As Harper touts philosophical links with France, La Francophonie doesn't quite live up to its billing
In advance of today's 400 year anniversary of Quebec City, Stephen Harper took some time out yesterday to hobnob with French Prime Minister Francois Fillion in order to talk about the important role that Canada and France play in the world today.
The anniversay is "an opportunity to underscore the historic links and common values between France and Canada," Harper announced. "These include our shared commitment to promoting human rights, good governance and democracy, and of course the French language."
Certainly, these are things that, arguably, Canada and France have both been committed to promoting. But both are guilty of allowing one of the better tools at their disposal -- La Francophonie, the organization of French-speaking peoples -- to fall into disuse, disrepair and disrepute.
Along with Belgium and Switzerland, Canada and France are the most prominent members of La Francophonie. As such, Canada and France have a responsibility to provide leadership within the organization.
It terms of human rights, it's difficult to applaud the leadership that has been shown. Numerous members of La Francophonie are either currently known as human rights abusers, or have been in the past -- all while the Francophonie stands silently by.
Currently, Freedom House -- an organization that rates the countries of the world in terms of freedom -- rates Cameroon, Cambodia, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Egypt, Equitorial Guinea, Guinea, Laos, Rwanada, Togo, Tunisia and Vietnam are listed as "Not Free".
With Canada and France effectively at the helm of La Francophonie it would seem that our commitment to promoting human rights, good governance and democracy hasn't quite lived up to its billing, if La Francophonie stands as any indication.
Meanwhile, Canada is also in a strong leadership position within the Commonwealth of States. Perhaps the greatest difference between the Commonwealth and La Francophonie in this respect is that the Commonwealth has a history of suspending member countries that violate the principles of human rights and democracy. Three notable examples are the recent suspension of Pakistan, the less recent suspension of Zimbabwe and the suspension of South Africa in 1994. The Commonwealth has used suspensions numerous times throughout its history to reinforce its commitment to democracy.
If one were to look at the Commonwealth as a possible model for what La Francophonie could one day become, there is little question it falls considerably short. It doesn't meet often enough -- once every two years -- and all too often remains satisfied to issue empty resolutions on the controversies of the day.
In its 38 years in existence, La Francophonie has yet to be handed an international mission by the United Nations. By contrast, even the diminuitive African Union was called upon for a peacekeeping mission in the Sudan.
Even more shameful is La Francophonie's history of unresponsiveness to atrocities occurring within member countries. In 1994 La Francophonie offered virtually no response to the genocide in Rwanda, and even when France intervened, it was only to evacuate its own nationals from the country. La Francophonie has taken virtually no leadership role in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- conflict that consumed more than 3 million lives between between 1998 and 2002.
The number of poverty-ravaged countries in La Francophonie is also a significant cause for concern.
But it is to this end that Canada and France -- along with Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg -- can trace their significant potential for influence within La Francophonie.
If La Francophonie's five most wealthiest and most prominent members can conjure the political will, this bloc could use foreign aid and trade agreements as the carrot and stick by which we can encourage some of La Francophonie's more troublesome members to embrace the principles for which the organization is reputed to stand.
In a global environment in which internationalism is becoming a more and more crucial tenet of foreign policy, it's becoming more and more necessary to reform La Francophonie.
Canada and France should view the 400th anniversary of Quebec City -- the capital of France's most successful colony -- as an opportunity to make an agreement to pursue this goal more thoroughly.
Otherwise, all the talk of "good governance, human rights and democracy" will remain rather empty indeed.