Signs of Optimism in Strengthening the Foundations of Canada – Sri Lanka Ties
By Srimal Fernando Global Editor Diplomatic Society
Photo: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets President Maithripala Sirisena on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Japan
For the last two years the new government in Sri Lanka has created newfound optimism in the relationship with many western countries, laying a foundation of trust. Now, the Sri Lankan government is moving closer and is taking steps to strengthen diplomatic ties with Canada after years of tense relations.
In July this year, the visiting Canadian Foreign Minister Dion said, “In Colombo and Jaffna, I witnessed promising signs of progress and I urged that much more be done in the areas of constitutional reform, human rights and reconciliation for all peoples of the Island. I was also deeply moved to hear first-hand from people who have suffered from this civil war.” This official visit of a Foreign Minister of Canada to Sri Lanka took place after thirteen years. During the Canadian Foreign Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka he announced two project initiatives towards Sri Lanka namely the National Languages Equality Advancement Project and the Entrepreneur Financial Centre Project totalling 20 million Canadian dollars.
Canadian Aid has played a major role in Sri Lanka’s development efforts since the 1950s. Over the past 60 years, Canadian bilateral Official development assistance (ODA) played a major role in Sri Lanka. In the year 1980 to 1981 Canadian bilateral ODA to Sri Lanka was $ 37 .69 million and the level of aid from 1987 to 1988 amounted to $ 24.5 million (Hull: Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) , 1989 ). Canadian Aid has made a significant difference to communities in Sri Lanka.
Photo: Dion shakes hands with Prime Minister Ranil Wickramsinghe ahead of meeting at Temple Trees
The World University Service of Canada (WUSC) in Sri Lanka has also been active, both in the North and in the South of the Indian Ocean island nation and had successfully trained more than 30,000 people in vocational training skills necessary for employment. The Canadian Aid helped to improve the country’s image in Sri Lanka following a $100 million contribution given towards the construction of the Maduru Oya Reservoir, under the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme. Combined with rising aid in response to emergency needs in 2009 Canada’s recognition further solidified after the country announced up to $22.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka.
Aid is not the only method of analysing the growing influence and the closer ties between the two countries. The Sri Lankan diaspora in Canada is estimated to number between 250,000 to 400,000. It is estimated that the Tamil diaspora in Canada is around 300,000. Over the past four decades the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in Canada are increasingly gaining recognition and have become significant player in the Canadian political arena. Internationally recognized human rights lawyer Gary Anandasangaree, a Member of the Canadian Parliament and the Former New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament (MP) for the Toronto-area Rathika Sitsabaiesan a recipient of the V. K. Krishna Menon Institute's "Personality of the Year Award" in 2012 are some of the of the most prominent Sri Lankan-Canadian origin politicians in Canada.
Media plays a definitive role over politics and public opinion. Canadian Tamil diasporic media like Tamil Vision International, Tamil Entertainment Television (TET), Tamil Canadian News and Canada Mirror play a crucial role in reconnecting the community with Sri Lanka and creating space for the publishing of news that main stream media rarely reports.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in his remarks to the media at the conclusion of the bilateral discussions with visiting Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphan Dion said, “We are keen to engage with the Sri Lankan community in Canada and invite them to visit the country they left, or was compelled to leave, long ago.” The trade relations between the two countries have shown significant progress over the last few years. Canada –Sri Lanka bilateral trade has grown from $74.99 million in 2002 to nearly $ 455.30 million in 2012 (The Sri Lanka High Commission in Ottawa).
Issuing a message to mark Canada Day, High Commissioner of Canada to Sri Lanka and Maldives Shelley Whiting stated, “Sri Lanka trade relationship is going strong. Trade volumes have grown by 25 percent in 2015 and looks forward to continue growth and enhance trade ties, particularly in priority sectors, such as agri food, infrastructure, aviation, clean tech and education. Under the most optimistic assumptions Canada and Sri Lanka can look to the future to strengthen the foundations of the diplomatic ties between the two countries.”