Canada and the Commonwealth

Commonwealth Promotion of Democracy and Development

The Commonwealth contributes to international efforts to promote democracy and prevent conflict. Leaders are committed to uphold the "Harare Principles" or standards of democracy, good governance and human rights as agreed to at the 1991 CHOGM. The Commonwealth reinforces the Harare Principles at the political level through the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a group of nine foreign ministers that meets to discuss serious threats to democracy in Commonwealth countries.  CMAG then recommends appropriate Commonwealth action.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General also promotes democracy through quiet diplomacy, and efforts to defuse potential conflict and to support democratic processes in Commonwealth countries. The Secretary-General's “Good Offices” address potentially volatile situations quickly and quietly, particularly when undertaken in a low-key and confidential manner. The Secretary-General and the Commonwealth can facilitate the successful resolution of difficult problems, and the Secretary-General is often seen as an unbiased presence whose only goal is a peaceful and equitable solution.

The observation of elections is one way in which the Commonwealth Secretariat works to strengthen democracy. Observer Groups are asked to consider the various factors impinging on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole and to make a judgment as to whether or not the elections have been conducted according to the standards for democratic elections to which the country has committed itself, making reference to national election-related legislation and relevant regional, Commonwealth and other international commitments. Each Group's report also contains practical recommendations to help improve electoral arrangements for the future. 

Through the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC), the Commonwealth operates a number of small technical assistance and capacity building programs aimed at improving democratic governance, human rights and the rule of law in member countries. To do so, the Commonwealth Secretariat provides expert advice, models legislation, runs workshops and regularly sends experts to member countries for training purposes. For example, the Secretariat has helped member countries adopt and ratify human rights instruments, and translate these into national level legislation. The CFTC also supports programs that promote inclusive growth and sustainable development, by for example helping governments improve the management of debt and natural resources, more effectively integrate into the global trading system, and strengthen the resilience of small states and vulnerable states, which make up a significant portion of the Commonwealth membership.

Canada and Canadians have been actively involved in the Commonwealth's democracy work. Former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Christine Stewart acted as the Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Cameroon in advance of the 2004 national elections, while former Prime Minister Joe Clark led the Commonwealth Election Observation mission to Cameroon the same year. Most recently, Audrey McLaughlin, former Member of Parliament, participated in the Commonwealth Election Observation mission to Tanzania in October 2005. Read more information about Commonwealth activities aimed at promoting democracy.