(Disponible en français : Présidence canadienne du G7)
In January 2018, Canada assumed the presidency of the Group of Seven (G7). Canada will host G7 leaders at a Summit taking place in Charlevoix, Quebec on 8-9 June. The G7 is an informal bloc of seven industrialized democracies – Canada, France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Italy – that come together to set common positions on the most pressing global challenges. The presidency rotates annually among the member countries in the order listed above. France will take over in 2019. Canada last held the G7 presidency in 2010.
The G7 has no governing charter or permanent secretariat. Each host country is responsible for setting the themes of work for the year, preparing ministerial meetings and the leaders’ summit, and engaging with non-member countries and organizations. Meetings culminate in consensus-based outcome documents that can include communiques, declarations and/or statements.
Canada’s Contributions to the G7
Prior to 2018, Canada held the G7 presidency five times: 1981 (Ottawa-Montebello), 1988 (Toronto), 1995 (Halifax), 2002 (Kananaskis) and 2010 (Muskoka). Outcomes from Canada’s presidency in 2002 included the G8 Africa Action Plan, a framework for action developed under the African-led New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, where G8 countries committed to raising $20 billion over 10 years towards eliminating and securing weapons of mass destruction in Russia and the former Soviet Union. In 2010, the Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health united G8 countries, other nations, and organizations to commit US$7.3 billion over five years.
Canada’s Agenda for 2018
Canada’s themes for its year as G7 President are:
- Investing in growth that works for everyone
- Preparing for jobs of the future
- Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment
- Working together on climate change, oceans and clean energy
- Building a more peaceful and secure world
According to media reports, the second day of the 2018 Summit will feature a special session on ocean sustainability at which the G7 countries will be joined by leaders from small island states and some African countries and representatives from key international organizations. This event replaces the G7’s direct outreach to African leaders of the last several summits.
A Focus on Gender Equality
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has emphasized that gender equality is a central issue during Canada’s G7 presidency. This agenda item builds on several initiatives undertaken during Italy’s term in 2017. For instance, the first ever Women’s 7 forum brought together leaders from government, academia and civil society to discuss issues affecting women including leadership, the wage gap and sexual and reproductive health.
The forum contributed to the formulation of the G7 Roadmap for a Gender-Responsive Economic Environment, which aims to ensure women’s “full and equal participation in society” by addressing country policies related to labour force participation, entrepreneurship and economic empowerment.
For its part, Canada established a Gender Equality Advisory Council. The Council met in Ottawa in April 2018 to complete its mandate to recommend “concrete actions for the G7 to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment across all areas of G7 work.”
The 21-person body is co-chaired by businesswoman and philanthropist Melinda Gates, and Canada’s Ambassador to France, Isabelle Hudon. Other members include Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Malala Yousafzai, activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International.
History and Evolution of the G7
The first G7 meeting was held in 1975 in the context of the global recession that followed the 1973 oil crisis. The leaders of France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and West Germany formed the Group of Six. Canada joined the next year and the Group of Seven was formed. Since 1977, representatives of the European Commission/European Union have been invited to participate in G7 activities.
Russia’s admission in 1998 expanded the G7 to the Group of Eight (G8). However, G7 Leaders released a joint statement in March 2014 condemning Russia’s “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. The group suspended their participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G8 Summit in Sochi, Russia in June of that year. Ever since, the group has reverted to the G7 format.
While initially focusing on financial stability, the G7/G8 meetings grew to address such issues as state failure, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, economic empowerment, food security, and maternal and child health.
The G7’s legitimacy and relevance have been questioned at various points, particularly as the once-dominant economic weight of its member countries diminished relative to emerging economies. In recent years, management of economic issues and the global financial system has shifted to the Group of Twenty (G20), which was elevated to the leaders’ level following the 2008 global financial crisis. Membership of that body comprises all G7 countries, plus Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey.
As the G7 attempted to tackle an increasingly broad and full agenda, it became clear that issues being discussed, such as global health and economic development, were issues affecting countries around the world. For the first time, at the 2001 Summit, African leaders were invited to participate in specific discussions about Africa.
In the current geopolitical context, the G7 has sharpened its focus as a forum for like-minded democracies. The war in Syria and Russia’s behavior in Eastern Europe have been discussed in recent years, as have other threats to the rules-based international order.
During Italy’s 2017 presidency, the three priorities of the G7’s work were: “citizen safety; economic, environmental and social sustainability and reduction of inequalities; and innovation, skills and labour in the age of the next production revolution.” Among their final documents, the G7 leaders issued a statement on the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
The G7 is a consensus-based body and reaching a unified position among its members can be challenging. For example, the final communiqué from the 2017 Summit in Taormina, Italy noted the lack of unity during discussions on climate change and the Paris Agreement. The final communiqué from the 2018 G7 Summit in Charlevoix will reveal those issues that these seven select countries agree merit continued attention and action.
Government of Canada, Canada’s 2018 G7 Presidency.
University of Toronto, G7 Information Centre.
Zachary Laub and James McBride, “The Group of Seven (G7),” Council on Foreign Relations, 30 May 2017.
Nicholas Bayne, Staying Together: The G8 Summit Confronts the 21st Century, Ashgate, Burlington, 2005.
Author: Marie Dumont, Library of Parliament