Op-Ed: June 28, 2007


Canada's Responsibility
by Gerry Barr, President-CEO Canadian Council for International Co-operation
June 28, 2007
PM sees payoff in adding Americas to foreign agenda

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided Canada should "re-engage" with the Americas, and in July he's visiting four states in the region to start up his new foreign policy direction. In a world where the majority of the population lives in underdevelopment, Harper rightly says of the Americas, "We also have countries that have development challenges." But will Canada lessen those challenges or add to them?

Harper will visit Colombia, where Canada is pursuing a bilateral free-trade agreement. But will he raise human-rights issues as vigorously with Colombia as he has with China? More than 3 million Colombians have been displaced in the decades-long civil war. The government has close ties with paramilitary forces responsible for disappearances and executions. Will Canada accept a preferential trading arrangement with a country that nurtures state terrorism?

What about the performance of Canada's mine operators in Latin America? Canada is responsible for about 40 per cent of all foreign investment in extractive industries in the Americas. And because indigenous rights and the interests of local communities often take second place when profits are involved, mining can mean contestation and social upheaval in Latin America. Harper has not yet given his answer to a special group of industry and civil society analysts proposing a national framework for corporate social responsibility for Canada's gas, oil and mining sectors when companies are operating in the developing world.

He is right to point to the development problems of the Americas. But Canada needs to make sure it acts in ways that ease rather than aggravate the region's challenges.

Gerry Barr, President and CEO,
Canadian Council for International
Co-operation, Ottawa