December 1, 2016

?

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
LIB

Anthony Rota

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota)

It is not very often I get complaints from one side or the other because their side is screaming loudly. I want to remind the hon. members that there is a process. The hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock stood up, she was recognized, and it is her turn to speak.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
CPC

Dianne Lynn Watts

Conservative

Ms. Dianne L. Watts

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his overview of trade relations, tourism, red tape, and all of the things that go on with the mining company. However, this motion is about the comments the Prime Minister made on behalf of Canadians on the death of Fidel Castro.

Does the member feel that the Prime Minister's official comments accurately reflect the sentiments of the Canadian people?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
LIB

David Graham

Liberal

Mr. David de Burgh Graham

Mr. Speaker, leave it to the Conservatives to filibuster themselves. It is always entertaining.

The member is completely missed what I said. The Conservative prime minister talked about how he joined the people of Saudi Arabia in mourning the passing of King Abdullah. I can assure the member that not everybody in Saudi Arabia felt the same way. Not everybody in Canada felt the same way. However, that is the appropriate thing for a prime minister to say, whether it is theirs or ours, when a foreign leader passes away, regardless of what is going on.

It is very important that we respect our foreign leaders and their own systems. We do not interfere with how other governments run themselves. That is not our position. Our position is to help the people as best we can.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
NDP

Christine Moore

New Democratic Party

Ms. Christine Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question.

He mentioned the possibility of the United States easing the embargo on Cuba several times in his speech. Unfortunately, he failed to mention that the United States just had an election and that the new president-elect, Donald Trump, seems to have no intention of improving relations with Cuba and lifting the embargo, far from it.

What does my colleague think about that? What could Canada possibly do to help? Does he realize that, under the new President of the United States, an end to the American embargo on Cuba is far from guaranteed?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
LIB

David Graham

Liberal

Mr. David de Burgh Graham

Mr. Speaker, there are obviously many questions about how things will play out in the United States over the next few years. We do not know yet.

As Canadians, our job is to engage with the people of Cuba and to work with them to help as much as we can. We have always done that, ever since the Cuban missile crisis, which lasted 13 days.

I do not know what the Americans will do. Our job is to do what is best for Canada and Cuba.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
LIB

Peter Fragiskatos

Liberal

Mr. Peter Fragiskatos (London North Centre, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I was quite intrigued by my hon. colleague's speech. I would like to put a question back to him.

If we are looking at administrations that have reached out to the Cuban regime and have had a very positive relationship, the Mulroney administration stands out. Under Mr. Mulroney's leadership, relations between Canada and Cuba were quite cordial. In fact, in 1985, Mr. Mulroney enacted the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act. This legislation has been called unprecedented because it made it illegal for firms operating in Canada to comply with any U.S. attempts to destabilize the Castro regime.

This is going much further than this government has done to engage with Cuba. Did my hon. colleague know that and has he any thoughts on it?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
LIB

David Graham

Liberal

Mr. David de Burgh Graham

Mr. Speaker, it really hearkens back to when the Conservatives dropped the word “progressive” from the party name, they dropped all essence of progress. This is very good evidence of that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
CPC

Peter Van Loan

Conservative

Hon. Peter Van Loan (York—Simcoe, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mégantic—L’Érable.

It was just a few days ago that I was looking down at my BlackBerry, saw a message and read it. It said, “It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President”. I was stunned and wondered how he had done that. I quickly forwarded it to my wife with the same comment.

It was a very odd point of departure for the Prime Minister that his description and praise for Cuba's late president was that he was Cuba's longest-serving president. The answer to the question of how he did that is clear. He was a communist dictator and he did it using the pages out of the textbooks of his great teachers: Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and the succession of Kims in North Korea.

What was that textbook? That textbook was very simple: the complete extinguishment of democracy, the suppression of freedom of expression and freedom of speech, the shutting down of any different political parties, the use of imprisonment, executions, and the complete suppression of human rights. That is how he became Cuba's longest-serving president.

It was a very odd point of departure. The rest of the statement from Canada's Prime Minister went on in a similarly shameful fashion. I think it was not just embarrassing to Canadians but actually made Canada into a global laughing stock. The world has figured out what communism and communist dictators are all about. World leaders everywhere have figured that out, save but one. It is so self-evident that it is not a matter of outrage, it is a matter of laughing at Canada and Canada's leadership that clearly is simply not ready to assume serious responsibilities in a serious, difficult, and challenging globe.

I like to think of Canada as being a country that has established moral leadership. Certainly in the time the Conservatives were in government it did. It has been done through world wars. It has done it through refusing to recognize the annexation, for example, of the Baltic states, which I will get to later. It stood with Ukraine as it sought to achieve its freedom. It took sanctions against Russia as it threatened the successors of Ukraine, led by a KGB leadership, and annexed parts of Ukraine. We showed clear moral leadership and an understanding of what was right and wrong on human rights. Canada has lost that moral leadership and the world is laughing at us as a result.

Fidel Castro was able to maintain his position largely with the support of the Soviet Union, the USSR. His textbook for taking power in that Cuban revolution identically followed that of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. It started with a broad-based coalition that was a revolution against a government that was generally not supported by the people. However, once getting control, it began to target and eliminate any competing political leadership, executing them, extinguishing them, consolidating that power, and abandoning any of the promises made before the revolution of democracy, freedom, and even what one might call social democracy, as we would think of it in the west. That is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union. That is exactly what happened under Castro's leadership in Cuba.

In the Soviet case, it went on to expand after that, through World War II and beyond, that Soviet empire, exporting its particular brand of repression of human rights and suppression of freedom. Cuba was part of that frontier. It almost reached its apogee by bringing the world on the verge of world war III with the Cuban missile crisis, another one of Castro's great contributions. Talk to anybody who was young at the time. The fear was palpable.

It was Castro who brought this world closest to global nuclear annihilation with his reckless actions in the Cuban missile crisis, when John F. Kennedy, the American president, had the fortitude and clear moral thinking to understand that it had to be stood up to. The Kennedy type of thinking is apparently lacking in our current Prime Minister.

I know something about this, because my family lived some of the experience. My background is Estonian, and those who know Estonia know that it gained its independence during World War I. With the coming of World War II and the Nazi-Soviet pact, the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact, they carved up eastern Europe, and Hitler agreed with Stalin that the Soviets would get the Baltic states. The tanks rolled in. The occupiers rolled in. Initially, the occupation was not gentle, and freedom was entirely suppressed within the Baltic states, but there was a pretence that it was a popular revolution and that it was democratic.

My family was in a special circumstance. My grandfather was an agronomist, an agricultural economist, for one of the counties in a largely agricultural society. Those people were seen as community leaders. When the Soviets put together a phoney drummed-up election, all the Estonian parties got together and selected the most august and clear moral leaders to be their candidates in the election. My grandfather foolishly took on the task of being one of the candidates. On election night, a few hours before the polls closed, a contingent of 30 or 40 Red Army soldiers came up the farm path to the door and told my grandfather that they were there to accept his concession of defeat. My grandfather was a fairly strong-willed, principled man and foolishly said, “You will not decide. The people will decide”. My grandmother was a bit more pragmatic. The soldiers said that they would wait for him at the end of the driveway and would be back after he thought about it a bit. In the intervening period, my mother, my grandmother, and my grandfather, with the help of some of the hired hands on the farm, fled into the woods. It was one of many times my grandfather would be in flight.

Shortly thereafter, the Germans occupied the country. Then the Soviets came back, and much of my family was extinguished either in Siberian concentration camps or by execution by the Soviets, or otherwise.

I grew up learning these stories and understanding that freedom and democracy and human rights are fragile and easily lost. They are lost at the hands of people like communist dictators like Stalin and like Castro and the revolution that was supported by the Soviets.

Raised on that, I became interested and involved in politics. As a young child, I was a champion, believe it or not, of a guy named Pierre Trudeau. I was not a normal child. I was interested in politics. Pierre Trudeau said he stood for freedom, democracy, and human rights. Shortly thereafter, I saw him parading around on Parliament Hill and elsewhere with figures like Kosygin and Brezhnev, the people who were imprisoning what was left of my family in the Soviet Union, essentially imprisoning them in their homes and depriving them of all freedoms, and their colleague Castro, with whom that friendship was so strong.

By the age of nine, the wisdom of age was upon me, and I ceased to be a Liberal. I understood that the commitment to freedom, that principal commitment, could not coexist with that kind of affection and love of communist dictators in that day and age. I knew there was one party that was truly committed to freedom, and that is why I became a Conservative.

My family was horrified. Why? It took a few years after I became involved in politics, but my grandmother finally explained to me why. She said that after the communists took power, the very first thing they did was get the party membership lists, and those were the people they went after.

In the case of my grandmother and grandfather, she was a lawyer in the 1920s and he was an agronomist. They were natural community leaders. They only fled for their freedom when they were given the heads-up that they were on the list to be sent on the trains to Siberia the next day. That is when they fled.

This is what communist dictatorship is about. I could give the House many more graphic stories that I grew up on.

The driving force for me to get into politics was the belief that freedom and democracy are fragile and easily lost and that we must fight to preserve them. We must also fight to preserve the memory of those who have suffered from the loss of it. We have to fight to preserve the memory the way we do so well with the Holocaust and the Nazi horrors, for example, so that the world does not repeat them.

We are not well served by people who lack the moral leadership to call communist dictators what they are. We need not celebrate their death to describe what they are and to recognize that there are some people who are not worthy of the kind of praise we heard.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
LIB

Anthony Housefather

Liberal

Mr. Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, a dictator is a dictator is a dictator, whether communist or not. Let me be clear. For me, Fidel Castro was a dictator. Fidel Castro was a loathsome individual who ruined the lives of many, many people and was a human rights abuser. Fidel Castro was not a good man. I want to be clear.

King Abdullah was also a human rights abuser. King Abdullah was also not a good man. He also ruined the lives of many, many thousands of people.

Personally, I would agree with sections (b) and (c) of the motion. If sections (b) and (c) of the motion were there and section (a) was deleted in reference to the Prime Minister's statement, I would vote in favour of the motion, because I believe in condemning the human rights abuses in Cuba, and I believe in saying that we want the Cuban people to have a better future.

However, I would like to ask the hon. member, given that the statement the Prime Minister made was very similar to the statement Stephen Harper made about King Abdullah, why he feels it necessary to condemn the statement of the current prime minister when he did not condemn Stephen Harper's statement on King Abdullah.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
CPC

Peter Van Loan

Conservative

Hon. Peter Van Loan

Mr. Speaker, there is a considerable difference in tone between the two statements. The tone of Mr. Harper on the matter of King Abdullah was very restrained. There was no gushing about great friendship. There was no suggestion that the people of Saudi Arabia celebrate him as their el Comandante. There was none of that. There was a very restrained focus on the things Saudi Arabia has done positively in co-operation with Canada in trying to preserve peace in the Middle East. That is a critically important thing.

We know that former Prime Minister Harper, as a great defender of the State of Israel, recognized the importance and role of Saudi Arabia as a stabilizing force, albeit far from perfect. He put particular emphasis in his statement on the reforming aspects, the willingness to change, in Saudi Arabia as a form of encouragement of that change. That is very different from a gushing, positive statement.

I thank the hon. member for the words he said about Fidel Castro. I only wish his leader had the same kind of courage to say the same kinds of words.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Sherbrooke, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I complete disagree with my colleague regarding his answer to the question from the member for Mount Royal.

The people promoting change in Saudi Arabia are in prison. One of them is Raif Badawi, the husband of a woman from my riding, Sherbrooke. She asked the Conservative government a long time ago to act and to speak on his behalf.

My colleague is way off base when he says that change will soon be coming to Saudi Arabia. Those calling for change in that country, including on the Internet, are imprisoned and flogged.

When my colleague was a cabinet minister in the previous government, the Governor General went to Saudi Arabia, at a cost of $175,000, to celebrate the life of an authoritarian ruler. I wonder if my colleague approves of this expense.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
CPC

Peter Van Loan

Conservative

Hon. Peter Van Loan

Mr. Speaker, I did not say that Saudi Arabia has been dramatically reformed. I said that there have been indications of gestures of moving in that direction. I think it is to be encouraged. We should all encourage that. We should also encourage any stabilizing element Saudi Arabia can be in the Middle East. God knows, we need allies and help to encourage peace and stability in that part of the world.

The issue here is not that. The issue is, of course, Fidel Castro. That is what the motion is about. In my view, what we saw from the communist regime in Cuba has not been any kind of significant liberalization. It has taken some baby steps out of economic necessity only recently as it lost economic support first from the Soviet Union and later from Venezuela, which has been its patron historically. Even those baby steps have been essentially stopped.

It is positive that we are encouraging those baby steps. Our government was part of encouraging those baby steps, as people know, including the effort to open relations between Cuba and the United States. That was a positive step. However, at the same time, it has to be done with an ongoing, continued moral clarity where we do not shut up and stop talking about human rights simply because we are trying to encourage progress in another area. We have to understand that progress is about encouraging human rights.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
CPC

Luc Berthold

Conservative

Mr. Luc Berthold (Mégantic—L'Érable, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I applaud my colleague's remarks. He clearly has plenty of experience both personal and in cabinet. We should all draw on that experience as we reflect and consider the consequences of our words.

I also want to salute my colleague from Mount Royal, who spoke courageously. This is not the first time my colleague has told it like it is in the House, possibly at some risk to himself. I do not know how things work in his caucus, but it was courageous of him to admit the truth about Fidel Castro a few minutes ago. It was also courageous of him to say that he is prepared to support these two of our motion's three paragraphs:

(b) recognize the past atrocities and repression borne by the Cuban people under the rule of Fidel Castro, including his long and oppressive regime of imprisoning critics and reported beatings during arrest, restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, and the suffering and restrictions placed on the press, minorities, and the democratic process, including the LGBT community; and (c) express its hope and full support for the people of Cuba, that they may now begin to see freedom and a commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, in order to ensure a brighter and better future for the Cuban people now and for generations to come.

Our colleague across the aisle is prepared to support those two paragraphs. I can understand how cabinet solidarity would make it impossible for him to support the first paragraph about rejecting the comments made by the Prime Minister on November 26, 2016. I think he would like to, personally. Regardless, maybe he wishes he could suggest other words that the Prime Minister might want to add to the statement that resulted in our debating this important matter in Parliament today.

What I am about to do is rare, but I am going to give the Prime Minister credit for his statement, as it has resulted in the House today debating human rights. Today, certainly, we can remind people what the Castro regime was like, how the people of Cuba suffered all those years under that dictator, all because the Prime Minister recklessly praised the Castro regime in a statement that was very offensive to Canadians and to the international community. When we hear what other world leaders said and we add the Prime Minister to the list of other dictators who praised the Castro regime, we can see this statement was shameful.

When we go back to our ridings, during the holidays or for the weekend, or when we attend events, particularly over Christmas, people rarely come up to us to talk about federal issues or about what is happening in Ottawa. However, on the weekend, even though I understand why, I was astounded that people talked to me about the Prime Minister’s statement on Fidel Castro. They spoke about his attitude, the international reaction and the tweets literally mocking the Prime Minister. It is unfortunately because, whether we like it or not, the Prime Minister is the prime minister of all Canadians, and when the Prime Minister is made fun of, the whole country is being made fun of at the same time. The whole country bears the brunt of it. I took it personally.

However, it would not have taken much at all. All the Prime Minister had to do was acknowledge in his statement that the Castro regime was the regime of a dictator who oppressed his people all those years. We cannot get good results by doing bad things. That is what is most unfortunate. History is full of episodes where people wanted to do good, but unfortunately for their own good, not for the good of their fellow citizens.

I was also astounded, not by the comments made by my colleague from Mount Royal, but by the speech made by my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle, a speech that focused only on trade.

I think it is a shame that in their successive speeches, my Liberal colleagues keep making the same mistake that the Prime Minister made in his initial statement.

In his speech, the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle did not say a single word about the Castro regime. He only spoke about trade relations between Canada and Cuba. He did not say a single word acknowledging that Mr. Castro was a dictator. He did not say a single word in favour of the Cuban people, freedom of expression, and people who have the right to speak but could not do so. He did not say a single word about that.

In fact, the only negative thing he had to say during his speech was against the big bad Americans and their embargo on Cuba.

Sometimes we have to say things that make us uncomfortable. Unfortunately, instead of being straight, the members across the way prefer to sweep this under the rug and focus on other comments or allegations in order to avoid facing reality.

I do not want to reach too far back, but people have done this throughout the course of history. People prefer to ignore what is happening. People prefer to sweep things under the rug because it does not concern them and it happened outside the country. We will nevertheless continue to do business there because it pays. Entire nations have suffered. The Cuban people continue to suffer greatly even today.

Canada and Cuba have a significant trade relationship. In some way, it is normal for our country to want to help improve Cuba's situation. We want the Cuban people to be better off. We want to contribute to their well-being. However, that is not done by making a dictator wealthy. Things must be done right, and the first step is to recognize that.

The Liberals have been saying from the beginning that this is a partisan debate. The reactions from the left since the death of Mr. Castro are hard to believe. They only point to the good aspects of the Castro regime. They spoke about education and health, something I will come back to in a little while, but they mention no reports from left-leaning organizations.

I have here the January 2014 report by Human Rights Watch. If I remember correctly, Mr. Castro was still the dictator and president of Cuba in 2014. The report states:

Nevertheless, the Cuban government continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Officials employ a range of tactics to punish dissent and instill fear in the public, including beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employment, and threats of long-term imprisonment. Short-term arbitrary arrests have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely.

The situation is clear. Human Rights Watch is not some right-wing or partisan organization, and yet even Human Rights Watch recognizes that Cuba is ruled by a dictatorship.

For the past week, I have been hearing the highest praise for the Castro regime's education system. Let us look back at some history. The first thing dictators do is something called indoctrination. What do dictators do to ensure that the people think like them and accept their decisions as dictators? They try to convince their subjects, from a very early age, that what they are doing is fair.

At a previous time in history, as my colleague has mentioned, this group was called the Hitler Youth. Young people are indoctrinated very early on, so dictators take control of the education system to ensure that they have regime supporters and propaganda agents going forward. That is what happened in Cuba. No one believes that everyone was educated with the simple goal of educating everyone. The dictatorship absolutely had to convince young people, or indoctrinate them, so they would believe that its way was the right way. That is what happened there.

I would now like to talk about health care. Of course they wanted to train doctors, so that they could do many things. In any case, no one earns a salary. Fairness and balance did not exist in Cuba. One person decided where the balance was. When one person decides where the balance lies, that is a dictatorship. That is why we are asking the members to support the motion, and that is why Canadians need to know what really happened in Cuba. That is also why we must denounce the Prime Minister's comments.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
LIB

Peter Fragiskatos

Liberal

Mr. Peter Fragiskatos (London North Centre, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, no one on this side of the House is denying that there are serious human rights issues in Cuba. That is why our Prime Minister raised this in meetings. We can do that when we engage.

I want to ask my hon. friend, if he is so offended with what is going on in Cuba, why was it that his party in fact, under Mr. Mulroney, had very cordial relations, very warm relations with the Cuban regime, the Castro regime?

Jean-Paul Hubert, Canada's first representative to the Organization of American States, appointed by Mr. Mulroney, called for Cuba to be reinstated into the organization in 1990.

In 1985, Mr. Mulroney enacted an unprecedented piece of legislation called the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act. It was unprecedented because it made it illegal for firms operating in Canada to comply with any U.S. attempts to destabilize the Castro regime.

Again, this all came under a Conservative administration.

I want to ask my colleague what his thoughts are on this matter.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
CPC

Luc Berthold

Conservative

Mr. Luc Berthold

Mr. Speaker, what kind of orders were my colleagues given that they are refusing to admit that Fidel Castro was a dictator and that their Prime Minister made a mistake by praising him and calling him a remarkable leader?

When we say that someone is remarkable, it is because we want to hold them up as an example. However, Fidel Castro will never be an example for Cubans or Canadians.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Sherbrooke, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask my colleague a question because I was surprised that he criticized the member for Laurentides—Labelle for focusing too much on the economy and trade with Cuba and not saying enough about human rights and the dictatorial regime. I was surprised because his own government placed economic and trade interests far above human rights in Saudi Arabia.

On several occasions, I endeavoured to get the Conservative government to help Mr. Badawi, who is being held prisoner in Saudi Arabia. I was under the impression, rightly so it would seem, that prime minister Harper had priorities other than human rights and the authoritarian regime that imprisons any Saudi who dares speak out.

If human rights should be a priority in diplomatic relations, does my colleague not agree that the Conservative government should have talked about human rights before thinking about trade interests?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
CPC

Luc Berthold

Conservative

Mr. Luc Berthold

Mr. Speaker, I have had frequent occasion to make speeches here, and I sincerely believe that the NDP misses us being in government, since it keeps asking us questions about that period. We no longer form the government.

If my colleague from the NDP is so concerned with human rights, why does he not support our motion today? Why does he not tell the government that Cuba has a problem with human rights? That is what we are talking about at the moment. Why does he not support this motion? That is the big question.

The NDP certainly wants to defend the great Castro philosophy that everyone should have an education and an equal salary. However, when it is applied, it is not egalitarian and it is not fair to anyone.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink
LIB

Stéphane Dion

Liberal

Hon. Stéphane Dion (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, let us imagine for a moment that we are November 16, 2016, at the university of Havana.

The room is full of students and professors, president Raúl Castro is in attendance, and the scene is broadcast on radio and television, reaching Cubans and other Latin Americans beyond. All are hanging on the words of our prime minister. What is he talking about? He is talking to them about universal rights, diversity as a source of enrichment, the emancipation of youth, and good governance.

I would like to give the reaction of a Cuban human rights activist, as quoted by the CBC. Her name is Miriam Leiva Viamonte, and her husband was imprisoned by Fidel Castro. I will cite her words, not in Spanish, but in English:

I think the young people who go to these events will always listen to what the guest has to say, and even if the government doesn't want them to be influenced by it, some of them will be, and when they leave there, they'll talk about it.

Then she added, “Canada has had an attitude that's been discreet, but not absent. I think it's important that they maintain this connection with the Cuban government”.

I think that says it all, not just on our prime minister’s leadership, but also on our policy of engagement with Cuba and other countries and on the reasons why we will vote against this motion. The Prime Minister has criticized the Cuban regime, but he carefully chose his words in doing so, to keep the lines of communication open and to open Cuban minds to the idea of change.

If he had launched a personal attack on Raúl Castro right there at the university of Havana, some of us may have been happy for it, but it would not have been in the interests of the Cuban people and would have considerably undermined Canada’s capacity to accompany Cuba down the road to reform. That is what diplomacy is. It is not about letting off steam for one's own selfish pleasure, no matter the consequences to others. I am talking about responsible diplomacy, not megaphone diplomacy, which was too common in Canada under the previous government and which the official opposition seems to miss so much.

We should not resign ourselves to simply shooting from the sidelines—the sterile diplomacy of bellicose belligerents.

Let us turn to the day that Fidel Castro died.

It is both respectful and appropriate to make positive remarks about someone's passing, regardless of whether that person is a family member, a friend, a foe, an acquaintance, or a public personality. Numerous other official statements from world leaders on the passing of former Cuban president Fidel Castro reflected this approach.

Of course, Fidel Castro was a dictator, but hardly anyone felt the need to say so on the day of his passing. Instead, our Prime Minister and others focused on the positive, such as the significant progress Cuba has made in the areas of education and healthcare.

As for the Cuban people’s transition to freedom, democracy and the rule of law, I am sure that this is supported by all of us in the House, but I would argue that the best way to help this happen is to engage in the responsible diplomacy that I just described, not megaphone diplomacy.

The best way to help the Cuban people is not to encourage them to stir up old conflicts, but instead to encourage them to work together for a better future. After all, this is how other countries successfully transitioned to democracy. Look at countries from the same cultural era, such as Spain and Chile. They turned to the future and built their democracies. We must wish the Cuban people the same good fortune. Despite the very different opinions they may have of Fidel Castro, they must work together to provide a better society for their children.

As Canadians we must help them. We are in a position to do so, precisely because we never turned our back on Cuba.

Canada, along with Mexico, was one of the only two western hemispheric countries that did not sever its relations with Cuba following the revolution of 1959, a revolution that was both preceded and followed by significant human rights abuses.

In fact, the relationship between Canada and Cuba dates back to the 18th century, when Atlantic Canada began trading codfish and beer for Cuban rum and sugar. Canada has managed to build a strong relationship with Cuba because our approach over the past half-century has been based on a policy of constructive engagement. Engagement is not agreement. If I say it twice maybe the opposition will understand. Indeed, engagement is not agreement. In fact, we needed to engage precisely because we profoundly disagreed with the kind of regime that ruled Cuba. For the sake of the Cuban people, Canada was there and must stay there with the right approach. We have consistently advocated against the U.S. economic embargo and policies that lead to the isolation and impoverishment of the people of Cuba.

Thanks to this consistent policy of engagement, Cuba trusts Canada. Cuba trusts our Prime Minister. This principled and pragmatic policy has delivered strong results for Canadians. It has allowed us to engage proactively with Cuba in all domains, including human rights issues. During all these years, we have encouraged Cuba to take measures to improve freedom of expression and of the press, to improve transparency and due process in its judicial system, and to implement international agreements on civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.

Our policy of constructive engagement has allowed Canada to work with a wide range of Cuban partners and to support a number of local initiatives within Cuba that promote dialogue and diverse opinions.

Over the last few years, while Cuba has slowly and rather timidly, it is true, started down the path to reforms, Canadians have been there to assist them in all areas—and I do mean all. For example, it was Canada that provided the first optical fibre to the University of Havana for its internet connections. The Internet develops pockets of freedom.

Canada is there to promote independent cultural spaces, human rights publications, university conferences by Internet, and diversity. As Cuba is entering a historic time of transition wherein it is revisiting and updating its economic and governance systems, it needs and sees Canada as a trusted partner and possible model in some areas of governance. For example, Cuba has a great interest in the cooperative models of banking and agrifood business in Quebec.

Canada has built a strong development cooperation program in Cuba, through which we support, among other things, sustainable economic development, greater food security, and women's rights.

Now, let us look at the economic ties. Through our policy of engagement, Cuba has become Canada's largest export market in Central America and in the Caribbean, worth an estimated $495 million per year. Canada is the second-largest foreign investor in Cuba.

As Cuba looks to grow its trade and investment with the world, Canada is working with it to identify opportunities to promote mutual prosperity. Canada has the knowledge and technology needed to meet the needs of Cubans in a wide of range of sectors, particularly agrifood products; infrastructure; and sustainable technology, including renewable energy, and life sciences.

As Cuba continues to promote reform of its economy, and the Cuban middle-class expands, there is significant potential for growth in trade and investment.

Beyond trade, we have also built strong people-to-people ties. Just as Cuban Canadians have made an immeasurable economic and cultural contribution to Canada, Canadians make up more than 40% of foreign tourists to Cuba, who represent an important source of income and employment for the Cuban people.

One of the aspects of Cuba that Canadians admire is how passionately Cubans celebrate life and culture. The many Canadians who visit Cuba every year can attest to the spirit of the Cuban people and their love of music in particular.

Next year, during the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Canada will share our own culture with Cuba, as we are featured as the country of honour at the Havana Book Fair.

Our engagement has also positioned us to co-operate with Cuba on common challenges to safety and security. The Caribbean is a region where millions of Canadians travel every year, which has impacts on their safety and security, in the form of transnational organized crime and narcotics trafficking. It happens that Cuba has the lowest level of crime and violence in the Caribbean. During his recent visit, our Prime Minister took the opportunity to strengthen our co-operation with Cuba to address illicit trafficking of drugs—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
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An hon. member

Oh my goodness, for shame. So does North Korea. He is going to praise the crime policies of a totalitarian regime. That is absolutely disgraceful.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Opposition Motion — Cuba
Permalink

December 1, 2016