities of the world create ties and to use La Francophonie as a springboard for their initiatives.

I am thinking, for example, of the promotion of their region as a tourist or investment destination, or to promote their goods and services in member countries.

I feel the OIF should consider promoting this focus. It is one I plan to recommend. 

Modernizing the organization is also a priority for Canada.

That is why we are looking forward to continuing to work with our partners in La Francophonie to consolidate political action throughout the world, particularly in member states that are currently coming out of a crisis, are in transition or are at a crucial stage in their democratic evolution.

We will also enter into a dialogue with our partners on the very important issue of religious freedom, which is essential to the development of free and democratic societies.

In addition, we believe that the next Francophonie summit in Kinshasa will be an ideal opportunity to strengthen dialogue with Congolese authorities about their efforts to ensure political stability and security in their country.

The Congolese government must continue to progress toward the respect of human rights, and it must ensure that crimes against people, particularly against women, do not go unpunished.

We will be watching with great interest the Congolese presidential and legislative elections at the end of this month.

As you know, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird attended the Commonwealth Summit in Perth, Australia, in October. During that trip, Prime Minister Harper made a statement that I feel clearly defines Canada’s position.

He encouraged the Commonwealth to defend fundamental values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Canada also joined the Ministerial Action Group once again. We intend to use our member status to vigorously defend democratic values.

Canada cannot be accommodating just to avoid making waves. The positions we will defend will be based on principles and justice, regardless of whether or not they are popular, easy or convenient.

We believe that La Francophonie must continue to be inspired by these messages to ensure the prosperity and stability of its member states, in addition to adding to its value through renewal.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Secretary General of La Francophonie, Abdou Diouf, for his activities and actions in this regard.

Ladies and gentlemen, once again, congratulations on your work as part of the Group of Francophone Heads of Missions Accredited to Ottawa. You can count on the full support of my team and me for your work and your upcoming initiatives.

Thank you.