The Deputy Prime Minister was disappointed when the Prime Minister asked him to revert to his old job as House leader. But I realize I speak for everyone in the House when 1 say that those who take an interest in foreign affairs are full of admiration for the manner in which the Deputy Prime Minister brought his great talents to bear in the field of Canada's external relations. The best evidence of his judgment and skill in this field was how he handled the co-chairmanship of the north-south dialogue. It was agreed, had it not been for his patience and negotiating skills, that the conference probably would have been a total failure. Second was his selection, as Canadian negotiator of the northern pipeline agreement with the United States, which is one of the most important agreements in our generation.
The hon. Secretary of State for External Affairs has talents of a different kind. Those talents stand him in good stead. I am happy this man is the Secretary of State for External Affairs. He has taken over his responsibility with skill and imagination. On many occasions I have listened to him answering questions posed by members opposite, and I have admiration for the way he commands his department and is knowledgeable of this intricate field. I am sure all hon. members wish him well. He has a balance of common sense which derives from his origin and his background. He has a sense of idealism which will stand him in good stead in the turmoil of this rapidly changing world.
When I was the secretary of state for external affairs, I proceeded on the premise that a foreign policy should, as far as possible, be non-partisan. I believed then, as I do now, that Canada can achieve its external objectives most effectively if there is a broad measure of agreement among all parties. This does not mean that the opposition should agree at all times as to how the government proceeds to achieve its objectives. There is plenty of room for criticism, even if there is broad agreement on objectives.
I have listened to the various speakers who have participated in this debate, as well as reading their speeches. I should like to make some remarks to illustrate how much agreement exists on the basic element of Canada's foreign policy. No one has questioned Canada's membership in NATO, nor the presence of Canadian troops in Europe. Speakers for the official opposition have urged that we should support NATO more. No one has questioned Canada's responsibility to provide development assistance. The criticism is that Canada is not doing enough.
Party spokesmen vied with one another in their commitment to the defence of human rights throughout the world. Doubts were expressed about the implementation of the third option in our relations with the United States, as well as the contractual link in relation with the European community. But no spokesman has disagreed with the purpose of these policies or principles. The Commonwealth, which our Prime Minister has done so much to sustain, is still considered to be a useful instrument for the promotion of international understanding. All parties voiced approval of the additional measures announced by the minister to show Canada's disapproval of apartheid in South Africa, with the exception of the right hon. member for Prince Albert, who apparently does not speak on behalf of his party in this case.
All members joined the minister in welcoming the recent dramatic moves for peace in the Middle East. Whatever differences there may be about the details of nuclear safeguards which Canada is attempting to apply, there is no difference among the parties on the essentiality of preventing the geographical proliferation of nuclear weapons. On that we are all agreed. If I may say so, this is not surprising. Canadian foreign policy is not an ideological matter, it is not the product of the imagination of particular foreign ministers who happened to be in office at the time the foreign policy of Canada is derived from certain basic and unalterable facts. The first of them is our geographical position in the world. I can remember on one occasion being in the Canadian embassy in the Soviet Union when the then foreign minister, Lester Pearson, was making a speech. He was thanking our Russian hosts for their hospitality. We had made our first visit to the Soviet Union at the beginning of the fall, and he was addressing three of the big five who were then in office.
He said that Canada is not a big country, that we have a lot of geography, we do not have many people and we do not have a long history, but we occupy a strategic position in the world, located as we are between the United States in the south and the Soviet Union in the north, and therefore are subject to pressures from both sides, to which Mr. Kaganovitch-who was then one of the Russian leaders-rose and said that so far as the Soviet Union is concerned, it is friendly pressure. Mr. Pearson then replied-and I am sure the right hon. gentleman would agree with him in that respect-that the strongest pressure he knew was friendly pressure.
So it is our geographical position in the world that has a profound effect upon Canadian foreign policy. The second is
December 20, 1977
our history, and particularly our peaceful evolution to independence. Not many countries can say they have not had major wars or revolutions in their territories, but we can say that and it has a strong influence on our foreign policy. Our dependence for domestic prosperity on trade, which arises from our resources and our position in the world, is another fact which influences Canadian foreign policy. Another is the origins of the people who make up this country, drawn from all over the world, and our full commitment to democracy and freedom.
These facts have led all governments, the government under the right hon. member for Prince Albert (Mr. Diefenbaker), the government of Mr. Louis St. Laurent, the government of Mackenzie King, the government of Mr. Pearson and the present government, to very similar conclusions. I was very interested to find, when I was listening to the right hon. gentleman, that he never dealt with any of these fundamental issues. He dealt, in a very entertaining and striking way, with what were really the superficial aspects of Canadian foreign policy and I think he missed a great opportunity, but of course that is his business.
May I now turn for a few minutes to a particular application of the principle of a non-partisan approach to foreign policy which I think is important, that is, the relation to the activities of members of parliament when they go abroad on interparliamentary visits. As hon. members are aware, there are now innumerable interparliamentary gatherings, and I understand from Mr. Speaker that there are others waiting to be formed. For the first time in my experience in the House of Commons,
I had the honour of co-chairing the Canadian side of one of these interparliamentary bodies, namely, the Canadian European Parliamentary Association. This has given me a new insight into some of the problems and opportunities associated with these institutions, even though as secretary of state for external affairs I had some knowledge because 1 was consulted about them from time to time.
Their most beneficial aspect is the opportunity to exchange views on problems of common concern, and this exchange can be superficial or it can be in depth, depending entirely on the personnel on both sides of these discussions and their willingness and ability to participate. My first observation arising from this recent experience is that although there has been in recent years a considerable improvement in the preparedness of Canadian parliamentarians to participate at these interparliamentary meetings, we can do much better. We still do not take these contacts seriously enough, to the detriment of Canada's position in the world and Canada's relations with other countries.
One reason for this is that Canadian parliamentarians, unless they have ministerial experience, parliamentary secretaries or active members of committees concerned with external affairs, do not become very expert in the subjects on which they are talking to parliamentarians from other countries, except of course in domestic matters on which they may be truly experts. I know that briefings by officials are helpful, but there is not the continuity sometimes that is desirable in these contacts.
The school for members of parliament in external relations should be the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence, but I regret to say that recently it has not been fulfilling that role, a role which I think would be very useful. When I was secretary of state for external affairs I found it very useful to refer matters of importance in foreign policy to that committee, but more recently, for reasons that I do not quite understand, there has been considerable devolution in the activities of that committee.
I have in front of me a list of inquiries that were undertaken by the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence, beginning in 1968. There was one inquiry in 1968, one in 1969, and six in 1970, there were four in 1971, one in 1972, four in 1973, two in 1974, and in each of the last three years only one. 1 am excluding the consideration of the estimates. What I am talking about are full-scale inquiries arising out of the estimates, or out of a reference of a piece of legislation. It seems to me that it would be very desirable that this committee be reactivated and given more work, because I cannot believe that there are no problems that could be referred to the committee.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: EXTERNAL AFFAIRS