Address by Minister of State Ablonczy to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
April 16, 2013 - Ottawa
Check Against Delivery
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
As you know, I support Minister Baird in two areas: the Americas and consular affairs. I’ll begin with a brief overview of our engagement in the Americas.
Recognizing the importance of our own hemisphere, Prime Minister Harper made the Americas a foreign policy priority for Canada in 2007. Six years on, our engagement in the region is strong and we remain deeply committed to a more prosperous, secure and democratic hemisphere. There have been more than 200 high-level Canadian visits to the region since 2008, with 55 visits this past year alone. Canada is working with its partners to increase economic opportunity, strengthen security and institutions, and foster lasting relationships. We have achieved concrete results in each of these areas.
Increasing Economic Opportunity
The Americas present tremendous opportunities for Canadians. We have more free trade agreements in the Americas than in any other region in the world, and we continue to work hard to further increase trade and investment throughout the region.
Most recently, Canada has gained observer status in the Pacific Alliance, and Canadian companies contributed greatly to Ecuador’s new $600-million world-class Quito International Airport, which I recently helped launch.
This past February, I also had the privilege of announcing the coming into force of Canada’s free trade agreement with Panama—a country that boasts one of the fastest-growing markets in our hemisphere and that serves as a strategic gateway to Latin America. Our trading relationship has increased by 62 percent in less than four years. This agreement plays a key part in our government’s plan to strengthen our relationships in the Americas.
Strengthening Security and Institutions
Increasing economic opportunity, though, requires peace and stability. Security and governance challenges in the Americas pose threats, not only to local residents, but also to Canada.
Canada has been working with its neighbours to jointly address the region’s security challenges, especially in the fight against transnational organized crime and drug trafficking that affects countries including Canada. I was in Costa Rica only a few months ago to underline Canada’s contribution of new equipment—helmets, radios, bulletproof vests, global positioning systems, vehicles and more—to help support Costa Rica’s National Police School. We are making a tangible difference in the lives of people in the region and helping to fight back against criminals. In Guatemala, our support—including state-of-the-art forensic equipment and training—has helped increase the crime resolution rate from 5 percent in 2009 to 30 percent in 2012.
Fostering Lasting Relationships
Building and nurturing relationships with partners in the Americas is the foundation of our engagement. The path to growth across the Americas is based on personal ties and trusted relationships more than in any other part of the world, and I’m proud to say that Canada is very well regarded throughout the region.
My other mandate is consular affairs. Enhancing safety awareness for Canadians abroad is a priority. Canadians love to travel, and so we work to provide them with timely and accurate travel information and high-quality consular services.
In 2012, more than 235,000 consular cases were opened. Most trips go off without a hitch, but even with the best preparations and advice, some Canadians do encounter difficulties.
We work closely with other countries to act quickly and effectively when Canadians are caught in emergencies abroad. I recently concluded a successful consular outreach trip to Asia, a region that hosts hundreds of thousands of Canadian visitors, residents and students each year. There, I met with my counterparts to discuss consular issues.
Finally, I am very pleased to say that the newly relaunched Travel.gc.ca site has received an overwhelmingly positive response from Canadians. Travel.gc.ca is now the single authoritative and comprehensive source for all government-related travel information—from smart packing tips to Canada-U.S. border waiting times, and from travel reports and warnings to health fact sheets and so much more.
This year alone, over 3.15 million Canadians have visited the revamped site—an increase of over 21 percent since 2012. We have increased the number of unique visitors to the website by over 90 percent and boosted the number of visits to the mobile version of the website—our Travel Smart application—by over 100 percent.
As part of our revamped website, we have also streamlined the Registration of Canadians Abroad Service to ensure that more Canadians will sign up and can be contacted by our Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa or by our mission staff, should there be an emergency. Thanks to these new changes, we have boosted the number of registered Canadians by 46 percent since November.
Travel.gc.ca is supported by social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and the Travel Smart mobile app.
The importance of using these new social media channels was brought into sharp relief in the wake of the bombings in Boston earlier this month. Thanks to followers of our Travel.gc.ca Twitter account, the tweets we sent out to the public containing the contact information for our Emergency Watch and Response Centre [EWRC] and our consulate were re-tweeted over 2,400 times. As a result, we were able to amplify the reach of our message to a total of over 2.3 million impressions through Twitter alone. The EWRC went on to respond to more than 500 calls from Canadians seeking information about their friends and loved ones or looking for assistance.
These are key services that are truly able to support Canadians in need. Please spread the word about these tools to your constituents.
As you have seen, our engagement in the Americas is contributing to increasing economic opportunity, strengthening security and institutions, and fostering lasting relationships that will benefit Canadians and our hemispheric neighbours. We are also committed to providing the best possible consular assistance to Canadians who are travelling or living abroad, and to ensuring that they receive the support that they need when challenges and emergencies arise.
Again, I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. Minister Baird and I would be pleased to answer your questions at this time.
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