Special Edition: 15 Minutes with Canadian Policy Maker Garnett Genuis

Episode Transcript

Barbara Grantham (00:00): Hello, and welcome to a special edition of 15 Minutes to Change the World, where in 15 minutes or less, you can learn more about the world and how you can help to change it.

Barbara Grantham (00:24): I’m Barbara Grantham, the President and CEO at CARE Canada, and I’m excited to be bringing you a series of special edition episodes where I’m speaking with Canadian international assistance policy makers. These discussions focus on Canada’s role in achieving a global gender-just recovery from COVID-19. Today I’m pleased to welcome Garnett Genuis, Member of Parliament, for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, just outside Edmonton, Alberta, and currently serving as Shadow Minister for International Development and Human Rights. Mr. Genuis sits on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Welcome Garnett, and thank you for joining us today.

Garnett Genuis (01:05): Well, thank you. It’s great to be here and it’s an honour to work in this important area. And I know that many of the people listening are, are doing so much in their own lives to contribute to this area. So I just want to say thank you right off the bat.

Barbara Grantham (01:16): Well, thank you. So first off, I’m wondering, what would you say is Canada’s role in the world at a time when we’re dealing with such a significant crisis secure at home?

Garnett Genuis (01:27): Well, the crisis we’re dealing with-the COVID-19 pandemic-it does underline for us the interconnections between what is happening in other parts of the world and what’s happening here at home. I mean, obviously the pandemic didn’t originate here in Canada, and we see how the ability of other countries to respond to the pandemic, the ability of lower and middle income countries to be able to get the resources to people to address the pandemic, especially of course the access to vaccines. This is going to have an impact for us here in Canada, and it’s just one of many issues where what happens globally comes home locally. And this is something that I talk about often in the context of international human rights, international development, that a consciousness of what is going on around the world matters to our health, it matters to our security, it matters to our economic well-being as well. And what’s the Canadian role specifically? Well, I think we have a unique position internationally. We are a part of a lot of the sort of major influential global clubs of most developed nations. So we’re part of the G7, we’re part of the G20, and more broadly a part of the Commonwealth, the Francophonie. And we’re also a nation, I think, fairly uniquely in that club that does not have a colonial history beyond its borders. So our engagement in Asia and Africa is different and can be seen differently because we don’t have a history of setting up colonies in those parts of the world. A lot of people have, I think for too long seen Canada, as you know, we’re a small country. I don’t believe that actually. I think, take stock of our relative economic size, our positioning and our relationships in the world, Canada can do more than just have a seat at the table, we can be a leader driving an agenda on key priority issues, and we should be doing that.

Barbara Grantham (03:31): Your passion for this work for international development and for international human rights, not only is it really well known Garnett, but it just, it just comes through. Why are you so personally committed to international development? Where does your passion come from?

Garnett Genuis (03:47): Well, I mean, I guess a lot of people are, a lot of Canadians are kind of instinctively interested in these issues because they have heard stories and they have, they’ve seen the realities of both the challenges people face, but also the impact of constructive engagement around the world. I also have some family connections to serious human rights abuses, and that has sort of catalyzed some of my interest in international engagement. My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, both of my wife’s parents were born in Pakistan from the Christian community there. So some of my initial kind of access to these questions came through those, those family stories and, you know, kind of then building out from there, right? You, you start to establish relationships and learn more in a particular area. When it comes to international development, I really believe in the connection between fighting poverty and fighting injustice. I think in so many contexts people’s inability to develop themselves is linked to injustices that are perpetrated against them. And it’s sort of more high profile forms of injustice-conflict, coordinated persecution of minorities-but it’s also the kind of every day injustice that a lot of very low income people face. I appreciate the opportunity I have within our caucus to have this dual role around human rights and international development. They’re both important and they’re deeply linked.

Garnett Genuis (05:15): Thanks for that. You mentioned a little, a few minutes ago, about the interconnections of Canada with the world. And I’m curious what you see as the consequences for Canada, if we don’t stay at that table, as you said, if we, if we don’t maintain a leadership role in this global moment?

Garnett Genuis (05:35): Well, so I mean, I’ve talked already about some of the health implications, of course, the pandemic isn’t going to be over until it’s over for everybody. You know, one of the issues that I think people need to really take stock of is the security and strategic implications that would result from a Canadian-and more broadly Western-disengagement from international development. If we’re not engaged, then we’re ceding the field to powers that are trying to create a world that is safer for authoritarianism and more hostile to human rights. And this is particularly bad for the countries involved, but it’s also bad for our security and bad for our interests. Recognizing that reality, it’s all the more important that we be extending a hand of friendship and partnership, working with countries in the Global South to be able to resist debt-trap diplomacy from other actors and develop their economies in ways that are consistent with human rights norms and that lead to good governance.

Barbara Grantham (06:42): I’m wondering what your thoughts are Garnett about Canada’s Official Development Assistance and what you think from your perspective, what are we currently doing well, and what do you think we could be doing better or differently?

Garnett Genuis (06:55): Well, on the sort of overall level of ODA question, the level matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters. So on the issue of levels, as our leader pointed out, we’re seeing as a percentage of GNI, less being spent today under the current government than was spent in the recent past under a previous Conservative government and also under other previous governments in the past. But I think, you know, Canadians need to see the accountability around the impact and understand that we are achieving significant results. And I think in many cases we are, but there are there are areas where there are improvements that are required. I know one thing that I hear often from the sector and something that I agree with is that Canadian engagement with small and medium-sized Canadian NGOs that are doing good work around the world, that strong connection to Canada that are, that are efficient, that are accountable to us here in a different way. Working with those organizations is critical. And there’s been a tendency recently to sort of pull money away from those kinds of organizations, and instead to be investing larger and larger portions of our dollars in large multilateral UN affiliated organizations. And it’s not a complete either/or of course, but with finite dollars, if we want to be engaging Canadians in international development, then I think we have to be very intentional about working with the Canadian organizations that are involved in this space. And I think that engagement of Canadians, you know, is important. We want to build on the Muskoka initiative that was launched previously that emphasizes support to women and girls, that there’s sort of, I think, a multi-party agreement on the value of that focus. And I would like to see us do more on issues of justice, justice system reform, human rights, peace building, conflict prevention, I think there’s a real need for growth and engagement in that area as well.

Barbara Grantham (08:58): Thanks Garnett. It’s interesting, just to pick up on your last point, we know, you know, all of the data has shown us coming over the last 12 months that women and girls have been very disproportionately affected by the pandemic, not only here in Canada, but around the world. From your perspective, what does that look like? What does a recovery that really is what we call gender-just, that really doesn’t leave women and girls behind? What does that look like? What does that mean for Canada?

Garnett Genuis (09:27): In the international context, it means that we continue to be diligent and focused on the rights of women and girls in every context where we work, that we recognize the different impacts of different kinds of discrimination in different contexts, and that we really work collaboratively with countries and with local communities and local organizations in responding to these issues. I think it’s always important on this and any other human rights issue, not to take a “we know best from a distance” type of approach, but to really try to engage with local people, with local organizations, to identify how to empower them and align with the kinds of objectives that people have in local communities. Also, just to recognize some of the intersections that exist between different issues.

Garnett Genuis (10:27): There’s a lot of discussion about education and about women having access to education. And there’s a connection between education and security that people are, may struggle to access educational opportunities if they don’t have security getting to and from those opportunities. There’s also sometimes an overlay between discrimination against minorities and discrimination against women. We see many cases where women from ethnic and religious minority communities are targeted for abduction for forced conversion. So recognizing the interconnectedness between human rights and empowering local communities and a localized response with our support would be some of the guiding principles that I would keep in mind.

Barbara Grantham (11:09): Why the local emphasis? You said a couple of times really collaborating with countries directly, with local organizations, with local communities. Why that emphasis on the local?

Garnett Genuis (11:20): I don’t mean the sector so much, but I think the politicians who are talking about this, you know, they want to be seen as the heroes. And, you know, we have the whole problem with the direction and control system, which is kind of a CRA administrative aspect of development that I think desperately requires reform. But some of our structures are oriented around this mentality of development as being something that we do for other countries or to other countries, their individual. I think we need to kind of decolonize the discourse in that we need to recognize that the heroes of the development story are the communities themselves, the individuals who are struggling to overcome barriers and build up their own position. And then we can play a role in helping, in working to remove barriers and celebrating the struggles and the success that those individuals are achieving. And also, I’m a big believer in the principle of subsidiarity-that communities, that people are sort of closest to a problem are most able to understand it and identify a targeted solution.

Barbara Grantham (12:38): What are the tangible actions that each of us as individuals could do on a daily basis to bring about a better world for everybody?

Garnett Genuis (12:46): Yeah, thank you for that important question. Canada leading in the world is not just about what governments do. So asking government to be engaged in the spaces is not the fullness of what what people’s engagement should should be. I mean, I think government has a critical role, both as a supporter of international development, but also, using its diplomatic resources to connect the financial support of providing with advocacy, for human rights improvements, and for the advancement of justice. We know that so many Canadians are contributing financially and are involved in other ways in international development work. And I want to salute that obviously, and encourage people during these challenging times to be able to invest from their own resources in making the world a better place.

Garnett Genuis (13:40): And I know different people have had very different circumstances during this time, and I think we should all work to do what we can to help help those who are struggling. Canadian leadership manifests itself through individual support as well through the actions of government. And one of the things government needs to do to empower that is, is work to reduce red tape for organizations working in this area work, to better facilitate the contributions of individual donors, and I mentioned reforming direction and control. I think, you know, another thing is trying to work with people who give remittances to explore ways of maximizing the development impact of remittances. There are many, many areas I think we can identify for greater collaboration between Canadian organizations, Canadian donors, and governments to maximize the impact of what we’re all doing together.

Barbara Grantham (14:35): Thanks Garnett, thank you very much for joining us today.

Garnett Genuis (14:38): Well, thank you for this opportunity. And most importantly, thank you for all the good work that you and your supporters are doing.

Barbara Grantham (14:44): Thank you. And thank you to our listeners. Thanks to each and every one of you for tuning in. You can look forward to more special edition episodes of 15 Minutes to Change the World with Canadian policy makers, and you can find all the episodes of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify, iTunes, and at care.ca/podcast. Thank you for listening.