With five summits planned for his first five weeks in office, here’s an easy prime ministerial decision for Justin Trudeau: Stay in the office more, roam the world less.
He’s entitled to a couple of inaugural honeymoon trips, by all means. But it’s time for Trudeau to catch up on his homework closer to home — and get ready to give the premiers more face time.
Fresh from his overseas debut at the weekend G20 meeting in Turkey, the PM could streamline his summitry by pulling out of the most pointless trip on his itinerary: CHOGM.
That would be the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, perhaps the most obscure and irrelevant meeting of middle and middling powers on the global map. Scheduled for late November in Malta, it cries out for cancellation, if not elimination.
At a time when our newly elected PM is still scrambling to get his untested government off the ground — buffeted by a terrorist outburst in Paris, a refugee crisis in Syria, and a global warming negotiation (again in Paris) next month — he surely has better things to do than hobnob with 55 counterparts hanging out in Malta while Paris burns.
Let’s look at his overcrowded calendar — and the anachronism among acronyms as he flits from the G20 to APEC, FMC, CHOGM and UNFCC-COP21.
• Just days after taking power, Trudeau pushed off to Turkey for the G20, a grouping of the most important global leaders, rich and poor, North and South. A forum long propounded by Canada, it is the polar opposite of the Commonwealth’s membership which has little in common beyond a distant colonial tie to Britain.
• Trudeau’s next stop is APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation), which is easier to pronounce than CHOGM (“Cho-gum”) and boasts a bigger payoff. The Manila summit later this week brings together the Asia Pacific powerhouses that increasingly dominate the global economy, including China, Japan and the U.S. With the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership on the agenda, this summit is worth the flight time and face time.
• Another week, another summit: Fighting jet lag, the prime minister meets the premiers in Ottawa on Nov. 23 for the first conference of first ministers in years. His predecessor, Stephen Harper, studiously avoided them, so Trudeau will face pent-up demands from the provinces to consult about how they can co-ordinate on global warming.
• Next month, Trudeau and a clutch of premiers will jet to Paris for the crucial climate change summit — a massive meeting of minds, ministers and world leaders under the rubric of UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). The COP 21 (21st Conference of Parties) in Paris is forcing Ottawa, Ontario, Quebec, B.C., and other provinces to get serious about emissions reductions.
Against that backdrop of consultations with big powers, middle powers and provincial premiers, why on earth travel the globe to reconnoiter a Commonwealth no one cares about from Nov. 27 to 29? Surely Trudeau doesn’t need a selfie with the Sultan of Brunei.
The Commonwealth brings together countries, from Antigua to Zambia, that are regularly expelled for transgressing human rights, or repudiated for legislating against homosexuality. Whatever it was once supposed to be — an alternative to superpower summitry and UN machinations — it now has less commonality than ever, with its members often dividing along human rights and racial lines to produce perennial deadlocks or anodyne communiqués.
The CHOGM has been overtaken by the G20’s more intimate and dynamic grouping, whose members make up 85 per cent of global GDP, 75 per cent of world trade, and two-thirds of the planet’s population. It has also been supplanted by UN organizations such as the World Trade Organization and UNESCO that have a present-day purpose, not merely a past.
As Trudeau confronts his first Commonwealth moment, it may be asking too much of him to kill it off, but he could at least put it off. The prime minister’s time would be better spent giving more face time to the premiers, rather than wasting time with the mostly faceless gang of CHOGM leaders.
Conceived with a colonial mindset when the sun was setting on the British Empire, the Commonwealth needs a sunset clause. All the more reason for Trudeau to stay out of Malta’s sun this month.