Canada and the Commonwealth

The modern Commonwealth is a values-based association of 54 countries, most with historic links to the United Kingdom and home to over 2.4 billion citizens over five continents.

Canada first joined the British Commonwealth as an independent state in 1931. The modern Commonwealth came into existence in 1949 with the London Declaration, and Canada has played an important role in its evolution.

Canadian diplomat Arnold Smith served as the first Commonwealth secretary-general from 1965 to 1975. The current secretary-general, Patricia Scotland, is the sixth secretary-general of the Commonwealth and the first woman to hold the post.

The mandate of the Commonwealth is to serve the needs of its member governments and their citizens in political, economic and social development. The Commonwealth also provides a forum for deliberation, problem solving, consensus decision making and action on matters of importance to its membership.

The Commonwealth advocates for small and vulnerable states, helping to strengthen their climate and financial resilience and inclusion in the global order. Each year, the Commonwealth selects a theme. The theme for 2021 is ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’.

Canada participates in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which is held every two years. CHOGM leaders review the progress on commitments, discuss matters for mutual interest and provide direction to the organization. Canada hosted CHOGM twice, in 1973 and in 1987. The next CHOGM, scheduled to take place in Rwanda in June 2020, has been postponed due to COVID-19 and will be held in Rwanda when the conditions allow to do so safely and securely. Five sub-themes have been identified for discussion:

  1. Sustainability (Economy and Environment)
  2. Health
  3. Governance and the Rule of Law
  4. Youth
  5. Technology and Innovation

The Commonwealth includes three intergovernmental organizations, as well as over 80 accredited civil society organizations. These three intergovernmental organizations are:

  1. the Commonwealth Secretariat,
  2. the Commonwealth Foundation and
  3. the Commonwealth of Learning.

Canada is the second largest donor to the Commonwealth and contributed a total of $10.73 million to the organization in 2020-2021.

Commonwealth Secretariat

Established in 1965, the Commonwealth Secretariat:

The Secretary-General uses her good offices to support democratic processes and to prevent or help resolve conflicts.

In 2020-2021, Canada contributed $6.91 million to the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Commonwealth of Learning

The Commonwealth of Learning focuses on strengthening institutions in Commonwealth countries that are striving to provide affordable education to larger numbers of their citizens. It is a global leader and champion in the use of open, distance and technology-based learning as a cost-effective development tool to provide access to quality education and skills for employment opportunities, the empowerment of women and children, and to reduce poverty and inequality.  

Canada is the Commonwealth of Learning’s host (located in Burnaby, British Columbia) and largest donor. In 2019, Canada renewed its institutional and project support to the Commonwealth of Learning for $7.8 million over three years ($2.6 million in 2020-2021).

Commonwealth Foundation

The Commonwealth Foundation is dedicated to supporting civil society in Commonwealth countries by sharing success stories, enabling learning and fostering cooperation to influence the institutions that shape people’s lives. The Commonwealth Foundation strives for more effective, responsive and accountable governance in Commonwealth countries with civil society participation, which contributes to improved development outcomes.

In 2020-2021, Canada contributed $1.22 million to the Commonwealth Foundation.

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