Canada and Bhutan relations
The Government of Canada established formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan in 2003. The Government of the Kingdom of Bhutan (Bhutan) has diplomatic relations with only 52 countries (in addition to the European Union); Canada and Japan are the only G7 members on this list. Bhutan became a member of the United Nations in 1971. Official bilateral interaction is coordinated through the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi and the Bhutanese Mission to the United Nations in New York.
In 1998, the fourth king of Bhutan launched the country on the path to a constitutional democracy. Then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and abdicated the throne in favour of his son. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wanghuck was crowned the fifth monarch of Bhutan in 2008. The country’s first written constitution was adopted at the first session of parliament that year, signalling the formal transition of Bhutan from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Bhutan’s second parliamentary election was held in 2013. The People’s Democratic Party won a two-thirds majority. The country’s third elections will be held in 2018.
Strong people-to-people ties and a history of close collaboration in the education sector strengthen Canada and Bhutan’s relationship. In 1963, a Canadian Jesuit priest, Father William Mackey, travelled to Bhutan at the request of the Royal Bhutanese Government to establish a secular secondary school system for the country. Since then, over 50 Canadians have taught in Bhutanese schools and more than 250 Bhutanese educators have studied in over ten Canadian institutions. The King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was awarded an honourary doctorate from the University of New Brunswick in 2005.
Though Bhutan's economy is one of the world's smallest, it has grown in recent years and is based on:
- the sale of hydroelectric power to India
Canada and Bhutan enjoy a modest commercial relationship, focussed primarily on the education sector.
A Canadian Cooperation Office based in the capital Thimpu managed a bilateral development program from 1992 to 2008. Canada continues to provide both bilateral and multilateral assistance to Bhutan through a variety of channels.
- Since 1984, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has supported 23 activities worth $4.8 million. IDRC’s support over four years to the integrated rural development program, the Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative (SJI), sought to raise living standards in the province through food security and self-sufficiency.
- For over four decades, Canada has funded modest development assistance projects in Bhutan through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI). The program is directed at projects conceived and designed by local entities. Projects are selected and approved by the Canadian High Commission. The CFLI encourages positive bilateral relations between Canada, Bhutan and its civil society by supporting local endeavours.
- Through the Canadian Climate Fund, Canada has contributed US$1.3 million to the Climate-Resilient Hazelnut Value Chain project to support a range of climate resilience and adaptation features into the company’s operations.
- Canada is a major contributor to international organizations active in Bhutan. Canada is the fourth largest non-regional contributor to the Asian Development Bank, and among the largest donors to the Asian Development Fund for its poorest member countries, including Bhutan and the second largest overall contributor to the World Food Programme which received $1.34 million for the School Feeding Programme in Bhutan.
Bhutanese refugees of ethnic Nepalese descent have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s. Canada is part of a group of eight countries which includes:
- the Netherlands
- New Zealand
- the United States
- the United Kingdom
which are taking steps to address this long-standing situation by resettling some of these refugees.
In May 2007, the Government of Canada announced that it would resettle up to 5,000 Bhutanese refugees. In June 2012, the Government announced that it would resettle up to 500 more refugees with family connections in Canada. Plans to resettle up to 1,000 more Bhutanese refugees were announced in March 2013. In total, Canada has resettled approximately 6,500 Bhutanese refugees who have been living for nearly two decades in camps run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Resettlement efforts are ongoing. These countries’ efforts, as well as the Government of Nepal’s and the UNHCR’s, has reduced the number of refugee camps from seven to two.
Refugees have settled into more than 21 communities across Canada.
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