Parliamentary Diplomacy: Canadian Parliamentarians and the World

(Disponible en français : La diplomatie parlementaire : les parlementaires canadiens et le monde)

In today’s complex world, the lines between domestic and international policy have blurred, and governments are not the only global actors. Increasingly, Canadian parliamentarians are speaking directly with their international counterparts.

In Canada, diplomatic engagement has been a longstanding dimension of parliamentary activities, generally with three goals in mind:

  • exchanging ideas and best practices;
  • helping to inform collective policy and action; and
  • promoting democratic values and Canadian interests abroad.

Parliamentary diplomacy in action

The Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons, senators and members of the House of Commons, and the clerks of both chambers represent the Parliament of Canada internationally in many ways. For example, they may:

  • lead or participate in visits to foreign countries;
  • welcome foreign parliamentary delegations, heads of state or government, ministers and other officials to Parliament;
  • participate in meetings and activities of interparliamentary organizations; and
  • engage in parliamentary committee studies having international dimensions, and carry out fact-finding missions abroad as part of those studies.

Due largely to the nature and function of their offices, both Speakers are prominent in the conduct of parliamentary diplomacy.

In that context, they participate in international gatherings of Speakers, such as the G7 Parliamentary Speakers’ Meeting, the G20 Parliamentary Speakers’ Summit, the World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth, and the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments.

Parliamentary associations and interparliamentary groups

Parliamentary associations and interparliamentary groups can be bilateral – concentrated on the relationship with one other country – or multilateral – focused on the activities of an interparliamentary institution or the engagement of countries on a regional basis.

Through these associations and groups, Canadian parliamentarians from both chambers meet and engage with their international counterparts on a wide range of topics.

Canadian leadership in parliamentary diplomacy

In Canada, Parliament’s international engagement predates the establishment of a federal department dedicated to foreign affairs. In 1911, Canada’s Parliament helped found the precursor to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and since 1912, Canada has been a member of the oldest and largest interparliamentary assembly, the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Since 2001, Canada has housed the secretariat to ParlAmericas. In 2010, Parliament initiated and hosted the inaugural G20 Speakers’ Consultations.

Canadian senators and members of the House of Commons are regularly elected or appointed to executive positions in interparliamentary bodies, serving as presiding officers, rapporteurs or special representatives, for instance.

They also have a strong record of proposing resolutions and seeking consensus on various policy issues. For example, at the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum’s 2016 meeting in Vancouver, the Canadian delegation sponsored or co‑sponsored resolutions addressing such topics as ocean conservation, women’s economic empowerment, and efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.

Canadian parliamentarians sometimes observe presidential and legislative elections in foreign countries, including in Kyrgyzstan (2009), Azerbaijan (2010), Ukraine (2014 and 2019), Moldova (2014) and the United States (2016).

Parliament welcomes the world

Over the years, Canada’s Parliament has hosted numerous interparliamentary seminars and conferences, drawing foreign legislators to communities across Canada.

For example, Parliament has hosted meetings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie [in French only], the Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Asia‑Pacific Parliamentary Forum and ParlAmericas. It will host the 29th Annual Session of the OSCE PA in July 2020 in Vancouver.

Foreign parliamentary delegations frequently visit Parliament. For instance, in 2018, heads of state or government and ministers from the following countries were visitors: Pakistan, Belgium, Portugal, Monaco, Finland, the United Arab Emirates, Estonia, France, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, Namibia, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Brazil and the Netherlands.

In addition, Parliament organizes a Parliamentary Officers’ Study Program, which provides senior parliamentary personnel from around the world with an opportunity to exchange views and best practices on procedural, administrative and research services.

Benefits of parliamentary diplomacy

As foreign policy grows more complex and interconnected, parliamentary diplomacy offers opportunities for legislators to exchange their insights and best practices on issues that, in a globalized world, cannot be understood or advanced solely through a national or intergovernmental lens.

Among these issues are human rights, governance, security, prosperity, the environment and health.

By building relationships at individual and institutional levels, parliamentary diplomacy also serves to strengthen cooperation and ties between and among countries.

Moreover, because delegations typically comprise individuals representing Canada’s various political parties, as well as both the Senate and the House of Commons, parliamentary diplomacy provides opportunities for non-partisan collaboration on international issues.

Finally, by expanding contacts and opening new channels for dialogue, parliamentary diplomacy links the Parliament of Canada, and those who represent Canada’s peoples and communities, with the world.

Table 1 – Official Parliamentary Associations and Interparliamentary Groups

Multilateral
Parliamentary Associations
Bilateral
Parliamentary Associations
Interparliamentary
Groups
Canada–Africa Parliamentary Association

Canada–Europe Parliamentary Association

  • Canadian Delegation to
    the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly

Canadian Branch of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie

Canadian Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union

Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association

Canadian Section of ParlAmericas

Canada–China Legislative Association

Canada–France Inter-Parliamentary Association

Canada–Japan
Inter-Parliamentary Group

Canada–United Kingdom Inter-Parliamentary Association

Canada–United States
Inter-Parliamentary Group

 

Canada–Germany Interparliamentary Group

Canada–Ireland Interparliamentary Group

Canada–Israel Interparliamentary Group

Canada–Italy Interparliamentary Group

Sources: Parliamentary Diplomacy Canada, Parliamentary Associations; and Parliamentary Diplomacy Canada, Interparliamentary Groups.

Related resources

Barnett, Laura, and Sebastian Spano. Parliamentary Involvement in Foreign Policy. Publication no. 2008-60-E, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 28 August 2013.

Noulas, George. “The Role of Parliamentary Diplomacy in Foreign Policy.” Foreign Policy Journal, 22 October 2011.

Parliament of Canada, Joint Interparliamentary Council. Parliamentary Associations’ Activities and Expenditures from April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019, June 2019.

Weisglas, Frans W., and Gonnie de Boer. “Parliamentary Diplomacy.” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, No. 2, 2007.

Author: Natalie Mychajlyszyn, Library of Parliament

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