Senator Don Meredith
Senator Don Meredith

A tribute in Canada’s Senate to Trinidad & Tobago

By Admin Wednesday July 04 2012 in Opinion
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Canadian Senators Dr. Don Meredith and Consiglio Di Nino paid tribute recently to Trinidad and Tobago during a sitting of the Chamber in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the twin-island nation’s Independence. Here is the tribute.

 

Dr. Meredith: Honourable senators, I rise today to recognize a momentous occasion for the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It was in 1962 that this nation and my home island of Jamaica were the first British islands in the Caribbean to become independent nations. During that year of independence, both of these nations established diplomatic relations with Canada. Since then Trinidad and Tobago went on a step further and became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. This testifies to the leadership role this nation plays in the region until this very day.

 

Affectionately known as ‘‘T&T,’’ these twin islands of over 1.2 million residents have become a regional and international centre for arts and culture. This cultural impact can be felt in all the great artistic fields, especially literature, music and their carnival celebrations, which, I am sure, some honourable senators have taken in.

 

In fact, two Trinidadian authors, V.S. Naipaul and Derek Walcott, have been honoured with the Nobel Prize in Literature, one of the highest international awards for writing. Being honoured among these luminaries reflects the deep artistic soul of Trinidad and Tobago.

 

This soul carries through into the music and carnival celebrations of T&T, which is the birthplace of the steel pan, considered the only instrument invented and accepted widely in the 20th century.

 

Inspired by the rhythms of the steel pan, calypso, soca, chutney and parang are musical genres that reflect the deep roots of the African and Indian communities that make Trinidad and Tobago one of the most culturally diverse and unique countries in the world.

 

On the field of play, they have produced some of the best international cricket players. And in 2006 Trinidad and Tobago became the smallest country to ever qualify for the FIFA World Cup when their national team, known locally as the Soca Warriors, qualified for the tournament for the first time.

 

In business, Trinidad and Tobago, a country rich in natural resources, has become a major producer of petroleum and natural gas products, 70 per cent of which is exported to the United States.

 

With one of the highest rates of mineral extraction in the world, Trinidad and Tobago’s economy is the largest, most diversified and most industrialized in the Caribbean, making it one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the region.

 

As evidence of this progress, honourable senators, last year it was removed from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s list of developing nations for the first time in its history. With its lush rain forests, beaches and air travel infrastructure, including the headquarters of Caribbean Airlines, Trinidad and Tobago continues to grow as an international tourist destination.

 

T&T is the home of the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, as well as the University of Trinidad and Tobago, the University of the Southern Caribbean and the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago. Its national economy is ultimately supported and sustained by top-notch post-secondary institutions that produce the leaders and professionals of tomorrow.

 

Over the past 50 years, Canada has been a major partner of Caribbean nations, especially in the areas of capacity building and trade. In fact, in recent years, bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and Trinidad and Tobago has grown to over $615 million. Trinidad and Tobago’s imports of Canadian goods, which include mineral ores, machinery, paper products, copper, electrical equipment and vegetables, have reached over $273.6 million in recent years.

 

Meanwhile, Canada’s imports from Trinidad and Tobago include organic chemicals, iron and steel and inorganic chemicals, and have reached over $341.5 million. Internationally, honourable senators, Trinidad and Tobago’s exports also include oil and gas, machinery, transport equipment, mineral fuels, lubricants, food products, beverages and tobacco, reaching a total of $16.92 billion.

 

Canada continues to invest in the economy of Trinidad and Tobago, especially in the energy and financial sectors, which are set to grow and continue to strengthen the Caribbean economy. Canada is able to maintain a strong, multi-faceted relationship with T&T by partnering on issues of mutual need, especially the energy sector, and by developing a trade relationship that honours the diversity and strength of both the Canadian economy and the economy of Trinidad and Tobago.

 

By developing a relationship, honourable senators, that relies on diverse imports and exports, Canada is able to support its own economy while giving Trinidad and Tobago a firm base upon which to continue the great industrial development that has made it one of the shining lights in the Caribbean. This will help to spur on the manufacturing sector, which has seen immense growth over the last several years and increase the power that Trinidad and Tobago is able to exert as a growing economic powerhouse on the world stage.

 

I am honoured to say that in my capacity as senator over the last year I have been helping to strengthen the free trade agreement between Canada and the Caribbean community. This agreement will go a long way in creating jobs and increasing investments between Canada and Caribbean nations like Trinidad and Tobago.

 

In terms of security, Canada has formed a strong partnership with Trinidad and Tobago by helping to train the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, one of the largest defence forces in the Caribbean. T&T has been a proud member of Canada’s Military Training and Assistance Program since the mid-1970s, which has resulted in a number of Canadian officers going to Trinidad and Tobago to help its military to develop strategies to deal with disaster management protocols and basic security functions.

 

These security arrangements will only continue to be strengthened into the future. Beyond trade, capacity building and language, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago are linked at the most fundamental level. They are both parliamentary democracies, with a bicameral system consisting of an elected house and an appointed Senate, based on the Westminster parliamentary system.

 

Within the Caribbean community, Trinidad and Tobago also has a regional mandate as the seat of the Caribbean Court of Justice.

 

Here in Canada, a big source of pride is a diverse and talented group of Trinidadians and Tobagonians who have chosen to make Canada their home. Trinidadian- and Tobagonian-Canadians, led by Amanda Marshall and Keshia Chante, have dramatically affected the face of the Canadian music industry, while athletes like Stephen Ames, Jamaal Magloire and Randy Samuel have made the country proud of their play on the field. Some of Canada’s most visible and influential positions are held by Trinidadian and Tobagonian immigrants, as illustrated by the contributions of CBC reporter Ian Hanomansing and Member of Parliament Hedy Fry.

 

In our gallery today is another Trinidadian who has played an important part in Canada and in his homeland, His Excellency, Philip Buxo, High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago to Canada. Prior to his appointment to his current post, His Excellency spent four years as the director of CARICOM Region Energy and Infrastructure Division at SNC-Lavalin, Canada’s leading engineering and Construction Company. He has worked with the Canadian Commercial Corporation and Export Development Canada to spearhead development initiatives in the Caribbean.

 

Honourable senators, in celebration of 50 years of relationship, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnson, Governor General of Canada, and Canadian officials made a recent state visit to Trinidad and Tobago, testifying to the long-standing relationship our countries have enjoyed. During the visit, Minister Diane Ablonczy made security cooperation announcements. The Governor General addressed the bright minds and faculty at the University of the West Indies and witnessed the signing of a technical framework agreement that will allow Canadian companies to access commercial opportunities in the Trinidadian health sector.

 

Honourable senators, despite the warm friendship that our countries share at the highest level, the greatest tie that binds us together is over 65,000 Trinidadians and Tobagonians who now call Canada home and make contributions to this country, men and women like members of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Ottawa, under the leadership of the President Ingrid John- Baptiste, who is also in the gallery.

 

Honourable senators, please join me in celebrating Trinidad and Tobago’s fiftieth anniversary of independence and diplomatic ties with Canada. May the next 50 years be marked with great prosperity and blessings for both countries. Thank you.

 

Senator Di Nino: Honourable senators, I would like to add a few brief remarks to this. Some of those 65,000 Trinidadian-Canadians that Senator Meredith talks about are members of my family. He may not know that, but, some 25 years ago, my son Frank married a wonderful lady by the name of Mercedes Souza de Castro. She has been my daughter-in-law for the past 25 years and I have two wonderful now young adult grandchildren.

 

I have experienced some of those human qualities that my colleague Senator Meredith talked about. By extension, the family is much greater than just my daughter-in-law and my two grandchildren, who are part Trinidadian. As is the case in Italian families, we embrace and become larger and just take over more of the world. I just wanted to agree with Senator Meredith that they have brought, at least in my life, some great joy and great value. To you, my friend, I say, Amen.

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