August 25, 2003
Last month I met with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo to co-chair a new UN committee focused on helping local businesses in poor countries. After that meeting some Canadians asked how I could balance my new UN work with my current campaign for the Liberal leadership.
I appreciate the question. It is precisely because Canada has a leading role to play in the world, that I believe any person who aspires to be Prime Minister must help develop innovative solutions to global problems. And the ideas behind this UN committee are an example of Canadian leadership.
We are a major donor country. But we have also come to realize in recent years that the cheques we write do not, on their own, produce all the change that poorer countries need. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen. So when the UN Development Programme set its goals for the new millennium, Canadians — along with others around the world — simply had to come up with more ideas.
Our attention turned increasingly to the kind of work pioneered by people like Hernando de Soto, a world-renowned economist from Peru. Mr. de Soto argues that the poor themselves have the ability to create real wealth for their own countries if they are free to mobilize their own assets through commerce. Mr. de Soto and his peers are talking about the kinds of businesses you see when you go to a village square on market day — something I try to do, as a rule, whenever visiting a developing country.
One of the chief differences between the industrialized world and the developing world is that entrepreneurs in developed countries like Canada have the chance to grow — and in doing so they create wealth for their communities. Local businesses in developing countries, on the other hand, are often held back because there are no strong laws to protect their property, no financial markets to fund their ambitions, and no easy way to distribute, produce or market their goods on a scale larger than the village.
All of these hurdles can be cleared, which is why the UN Secretary General asked me to join Mr. Zedillo in leading a group to explore what it would take to do the job. His call, I believe, recognized Canada’s ability to lead the international community on a matter of urgent global importance. Mr. de Soto was among those who agreed to join our group.
As far as I am concerned, this effort will only be successful if it advances the cause of small, local businesses in poorer countries. It is incumbent on us in Canada, who have so benefited from free enterprise at home, to open this new chapter in international development.