OTTAWA — When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty welcomes his G7 colleagues in Iqaluit next month, one purpose of the two-day meeting will be to ensure it is not the last of its kind.
There’s a chance it might be. There are no more on schedule, with the next opportunity — April’s meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington — being given over to the upstart Group of 20 body.
Government sources say Canada is one of several countries seeking to keep the G7 — or G8 when Russia is added at the leaders’ level — going and relevant even though the G20 is now the go-to council for solving the world’s problems.
Officials say there remains merit in keeping the G7 going, and that Flaherty’s plans to re-invent the meetings in Iqaluit on Feb. 5 and 6 as a “fireside chat” among friends, with no formal communique, is aimed at proving the usefulness of the body.
The idea is to make the informal brainstorming “a blueprint for future meetings” that will prove more useful and frank than the formalized dispatches that comes out of the disparate G20 forum, said one official.
Another advantage of keeping the G7 alive is that the countries can provide a united front of the leading industrial powers to the G20 summits, which include countries such as China, India, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Turkey and Indonesia, which have far different agenda’s on many issues.
“There likely is merit in making sure those who are lie-minded and who rely on each other for trade and commerce and investment have some sort of united front,” said one official.
A key reason it’s important to Canada that the G7 remain an influential institution is that collapsing the group into the larger G20 dilutes the country’s influence at the top table.
Canada is not alone in dreading the crowding of the neighbourhood.
Japan has always purported to speak for Asia, and now must share the microphone with China, India, South Korea and Indonesia.
Italy also wants to preserve the smaller group in order to keep punching above its economy’s weight.
“Canada and Canadian leaders have always benefited from being part of this cosy circle that could talk about anything, and be part of that inner core,” explains Andrew Cooper, associate director at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.
“All of a sudden you’ve got a lot of other countries that were not seen at Canada’s level, (for) five, 10, 15 years , and Canada doesn’t have a privileged position anymore.”