OTTAWA, Malaysia-born Canadian Senator Yuen Pau Woo, the leader of a growing bloc of independent senators in the Upper House, sees a need for a long term Canadian strategy for Asia, and urged Malaysia and Canada to enhance engagement in areas such as parliamentary values, trade practices and security.

”Despite having a Pacific coast, Canada is still mostly an Atlantic-oriented North American country. As such, there is a need to reorient in other directions what with longstanding good relations with many Asian countries, including Malaysia,” he said in an interview with Bernama.

Yuen said Canada-Asia relations were not given priority as the focus on Asian countries is transactional in nature and subject to economic consideration of the US-EU economies, rather than to build long term partnerships in Asia across economic, social, cultural, technological, and political areas.

”This is an area Canada might have fallen short as a global player. Canada and Malaysia are two resource-rich, multi-ethnic countries which share many similarities, and are highly dependent on world markets. Unfortunately, business and people-to-people ties are poorly developed. There is tremendous scope for cooperation on tourism, higher education, infrastructure development, and peace and security issues.

“Better air services and visa free access are important starting point. I am also keen on stronger contacts between our parliaments, and upgrading of the Canada-Malaysia Parliamentary Friendship Association, perhaps under the auspices of a Canada-ASEAN Inter-parliamentary group,” said the Johor Baru-born.

Yuen, who is also former president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, said a long term Asia strategy would place much political capital, attention and financial resources on Asia just as Ottawa places its relations with European countries.

”Many Canadians lack knowledge about Asia and its diverse cultures, economies, and political systems and it would be important to invest in Asia literacy through curriculum development, language instructions, overseas travel, student and scholarly exchanges, and policy dialogues.

“It will be important to promote Asia literacy in the education system, and to invest in high-end Asia research and policy development at Canadian universities and think tanks. The challenge for Canada is as much domestic as it is about international policy with the current challenges it faces with respect to political and economic relations with the US.”

Yuen, who is considered a ‘newbie’ in Canada’s Upper House, welcomed all opportunities for exchanges with parliamentarians from other countries, especially ASEAN members, which is a key player in Asia.

He sees a great variation in the practices of bicameral legislatures welcome the opportunity for exchanges between the Canadian and Malaysian upper houses on both substantive and procedural matters.

“The move to an independent senate in Canada is path breaking among upper houses and one which needs to be informed by practices and experiences in other countries.

“Malaysia is great interest to me not just because it is my country of birth, but also because of the bicameral tradition that it shares with Canada. I hope there will be an opportunity soon to meet with Malaysian counterparts on either side of the Pacific.”

Yuen said there may be opportunities for the two countries to dialogue and exchange best practices in promoting human rights and gender equality, and in countering radicalisation in their respective populations.

The Independent Senators Group (ISG) in the Canadian Senate has 43 members and is the largest parliamentary group in the Upper House.

Based on current and upcoming vacancies due to retirement of existing senators, the ISG could form a majority in the senate by early next year.

Yuen said the ISG members are independent in the sense that they do not belong to a political caucus and are not subject to party discipline or the influence of the Prime Minister’s Office.

”Independent senators do not coordinate their voting positions, except on matters that have to do with advancing the independence of the senate. The senate has for many years operated on a partisan basis, mirroring the way that the House of Commons works.”

He said as a result, many of the rules and practices of the senate are based on the idea of a government and an opposition, with little or no consideration for other groups that do not take a pre-defined position on any given legislation.

”The ISG is working to change not just the rules of the senate, but also its culture, so that the Upper House will function truly as a complementary chamber of sober second thought rather than as an imitation of the House of Commons.

“There will always be opposition in the senate, but the composition of this opposition should vary from bill to bill, as opposed to a fixed group of senators whose job is to always oppose. This is the essence of a truly independent senate.

“In this way, the senate can also be a more consistent defender of the regions represented by individual senators, and a voice for minorities across the country,” said the senator from the province of British Columbia.

Yuen said since he became the facilitator, the ISG has made significant progress in obtaining leadership positions in the senate such as chairs and deputy chairs of committees.

“We have also strengthened the ISG secretariat, which provides logistical, administrative, and analytical support to independent senators in their review of legislation and committee activities,” he added.

Source: NAM News Network