Media Center



June 6, 2005 - FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida

Canada is proud to have become a full member of the Organization of American States (OAS) 15 years ago. By so doing, we wanted to signal our belonging and our engagement to this hemisphere—one that is bound by a shared commitment to democratic values. Our commitment to improving our democratic culture motivates us to continue creating and improving the various instruments we have in our possession to guide our actions. For instance, we have developed a unique document, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which provides a clear definition of what we mean by democracy in the Americas, and whose high principles orient us in times of difficulty. We have given ourselves the first anti-corruption convention, as well as an anti-terrorism convention that remains respectful of human rights. We have reaffirmed, in the Declaration on Security in the Americas, that democracy is an indispensable condition for the stability, peace and development of the states of the hemisphere, and we have pledged that our cooperation to address both traditional and new threats to our security will respect democratic values, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Though we have made considerable progress, the benefits that democracy brings have not been shared by our all of our citizens. For too many in the region, the possibility of choosing their leaders democratically does not translate into better education, job opportunities, or even food on the table. Despite our advances, there are still astonishing poverty rates in the region, and considerable social inequalities—a poverty and inequality that are too often determined by ethnic origin and gender. The slow progress on poverty reduction and increasingly unfair distribution of national wealth, coupled with ineffective legal systems and inadequate social services, have led to an erosion of democracy, a weakening of institutional infrastructures and the rise of instability.

It is important that we take stock of the progress achieved, but also that we act now, so that dissatisfaction with the performance of elected governments does not become disillusionment with democracy itself. We have made commitments, in this forum and at the Summit of the Americas, to strengthen democracy and to ensure the well-being of our citizens. For the people of the Americas, it is key that democracy bear its fruits and that its benefits be shared by all. How can we ensure that we live up to those commitments and that democracy delivers on its promises?

As I have mentioned, our hemisphere is fortunate to have unique institutions and mechanisms. We now need to find ways to strengthen them, in order for them to provide the services and results that our populations require. At the Special Summit of the Americas in Monterrey [Mexico] in 2004, we affirmed the necessity to address immediately “political, economic and social challenges in order to foster credibility and public trust in democratic institutions.” It is not enough for our citizens to be able to vote at regular intervals. Democratic governance is multifaceted. We have a role to play in ensuring the transparency, accessibility and probity of our institutions, the efficiency and fairness of the judicial system, the credibility of the political system, the effective separation of the various powers of the state, and in fostering a safe and secure environment that also allows for the full expression of human rights and civil liberties.

The fight against corruption is also key. Its link to social development and democracy was made the theme of the 34th OAS General Assembly in Quito [Ecuador] in June 2004. Canada welcomes the decision to declare 2006 the “Inter-American Year of the Fight Against Corruption,” as this will allow us to continue to tackle this issue and its related problems, such as money laundering and crime, and reiterate our support to the Inter-American Convention against Corruption and its follow-up mechanism.

I have underlined the uniqueness of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which has already demonstrated its usefulness in specific situations where democracy was at risk in the region. However, we have not yet used its full potential. It is up to us, the member states, to use this tool and to strengthen it. We should also remind ourselves that it says that democracy and social and economic development are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. We must deliver the benefits of democracy to strengthen it and restore its credibility.

In order for our citizens to be committed to democracy, it is also our responsibility to contribute to a higher degree of citizen participation. Special attention must be given to vulnerable groups, including women, young people, minorities and indigenous groups, who often remain excluded from the political, economic and social processes. The benefits of democracy can only reach those who are most in need if their voices and concerns are heard in the institutions where solutions to their problems can be found.

The Special Summit in Monterrey was important in highlighting the issues of social development in the hemisphere. The elaboration of an Inter-American Social Charter will also constitute an important step in the creation of guidelines for social development and the fight against poverty in our region. Of course, it is first and foremost the responsibility of each member state to take the necessary steps to ensure the well-being of its people and allow them to realize their full potential. But together, the member states can share their successes and experiences, while counting on the knowledge and support of the various institutions we have in our hemisphere.

The OAS has played a key role in promoting the cause of democracy, human rights, social development and economic prosperity. Over the past year, it has been engaged in meeting various challenges to democracy in the region, including in Haiti where it is actively involved. The need for a strong, healthy and robust organization has been amply demonstrated by the challenges the region faces. It is up to member states to ensure that the organization receives the necessary support, including the adequate financial resources to allow it to carry out its important role.

In the hemisphere we are also fortunate to be able to count on an active, engaged and knowledgeable civil society as a partner to meet these objectives. Few regions can count on such a pool of civil-society organizations that are willing to share their expertise and ideas. This represents a tremendous potential, which should be further explored.

Delivering the promises of democracy is one of the many pressing challenges that our hemisphere is facing. To be able to continue to play its essential role in the region, the OAS itself faces the need to modernize. We are pleased to welcome the arrival of Secretary-General [José Miguel] Insulza at its helm. We are convinced that, under his leadership, we will be able to undertake the important work that awaits us. Secretary-General Insulza can count on the full collaboration of Canada, as can the other member states, so that together we can continue making the OAS a dynamic, pertinent and unique organization dedicated to the well-being of the population of the Americas.

Thank you.