OTTAWA — Stepping up Canadian engagement in multilateralism — including a United Nations peacekeeping mission to Africa — can set an example for the world that even U.S. president-elect Donald Trump might want to follow, says Michaelle Jean.
"I think Canada as a sovereign country has a very strong voice and we all realize and we can see how Canada wants its voice to be heard again," the secretary-general of the International Organization of la Francophonie said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Michaelle Jean speaks at the Global Fund conference in Montreal on Sept. 16, 2016. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz/CP)
"I'm hoping that actually maybe the new president of the United States will see this as an example with its closest neighbour and will be hopefully inspired by our position — I mean Canada's position — in the world," Jean, the former Canadian governor general, said from Paris.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travels this week to Antananarivo, Madagascar, where la Francophonie is holding a leaders' summit next weekend. The stop is part of Trudeau's first visit to Africa since his Liberal government came to power last year.
The Liberals have promised a renewed engagement with Africa when it comes to international development assistance, and since 31 of the 80 governments and states who make up la Francophonie are from the continent, it is also an ideal place to talk up their approach — and back it up with some funding announcements.
"I think Canada as a sovereign country has a very strong voice and we all realize and we can see how Canada wants its voice to be heard again."
Canada is the second-largest contributor to la Francophonie and Canadian officials see the summit as an opportunity to discuss the migration and refugee crisis, climate change, gender inequality and how those challenges impact global security.
Where Canada chooses to send up to 600 troops on a U.N. peacekeeping mission is not expected to be announced this week, but it will be a hot topic in the corridors.
Jean said re-engagement with peacekeeping operations is an important way for Canada to contribute.
"That is essential, because half the peacekeeping operations are deployed in countries in the sphere of la Francophonie," she said.
International development plan centres on women, girls
As for the official agenda, Canada is sponsoring a joint resolution with Benin on early and forced marriages, part of a broader effort Canada is making to put the empowerment of women and girls at the heart of its international development strategy.
"It is truly demonstrated how the socio-economic empowerment of women has a direct impact on the family, the community and ultimately on a large scale, on the development of a country," said International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal minister responsible for la Francophonie.
Links between poverty and global security will also be a major theme. Bibeau noted how youth without hope for their future end up joining the growing ranks of migrants or, worse, armed groups.
Ontario seeks to become observer state at la Francophonie
Quebec, which along with New Brunswick has been a full-fledged member of la Francophonie since the 1970s, is putting forward a resolution on fighting and preventing radicalization that leads to violence.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant are both attending.
Ontario, the province with the largest French-speaking population outside Quebec, has put in a bid — supported by Ottawa — to become an observer state at la Francophonie, a status enjoyed by countries as diverse as Mexico and Poland.
Marie-France Lalonde, the Ontario minister responsible for francophone affairs, said the province sees an opportunity to attract tourism, business investments and immigration, especially since it set a target of five per cent for francophone immigrants.
PM headed to Africa this week
"Ontario can tell the world ... that as a Francophone immigrant, you will have access to French service and you will learn English at the same time," said Lalonde.
Trudeau begins his trip Thursday in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, a West African country that was hit hard by the Ebola virus epidemic in recent years.
Canada has a limited relationship with Liberia. But the country will serve as a powerful and symbolic backdrop for a prime minister who a government official noted is committed to promoting a feminist agenda both domestically and internationally.
Trudeau to meet with Liberian president
Trudeau will meet Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected head of state in Africa, who along with other women has been recognized — including with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 — for her role in securing and maintaining peace following brutal civil conflict.
Johnson Sirleaf and Trudeau might have other things to discuss as well, including her experience with the ongoing U.N. peacekeeping mission in Liberia and efforts by Canada to champion the International Criminal Court at a time when South Africa and others have decided to pull out.
It was the International Criminal Court that hosted the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone that convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes, after the trial was transferred to The Hague due to instability in the region.