Georgia and Canada: So much to do together for the triumph of democracy Remarks of Ambassador and Special Envoy Stéphane Dion at the Atlantic Council roundtable
This journey marks my first trip to a European country outside the European Union as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe.
I am delighted that this first opportunity happened precisely here, in Tbilisi, Georgia, to address the Atlantic Council, at the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Canada.
I stand before you today to signal Canada’s strong desire to strengthen our ties, building upon what we have already achieved and upon all we have in common.
And yes, we share a lot, despite the almost 10,000 kilometres separating Vancouver from Tbilisi. Distance and geography matter less than the progressive, democratic model we should try to embody domestically and promote internationally, within Euro-Atlantic countries and beyond. We stand at the opposite eastern and western ends of the Euro-Atlantic region, but we are closer than we have ever been when it comes to understanding the need to promote the universal values of democracy, human rights, freedom, justice, gender equality and prosperity for all.
This is not because these universal values are perfectly embodied in our respective countries. Far from it, much progress remains to be achieved. But both of our nations understand that these values are the ones we need to share and embrace.
In Canada’s case, 150 years after establishing our federal state, an anniversary which we proudly celebrated on July 1st of this year, our democracy continues to evolve, notably along the contours of greater equity and inclusiveness. Canada’s strength is its diversity, with two official languages, ten provinces and three territories, with the proud distinctiveness of my province, Québec, with our indigenous peoples, with our multicultural population coming from every continent. We want to reach the ideal as a country of tolerance, generosity and openness, but we are not there yet, far from it. We have a lot of work to do.
We need to learn from the experience of other countries. We need to listen to the criticisms we have received from human rights organisations and the United Nations, especially about the situation of our indigenous populations.
Although not perfect, the model of democracy that Canada uses today, a model in which we welcome people from around the world to become Canadian and join in the building of our society, is working. We welcome 300,000 immigrants annually, including 25,000 refugees.
Investors and tourists arrive in large numbers, attracted by the magnificent beauty of our country, but also by the many international indices that rank Canada highly and the myriad media outlets that rightly showcase Canada as a safe, prosperous, diverse and open society.
As a teacher by profession, I would like to highlight another indication of the growing attraction of Canada: 360,000 foreign students study there now, equal to 1% of our population. We have been called an education superpower!
Canada has for decades been a firmly committed internationalist. We saw the errors of isolation, errors that led to the catastrophe of WWII, and we determined thereafter to play our part in global peace and security. We were active founders of the United Nations and NATO – both institutions designed to protect and promote democratic values as the surest way to build and sustain peace – and we have maintained strong support for both since then. In fact, Canada has been part of every single NATO mission since its inception.
We long ago grasped the importance for security and prosperity of lowering barriers to trade. We have consistently opposed aggression of the kind Georgia and Ukraine have faced from Russia. We have long argued in support of a free and united Europe, applauding the steps that eventually led to the creation of the European Union.
This is what Canada stands for: democracy, human rights, diversity, global partnership, peace and security and prosperity for all. I would argue that these values are also central to the EuroAtlantic community. Although we hope for your eventual admission to both NATO and the EU, it is not just membership in these two main clubs that matters. More fundamentally, being part of the Euro-Atlantic community means signalling a determination to defend what those institutions represent.
In Georgia’s case, now, just over a quarter-century since independence from the Soviet Union, you are proving that with political will, and despite facing great pressure, it is possible to rein in corruption and violence and progressively build a vibrant, democratic society with efficient institutions and a flourishing civil society.
In reports released over the years by The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the United States Department of State and Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, we have seen the progress you have made toward increasingly free and fair elections, the growth of free media and human rights activism, and the way in which you have embraced diversity, an ancient tradition of your capital and your country. The commitment you have shown to providing efficient services to your people speaks loudly to the importance you place on accountability and transparency. Problems remain, progress is needed, and nothing must be taken for granted, but the direction taken by Georgia is the right one. We applaud this.
Your endeavour to become a more secure and vibrant democracy must succeed, not only for yourself, but for the world. At a time when so many leaders, within the Euro-Atlantic region and beyond, are pushing their countries in the wrong direction, adopting more authoritarianism and illiberal modes of governance, Georgia must succeed in showing that the way to go is toward greater inclusiveness, not xenophobia, greater independence of the judiciary and the press, not political infringements and censorship, greater democracy and transparency, nor corruption, greater freedom, not intimidation.
The end of the Cold War may not have been the end of history as some predicted, but it must become the triumph of democracy. Georgia has a key role to play in this endeavor.
Internationally, your contributions to global issues are deeply appreciated and well regarded. As a NATO partner, you play a constructive and exemplary role. Your stance on climate change is progressive and closely aligned to those of Europe and Canada.
And with respect to the illegal Russian occupation of 20% of your country, we welcome the thoughtful approach you have taken. On the one hand, you are building an appropriate defensive capacity militarily to deter aggression. On the other, you are emphasizing the development of Georgia as a prosperous democracy, a contrast to what Russia offers in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. You simultaneously remain open to dialogue, because you know that, at the end of the day, a solution must be found with Russia. In doing so, you mirror the NATO approach toward Russia: firm deterrence and openness to dialogue. With all this considered, while Georgia is not a member yet of NATO or the EU, you have embraced the core values of both institutions.
Democracy, tolerance, human rights, justice for all, and also, a commitment to open trade – : a shared commitment to these values bring Georgia and Canada closer than ever, twenty five years after the beginning of our diplomatic relationships. Precisely because these values that we share are being tested in so many countries, we should strengthen our ties to work together to protect them. You are acutely aware of these challenges, as you live them in your region. Of great concern to us both are:
- Russian behaviour – military, cyber and political;
- The rise of nationalism and populism, and attacks on democratic institutions such as the courts, free media, and evidence-based debate;
- Growing calls for economic protectionism, often fuelled by anti-immigrant views, but also by legitimate concerns over growing inequality; and
- Eroding confidence in the future of the Euro-Atlantic region itself – as we have seen with Brexit – backsliding in some EU countries on human rights, and declining interest in drawing new members into the EU.
Like Georgia, we are not an EU member, nor is Canada deeply divided domestically on these issues, as are some others in the Euro-Atlantic community. However, we both know that we cannot simply stand on the sidelines and consider ourselves lucky; a continuation of these developments would ultimately be dangerous for both our interests and those of the EuroAtlantic community. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Trudeau, Canada has taken concrete steps to engage internationally:
- We have renewed support for UN peacekeeping and are pursuing a non-permanent United Nations Security Council seat;
- We are leading NATO’s new multinational brigade in Latvia to deter Russia, serving as one of the four Framework Nations of the Alliance’s enhanced Forward Presence in eastern Europe;
- We are providing strong support for progressive free trade. On September 21st, just last month, provisional application was implemented for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the most progressive trade agreement ever negotiated by Canada and the EU. CETA is an unambiguous rejection of protectionism and isolationism, as well as a lever for economic growth for all sectors of our societies. By setting a gold-standard for free trade agreements, taking into account the environment, gender equality, workers’ rights, and health and safety, it is designed to be a clear riposte to those who argue that trade increases inequality and lowers living standards.
- As with CETA, we will aim in the NAFTA negotiations to modernize the agreement with progressive elements. The reality is that progressive free and fair trade agreements are good for our countries, and can be crafted to reinforce governments’ right to regulate and parliaments’ right to legislate in the public interest.
- Furthermore, Canada has committed to continue to shoulder our share of the duty to help the vulnerable, including through openness to refugees, such as the over 40,000 we have now welcomed from Syria.
Canada and Georgia should learn from each other and work together to help the Euro-Atlantic community recover its self-confidence. We should both aim to demonstrate that all the societies in that community can be more equal and more secure by embracing inclusive democracy and stronger international engagement.
In Georgia’s efforts to reform its governance, including your upcoming constitutional reform process, your country has taken all the right steps and become a site of promising change in a troubled region. I encourage you to continue these steps and show the Euro-Atlantic community that, despite the pressure you face in your very tough neighbourhood, you remain steadfast in supporting accountability, transparency, inclusiveness, and human rights.
The more successful Georgia is in its reform process, the more powerful a message of hope you can send throughout the Euro-Atlantic community. Anything Canada may do to support you in this and help to send that message throughout our region, we will.
We will work to build a full-spectrum relationship with you: political, military, commercial and cultural.
We have made good progress recently, progress which we should be proud of:
- We are sharing best practices in governance, official exchanges such as the visit of your Ombudsman to Ontario; and are supporting the mutual development of our civil societies, including an innovative women’s NGO that brought together – for the first time – counterparts from across the Caucasus and Turkey to discuss peacebuilding. And Canada’s President of the Treasury Board Minister Scott Brison has recently announced that Canada will co-chair with Georgia the Open Government Process in 2017-18!
- Knowing the importance of reinforcing Georgia’s economy to your overall success, we are working with you to bring Canadian firms here to explore Georgian opportunities, for example in your great wine industry and infrastructure. We are also exploring government-togovernment trade frameworks such as a foreign investment protection agreement (FIPA);
- On the cultural side, I am delighted that, working closely with your National Museum and Ministry of Culture, our University of Toronto archaeologists are hopeful that they will be able to prove this year that Georgia is the original home of wine-making, which began over 8,000 years ago;
- Since signing the MOU on the Canadian Military Training and Cooperation programme (MTCP) in 2013, our countries’ defence-related activities have increased, with over 75 training sessions in 2016-2017. Led by the Minister of Defence, a Georgian delegation participated in the Invictus Games in Toronto in September , followed by the first-ever meetings between our respective defence ministers and chiefs of defence;
- Finally, we are working to actively raise Canada’s profile in Georgia, including through the first-ever Canada Day reception hosted yesterday and our participation in your upcoming film festival this December.
We thank you for this deep partnership and are grateful to have you as an ally and friend.
To conclude, we live in a difficult period for the Euro-Atlantic community, in which foundational assumptions are being questioned. But both Georgia and Canada, by their commitment and actions at home and abroad, can each play a key role in renewing this exceptional family of nations.
I look forward to the continued strengthening of our partnership, one where we work closely together to better the lives of our respective peoples, regions and communities.
Georgia and Canada can and should continue to work together, shoulder to shoulder, toward the triumph of democracy!