Trudeau not ready to join British PM's ban on single-use plastics

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stopped short today of echoing British Prime Minister Theresa May's call for Commonwealth members to ban single-use plastics — but pointed to a planned discussion at the next G7 summit later this year.

'I look forward to gathering with the other G7 leaders to discuss this issue and the various solutions'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference as International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau stands at his side in London, Thursday. Trudeau is in London to take part in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stopped short today of echoing British Prime Minister Theresa May's call for Commonwealth members to ban single-use plastics — but pointed to a planned discussion at the next G7 summit, being hosted by Canada later this year.

May announced earlier Thursday that her government is banning plastic straws, cotton swabs and other single-use items with the aim of eradicating avoidable plastic waste by 2042 as part of a "national plan of action."

"We have made the protection of our oceans, specifically looking at plastics in the ocean, one of the key themes of our G7 presidency and I look forward to gathering with the other G7 leaders to discuss this issue and the various solutions that they have put forward," Trudeau told reporters in London at the end of a three-country foreign tour that culminated with a gathering of Commonwealth leaders in Britain's capital.

"I know that there will be a lot of interest in Prime Minister May's proposal, and I look forward to that discussion at that time."

Such products have been under fire in the U.K. since the BBC aired a documentary that included a detailed look at the impact of plastics on the world's oceans.

Canada has made reducing the use of plastic to protect the oceans a G7 priority and moved to ban plastic microbeads in bath and body products. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna's office said it plans to go further.

"By working with provinces and territories, and in consultation with Indigenous Peoples, industry, municipalities, non-profit organizations and research institutions," McKenna's office said in a statement, "the government of Canada will develop an approach to keep plastic within the economy and out of landfills and the environment."

LGBTQ rights

Trudeau also was expected to advocate for more LGBTQ rights around the globe, but on that front he faces resistance — particularly from some African countries, many of which still outlaw same-sex activities. Those countries have been forcefully pushing back against the U.K., Canada and other champions of gender and sexual equality.

Despite that opposition, which saw LGBTQ rights kept off the official summit agenda, Trudeau met Thursday with Commonwealth gay rights activists at the Canadian High Commission to reassure them of his continued support.

"The LGBT issue is one of the most outstanding issues that demonstrates maybe the Commonwealth isn't as good at bringing people together around shared values and principles as we should be," he said.

"I'm very much looking forward to hearing from all of you on how I can continue to be an ally, what would be most impactful for me to be challenging and exhorting and nudging and encouraging the leaders to move forward."

In an interview after the meeting, the activists — all members of the Commonwealth Equality Network — welcomed Trudeau's continued work but lamented the continued opposition from other leaders.

"I can't even get close to my prime minister or my president," said Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of Sri Lanka's Equal Ground rights group and co-chair of the Commonwealth Equality Network.

"So we need to use international platforms with help from leaders like Prime Minister Trudeau."

Keeping the Commonwealth relevant

The Commonwealth summit represents a rare opportunity for Canada's prime minister to meet and hear from 52 counterparts from six continents, most of whom share some type of link to the old British Empire.

The institution has suffered over the years from relatively low engagement by its founding member, Britain. There have been hopes for renewal as Brexit looms on the horizon and the U.K. looks for new partnerships to replace the EU.

"As we leave the European Union, our relationships with Commonwealth countries become even more important than they were," British High Commissioner to Canada Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque said in an interview.

"And we are looking at a certain rebalancing in our international engagement, and that will include more focus on countries of the Commonwealth."

The Commonwealth itself has suffered from Britain's own disinterest, as well as questions about its relevance, given that many of its members — particularly in Africa and parts of Asia — have worrisome records on democracy and human rights.

Reduce, Reuse and Rethink is a CBC News series about recycling. We're exploring why our communities are at a turning point and exploring ways to recycle better. You can be part of the conversation by joining our Facebook group.

With files from Reuters and The Canadian Press


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