Parliamentary Diplomacy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

14 July 2020, 9:30 a.m.

(Disponible en français : La diplomatie parlementaire pendant la pandémie de COVID-19)

The COVID-19 pandemic is posing challenges for dialogue and cooperation among the world’s legislators. Nevertheless, Canada’s federal parliamentarians are continuing with their parliamentary diplomacy. For example, the Honourable George Furey, Speaker of the Senate, and the Honourable Anthony Rota, Speaker of the House of Commons, are conducting virtual courtesy calls with their international counterparts.

The pandemic has underscored one of the important benefits of parliamentary diplomacy: exchanging ideas and best practices with fellow legislators on global issues of common concern. To do so at this time, parliamentary associations have adopted innovative forms of virtual engagement to carry out their work.

This HillNote highlights selected association activities in which Canadian parliamentarians have been participating since the beginning of the pandemic. They include committee meetings, the preparation of online resources, webinars and virtual meetings with stakeholders. In some cases, these activities are facilitated by the association’s secretariat that provide policy, administrative and other support.

Core Association Work Continues

The core function of associations is to provide a forum for dialogue among legislators. This work has continued, even as some plans have had to be altered to accommodate pandemic-induced constraints.

For example, the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region held its 4 June 2020 meeting, which had been scheduled for that month prior to the pandemic, by videoconference. Canadian parliamentarians and their colleagues had the opportunity to discuss the health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Arctic communities and Indigenous peoples, among other issues.

Likewise, the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU’s) Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians met online to examine ongoing cases and new complaints, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s (NATO PA’s) standing committees are planning to meet virtually to advance the preparation of various reports, including some that examine aspects of the pandemic.

Parliamentary associations’ executive bodies are also continuing their work through remote meetings. These have involved Canadian parliamentarians serving on the executive of the IPU, the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). Similarly, Canadian parliamentarians holding official positions on a number of the APF’s committees and networks are participating in remote meetings of these bodies.

Best Practices on Virtual Parliaments are Shared

Several associations have organized ways for legislators, including Canadian parliamentarians, to share their experiences with virtual parliaments.

For instance, members of the Canadian Section of ParlAmericas and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association have participated in a webinar on the topic of virtual legislatures. Following the session, the ParlAmericas’ secretariat uploaded the recording to its YouTube channel.

Some associations’ secretariats have prepared online resources that share working methods during the pandemic. Examples include the IPU’s Parliaments in a time of pandemic, which is an ongoing compilation of responses from its global membership – including Canada – to a questionnaire on the topic. Similarly, the ParlAmericas’ secretariat has prepared COVID-19 and Parliament’s Role During a Pandemic, which provides examples of actions by legislatures from throughout the Americas.

The Pandemic’s Impact is Examined

Normally, parliamentary diplomacy involves discussions of a wide range of topics. Understandably, however, the pandemic – including its impacts on trade, defence and the need for support measures – has emerged as the focus of associations’ recent work. For example:

  • Members of the Canadian Section of the Canada–United States Inter-Parliamentary Group attended a virtual meeting hosted by the Canadian American Business Council. They discussed how Canadian and U.S. businesses are ensuring employee safety and are collaborating to maintain supply chains and continue trade across the shared border.
  • The NATO PA is gathering information from member states about initial lessons learned from the pandemic for NATO and its allies. Areas of interest include the pandemic’s anticipated impacts on national defence policies, plans and budgets, as well as the role of legislatures in these matters.
  • The president of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association (CAEU) participated in a videoconference with members of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Canada to discuss the European and Canadian responses to COVID-19.
  • The APF has established a special crisis committee – of which a Canadian parliamentarian is a member – and has adopted a plan [en français] focused on its work relating to COVID-19. The plan highlights the virtual nature of the APF’s work and contains information about the pandemic’s evolution, including measures taken by legislatures to adapt to its conditions.
  • The IPU has released guidance notes and statements on the pandemic, including about human rights obligations and multilateralism. In addition to having prepared a guidance note for parliaments on gender and COVID-19, the IPU is also collecting related data from its members.

Webinars are Taking Place

In addition to those identified above, several associations’ secretariats have organized webinars examining different aspects of the pandemic. For instance, the ParlAmericas’ secretariat organized a Spanish-language webinar about legislative action to prevent violence against women during the pandemic.

The OSCE PA Special Representative on Gender Issues – a Canadian parliamentarian – is hosting a virtual session on the gendered impacts of the pandemic. This event is in addition to several online sessions the OSCE PA has held about the pandemic’s consequences for economic security, conflicts in the OSCE region, democracy and human rights, diversity, terrorism, migrants and refugees, and environmental protection.

The NATO PA’s series of webinars, which have included presentations by NATO officials and others, complement the updates that the secretariat provides about NATO’s response to the pandemic.

Co-organized with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the IPU has held a webinar on lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other Issues are also Examined

Non–COVID-19 topics have also been the subject of associations’ work during the pandemic. For example, the ParlAmericas’ secretariat organized a virtual panel on gender-responsive policymaking in which a Canadian parliamentarian participated, and the IPU hosted a webinar concerning multilateralism.

In a videoconference, the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association discussed with counterparts the potential benefits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as ongoing negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom about their future trading relationship.

Author: Natalie Mychajlyszyn, Library of Parliament

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