The Canadian Ambassador to Germany, H.E. Stéphane Dion , explains what makes the CETA agreement so important as a binding force between Canada and the European Union, and extols Canada’s role as a peacekeeper and modifying force in the world.
Excellency, Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary last year.How has your state changed since its founding, and what are the major challenges Canada faces in the near future?
H.E.: Canada existed much before 150 years ago, but it is true that we found our modern form, as a federation, in 1867, with the British North America Act. Since then, Canada has become a sovereign country, completely independent from the United Kingdom. We do, however, share the same Head of State than the United Kingdom, but for us she is the Queen of Canada. That means that if the UK did not want the monarchy anymore, she would still be the Queen of Canada! From a British Dominion in 1867, Canada transformed itself to a solid democracy in which people from all over the world came to build a strong country not despite of, but because of its exceptional diversity. I do not think it would be chauvinistic to say that Canada is a treasure on this planet and that it would be good if we had “more Canada” in the world. In International surveys which ask people where they would like to live if not in their own country, Canada is always on the podium of the most desirable. And we can guess why: as vast as a continent, Canada has an extraordinary, awe-inspiring beauty; Canada enjoys a quality of life amongst the highest in the world, and is made stronger being that its two official languages – English and French – are also international languages. In addition there are our European origins, our strong roots in the Americas and our links to Asia. For all these reasons, billions of people see Canada as a universal ideal of openness, tolerance and generosity, and to live up to that ideal is, by far, our main and constant challenge.
Since September 2017, the Economic and Trade Agreement CETA between the European Union and Canada has been in force. What successes have been recorded since then, and how do you evaluate the resistance that existed especially in Europe in retrospect?
CETA needs to receive parliamentary ratification in all EU countries, including Germany. However, most of the agreement has been in force since last September. Almost all trade barriers between the EU and Canada have been removed and the so-called non-tariff trade barriers are being dismantled, step-by-step in working groups. These barriers include, for instance, the many different specifications, packaging standards or approval processes for the authorization of a given product in the other market. The aim of CETA is not to align all the standards across the board, but rather to mutually recognize the different approval processes. It is important to emphasize that the legal freedom to shape all forms of regulation remains with the contracting parties, namely the EU and Canada. This is why this trade agreement breathes a democratic spirit and is rightly described as ‘progressive’ by both sides. A further stimulus to economic development is of course the complete opening up of public procurement to bidders on both sides of the Atlantic. German authorities, at all levels, award tenders worth around 440 billion euros a year, for which Canadian companies are also now able to bid on. Such procurement opportunities, of course, work both ways – European companies now have access to all tenders in Canada. I recommend that you visit the EU portal ted.europa.eu and the Canadian buyandsell. gc.ca. You will be impressed by the volume of calls to tenders and the transparency of contract awarding. Germany and Canada are both trading nations. It is in the interest of both our populations that the world does not give in to the illusions of protectionism and isolationism. For Europeans and Canadians, CETA means more opportunity for businesses of all sizes, more jobs for your respective communities and more consumer choice. But CETA also gives the EU, Germany and Canada a unique opportunity to show to their respective populations, and to the world, that there is no need to choose between trade and progress. CETA is the way to pull together our ability to innovate, to spread our best technologies and know-how, to share our best practices for environmental sustainability, for social justice, for labour rights, for food safety. In fact, CETA is the most progressive trade agreement ever negotiated. It must be ratified by all 28 EU countries, including Germany, for the sake of our populations.
Domestically, there have been repeated tensions between the Anglophone and Francophone parts, as well as clashes between indigenous peoples, the so-called First Nations, and commodity companies, for example by planned oil pipelines. How do you currently assess the state of conflicts, and what solutions are there?
Some people wrongly oppose the old bilingual Canada with the new multicultural Canada. The shared experience of British and French Canadians, in Quebec and throughout Canada, was not always easy, not by a long shot. But on the whole, it led Canadians to conceive their diversity as a tangible asset that has enabled them to, together, build one of the most envied countries in the world, and on that basis, to welcome more and more non- Christian immigrants from distant lands. Enshrined in our Constitution and in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our official bilingualism and our multiculturalism have supported each other in the past and must continue to move forward together. Our diversity is our strength, including the fact that one out of ten Canadians has a German heritage. Canada is a fascinating mosaic of cultures and we have found a very Canadian way of dealing with various differences; we celebrate our diversity instead of speaking negatively about it and we find compromises. Sometimes there are lively tensions. Presently, the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia and some First Nations have different views on how to transport oil and gas from Alberta to foreign markets. We don’t know the final solution yet, but I am very confident that we will get there. Canadians accept that our political culture is flexible enough to allow different distinct cultures and we have developed a very peaceful way of dealing with conflicts. It is no wonder that Canada, as a founding member of the United Nations, is bringing this peaceful approach to the world stage, including through our involvement in many peacekeeping initiatives over the past 70 years.
Which are currently the most important trading partners and why?
Canada’s most important trading partner is the United States. This has been the case for many decades and in fact US-Canada trade was for a long time the largest trade relationship between any two countries in the world, only recently topped by the USChina trade volume. This is one of the many reasons why Canada is so keen on keeping a healthy and rules based relationship with our neighbor in the south. Of course, we also want to diversify and therefore we are expanding our network of free trade agreements. Europe is a very important partner for us and CETA is a big success in stimulating our trade with Europe in both directions. Also, we have just negotiated an agreement with countries of the transpacific region, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP for short, which is as comprehensive and progressive as CETA. Multilateral engagement is important for Canada. We are aware that we are not a super power, but rather a middle power in the field of geopolitics and in trade. Therefore, we are always looking for a collegial approach, which means that we work with others to establish rules and then we apply them. This holds true for international organisations in all fields, including for example WTO when it comes to international trade. You can see that Canada is open for trade with all countries, because we believe that open doors are the best way to maintain our competitiveness.
After Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, Canada has the third largest oil reserves in the world. After the last oil price crisis three years ago, many international energy companies have withdrawn from Canada. How is your government dealing with this issue?
Natural resources are an important part of the Canadian economy, however much less than some people think. Other main commodities that we export are for example vehicles and machinery. Canada does not have large consumer brands in these markets, so the sector receives less visibility, but the industry is very competitive and well integrated into the global supply chain. Regarding oil and gas, you have to take the strong regional differences into account. For example in Alberta, oil and gas stand for two thirds of the total commodity exports and the effect of changing prices has been felt much stronger than in other provinces that import oil and gas and might even benefiting from a lower oil prize. As often in a large country like Canada, geographical differences play an important role. Also, extracting oil in some parts of Canada is relatively expensive. Therefore, it is not effective to extract oil if the prize is below a certain level, but you are right, the reserves are there. However, I hope that mankind will make more use of other, renewable energy sources and find a way to stop global warming. This is a global challenge and every country has to be part of the solution. Although Canada is a producer of oil and gas, it has one of the cleanest electricity grids in the world, with 80 percent of the electricity coming from non-emitting sources. The government is working with provinces and territories to set performance standards for natural gas-fired electricity generation. The standards will help guide the transition away from coal towards clean sources of electricity. In Quebec and British Columbia, hydro energy is already very strong and we see new investments in renewable energy everywhere. On the Atlantic costs, companies develop new forms of energy source through tidal power. This is where I believe innovations of the future will be most productive. By the way, the tidal power panels in Canada are developed by a German-Canadian consortium.
Measured by the population, Canada has a high immigration rate. The skilled worker program clearly defines immigration and tailors it to sought-after occupations. How has the program worked so far?
For years, we’ve seen how immigration strengthens Canada by spurring innovation and economic growth, supporting diverse and inclusive communities. That is why as part of the current multi-year immigration levels plan, Canada will welcome 310,000 new permanent residents in 2018, with approximately one third of them arriving in skilled worker categories. Those numbers will rise progressively in the coming years, managed through a multiyear immigration levels plan. This measured, gradual increase will trend towards annual admissions of new permanent residents equaling one percent of Canada’s population by 2020, spurring innovation and representing a major investment in Canada’s prosperity, now and into the future. Skilled workers are selected as permanent residents based on six factors: their language skills, education, experience, age, arranged employment in Canada, and adaptability. These factors were chosen as research has shown them to be important in helping immigrants succeed in Canada. It’s also worth mentioning that Canada’s managed immigration system places great emphasis on providing assistance to recently arrived newcomers to weather their migration transition period, learn English or French, find meaningful employment, and establish themselves in their communities. This approach has brought positive economic outcomes for Canada and enhanced the socio-cultural fabric of our society, but we acknowledge that immigration programs need to be adapted to each country’s unique circumstances and needs.
Twenty years ago, Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol, but left the treaty seven years ago. How is the Canadian climate policy going on, and what measures are being taken to tackle global warming?
Climate change is one of the greatest threats of our time. From increased incidences of droughts, to coastal flooding, to the expanding melt of sea ice in our Arctic, the widespread impacts of climate change compel Canada to take strong action now. I was Minister of the Environment from 2004 to 2006 and as part of the federal go-vernment, I was fighting hard for a forward-thinking policy that adopts environmentally sustainable technologies and products. When Canada left the Kyoto Protocol under the conservative government, I did not agree. However, the criticism of Kyoto was that it did not include all emitting countries. Now, we have the Paris agreement, which is much more inclusive. One of the first accomplishments of the Trudeau government was to get the Paris agreement on climate action under way. Since being elected in 2015, this government is working hard with the provinces to move faster than before on a number of fronts. Making Canada’s building sector more energy efficient is a cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save households and businesses money. Building a smart, integrated clean electricity system will deliver reliable and affordable power, where it is needed. Canada’s forests, wetlands, and croplands can absorb and store atmospheric carbon. Repurposing wastes as fuel, where possible, can also reduce emissions. We know that the right investments today can make dramatic changes to reduce emissions and increase sustainability. With smart and strategic investments in transportation, Canada will not only grow a cleaner economy and create good jobs, but also improve the overall quality of life. We are doing a lot, but this challenge is global. Canada is also advancing environmental policy on a global stage. One of the G7 priorities is it to work together on climate change, oceans and clean energy. I am confident that we will see a strong statement on tackling global warming at the G7 summit in Charlevoix.
What is the culture of Canada like for you?
Culture is very close to my heart and I enjoy the rich cultural scene in Germany very much. I see that culture is also an important part of our foreign policy. We have great Canadian content that is highly regarded abroad. You might have heard that Canada will be Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2020. And each year at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Berlinale, we see new Canadian talent and I am proud that our Embassy on Leipziger Platz in the heart of Berlin is an official Berlinale venue.
With 43 national and more than 1500 provincial parks, Canada’s nature has become a major factor in tourism. Which tourist highlights would you personally recommend?
Canada is the second largest country in the world and there is so much to choose from as a tourist. Germany has Bundesländer or federal states, Canada has provinces and territories. That is the same idea, but only in much larger dimensions. From the Atlantic coast in the East to the Pacific coast in the West and the Arctic in the North, there are so many opportunity for every kind of traveler to explore Canada. Indulge in fine dining and beautiful accommodations in cities like Quebec City, Toronto and Montreal; wilderness expeditions and whale-watching from Nova Scotia to Vancouver; skiing on some of the world’s best resorts in Whistler and Banff; feasting on seaside oysters on Prince Edward Island; traversing the vast Canadian Rocky Mountain range by train — the list goes on and on.
Official name: Canada
Area: 9,984,670 km²
Population: 37.06 million
Population density: 3.92/km2
Official languages: English, French
Government: Federal constitutional monarchy, Parliament with two chambers
Head of state: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada Julie Payette
Head of government: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
National anthem: O Canada; Royal Anthem: God Save the Queen