Address by Minister of State Kent at University of the West Indies

No. 2010/81 - Bridgetown, Barbados - September 15, 2010

Check Against Delivery

It’s a great pleasure to be back in Barbados, one of Canada’s key partners in the Caribbean.

Our relationship is based on our shared reverence for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Through our common British heritage, we share a language, legal system and democratic institutions. We have a trading relationship dating back to the early colonial days, when ships laden with Barbadian sugar and rum passed those carrying Canadian lumber and salt cod.

We both took the peaceful path to independence. We are both proud members of the Commonwealth. We are both deeply committed to diversity and pluralism.

And, of course, there are the thousands of Canadians and Barbadians with family ties to the other country.

In short, Canada and Barbados’s relationship is long-standing, deep and growing.

Before I begin this evening, I’d like to thank the University of the West Indies for its very kind invitation.

It’s a great honour to have been invited to speak at the region’s premier university.

I’d like to provide you with an overview of Canada’s engagement in the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas.

Launched by our country’s prime minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, in 2007, the reinvigoration of Canada’s historic ties with its partners throughout the hemisphere is a key foreign-policy priority of our government.

The Prime Minister’s commitment is of particular interest to the Caribbean, and includes negotiating a trade agreement with CARICOM [the Caribbean Community] and providing $600 million in bilateral development assistance, effectively doubling Canada’s bilateral aid program for the region.

We are very pleased with the progress thus far regarding the trade agreement.

Our vision for the Americas is based on three connected and mutually reinforcing pillars: strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance, building a safe and secure hemisphere, and enhancing prosperity.

It is a fact that there cannot be greater prosperity without security and without the freedoms and legal protections that result from democratic governance.

In the same way, democratic governance cannot flourish in an environment of grinding poverty and social exclusion, or when security is threatened by crime and violence.

This year, Canada celebrated its 20th anniversary as a full member of the Organization of American States [OAS], an institution we see as the primary political forum in which to address hemispheric challenges.

Strengthening the capacity of the OAS to support democracy is an area Canada thinks the CARICOM member states can play an important role in.

Owing to your historic commitment to human rights and your strong democratic institutions, the Caribbean has a wealth of knowledge and experience it can bring to playing such a role.

For our part, Canada, in partnership with like-minded countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, has been a leading proponent of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

We have also supported the efforts of the OAS to promote democracy, including its electoral observation missions in such countries as Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Suriname.

I would also note that Canada welcomes OAS-CARICOM collaboration in fielding a joint long-term electoral observation mission to Haiti to monitor the November 28 national elections, a mission led by CARICOM Assistant Secretary General Colin Granderson. This is an important example of OAS-CARICOM cooperation.

Just two weeks ago, representatives of political parties in the region met in Jamaica, at the invitation of the OAS, as part of a consultation on strengthening political parties and on the sometimes contentious issue of campaign financing.

Next month, representatives from Barbados—at the invitation of the OAS and the Association of Caribbean Electoral Organizations—will convene a workshop on the issue of electoral boundaries that will include participants from CARICOM and Elections Canada.

Canada also provides assistance to non-governmental partners in the region. By doing so, we support local efforts to strengthen citizen participation and help maintain a strong and vibrant civil society, free and open media outlets, and research networks focused on democracy issues in the region.

With regard to security, Canada’s main objective is to enhance regional stability by addressing threats posed by drug trafficking, organized crime, health pandemics and natural disasters.

Our efforts are focused on Central America and the Caribbean, two areas where criminal activity has significant links to Canada, and where security has deteriorated considerably in recent years.

Sadly, we were all reminded of the changing public safety situation—even here in Barbados where, as you all know, six people were killed in a fire set as part of a robbery.

Canada enjoys a strong cooperative relationship with Barbados in matters of state security, narco-trafficking and defence.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Department of National Defence and Correctional Service Canada have provided technical assistance to Barbados, and Canada has made a key contribution to the strategic reappraisal of the Eastern Caribbean’s Regional Security System [RSS].

As well, Barbados has benefited from Canada’s Military Training Cooperation Program since its inception in the 1970s.

The current and former chiefs of staff of the Barbados Defence Force are graduates of Canadian-supported military staff training colleges.

Last year, we launched the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, through which we are providing up to $15 million per year to projects that seek to strengthen the capacity to address illicit drugs, corruption, human trafficking and migrant smuggling, money laundering, security-system reform and crime prevention.

Canada is increasingly concerned about the destabilizing effects of cocaine routes from South America, many of which pass through the Caribbean.

So, too, are we worried about the potential for partnerships between transnational organized crime and terrorist organizations, as the drug trade continues to expand to West Africa and the Sahel.

During an extended outreach session with leaders from Africa and Colombia, Haiti and Jamaica at this year’s G-8 Summit in Canada, we discussed these concerns, and agreed to act together to tackle these problems.

One of the very first projects implemented under the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program is in partnership with and at the request of the Regional Security System, headquartered in Barbados.

Training experts from the RCMP, together with the RSS, have toured the Eastern Caribbean and have met with police forces.

The objective is to develop a proposal for a common training curriculum, helping to build capacity to face today’s challenges.

Our commitment to this region was demonstrated by our rapid and comprehensive response to the earthquake in Haiti.

On January 25, to facilitate international coordination of a response to the crisis, Canada hosted the Montreal Ministerial Preparatory Conference on Haiti, where consensus was achieved on a set of key principles that are guiding international efforts.

During the subsequent pledging conference held in New York City, Canada confirmed its long-term commitment to Haiti and announced a contribution of $400 million for humanitarian and reconstruction programs there.

Canada is committed to supporting Haiti for the long term.

We are well aware of the efforts of the Caribbean Community, and Barbados in particular, after the earthquake in Haiti.

Sustained engagement by CARICOM and the international community in Haiti is key to the long-term reconstruction of the devastated country, and is crucial for regional security and stability.

The Canadian International Development Agency has financially supported the strengthening of disaster management programs in the region, including the Comprehensive Disaster Management Program and the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility.

Canadian interests in the economic prosperity of the region and Barbados are historic, important and growing.

This history is evidenced by the very visible presence of the banking and financial services sector.

Barbados is the third-largest single destination for Canadian foreign direct investment.

Under the prosperity pillar of our Americas Strategy, Canada has worked hard to encourage free trade throughout the global economic crisis and continues to do so as economies around the world recover.

At the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, the countries of this hemisphere collectively rejected calls for isolationist policies and recommitted to open markets.

For Canada, the commitment to further trade liberalization is a key component of our engagement in the region.

Over the past few years, we have signed free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama.

We are also negotiating trade agreements with the Caribbean Community, the Dominican Republic and the Central American Four countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Canada has been pleased with the progress made at the Canada-CARICOM trade agreement negotiations thus far.

We are encouraged that CARICOM is undertaking consultations with a view to developing specific negotiating texts and proposals.

We understand the region’s capacity constraints and the vulnerabilities of small island states.

These will be taken into account throughout the negotiating process.

Indeed, our development assistance program focuses on promoting sustainable economic growth and includes support to strengthen the management of public finances, to enable youth to acquire skills for employment and to enhance the competiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Before I finish, I would like to speak about education, which, as we all know, is inextricably linked to prosperity.

Canada is committed to fostering education and leadership in the region.

Indeed, two Canadian scholarship programs, the Canada-CARICOM Leadership Scholarships Program and the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program, provide short-term opportunities for students from CARICOM to study or carry out research in colleges and universities across Canada.

In addition, Canada has followed through with its commitment to increase flexibility in scholarship programming in CARICOM by adding a two-semester option for undergraduates, a split-site award, a virtual university for students unable to travel to Canada and a pilot program for faculty wishing to upgrade their credentials.

The full suite of Canada-CARICOM scholarships is now available. And I’m happy to note that in 2010-11, students and faculty from Barbados and Saint Lucia are participating in each of the components, and the two islands have received a combined total of 46 scholarships.

It also gives me great pleasure to note that we are now meeting all of our scholarship targets in the region and have awarded a record 157 scholarships to the CARICOM in 2010-2011, with the University of the West Indies as the largest beneficiary.

These scholarships are designed to help develop human capacity and institutional linkages so that the Caribbean’s leaders of tomorrow, and the region’s educational institutions, are well placed to make continued contributions to their societies.

As I said when I began, Canada’s Americas Strategy incorporates three connected and mutually reinforcing pillars: strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance, building a safe and secure hemisphere, and enhancing the prosperity of citizens.

Canada looks forward to continuing to work with our partners throughout the hemisphere who share our values and want to work toward the same goals.

I believe that the countries of the Caribbean share these values and goals.

By working strategically with like-minded partners such as Barbados, we believe we can build a stronger, safer, more democratic and more prosperous hemisphere.

Thank you.