These are troubled days for our world. But Canada has a once-in-seven-years privilege to host the next G7 Summit, June 8–9 at Charlevoix, Quebec. The agenda for this important meeting is Canada’s to shape. It already looks likely to cover some important issues such as gender equality, climate change, jobs, and Korea.
I want to propose something new and innovative to add to that agenda. It is not about more aid money, although that is still a vital lubricant for the poorest. Instead, it responds to changes needed in global governance — actions that could affect the world of the emerging economies, which is becoming critical to Canada’s economic and political future.
The proposal would have Canada working to enlist its G7 peers to join in promoting changes that would transform the G20 into something more truly global, something with stronger international legitimacy. At present the G20 is still, like the G7 itself, essentially a rich-nation club. The goal of the initiative would be to create a permanent G20 presence for the voices of the often-overlooked poorest countries at this table for international policy deliberation.
How? By a simple but politically delicate expedient: adding two new full seats to the G20 to be occupied by countries selected by and from amongst the world’s poorest nations — the world of LDCs (least developed countries) and fragile states.
The G20, a body conceived in 1999 by Canadian finance minister Paul Martin, was upgraded to a Leaders’ Summit to tackle the 2008 global financial crisis. However, even today no LDCs or fragile states sit as members at its table.
The proposed initiative would see a highly respected middle power, Canada, with star leadership in its current prime minister, boldly promoting a truly inclusive G20. A partnership of G7 and G20 members would transform an already key global governance forum into one with greater equity, and thus enhanced credibility in the fight against poverty.
Addressing a Gap
Our currently shaky world results not just from the disruptive leadership of our neighbour to the south, but also the hesitation of other major powers to step up to the leadership plate. Too often the G7 and G20 have been seen as rivals as opposed to partners working to shape global change. And this despite the fact that the G20’s membership embraces all seven G7 countries.
Adding two new seats — one representing LDCs and one representing fragile states, as represented by the g7+ — would be the first-ever change to the G20’s formal membership. Even just two new voices would shift the tone of G20 discussions to be more poverty sensitive, effectively speaking for the global poor. The UN’s Agenda 2030 pledges that “no one will be left behind” in its goal to end poverty, a goal to which all UN members, Canada included, committed themselves.
This could all happen quickly if G7 countries, led by Canada, sensitively work to build a consensus to raise the proposed idea as part of the regular agenda for the G20’s 2018 meeting, slated for late November in Argentina. If successful at the G20’s 2019 summit, the Canadian initiative would be recognised as having inspired a new inclusiveness in the global policy dialogue. All this at the modest cost of designing a G22 logo and having two extra chairs placed around the table, plus perhaps some pushing, with diplomatic delicacy, of a few traditional observer guests into the back row.
This G22 would encompass a broader worldview, one more responsive to the needs of LDCs and fragile states. These two long-absent voices of the poorest would hopefully reduce some of the policy competition of G7 versus G20, as they focus together on the needs of the most vulnerable. This must include acting forcefully to reverse climate change and other damage to our environment and to root out the many stubborn inequalities still facing women, girls, and other vulnerable communities, key goals of Canada’s new feminist development policy (FIAP).
What’s in it for Canada?
There are clear advantages that could emerge for Canada from this initiative, even given the challenges of implementation.
The initiative is a brand-new proposal. It is bold and innovative, not routine and predictable. The simple act of proposing it would indicate that Canada respects the evolving geopolitics of North–South relations. It would signal to the world that Canada is indeed “back” and specifically supports the “no one left behind” goal. More broadly, it would represent a solid contribution to a stronger co-operative tone to the sometimes-competitive G7–G20 relations.
Canada’s leadership would hopefully be viewed positively by the many developing countries who are swing voters in the upcoming UN Security Council elections. (Canada’s two competitors — Ireland and Norway — are both seen as strong pro-poor activist-donors).
The biggest benefit, of course, is that adding two new faces from the world’s poorest countries would change the tone of global policy dialogue in the G20 and beyond, representing a quantum boost to G20 legitimacy.
The ball is now in Canada’s court. Nobody is pressing Canada to act, but this is not the time for caution. Rather, Canada should demonstrate bold, innovative action as the G7 chair. In this period of global uncertainty, Canada has a unique chance to prove its empathy for the world’s most vulnerable and to show that Canada truly is “back.”
See part 2, “Next Steps: How to Make It All Happen.”
This blog is a shortened version of an article published in OpenCanada on 23 January 2018.
Join CIPS on 26 January 2018 for a discussion with Peter M. Boehm, Deputy Minister for the G7 Summit and Prime Minister Trudeau’s personal representative (sherpa) at the G7.