Parliamentary Diplomacy: Canadian Parliamentarians and the World

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Disponible en français.

In today’s complex world, the blurred lines between domestic and foreign policy regularly draw Canadian parliamentarians onto the world stage. Increasingly, they speak directly with their international counterparts on issues of global and national importance.

In Canada, diplomatic engagement has been a long-standing 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

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

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 and the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth. For their part, clerks engage with their international counterparts at meetings of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments.

Parliamentary Associations and Interparliamentary Groups

Parliamentary associations and interparliamentary groups offer Canadian parliamentarians from both chambers opportunities to meet and engage with their international counterparts on a range of topics. These associations and 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.

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 been home to the international secretariat of 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 2016 meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum held 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, the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie, the Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum and ParlAmericas.

Foreign delegations frequently visit Parliament. For instance, between 2018 and the first months of 2020, heads of state, ministers and parliamentarians from the following countries were visitors: Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, Namibia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Portugal, Tunisia, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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.

Parliamentary Diplomacy During the COVID–19 Pandemic

Canada’s federal parliamentarians have continued with their parliamentary diplomacy despite the challenges the COVID–19 pandemic has posed. Innovative forms of virtual engagement have permitted them to dialogue and cooperate with fellow legislators on issues of common concern.

For instance, the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons conducted courtesy calls and attended multilateral events virtually. Moreover, most parliamentary associations and interparliamentary groups shifted their meetings and activities to online fora. As these exchanges of ideas and best practices have continued to take place, albeit remotely, their focus on international or regional priorities has expanded to include the pandemic, notably its unequal impact on specific groups, such as women and Indigenous people.

Benefits of Parliamentary Diplomacy

As public 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, diversity, 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 Canadian parliamentary delegations typically comprise individuals representing various political parties and recognized parliamentary groups in the Senate, 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
  • Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region

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


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.

Additional Resources

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

Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Parliaments in the Global Governance System.” YouTube, 27 November 2020 [in Spanish with English subtitles].

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, 2020 to March 31, 2021, June 2021.

Péjo, Philippe. La diplomatie parlementaire. Librairie LGDJ, 2020 [in french].

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

Schimmelfennig, Frank et al. The Rise of International Parliaments: Strategic Legitimation in International Organizations. Oxford University Press, 2021.

Author: Natalie Mychajlyszyn, Library of Parliament

Categories: Government, Parliament and politics

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