Politics

Spotlight is on Canada heading into the G20, former PM Martin says

Former prime minister Paul Martin says now is the perfect time for Canada to step into a global leadership role and become a standard-bearer for human rights.

Paul Martin says Canada is in a position to defend immigration, common values

Former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin says it's up to Canada to help decide what the future of the world will look like. (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Former prime minister Paul Martin says now is the perfect time for Canada to step into a global leadership role and become a standard-bearer for human rights.

Martin told CBC Radio's The House that with public anxiety and political rhetoric over immigration ramping up around the world, it's time for Canada to rise to the occasion and defend our "value system."

"I think that there's a huge opening for Canada to play a very much stronger role than we have," he told host Chris Hall on Thursday, looking ahead to the G20 summit in Argentina later this month.

But putting together a broad alliance of like-minded nations could prove difficult.

The rise of populism is shaking up the global political scene. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent announcement that she won't run for office again when her term ends in 2021 means that a large number of the people leading the nations of Europe — some of them Canada's close allies for decades — only have a few years of experience.

France's Emmanuel Macron has been in office for less than two years. The U.K.'s Theresa May has been prime minister for little more than two years. Merkel has led her party since 2000 and has been Germany's chancellor since 2005.

When asked how Merkel's decision to step back could affect the atmosphere at the G20 meetings, Martin said it's going to be Canada's task to make sure her departure won't lead to a crumbling of common values.

Progress without consensus

He added, however, that consensus isn't always synonymous with progress.

The G20, he said, is "not an organization that requires the same political systems in each of its countries, nor the same economic system."

Immigration isn't the only issue that will loom large at the G20 meeting. Trade remains a heated topic, especially with the U.S. and China taking turns slapping costly tariffs on each other's products.

After a "long and very good" telephone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that trade discussions were "moving along nicely" and meetings are being scheduled for the pair at the summit. According to a report from Bloomberg News, Trump has asked his cabinet to begin preparing potential terms for some kind of a deal.

Collectively, the G20 delegates represent about 75 per cent of all global international trade.

While Martin — who played a key role in the establishment of the G20 — said the forum frequently sees clashes between nations over their own interests, dissatisfied countries which threaten to leave the table know "darn well" they can't make it on their own.

"This is going to be a tough meeting," he said.

This year's G20 summit will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1.

Participants include Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the U.S., among others.

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