Canada’s upcoming G7 Presidency – An opportunity for decisive leadership on sustainable development

James Nelson

Canada, a middle power country with moderate influence over international events, will punch above its weight when it holds the G7 Presidency and sets the Summit agenda for 2018.  The G7 is an informal forum for the leaders of the world’s most important industrially advanced democracies to build consensus around and voice common positions on major economic, environmental, political, and security issues.  The G7 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, who together make up approximately 50% of the world economy and account for over 60% of net global wealth.  How can Canada leverage its Presidency to engage the G7 states on pressing global challenges like gender equity, climate change, and sustainable development goals?

Susan Ormiston, Ambassador Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharyn, Alexandra Garita, Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie, and Joanna Kerr

On September 27th, 2017, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation and Climate Action Network Canada gathered representatives from civil society groups, think tanks, and the Government of Canada to discuss this question.  Susan Ormiston, senior correspondent for CBC, moderated a panel discussion with Ambassador Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya, Chair of Southern Voice and LDC IV Monitor; Joanna Kerr, Executive Director of Greenpeace Canada; Alexandra Garita, President of the Board of Equis: Justice for Women; and Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie, National Executive Representative of the Circle of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students of the Canadian Federation of Students.  Following the panel, Ms. Ormiston had an armchair discussion with Peter Boehm, Deputy Minister for the G7 Summit and Personal Representative of the Prime Minister (Sherpa), to discuss Canada’s priorities during the G7 Presidency.

Susan Ormistan and Peter Boehm

According to Dr. Bhattacharya, an issue appears on a G7 agenda or in a communiqué once it has passed the “political commitment litmus test.”  For Canada’s upcoming presidency, gender equity and climate change have already passed this test.  Mr. Boehm explained that there will be a “Gender Based Analysis Plus approach to everything we do.”  This refers to analyzing the effects of policies and initiatives taking into account people’s biological (sex) and socio-cultural (gender) differences, as well as various identity factors including race, ethnicity, religion, age, and mental or physical disability.  Mr. Boehm also said that the focus for climate change should be on resilience, referring to how infrastructure and communities affected by natural or human-caused disasters should be adequately prepared to resist damage and recover quickly.  Last, Mr. Boehm mentioned global employment and innovation as two other possible agenda items, but had no time to elaborate.

G7 agenda items can also be decided following engagement and dialogue with civil society, which is necessary because, as one audience member’s leading question asked, “Why is an elite club of the richest countries in the world the best forum to discuss the needs of the poorest/all?”  Panelists discussed the importance of democratizing the conversation and not “richsplaining” the needs of the poorest; the grassroots ought to be included in current and future discussions.  On an optimistic note, Ms. Kerr acknowledged that, “One thing about this government, they love to consult! We’ve been consulted and consulted and consulted…”   Among the issues the panelists would like to see on the 2018 G7 Summit agenda are:

So, how can Canada leverage its upcoming G7 Presidency to promote gender equity, climate change, and sustainable development goals?  The short-answer: by bringing feminist climate leadership.  Mr. Boehm noted Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, which could allow for a progressive G7 agenda focused on reducing global inequality and extreme poverty, promoting inclusion, and ensuring that human rights are respected.  According to Ms. Kerr, feminist climate leadership requires that Canada take responsibility as a polluter, a patriarch, and a settler state, as well as acknowledging and working on interconnected issues such as human rights, social and economic inequality, and climate change.  In addition, Ms. Garita noted that for Canada to champion gender equality in a meaningful way, the government must collaborate with civil society organizations since true leadership means understanding and partnering with local communities.

As Canada prepares for its Presidency, the G7 faces a number of challenges, including protectionism and effectively communicating its results.  First, protectionist tendencies around the world are challenging multilateralism.  The European Parliament Research Service notes that pressure from the current American administration caused the G20 and the IMF “[to drop] pledges to resist protectionism from joint communiqués.”  As a result of this trend, Business7, a G7 engagement group of major business organizations that develops recommendations for G7 leaders, stresses that the G7 ought to “call on all leaders to resist protectionism [and] to seek plurilateral negotiations on new issues.”  Second, the media attention paid to pseudo-entertainment could drown out G7 Summit results.   For example, Mr. Boehm noted that nobody seems to be aware of or interested in looking at the G7’s own Compliance Assessments, which review the progress made on the selected commitments set out at the Summit. He echoed Dr. Bhattacharya’s concern that the media – often called the fourth branch of government due to its roles as watch-dog, civic forum, and agenda-setter – will focus more on handshakes and pushes rather than on policy and people.


James Nelson is a graduate of the Master of Public Policy program at the School of Public Policy and Governance.  He also holds an Honours BSocSc in International Development and Globalization from the University of Ottawa.  He is currently a Policy and Case Analyst with the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada, and has previously worked at Health Canada and the Institute for Democratic Governance, a policy research and advocacy organization in Ghana.  His interests include good governance, global education policy, and sustainable development.