HELPING HAND

Lebanon 2016 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to HE Stéphane Dion, Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada, on the strength of the relationship between Lebanon and Canada and what more can be done to help Lebanon reach a stable future.

HE Stéphane Dion
BIOGRAPHY
HE Stéphane Dion graduated from Université Laval with a BA in 1977 and an MA in 1979, both in political science. He received his doctorate in sociology from the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, and before entering politics, he taught public administration and political science at the Université de Montréal, lectured at the Université de Moncton, and was a visiting professor at the Brookings Institution in Washington. First elected in 1996, he served as leader of the opposition for two years. He was appointed Intergovernmental Affairs Minister in January 1996 under former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Minister of the Environment in July 2004 under former Prime Minister Paul Martin.

What are the key aspects of Canada and Lebanon's bilateral relationship?

Canada and Lebanon enjoy a close relationship built on the strength of 62 years of diplomatic relations, reinforced by close cultural ties and participation in La Francophonie. Given the significant challenges the country faces today in terms of the security, political, and socioeconomic situation, there is much to do with Lebanon in ensuring its stability, and there are plenty of opportunities to increase our bilateral ties on that basis. We announced in February 2016 Canada's increased support over the next three years in terms of security, stabilization, and humanitarian and development assistance, as well as enhanced diplomatic engagement to respond to the crises in the region. Lebanon will benefit from this assistance. I would like to thank our Lebanese counterparts on the ground with whom we have had excellent cooperation, further forged through Operation Syrian Refugees. Our joint intervention has created more opportunities to widen our collaboration to other sectors.

The Lebanese diaspora represents the largest Arab diaspora in Canada. What have been the major contributions of the diaspora to Canadian society?

As Member of Parliament for Saint-Laurent in Montreal, I can attest that the Lebanese community is growing steadily. The Lebanese-Canadian community is estimated at over 165,000 people. We also have a large Canadian diaspora in Lebanon, estimated at over 40,000 people. This significant diaspora provides a competitive advantage to developing economic, cultural, and academic links. We are very happy to see the Canadian market growing in Lebanon, with the presence of Canadian companies, either directly or through agents, representatives, franchises, and partnerships that include Blackberry, Intelcan, Raytheon, La Senza, Second Cup, and HEC Montreal.

Canada has made significant contributions to Lebanon in light of the Syrian refugee crisis. How has this assistance strengthened Lebanon's resiliency to face this challenge?

We commend the Lebanese people for welcoming and hosting civilians fleeing the conflict in Syria. Along with other Canadian governmental departments, and with the assistance of our embassies, we were able to meet our commitment of welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February 2016, of which over 14,000 came from Lebanon. We have renewed our commitment, and we look forward to welcoming more Syrian refugees throughout 2016. Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, we have contributed over USD1 billion in humanitarian, development, stabilization, and security assistance to the broader region to help neighboring states deal with the Syrian refugee crisis. I am pleased to see such a coordinated effort to provide support on the ground. Through our funds, we support activities implemented by UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement.

What will be the highlights in your agenda as head of the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry to strengthen the relationship with Lebanon?

In February 2016, alongside our Prime Minister, we announced our new policy. We committed USD1.6 billion in humanitarian, development, stabilization, and security assistance to the region over the next three years, from which Lebanon will benefit. We will also work with our international partners to deliver USD840 million in humanitarian assistance, USD270 million in bilateral development programming, and USD145 million to security and stabilization programming, from which Lebanon will benefit, including responding to internal challenges related to the crisis in Syria. I was pleased to see that in light of our commitment, on April 15, 2016, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, announced a contribution of USD20 million to the multi-donor Concessional Financing Facility, which will play an important role in helping strengthen Lebanon's ability to manage the crisis and provide crucial services for refugees and host communities. We commend the Lebanese government's dedication to keeping Lebanon stable and disassociated from regional conflicts, and encourage all parties to adhere to this commitment. We continue to encourage and support the country's efforts to end its political deadlock, and to both elect a new president and hold parliamentary elections as soon as possible.