February 19th, 2013

Statement by New Democrat Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar on the Office of Religious Freedoms

On behalf of the NDP, I congratulate Professor Andrew Bennett on his appointment as Canada’s first ambassador for the Office of Religious Freedom.

New Democrats believe that encouraging religious tolerance and promoting religious freedoms around the world is an important Canadian value. Action on this is valuable – but must not come at the expense of, or to the exclusion of, developing other important democratic rights.

Developing robust democratic governments not only involves religious tolerance, but also the development of political systems that include opposition parties, protect freedom of belief, respect ethnic differences, support a robust civil society and encourage open government and freedom of information laws to help encourage independent news media.

The Office of Religious Freedoms, as introduced today, represents both a broken Conservative promise and a missed opportunity. Conservatives had repeatedly promised a democratic development agency, but they broke that promise and now they're moving forward on a much more limited and narrow approach.

Our work abroad expresses our country’s value. But the Conservative government’s decision to cancel the building democracy abroad initiative and replace it with a more limited agency means that the broad commitment of Canadians to democratic values, tolerance and the rule of law is now not reflected. Conservatives have adopted a very narrow vision of what Canada can contribute to the world and have unfortunately abandoned an approach that could have encouraged countries around the world to develop more open and democratic governments.

We are also concerned that the federal government apparently excluded some religious groups from having a voice in the development of this office – and now are announcing someone to lead the agency without any consultation with parliament or the opposition. Conservatives have a record of putting domestic photo ops ahead of sound foreign policy – we urge them to stop playing domestic politics on the international stage.