Address by Minister of State Ablonczy to Council of Caribbean Associations – Canada

August 1, 2012 - Toronto, Ontario

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Thank you for the invitation to join you today. And what great timing—right in the middle of Caribana and just days away from the big parade! This year, as you know, is the 45th anniversary of the colourful celebration.

All Canadians should be very proud of the vibrant Caribbean community we have here in Canada. From jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and heavyweight boxer Lennox Lewis to thinker Malcolm Gladwell and Olympic medallist Jennifer Abel, Canadians of Caribbean descent have enriched all aspects of our culture.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled to Barbados, Haiti and Chile in 2007 to signal our enhanced engagement with the Americas, he delivered much more than just a speech from a visiting politician. Indeed, enhancing two-way ties is a critical international priority for our government—so much so, in fact, that my job, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), was created especially to forge partnerships in matters of economics, security and development throughout the hemisphere.

Prime Minister Harper also travelled to Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in 2009 and made a return visit to Haiti in 2010, further evidence of his great interest in the Americas.

Since my appointment, I too have been fortunate to visit many Caribbean countries. In April of this year, Prime Minister Harper and I met with CARICOM heads of government in Colombia. Later that month, I accompanied the Governor General [David Johnston] on official visits to Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. In May I had the pleasure of travelling to Jamaica, where we celebrated the 50th anniversary of official bilateral relations between our two countries. And I’m on my way back to Kingston this weekend to represent Canada at Jamaica’s 50th official commemoration of independence.

It is through these extensive travels and many meetings in the Caribbean region, and here at home, that I gain a deeper understanding of the special relationships between Canada and Caribbean countries. I believe this understanding is essential to reinforcing and strengthening the ties between Canada and our Caribbean neighbours.

For example, in my travels, I regularly meet with members of the Canadian business community. They share with me their experiences and successes in doing business in the Caribbean region. The strong private sector ties between Canada and the region are clearly contributing to economic opportunity in both Canada and the Caribbean.

Indeed, Latin America and the Caribbean is an economically dynamic region that presents significant and sustainable trade and investment opportunities. And let me tell you, we are leveraging these opportunities in everyone’s best interests. For example:

  • Canada’s total trade with the region increased by more than 40 percent since 2006;
  • we have concluded seven free trade agreements with countries in our hemisphere. That’s more than with the rest of the world combined; and
  • we are also involved in ongoing free trade negotiations with CARICOM.

Education is another essential component in building lasting ties across all sectors. Canada strongly believes in cooperation in education, particularly in higher education and technical training. We feel so strongly, in fact, that in 2009 our government launched a major scholarship initiative called the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program. Efforts like this provide young people with the chance to develop important person-to-person ties, which can often lead to business partnerships and other initiatives.

Such education initiatives also strengthen the links between post-secondary institutions in Canada and students throughout the Americas. Did you know that more than 29,000 students from across our hemisphere study each year in Canada? And with the launch of your own scholarship program, I can tell that the Council of Caribbean Associations – Canada believes just as strongly in the importance of education and cooperation.

We know, however, that to increase economic opportunity and educational ties requires peace and stability. The illicit drug trade and associated violence in the Americas, including in the Caribbean, threaten security and good governance and make it difficult to maintain an environment where trade and investment can flourish and lead to economic growth. To combat this problem head on, our government has invested over $2 billion in the region to address insecurity and advance freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This has included training and mentoring thousands of police, military and justice officials in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as investments to upgrade national emergency operations centres in 12 Caribbean states.

Canada’s Caribbean diaspora is over half a million strong, and growing. Across our country, Canadians of Caribbean origin participate in all aspects of society and contribute to our growth and prosperity. Thanks to these Canadians, wealth, knowledge, culture and tradition flow back and forth between Canada and the region.

As members of the Council of Caribbean Associations – Canada, you play a critical role in this: you are a bridge between Canada and its Caribbean neighbours. The work you are doing is building important networks. It is forging partnerships. And it is helping increase success and prosperity for all.

Thank you.