Canada and the Caribbeanís Special Relationship
Notes from Address* by Hon. David Kilgour, M.P.
Alberta Centennial Intercultural Event
Maharaja Banquet Hall
December 16, 2005
Ladies and gentlemen,
Iíd like first to congratulate the peoples of the Caribbean on two historic milestones this year. The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was inaugurated in Port of Spain, Trinidad and is a major accomplishment in light of its significance for trade integration among members of CARICOM through the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. Secondly, the appointment of President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank gives recognition to Caribbean leaders and secures a position of influence for the region in international financial negotiations.
The Caribbean has been a magical place for me since my late grandmother, Nan Russell, first wintered there from Prairie Canada when I was a small boy in the 1950s. Her stories of the people she met began a life long fascination. In recent years, I have been exposed to a whole other side of this vibrant region that goes well beyond beaches and sunshine.
Canada in the Caribbean
As you know, Canada continues to have a positive relationship with the peoples of the Caribbean. Successive Canadian governments sought actively to maintain a special relationship with the Caribbean peoples. Our people enjoyed a relationship with the Commonwealth Caribbean which dates back to the mid 1800s - the period shortly after Confederation. (Carmichael, Trevor: Passport to the Heart). We share a common language and common political and legal traditions, based on our ties with Britain. The Bank of Nova Scotia had a branch in the Caribbean before it had one in Toronto if you can believe that! We donít need to talk about the cod and rum trade that has been going on between Canada and the Caribbean for years.
I find of particular interest the history of the emigration/immigration of people between the two regions. For example, the Maroons of Jamaica, after revolting against British Rule, were resettled near Halifax and helped to construct the Halifax Citadel. Five hundred (500) of them would later relocate to what is now Sierra Leone. Joe Fortis moved from the Caribbean to Vancouver in 1885 and became such a community hero in protecting people of all ages on the beach at English Bay that when he died his funeral cortege was 4 kms long. Guyana-born Sir James Douglas was the first Governor of the new colony of British Colombia in 1858. Canadians moving to the Caribbean, particularly in the last century, were also interesting, and productive people, including many missionaries. The Caribbean has also given Canada writers like Austin Clarke, Dionne Brand, Neil Bisoondath and a rich cultural expression in the burgeoning annual Caribana Festivals in Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. Two daughters of the Caribbean, Jean Augustine, and Hedy Fry, hold seats in the House of Commons
In the last two years a large percentage of the increase in tourist arrivals to the Caribbean was recorded from the Canadian market with much of this growth accounted for by Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Together these two countries receive more than half of all Canadian visitors to the region. Trinidad and Tobago also has enjoyed a high volume of tourist arrivals from Canada in recent years with 45,000 Canadians visiting there in 2004 alone.
Canadian companies are engaged in joint venture agreements in the region with investments in Trinidad and Tobago, for example, in excess of CDN $4 billion in the petrochemical, oil, gas and financial sectors and CDN$100 million for trade in service exports. Canada is currently enjoying a favourable trade balance with Barbados. Current year-to-date figures show Canada exporting approximately $42 million in products to Barbados. Imports from Barbados however stand only at $5.5 million in products.
Unfortunately, Canada has sometimes taken the Caribbean for granted. This is a serious mistake. The peoples of the Commonwealth Caribbean are among our closest friends on the international stage. In the bid for Calgary 2005, for example, eleven of the 25 votes we got were from CARICOM states.
Among the small states of the Eastern Caribbean and in Guyana, CIDA is helping governments improve expenditure management systems. CIDA is also helping to build the region's capacity to develop sound trade policies and provides technical support towards strengthening Caribbean governmentsí trade negotiation strategies. CIDA is currently working in partnership with the Government of Guyana and Grenada to address gender-based violence in various communities through the Canada-Caribbean Gender Equity Fund.
Canada needs to build its commitment to the rule of law, good governance, pluralism and poverty alleviation in Haiti. Haiti has much to offer Canada and the world as exemplified in the person of the newly appointed Governor General of Canada, MichaŽlle Jean, a Haitian born immigrant to Canada.
Illicit Drug Trade
Canada has also been active in anti-drug activities in the Caribbean. Much more should be done to stop traffickers bringing cocaine and heroine into Canada and the US through the Caribbean.
CARICOM is generally supportive of Canada's Cuba policy. Cuba still has far to go in the area of human rights and democratic development. The efforts of CARICOM states to working in their own ways to re-integrate Cuba into the Caribbean community are useful. These efforts have produced agreements at the conclusion of the December 8, 2005 Second Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Republic of Cuba. CARICOM Ministers of Health in collaboration with the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS committed to meet with the relevant Officials of the Government of Cuba.
Canada has benefited tremendously from its relationship with the Caribbean. Its people have added to the richness of Canadian culture and society. I believe that it is in our mutual interest that Canada enters into a deeper and substantial relationship with the Caribbean region. Canada should commit to removing barriers that prevent the integration of all immigrants into Canada. Canadian institutions have also benefited from a stream of students who come from the Caribbean to study at universities across the country. A significant number of those students attend universities in Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. These students enhance the intellectual content of the institutions they attend as they bring their unique perspectives and life experiences to bear in all areas of university life.
Presently, the 1986 CARIBCAN protocol allows duty-free access for almost all imports from the Commonwealth Caribbean. However, I believe that a more sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship would be secured between Canada and the Caribbean with the signing of free trade agreement with the countries of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).
The future relationship between Canada and the Caribbean is a bright one, full of potential and possibilities.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (to those of other faith communities) and Best Wishes for the New Year.
* Please Note: Because most of those present were not of origin in the Caribbean, David spoke X and said this talk would soon be on his website.