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Canada and the OAS: Looking forward to the next 20 years

Martha Hall Findlay

The 20th anniversary of Canada’s membership in the Organization of American States (OAS) is a time to celebrate the successes of the past 20 years, to reflect on ongoing challenges, and to consider how to make the most of Canada’s relationship with the OAS and its members to tackle those challenges in the years ahead.

Canada joined the OAS as a permanent observer in 1972, and since becoming a full member in 1990 has made important contributions to the organization. Canada strongly supports and actively participates in the work of its various bodies in promoting democracy, human rights, good governance, public security, prosperity and sustainable development.

Canada is the second largest contributor to the OAS, providing approximately C$11.4 million in 2010, that is, 13.7 per cent of the regular budget. In addition, Canadian voluntary contributions are made for various purposes, such as electoral observation missions, judicial and legal reform, mine action programs and crisis assistance.

In looking forward to Canada’s continuing role in the OAS, it is helpful to look back at some key words and principles from the OAS Charter: peace, mutual understanding, respect for sovereignty, betterment of all, independence, equality, law, democracy, the principle of non-intervention, and the promotion of economic, social and cultural development. These principles resonate deeply with Canadians. And thanks to our own history and experience, Canada is extremely well-suited to contribute to these goals with our friends and co-members of the OAS, in our own “Canadian” way.

By far the majority of Canadians are immigrants or are descended from immigrants. Canada now has one of the most diverse populations in the world. More than 100 languages are listed by Canadians not only as being spoken, but also as their “mother tongue.” And yet although such diversity can create conflict elsewhere, in Canada we all get along rather well. Our history of immigration, and our heritage of stable, democratic governance have combined to create, arguably, the most successful pluralistic society in the world.

Much of that is due to our national governing motto of “peace, order and good government.” We believe strongly in the need for every individual to have the opportunity to succeed —we stand, unflinchingly, behind our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But we also believe strongly in citizen responsibility, and in collective responsibility.

Throughout these 20 years we have always been pleased to share our experience, not with a paternalistic attitude, but rather by, as one friend saying to another, “I have found something that works well for me —have a look and see if any of it could be of use to you, too.” And we in turn have welcomed guidance from fellow OAS partners on an array of issues that have proved of great benefit to Canadians. That kind of sharing —both of what works, and what doesn’t— is what friends do.

And how best to share? Through engagement. By opening more windows and doors to each other, rather than putting up walls; through mutual exchange, mutual understanding and mutual benefit; through increased interaction of both governmental and non-governmental organizations. By expanding trade and commerce, yes, but also by expanding our notion of engagement from the basics of trade, to a concept of global networks. By seeking mutual benefit that goes beyond just economics, to a greater form of prosperity that includes peace, individual rights and security, health and opportunity.

The Liberal Party of Canada was proud to work closely with the Colombian government in crafting such an example. Together we produced the groundbreaking Human Rights Reporting Requirement as an integral component of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, marrying the benefits of commerce with the responsibility of social concern.

Looking to the next 20 years, Canada is well-placed to encourage these networks and increase exchange and co-operation among the members of the OAS in areas of: education, research and development; energy, natural resources and sustainability; water; health care and health promotion; food safety and security; culture, entertainment and tourism; and immigration. The opportunities await.

Martha Hall Findlay is Member of Parliament for Willowdale, and Liberal Party Critic for International Trade. She can be contacted at HallFindlay.M@parl.gc.ca.

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