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Belgium's ambassador to Canada visits Delhi
Submitted on Tue, 06/28/2011 - 8:13am
By MONTE SONNENBERG, SIMCOE REFORMER
DELHI – Belgium's ambassador to Canada gave assurances Friday that the constitutional crisis afflicting his government in Brussels is manageable and not a threat to the country's long-term good health.
Bruno van der Pluijm was in Delhi as a guest of the Belgian Club.
"This debate is not about the break-up of Belgium," van der Pluijm said. "It's about the division of powers within Belgium. It's a very crucial difference. This is not about the break-up of the country."
Belgians have not been able to form a new government since the federal election of June, 2010. At issue is the drafting of a new constitution, one that will reallocate powers between the federal government and the regions of Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia. Additional parties to the debate are representatives of the Flemish-, French- and German-speaking communities.
The representatives elected last June have spent the past year seeking common ground, something that has proved elusive. The parties are divided on how much power to devolve to the regions and how much should remain with the central government. The ambassador said media reports suggesting Belgium has gone more than a year without a government are not entirely accurate.
In Belgium, all federal governments are coalitions. After an election, the previous government continues in a caretaker role until a new coalition emerges.
Belgium, van der Pluijm said, is not without a rudder. However, he added the current state of affairs is less than ideal and that all parties to the discussion are treating the matter with a sense of urgency.
"It is not a very comfortable situation," he said. "The sooner this is settled, the better."
Dignitaries from the old country regularly pay courtesy calls to the Delhi Belgian Club. Accompanying van der Pluijm Friday was Paul De Vos, the outgoing Belgian consul in Toronto. Belgian's Crown Prince Philip paid a visit to the Belgian Hall in 1998.
"People are honoured by their visits and the interest they show in our community," said Gaston Geysens of Delhi, a past president of the Belgian Club.
Delhi is home to one of the largest concentrations of people of Belgian ancestry in Canada. Nearly 20,000 people of Belgian descent live within 25 miles of town. Factoring in the large number of Belgians in the Chatham-Leamington area and the count in southern Ontario rises to the 35,000 range.
In a speech following Friday's banquet, De Vos acknowledged that the Delhi area has struggled in recent years with the downturn in the tobacco economy. He said the Belgian community's best response is to work extra hard to hold onto the place of pride it has established in the area.
"I've been here too few times," De Vos said. "But I'm always glad to come here and enjoy the conviviality of this community. It reminds me of back home. This area would not be what it is today without the Belgian people. We put Belgium on the map here in Canada."