No. 2011/39 - Ottawa, Ontario - November 15, 2011
Check Against Delivery
I am very pleased to be here with you tonight. We are celebrating the 10 Most Influential Hispanic Canadians for 2011. Congratulations to the Hispanic Business Association for promoting stronger ties between Hispanics in Canada and abroad. Thanks also to the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation for its support.
It will be an honour for us to meet the winners of this year’s awards. These men and women have distinguished themselves in the face of many challenges. There is much we can learn from them!
As we celebrate their accomplishments, we can also reflect on Canada’s continuing engagement in the Americas. These are exciting times for our hemispheric family. We are building relationships, partnerships and friendships that will have long-term benefits for all our people.
As you know, in 2007 Prime Minister Harper detailed his commitment to the Americas, and his vision for the region. It is based on three interdependent themes: prosperity, security and democratic governance.
These truly are interconnected: you cannot have prosperity without security, or without the freedoms and legal protections that come with democratic governance.
In the same way, democratic governance cannot take hold in a climate of persistent poverty and social exclusion, or when personal security is threatened by crime and violence.
Canada’s engagement in the Americas recognizes that partnerships to promote prosperity throughout the hemisphere are in everyone’s interests. Although we are the most northern country in the Americas, the entire region very much matters to us.
Latin America and the Caribbean present significant opportunities in terms of trade and investment. More trade and investment mean more jobs and greater revenue. In turn, tax revenue generates better education, health care and security for all involved.
Canada promotes open doors to trade and responsible investment. Canada promotes corporate social responsibility on the part of our businesses. And open markets with our neighbours are a priority for us.
We have advanced cooperation, free trade and investment through a growing number of bilateral agreements in free trade, foreign investment protection, air services, and science and technology. Such agreements foster the freer exchange of goods, services and human resources.
In fact, Canada now has free trade agreements in force, or pending ratification, with Mexico, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras and Panama. We are pursuing negotiations with CARICOM and the Dominican Republic and are in exploratory talks with Mercosur. All our free trade agreements include parallel agreements on labour and the environment.
This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. A decade following its signature, the Democratic Charter continues to stand as one of the hemisphere’s most remarkable collective achievements. It provides an enduring example of what the countries of this hemisphere can achieve when they work together with a unified purpose—in this case, to strongly acknowledge and further entrench democracy throughout our region.
Canada is working through the Organization of American States and directly with a number of regional and international partners to strengthen democratic governance. For example, we have proposed to strengthen the Democratic Charter through the creation of a compendium of best democratic practices. Sharing with one another the lessons learned in building effective democratic institutions will reinforce hemispheric values, such as freedom, human rights and the rule of law.
We applaud the progress on democratic governance that the hemisphere has witnessed over the past two decades. However, the depth and maturity of democratic governance is not uniform across the region. Weak democratic institutions, combined with poverty and inequality, impede opportunities for progress in some countries, and even threaten stability in the region. Canada is working with other governments and civil society to make all our democracies more effective, transparent, accountable and inclusive.
A citizen’s need for security is an essential enabler of economic prosperity and democracy. Sadly, there is growing insecurity in the Americas. Much of it is tied to the illicit drug trade. Transnational criminal organizations threaten both the economic and the overall well-being of the people of the Americas, including in our own country.
That is why Canada is working with its neighbours to strengthen justice and security institutions. We want to build capacity to prevent and respond to transnational criminal activity. We do this through support for such programs as the Global Peace and Security Fund and the Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building Program.
Canada’s Global Peace and Security Fund has allocated several million dollars to promote peace and security, human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the Americas. Last August, I accompanied Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper as he travelled to Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Honduras. It was an eventful trip with a very warm welcome from our counterparts there. No fewer than 25 results-oriented initiatives were announced. That included nearly $16 million in new projects to partner with governments in the region in their fight against organized crime.
Education also plays an integral role in realizing a safer, more democratic, more prosperous region.
Canada strongly believes in cooperation on education, particularly higher education and technical training. To that end, in 2009 Canada launched a major scholarships program, the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program [ELAP].
Programs such as ELAP foster a new generation of leaders. They also strengthen links between post-secondary institutions in Canada and students throughout the Americas. They provide young people with the chance to develop and maintain bonds of friendship, and these often lead to business partnerships with Canadians. There are more than 29,000 students from across our hemisphere studying each year in Canada, with lots of room for these numbers to grow.
During our visit to Brazil in August, Prime Minister Harper made a key education-oriented announcement. The Governor General of Canada, David Johnston—a distinguished academic in his own right—will be leading a delegation of over 30 Canadian university presidents to Brazil. They will attend the second Conference of the Americas on International Education, which Brazil will host next spring in Rio de Janeiro.
Through our strong bilateral relationships with other countries in the region, through the Organization of American States, and through business and people-to-people networks such as the Canadian Hispanic Business Association, hemispheric ties are growing by leaps and bounds.
Canada’s Hispanic diaspora is strong, at more than 300,000 people, and getting stronger. All over our country, Canadians of Hispanic origin enrich the fabric of Canadian society and contribute to our growth and prosperity.
As Hispanic Canadians, you play a critical role: you are a bridge between Canada and its Hispanic neighbours.
I would like once again to congratulate the recipients of the 10 Most Influential Hispanic Canadians for 2011. It is Canadians like you, and the work you are doing both here in Canada and elsewhere in the Americas, that is helping to build important networks and partnerships between Canada and its neighbours. We are so glad to have the opportunity tonight to recognize and applaud your contribution.