Why Canada is sending so many politicians to Myanmar

Ottawa — The Globe and Mail

President Thein Sein of Myanmar visits Thailand in this photo from July.

(Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters)

Hoping to see real change come from an opening by Myanmar’s autocratic regime, Canada is sending the long-isolated country a heap of politicians. For a little while.

A delegation of MPs, political advisers, and officials from organizations including the House of Commons and the Auditor-General’s Office will go to Myanmar, formerly called Burma, on Sunday for a week-long trip to talk to reformists there about electoral politics and parliamentary practice.

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The idea was proposed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird last March when he made the first-ever visit by a Canadian foreign minister to Myanmar after the county’s president, Thein Sein, took reformist steps, including releasing many political prisoners, and allowing once-jailed opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi to campaign in parliamentary elections.

“There is very little parliamentary tradition in Burma, and if a functioning legislature and multi-party electoral system are to flourish, there’s real value to this type of practical interaction,” he said in a statement issued Friday.

There’s still a considerable question mark hanging over Myanmar’s reforms, however. While western countries have hailed the dramatic change of tune from a military-backed regime that had long been one of the world’s most autocratic and isolationist, it’s not clear whether Thein Sein’s government will press ahead with broader reforms toward full democracy – and if the country’s military will let him.

In addition to MPs – Conservatives Stella Ambler and Costas Menegakis, New Democrats Wayne Marston and David Christopherson, and Liberal John McKay – the delegation will include veteran NDP and Liberal political strategists, and representatives of the Parliamentary Centre, the House of Commons, and the Senate.