Hon. George Hees (Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Seniors)):
Mr. Speaker, today we join a quarter of the world's people in observing Commonwealth Day. As you know, Mr. Speaker, Canada has been very active in the Commonwealth over the past year. Last October we hosted the heads of Government meeting in Vancouver. Last month the Secretary of State for External Affairs (Mr. Clark) chaired the first meeting of the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on Southern Africa, created at Vancouver.
Canada continues to be one of the strongest supporters of the Commonwealth. It has given us easy, privileged access to a large group of Third World countries, all of whom were, like Canada, once members of the British Empire. Our Commonwealth experience has provided inspiration for Canada to seek parallel institutions to cement our ties with the Frenchspeaking world. That experience was part of the reason we hosted the Francophone Summit last year in Quebec City.
The Vancouver meeting of the heads of Government of the Commonwealth reviewed the multi-faceted activities of the organization. It addressed major international political and economic issues ranging from Third World debt, to the status of women in society, to the threat to low-lying states from rising water levels.
Canadian Development Assistance, a major dimension of our foreign policy and international identity, has its roots in the Colombo plan of the early 1950s. Today, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation, CFTC, provides technical assistance to all parts of the developing Commonwealth.
The fund is virtually unique in that almost all members contribute, and it makes maximum use of experts from developing countries. Canada is the single largest donor to the CFTC, providing approximately $17.5 million in 1987-88, well over one-third of its total resources.
As the meeting in Vancouver demonstrated, the Commonwealth not only consults on major world issues but takes concerted action. The meeting launched three important initiatives.
First, it adopted a new plan of action for southern Africa including assistance to the Front Line States and Mozambique. A committee of eight foreign ministers was established, chaired by the Secretary of State for External Affairs. It was created to provided impetus and guidance in the Commonwealth's struggle against apartheid in South Africa. It has already proved to be a valuable forum in responding to South Africa's recent restrictive actions against opposition groups.
Second, it issued a declaration on world trade to encourage a more liberalized global trading system and reinforce the current round of multilateral trade negotiations. Canada also wrote off the official debt of the poorest Commonwealth African countries.
Third, it endorsed an imaginative scheme for Commonwealth collaboration in distance education based on a Canadian initiative to promote the exchange of information, training, technical assistance and research in the application of distance education techniques at post secondary and vocational levels in the developing Commonwealth countries.
These three initiatives illustrate the breadth of the Commonwealth contribution. The organization we honour today, in which we find common ground and purpose with a billion people in countries large and small around the world, is worthy of our enthusiastic and abiding support.
Subtopic: COMMONWEALTH DAY