I had the opportunity in January to represent our country at the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF) in Vladivostok, Russia. This was the 21st annual Forum which hosted over three hundred parliamentarians from 23 APPF member states as well as representatives from other countries, the UN and other world organizations.
Our delegation consisted of 6 MPs (3 Conservative, 2 NDP and 1 Liberal) and three Senators. I had previously spent time in Vladivostok over 20 years ago as an interpreter when the Canadian Navy sailed into what used to be a closed military base off limits to foreigners and other Soviet citizens. That and the fact that my mother was born north of Vladivostok helped to personalize this this visit and make it a rich and rewarding experience for me. It also gave me the opportunity to work in my native language, Russian.
After a long flight from Castlegar – Vancouver – Tokyo – Vladivostok, I finally arrived at my destination in the early hours of Saturday January 26th. (I had left Castlegar on Thursday January 24th).
The APPF event was held at the campus of the Far Eastern Federal University, which is considered to be an advanced scientific and educational centre dealing with problems of the Far East region. This was not the first major international event held at this university. In September of 2012 it hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.
All of us stayed in new residences on campus which were not far from the main meeting venue. (The university was to begin opening its doors to students once our conference was complete).
To be honest, I was not sure what to expect from this, my very first Inter-Parliamentary meeting. It became very evident that the Russian Government spared no effort to showcase their country. Young English-speaking students worked as hosts and as servers at the restaurants and banquets. We were offered a guided tour of the city and were invited to a number of very professional cultural performances in the evening. Exhibits from each of the Far East “Kray” or regions were on display at the major Conference Centre. It was here that I was able to get an up-date on the town Nikolayevsk-on-the-Amur where my mother was born.
As expected, the forum started with opening ceremonies hosted by the President of the APPF and Chairperson of the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation (Russian Senate), Valentina Matvienko. In her opening address Ms. Matvienko highlighted the importance of a new system of inter-governmental relationship for the region to strengthen peace and security, intensify nations’ development, ease the negative impact of climate change, ensure food and energy security and enhance regional cooperation.
Parliamentarians from as far away as Chile, Ecuador, Australia and New Zealand were present at this meeting. After further words of greetings sent from the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General and Yasuhiro Nakasone, Honorary President of APFF, the delegates made their way to the first plenary session set-up “UN style” with each country represented at a roundtable with other delegates sitting behind.
The basic format of the three-day sessions consisted of plenary sessions where each country had an opportunity to speak on a number of issues. As this was happening, resolutions were being drawn up and modified so that they could be unanimously adopted on the final day. During and between sessions, delegates had a chance to get to know each other and exchange ideas, sort of like a “mini United Nations”. The idea of politicians from so many countries meeting at an international forum, in my opinion, is an excellent way to create and foster dialogue between nations.
In my second column on APPF (Part II), I will focus on some of the issues we discussed.