Will Canada Champion Global Democracy?
Canadians can be proud of their notable contributions to the United Nations, including vital support for the Land Mines Treaty and the International Criminal Court. If our new Liberal government wishes to step up its re-engagement with the UN, it might next champion a visionary yet practical project in line with Canadian values - the advancement of democratic decision-making at the global level.
The idea is to start with an advisory body at the UN – a citizens’ watchdog with clout – that gradually transitions into a legislative assembly. If accountability, transparency and effectiveness at the international level are vital, then why not promote the same indispensable model that has served us so well domestically – the institution of parliament? Under Article 22 of the UN Charter, a parliamentary assembly (UNPA) could be created by the General Assembly as a subsidiary body without requiring Security Council approval or Charter reform.
As a transitional measure until direct elections become possible, national parliaments could second MPs to the UNPA in proportion to party standings. Unlike UN ambassadors, UNPA parliamentarians would not take instruction from national governments, but would be directly accountable to citizens and mandated to act according to conscience and the common good, and to promote better social, economic and environmental management of our single, finite planet.
As the world and its regions have become ever more interconnected, parliamentary institutions above the country level have been created at a furious pace. Perhaps the most well-known international parliamentary institution (IPI) is the European Parliament which helps over 507 million European citizens manage their mutual interests. A recent study has found that before 1990, 40 IPIs existed, but since then an additional 119 have been created.
At the United Nations, however, the democratic deficit stubbornly remains. That is why Canada should champion a civil society initiative begun in 2007, the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly.
The UNPA Campaign has deep Canadian roots. The seminal Case for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly was written by a Canadian, Dieter Heinrich, in 1992. The Canadian House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee expressed its support for the UNPA concept in its June 2007 report. As of November 2016, 38 Canadian MPs and Senators representing all major political parties have endorsed the UNPA campaign’s international appeal.
The creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly would be a revolutionary step.
The existence of a global parliamentary assembly would foster a planetarian ethos by symbolizing the idea of the world as one community, and not just a collection of self-interested governments.
A UNPA could immediately act as the world's conscience. Though a UN Parliamentary Assembly would not initially have legislative powers, it should certainly have authority to pose questions that officials must answer, establish committees to hear citizen groups and expert testimony, scrutinize budgets, and call for urgent action by the UN and its member countries. Citizens would have a watchdog, ombudsman and spokesperson at the heart of international action, attracting media and public attention.
A UNPA could also act as a lever for institutional change. Many national parliaments were originally only advisory bodies to all-powerful kings, but over time, regents had to bend to the will of their subjects. Similarly, while a UN Parliamentary Assembly would lobby for more effective management of the current system, it would also catalyze longer-term structural reforms to ensure that those impacted by global decisions have greater power to influence the result.
Around the world, demand for democracy is growing, and the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly is part of that forward surge. Will Canada put its diplomacy behind this important initiative, or will we sit idly on the sidelines as the torch passes us by?
Larry Kazdan is on the Advisory Board of the World Federalist Movement-Canada.