Canada and the Commonwealth

What is the Commonwealth?

The modern Commonwealth is an association of 53 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 53 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, currently former Indian diplomat Kamalesh Sharma. 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. 

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.

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 will be held in Malta over the week of November 21st, culminating in the Leaders’ segment from 27 - 29 November. Malta has chosen the theme “The Commonwealth – Adding Global Value”, and is organizing 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. Canada last hosted a CHOGM in 1987, in Vancouver.

Commonwealth Youth

The Commonwealth’s 53 member countries have a combined population of more than 2 billion, of which more than 60% are under 30 years of age. In recognition of this, the 2015 Commonwealth theme is ‘A Young Commonwealth’, which recognises the capacity, contribution and potential of young people, who play a vital role at the heart of sustainable development and democracy.

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 (see below) 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 will host the fifth edition of these games in 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. 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 of Canada (RCS) is both a learned Society and club, non-partisan, independent of governments and supported solely by public generosity. The RCS engages with its youth, civil society, business and government networks to address issues that matter to the Citizens of the Commonwealth. Its primary focus is to the promotion of young people throughout the Commonwealth. The RCS has 12 branches across Canada.