Canada and the Commonwealth

What is the Commonwealth?

The modern Commonwealth is an association of 52 countries, most with historic links to the United Kingdom, and home to two billion citizens, almost 30 per cent of the world's population. It is the world’s oldest political association of sovereign states. Members cooperate within a framework of common values and goals, outlined in the Commonwealth Charter. Sixteen of the 52 member countries are called the Commonwealth Realms, as their Head of State is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Ambassadors from Commonwealth member states accredited to other Commonwealth countries hold the title of High Commissioner, and work in the High Commission.

The Commonwealth has a small permanent Secretariat in London, led by a Secretary-General, dual U.K.-Dominica citizen Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, who took office in April 2016. Canadian diplomat Arnold Smith served as the first Commonwealth Secretary-General from 1965 – 1975. The Secretariat supports intergovernmental meetings, and operates a number of small programs related to building support for democratic processes and human rights, as well as inclusive growth and sustainable development, as defined in its Strategic Plan 2013/14 - 2017. It also coordinates several election monitoring missions each year. The Secretary-General uses his "Good Offices" to support democratic processes and to help resolve conflict. The Commonwealth sees itself as an advocate for small and vulnerable states, helping to strengthen their resilience and inclusion in the global economy. The Commonwealth includes three intergovernmental organizations – the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation and the Commonwealth of Learning, (located in Burnaby, B.C.) and over 80 accredited civil society organizations.

The Commonwealth celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2014. Each year the Commonwealth selects a theme; the theme for 2016 is “An Inclusive Commonwealth”.

Canada's Financial Contribution to the Commonwealth

Canada funds the Commonwealth and its institutions through assessed contributions as a member state of the Commonwealth, and through voluntary contributions for specific projects and programs, with the amounts determined at Canada’s discretion. For example, Canada’s support to the Commonwealth of Learning contributes to helping member governments provide increased access to affordable, quality education and training opportunities for those who need it most, particularly women and girls, using open, distance and technology-based approaches.

Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is a rotating group of nine Foreign Ministers that meets when necessary to examine serious and persistent threats to democracy in Commonwealth countries.

CMAG was created at the 1995 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Auckland, New Zealand, and was the outcome of a Canadian initiative to give the Commonwealth a high-level inter-governmental mechanism to respond to serious violations of the Harare Declaration of 1991. CMAG was given an enhanced mandate at the 2011 CHOGM, where Leaders agreed to strengthen the Group’s ability to address serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth political values as enunciated in the Commonwealth Charter.

The CMAG’s membership is reconstituted every two years. The current members of CMAG are Guyana, Solomon Islands, Pakistan, Cyprus, India, Kenya, Namibia, New Zealand and Malta.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)

Every two years, Commonwealth Heads of Government meet to discuss matters of mutual interest, to review the organization’s work, and to mandate changes they feel are necessary. CHOGM 2015 was held in Malta over the week of November 21st, culminating in the Leaders’ segment from 27 - 29 November. Malta selected the theme “The Commonwealth – Adding Global Value”, and organized a series of parallel events: a Peoples’ Forum for civil society, a Youth Forum, a Women’s Forum (for the first time at a CHOGM), and a Business Forum. Leaders’ discussions centred on climate change, sustainable development, human rights, migration and countering violent extremism. These issues are reflected in the Leaders’ Statement, the Leaders’ Statement on Climate Action and the CHOGM 2015 Communiqué. Canada last hosted a CHOGM in 1987 in Vancouver.

There are also regular Ministerial meetings, including for the following portfolios: foreign affairs, finance, justice, education, health, youth, tourism, gender, environment and sports. These meetings provide Canadian ministers the opportunity to become acquainted with their counterparts from other Commonwealth countries to enhance their understanding of international issues and to promote Canada's multilateral and bilateral priorities. Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meet annually on the margins of the UN General Assembly.

Commonwealth Youth

The Commonwealth’s 52 member countries have a combined population of more than 2 billion, of which more than 60% are under 30 years of age.

The Commonwealth supports youth in a number of different areas – through the Commonwealth Youth Programme (to which Canada is a principal contributor), it offers the Commonwealth Youth Awards and the Commonwealth Youth Worker Awards, and supports the Sport for Development and Peace programme and various youth and entrepreneur initiatives.

MYCommonwealth and the Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada and its local chapters are two organizations that connect Canadian youth to the Commonwealth world.

Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games are held every four years. The XX Commonwealth Games were held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2014 and the 2018 Commonwealth Games will be held on the Gold Coast in Australia. Canada has participated in every Commonwealth Games since the first Games were held in 1930 in Hamilton, Ontario; the Games have been held in Canada four times. The Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) were first held in 2000. Samoa hosted the fifth edition of these games in September 2015. The CYG welcomes up to 1,000 athletes between the ages of 14 and 18. For more information, please visit the Commonwealth Games Canada web site.

Commonwealth Scholarships

A number of Commonwealth-related scholarships exist. The Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships are intended to lay the foundation for the next generation of entrepreneurs, public servants, community leaders and academics with innovative minds and a sense of commitment to Canada and the Commonwealth. The program provides graduate level scholarships for students from the developing Commonwealth and provides international internships and study periods in the Commonwealth for Canadian graduate level students. Individual Canadian universities select award recipients. Information on a number of other scholarships made available by universities in Commonwealth countries for Canadian students and researchers can be found here.

The Royal Commonwealth Society

The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) of Canada is a civil society, non-partisan, membership organization. The mandate of the RCS is to promote knowledge of and involvement in the activities of the Commonwealth among Canadians, with a special emphasis on youth.

It works closely with those Government departments which interact with Commonwealth organizations, especially Global Affairs Canada and Canadian Heritage. The ten independent branches across Canada work with other organizations to promote the Commonwealth and its values, and celebrate its diversity by holding public talks, special events on Commonwealth Day, and using social media and publications to make information about Commonwealth matters widely available.

Local branches also support and promote various competitions and initiatives for young people such as the Commonwealth Essay Competition and the Queen’s Young Leader Award. A highlight of the RCS’ activities in Canada for more than 40 years has been the annual National Student Commonwealth Forum, organized by the Ottawa Branch, which brings high school students to Ottawa from across the nation to learn about the Commonwealth and international issues through a model Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.