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 billion citizens.

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 the organization.

The Commonwealth sees itself as an advocate for small and vulnerable states, helping to strengthen their 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’. Five sub-themes have been identified for discussion: Governance and Rule of Law, Sustainability, Health, Youth, and Technology and Innovation.

Canada participates in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which is held every two years. CHOGM leaders review the progress of previous commitments, discuss matters for mutual participation 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, was postponed due to COVID-19 and will be held in June 2021.

The Commonwealth includes three intergovernmental organizations, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation and the Commonwealth of Learning (located in Burnaby, B.C.), as well as over 80 accredited civil society organizations.

Canada is a top donor of the Commonwealth and contributed a total of $10.39 million to the organization in 2019-2020.

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 2019-2020, Canada contributed $6.65 million to the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Commonwealth of Learning

The Commonwealth of Learning focuses on strengthening institutions in developing Commonwealth countries that are striving to provide affordable education to larger numbers of their citizens. It is the only intergovernmental organization dedicated to the development and sharing of open learning and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. The Commonwealth of Learning is helping developing members improve access to quality education and training. Canada is the largest donor and provides one third of its annual funding.

In 2018, Canada renewed its institutional and project support to the Commonwealth of Learning for $7.8 million over three years ($2.6 million in 2019-2020).

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 2019-2020, Canada contributed $1.14 million to the Commonwealth Foundation.

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