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Youth Leadership and Development

Notes for an address by Hon. David Kilgour, M.P, Edmonton Southeast
Secretary of State (Latin America & Africa)
to Canada World Youth
Edmonton House Suite Hotel, Edmonton, March 19, 1999

It is a pleasure and an honour to be able to speak here today. Thank you for inviting me. I would like to extend greetings to all of you on behalf of the Federal government.

My special words of appreciation to the organizers of this event. I want to commend your hard work and dedication.

In keeping with the topic "Current Trends and Preparing for the Future," let me begin by saying that young Canadians are a vital force in national and global development. You are the future of leadership.

The world today is complex and indeed challenging, but I believe we can make a positive difference. In my capacity as Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, I would like to talk about a number of significant development issues related to many of the countries under my portfolio.

International Development

International development is not just a trend, but a necessity. The government of Canada is committed to supporting international development and to spending money on it. In that context, I’d like to discuss some personal views on why development abroad should remain one of the priorities of our national government and of Canadians.

During this government’s last mandate, three key foreign policy objectives were articulated in a policy statement titled Canada in the World. These goals reflected our desire as Canadians to be active in the world, despite the context of financial constraint. International development is at the heart of each of these objectives: the promotion of prosperity and employment, the protection of our security within a stable global framework, and the projection of Canadian values and culture.

With regard to the first objective – the promotion of prosperity and employment, Canadians want a foreign policy that will contribute to job creation and prosperity at home. Fostering a prosperous international climate is important in doing so because populations whose economies are strong are much more likely to be customers for our services and goods. We all need to think of economic development in terms of trade and not simply aid. Canada is seeking to bring developing economies more firmly into the international system. We are pursuing this on several fronts: through the World Trade Organization, NAFTA, and APEC.

In 1998, leaders of governments throughout the Americas met in Santiago to continue efforts toward a Free Trade Area of the Americas by 2005. Encouraging trade does not mean eliminating aid altogether. The case for aid in the severely indebted low-income countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, is irrefutable. Canada has been active both in the G-7 and the Paris Club in pushing for greater debt relief for these countries so that they can escape the cheerless treadmill of indebtedness.

In terms of the second objective – protecting security, I want to emphasize that security is a prerequisite for growth and economic development. We live in a global village, and insecurity in other parts threatens our own security whether directly or indirectly. Serious issues which transcend borders include mass migration, crime, disease, and environment. Even less calamitous developments abroad affect our security. For example, poor labour practices abroad undercut standards at home. Then there is the traditional issue of aggression which Canada is prepared to help contain whether by preventive diplomacy through organizations such as the UN, or by international peacebuilding.

Finally, in terms of the third objective – projecting Canadian values – let me clarify that this does not mean cultural imperialism. What it means is the recognition that many values Canadians hold as fundamental can contribute to international security and well being. Respect for democracy, the rule of law, human rights, open markets and the natural environment – all are better promoted in our own country by promotion abroad. As noted in Canada in the World, "Canada is not an island able to resist a world community that devalues beliefs central to our identity."

So far I have argued that there are a number of excellent reasons for Canadians to continue development assistance, but let me mention a final reason which is probably the most important – our humanity. On purely altruistic grounds, let me make this point. Around the world close to a billion people still suffer from hunger and malnourishment. Every day, about 40,000 persons die from hunger-related causes. Children are, of course, the most affected, and the UN estimates that 33,000 children die from poverty-related diseases every day. That’s roughly the entire population of Grande Prairie or Alberta perishing each day. Tolerance of such tragedy reflects badly on our humanity.

General Issues in Connection with Development

Now that I have talked about the importance of staying involved in International Development and our government’s commitment to the international community, let me emphasize some political, economic, environmental, and social trends currently affecting the so-called developing world.

The informal economy, for instance, has always existed around the world, but its importance as a safety net for the poorest has grown dramatically in the past decade or so. Walk through the congested downtown of any major city in the so-called developing world, and you will see thousands of people of all ages selling everything from tropical birds to tacos, and from used clothing to scrap metal. Unfortunately, many eke out a living through activities that may be unregulated, semi-legal, or completely criminal. How can nations harness their marginalized informal sector and tap into the enterprising spirit of the individual behind it? How can the day-to-day existence of millions of very poor entrepreneurs develop into sustainable micro-enterprises?

One major difference between the informal economy and successful micro-enterprise obviously is access to credit. Access to credit is often what entrepreneurs need to transform their tiny enterprises into viable occupations. Other factors include skills, access to markets, and the overcoming of obstacles associated with the lifestyle of poverty. Conventional credit arrangements do not lend themselves to micro-entrepreneurship. Lenders are reluctant to lend to the poorest of the poor because such borrowers lack collateral. Microcredit, as an alternative to conventional lending practices, has provided enough success stories to dispel scepticism. Although it alone will never eliminate an informal sector, microcredit offers some hope. I’ve visited a number of successful microcredit projects in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. They come in many forms--some rural and others urban, some large, some small. The most successful projects are those where participants feel a sense of ownership in what they have accomplished.

Another important development, which I touched on briefly earlier, is free trade. As mentioned, free trade agreements are breaking out everywhere in the hemisphere, and there is widespread consensus to move forward toward a free trade area of the Americas by the year 2005. One of the biggest challenges we face is the current lack of fast-track authority for the U.S Administration to negotiate the FTAA. Another is persuading the general public that freer trade is a winning proposition. Canada’s efforts on this are about more than trade. At Santiago, we have committed to address improving education and training, eradicating poverty and building democratic institutions. The FTAA process has already borne fruit. It has spurred regional talks, and barriers between the nations of the Americas are breaking down.

Yet another important issue is the fight against drugs. Substance abuse is a grievous problem affecting Canadians and people across the world, especially young people. After attempting for decades to combat drugs essentially on a nation basis, governments have finally learned that coordinated international efforts are the only way to reduce this commerce. I believe that effective strategies that work against drugs lie not only with those on the front lines, but with caring individuals in each and every community across the world. By curtailing demand at home and abroad, and by fighting supplies of narcotics we can effectively destroy the further victimization by drugs.

Finally, I’d like to briefly mention the issue of environment. I am sure many of you have heard of the natural disasters brought on by the recent El Niņo phenomenon. It has particularly left deep scars throughout Latin America and certain parts of the Caribbean. There are numerous homeless people, grieving families, and the situation of poverty has intensified. Our government has been actively involved in providing emergency relief in many afflicted areas.

I could go on about these matters, but this is just a quick review of some of the trends and issues related to the South. The question now is what role can Canadians and, especially you as young Canadians, play. I know that Canada World Youth will be carrying out programming in various countries including Brazil, Uruguay, Benin, Cuba, the Ivory Coast, and Jamaica. These efforts are commendable and do make a difference. Many of you travelling abroad have an important role. You have the opportunity to learn valuable knowledge of host countries and to represent Canada abroad.

Skills and Qualities Needed

As I mentioned earlier, you are the future of leadership. What you can personally contribute to development is essentially up to you. I believe that some important skills and qualities to foster are innovation, diplomacy, commitment, vision, and understanding. These skills and qualities can be applied at various levels of involvement whether at home or abroad. We need people who can be creative in problem-solving, who can reach out to others in kindness, who are dedicated to working for the benefit of humanity, who have positive hopes for the future, who are willing to listen and speak. We can all work together – government, non-governmental organizations, academia, the private sector and the general public in order to build a better Canada and a better world.

Youth Preparation for the Future

Preparation for the future starts now. The first step is to set priorities and goals then organize how best you can achieve them. Planning is an important basis for successful action. The second step is to continually keep learning. The world is changing rapidly and one can never know enough. The third step is to use your individual strengths and recognize your limitations. The final step is to reach out. Reach out to those near and far … those in your families, those in your communities, those in our country, those in other parts of the world. We all are interconnected, and are bonded by our humanity. Together we prosper.

Once again, I thank you for having me here today. It is truly an honour for me to be among such a wonderful group of young people. I wish you a very successful and rich experience as a Canada World Youth participant.

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