Canada and the Commonwealth
What is the Commonwealth?
The modern Commonwealth is an intergovernmental organization of 54 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.
The Commonwealth has a small permanent Secretariat in London, led by a Secretary-General, currently former Indian diplomat Kamalesh Sharma. It supports intergovernmental meetings, and operates a number of small programs related primarily to preventing conflict and to building support for democratic processes and human rights. The Secretariat 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 celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2009.
Head of the Commonwealth
Queen Elizabeth II is Head of the Commonwealth, and is Head of State of 16 Commonwealth member countries.
In 2012, Canada celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, or 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's accession to the throne as Queen of Canada. Canada invested $7.5 million to increase public awareness and encourage Canadians to organize celebrations at the local level. In addition, a commemorative medal was created to mark this national milestone, and some 60,000 Diamond Jubilee Medals were given throughout the year to Canadians in recognition of significant contributions to their communities.
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
Prime Minister Stephen Harper participated in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia from October 28 to 30, 2011. The outcome documents of the Perth CHOGM are available on the Commonwealth website. A Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is held every two years and is an opportunity for Leaders to discuss global issues and Commonwealth priorities. The next CHOGM will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
There are also regular meetings for foreign, finance, justice, education, health, youth, tourism, gender, environment and sports ministers at which Canadian ministers become acquainted with their counterparts from other countries and both enhance their understanding of international issues and promote Canada's multilateral and bilateral priorities. Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meet annually on the margins of the UN General Assembly.
In 2011, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced the appointment of Senator Hugh Segal as Canada’s Special Envoy to the Commonwealth. Senator Segal was a member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group which recommended a series of important reforms to modernize the Commonwealth. As Special Envoy, the Senator continues to advocate the implementation of these recommendations.
On December 14, 2012, Commonwealth Heads of Government formally adopted a Charter of the Commonwealth, which clearly outlines the organization’s fundamental values, principles and aspirations. Canada welcomed this advancement as an important milestone in the Commonwealth’s reform and renewal process.
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.
Canada is the Commonwealth's second largest contributor, providing approximately $20 million annually. This includes $5 million in annual assessed contributions to the Commonwealth Secretariat, $1 million to the Commonwealth Foundation, and $1 million to the Commonwealth Youth Program. Canada contributes additional funds through its voluntary contributions, including approximately $10 million to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation and $2.6 million to the Commonwealth of Learning.
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.
The CMAG’s membership is reconstituted every two years, and at the 2011 CHOGM in Perth, Australia, Canada re-joined the Group. CMAG’s membership is currently comprised of Ministers from: Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Jamaica, Maldives*, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago and Vanuatu.
Commonwealth Promotion of Democracy
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 in Harare, Zimbabwe. 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 Commonwealth action to restore democratic processes.
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” are an effective means to address potentially volatile situations quickly and quietly, particularly when undertaken in a low-key and confidential manner. The prestige of 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 judgement 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, the Commonwealth operates a number of small technical assistance programs aimed at improving democracy, governance and human rights 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.
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.
Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation
Launched by Commonwealth Heads of Government in 1971, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) is the principal means by which the Commonwealth Secretariat delivers development assistance to member countries. Canada is the CFTC's second-largest contributor, providing approximately $10 million annually.
The CFTC assists developing member countries to advance economic development, public sector governance, human development, environmental protection, gender equality, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Canada participated in the XIX Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, from October 3 to 14, 2010. The XX Commonwealth Games will be held in Glasgow, Scotland from July 23 to August 3, 2014. 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.
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