Prime minister rejects Paul Martin's advice to expand limited G20 agenda
OTTAWA - The Prime Minister's Office is rejecting a call from Paul Martin to expand the agenda of the G20 summit to include climate change and poverty.
The former prime minister says Ottawa has a responsibility to put global warming and poverty at the top of the G20 agenda because they threaten the stability of the world just as much as economics.
But the economic challenges are so great right now that they require focus, without distraction, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman, Andrew MacDougall.
"The situation is still such in the global economy that leaders' attention really needs to be focused here," MacDougall said.
The G20 established its effectiveness in 2008 and 2009 by agreeing to an unprecedented and co-ordinated effort to stimulate the global economy back to health, Harper has frequently said.
Now, he's urging leaders not to lose that resolve — especially as Greece's sovereign debt crisis threatens to engulf Europe and drive the global economy into a funk once again.
Harper has spent much of his pre-meeting limelight lowering expectations for the G20 summit in Toronto and the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., at the end of this month.
For the G20, he wants countries to stop talking about a global bank tax and decide on common principles for good banking instead. He wants advanced countries to figure out how to get their deficits under control. And he wants emerging markets, especially China, to increase their spending and let their exchange rates float.
But Martin's vision of a successful summit goes far beyond that.
In a speech in Toronto on Wednesday, Martin said the G20 is the world's new "steering committee" and can't just limit its actions to banking and economics.
The speech highlighted the ongoing tussle about how powerful the G20 should be, commented Tom Bernes, acting executive director of the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
"There clearly is a debate about other pressing issues. Former prime minister Martin was calling for the agenda to be broadened," said Bernes, who attended the speech.
Since climate change is one of the top pressing concerns for the world, Martin said the G20 needs to send signals that ensure the success of international negotiations to take place in December in Mexico.
"What is important are the signals the G20 sends to the world's negotiating tables," Martin told the Empire Club and Canadian Club in a speech that set out his definition of a successful G20 summit.
Martin says the G20 also needs to confront global poverty, since it is also a huge threat to globalization. Food security, which threatens much of Africa, has received only a slight nod from the G20 so far. And the maternal- and child-health initiative is only being discussed at the G8.
"The G20 must respond much more urgently than it has if it is to live up to the hopes so many have vested in it," Martin said.
As Canada's finance minister in the 1990s, Martin was a founder of the G20 finance ministers' group, helping to start the annual meetings in the wake of the Asian financial crisis.
As prime minister, he hoped to broaden the group's agenda and elevate the meetings to the leaders' level. But that didn't happen until the financial crisis of 2008, when then-U.S. president George W. Bush realized that he needed the support of emerging markets and Europe in order to keep a lid on the global recession.
But as the host of the first meeting of the G20 as a permanent decision-making body, Harper has strictly limited the G20 agenda to banking regulations and economic stability.
Europe has asked him repeatedly to address climate change, in order to give momentum to flagging talks to impose limits on greenhouse gases.
And emerging markets have made it clear that they want to be part of global efforts to help developing countries, saying China and others are quickly becoming important donors and investors in Africa and elsewhere.
Canada should be using the G20 venue to show leadership in these areas, Martin said.
"The host of a summit is in a powerful position for, if it chooses, it can influence much of the agenda," he said. "We will not host another one for a generation. Let us not miss the opportunity before us."
Martin repeated comments urging the Harper government to be less obsessed with defeating a global bank tax that doesn't exist, and instead focus on getting agreement on tighter banking standards.
The "most urgent need" of the G20 in Toronto is to agree that core equity and leverage standards will be in place by early fall, Martin warned. That's because many banks and advanced countries are already forgetting the lessons of the last financial crisis.
The new standards should be mandatory and fully enforced, he added.
For now, the focus is on having a voluntary code.