McLeod Group Blog

What’s on the table in Charlevoix? Canada as host of the 2018 G7 Summit

What’s on the table in Charlevoix? Canada as host of the 2018 G7 Summit

McLeod Group Blog, January 22, 2018

Every year, heads of government of the G7 member countries (United States, France, Japan, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Canada) get together for a day or two to discuss global issues and matters of mutual concern. This year, it’s Canada’s turn to host, in Charlevoix, Québec, during the first week of June. What will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bring to the table by way of agenda and initiatives, and what commitments will he be asking his counterparts around the table to make?

There has yet to be any mention of the specific agreements that Canada hopes to see emerge from the meeting. However, on December 14, the Prime Minister announced Canada’s five themes for its G7 presidency: gender equality; climate change, oceans and clean energy; economic growth that works for everyone; preparing for jobs of the future; and building a more peaceful and secure world.

These themes should make for an interesting discussion, especially if the gender equality element includes – as it must – support for sexual and reproductive health and rights. Canada has a clearly stated policy, as set out in announcements by the Minister of International Development and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. However, so does the United States, under President Donald Trump. The problem is that the latter’s policy is diametrically the opposite. And let’s not get started on climate change!

Apart from the ongoing speculation about what “Canada is back” means, there may not be a lot we can offer by way of leadership. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has been faithfully attending international meetings addressing climate change and conferring with her provincial counterparts, but Canada’s performance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is seriously off target. When the United Nations General Assembly voted on a motion calling for a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Canada opposed the measure. While there is consensus that efforts to address conflict and build global security and stability through UN-led peace operations is a pressing issue, Canada has been very reluctant to make a meaningful, long-term commitment of frontline military personnel. Instead, there have been modest offers of logistical and training support, lacking in specifics. There is also the issue of policy incoherence when it comes to arms exports.

Of particular note from the McLeod Group’s point of view is the frozen budget for foreign aid, despite the publication of a bold feminist international assistance policy (FIAP) last June. While several other members of the G7 are increasing their aid and, in the case of Germany and the UK, have reached the target of 0.7% of gross national income, Canada is headed downwards. If the FIAP sets out important objectives for Canada, why isn’t the government investing additional financial resources to achieve them?

Is the Canadian agenda for the G7 meeting part and parcel of the government’s overall approach to international affairs – when all is said and done, a lot more is said than done? It’s one thing to identify global challenges and to get agreement on the need for action. But what specific targets has the government set, not only for itself but for the G7? Does Canada have the credibility to build the consensus required for coordinated action? Apart from sunny language, can we show the leadership necessary to achieve results?

Finally, even with demonstrated leadership, Canada must be prepared for the gulf between the Trump administration and the Canadian government on any number of issues. Beyond gender equality and climate change, the public admission by the Trudeau government of the possibility of the United States’ withdrawal from NAFTA suggests that agreement on “economic growth that works for everyone” is unlikely. What should Canada do? Perhaps it’s time to use summits as a vehicle to create consensus on Canadian priorities with everyone but the United States. The G7 summit can be the first attempt.