IPU Celebrates 130 Years: Canada’s Engagement

(Disponible en français : L’UIP célèbre ses 130 ans : participation du Canada)

On 30 June 2020, the International Day of Parliamentarism, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) will have concluded a twelve-month celebration of its 130th anniversary. As the world’s oldest and largest inter-parliamentary assembly, the IPU and its 179 national member parliaments – including the Parliament of Canada – have much to commemorate. This HillNote considers Canadian parliamentary diplomacy in the context of Canada’s membership of the IPU.

Canadian Parliamentary Diplomacy and the IPU

The IPU was formed in 1889 as an inter-parliamentary conference on arbitration and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Since then, it has provided a forum where parliamentarians from around the world can represent their constituents on the global stage and exchange diverse views with fellow legislators on international issues. These issues include matters relating to peace and security, democracy, human rights, gender equality and sustainable development.

The IPU has played a role in Canada’s longstanding involvement in parliamentary diplomacy for many years. Indeed, Canada’s engagement with the global organization predates the establishment of a federal department dedicated to foreign affairs. Canada first attended an IPU conference as an observer in 1900, and became a member in 1912.

Although the IPU’s conferences paused during the two World Wars, they resumed as the Cold War divided much of the world and newly independent states emerged from decolonization. The modern-day Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union was established in 1960 and continues to provide opportunities for Canadian parliamentarians to exchange views on global issues.

Canadian Participation at the IPU

The general debates at IPU Assemblies allow delegates to present and hear different views on international issues such as parliamentary systems and government accountability, international law, and the global economy. Canadian delegates regularly participate in these debates. At assemblies held in the last decade, they have shared their views on topics including more humane migration, human rights abuses as a precursor to conflict, and technological change.

Delegations to the IPU also adopt non-binding resolutions on matters of common interest. By drafting and proposing amendments to resolutions, Canadian parliamentarians have advanced Canadian interests and values on a range of global issues. Recent examples include the co-drafting of resolutions on a nuclear free world and access to health as a basic right, with a focus on women and girls.

Amendments proposed by the Canadian delegation concerning the role of parliaments in translating trade liberalization into inclusive growth and poverty reduction were included in the final text of a recent resolution on the role of trade and investment in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

As crisis situations erupt, delegations to the IPU can propose debates and resolutions on major events of international concern. Emergency items proposed or supported by the Canadian delegation have reflected Canadian international concerns, with recent examples being the crisis in Ukraine and the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Canadian Leadership at the IPU

Canadian parliamentarians have taken on leadership roles in various IPU bodies over the years. These include its Executive Committee, the various Standing Committees, and more specialized bodies, such as the Committee on Middle East Questions and the planning group for the Parliamentary Conference on the World Trade Organization.

Canadians also have served as presiding officers of the two geopolitical groups of which the Canadian group is a member: the Twelve-Plus geopolitical group, which comprises 47 like-minded nations from Europe as well as Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Turkey; and the Asia-Pacific Group with 36 members.

Likewise, Canadians have been involved in various IPU reforms, including the establishment of new structures and activities, and the amendment of the IPU’s statutes. For instance, in 1975, Canadian parliamentarians undertook the initial steps that resulted in the creation of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, and have since filled the role of president on occasion. The Canadian delegation also played a role in the establishment of the Executive Committee’s Sub-committee on Finance in 2011 to strengthen the IPU’s financial accountability and transparency.

Canada and Women Parliamentarians at the IPU

Canada has been instrumental in shifting the IPU’s approach to gender, integrating gender perspectives in its work and promoting gender equality. These efforts contributed to the formalization of the Meeting (later Forum) of Women Parliamentarians at the Ottawa Assembly in 1985, with Canadian delegates also serving terms as its president as well as members of its steering committee. They also influenced the creation of the Executive Committee’s Gender Partnership Group in 1997.

These bodies have influenced a series of amendments to the IPU’s statutes requiring women’s representation on the Executive Committee, motivating delegations to include women and men, and using more gender-neutral language in IPU official documents and rules.

The IPU also has worked to promote gender equality through its partnership with UN bodies. For example, the IPU and UN Women co-organize an annual parliamentary meeting at sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women. Canadian parliamentarians regularly attend these meetings to engage with UN officials and fellow parliamentarians on various topics relating to gender equality, such as that of a recent meeting examining the empowerment of rural women and girls.

Canada as Host of IPU events

Canada’s commitment to the IPU as a forum for dialogue with parliamentarians from around the world has been evident in its willingness to host IPU events. Canada hosted Assemblies in 1925, 1965, 1985 and 2012, as well as the Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians in 2017. As the host parliament, Canada is able to influence the agenda to highlight issues important to Canadians. For instance, the 2012 Assembly included a debate on diversity and tolerance, resulting in the unanimous adoption of the Quebec City Declaration.

Canada’s Presiding Officers at the IPU

Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons serve as hosts of IPU events in Canada. They played a particularly prominent role in the early years, championing Canadian involvement. More recently, the Speakers of both Chambers have participated in the IPU’s World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, which have taken place every five years since 2000. These high-level events allow for discussion among presiding officers on the parliamentary dimension of international cooperation, peace and stability.

Conclusion

In its 130 years of existence, the IPU has faced the test of world wars, competing ideologies and political systems, and an ever-changing international landscape. Throughout this time, the IPU has remained committed to advancing the role of parliamentary diplomacy in building understanding and cooperation. As one Canadian delegate to an IPU meeting in 1931 observed:

The great value of such conferences lies not only in the opportunity given to discuss pressing and vital world problems but also in enabling delegates from various parts of the world to intermingle and learn more about each other. In view, therefore, of the ever-increasing interdependence of nations there cannot be too many [such] conferences.

Additional Resources

Inter-Parliamentary Union, The 130th Anniversary.

Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Celebrating a Century of Canada-IPU Collaboration, Library of Parliament, 2012.

Inter-Parliamentary Union, Strategy 2017-2021: Strong democratic parliaments serving the people.

Author: Natalie Mychajlyszyn, Library of Parliament