An alternative forum for international decision-making is the self-appointed G20 group of nations, but its informal ad hoc gatherings have become increasingly expensive and contentious. The G20 generally reflects an elite, rich-country agenda, and largely dismisses broadly based citizen concerns such as the environment, poverty, corruption, and human rights.
A strengthened United Nations where all voices can be heard is therefore imperative. But to be heard, these voices must come not only from government functionaries but also from representatives of people.
If we want accountability, transparency, and effectiveness at the international level, then why not use as a model an institution that has served us so well domestically, and that we consider indispensable: the institution of parliament?
It is not surprising that as the world and its regions have become ever more interconnected, parliamentary institutions above the country level have been created at a furious pace. A 2011 study published by the Committee for a Democratic UN found that before 1990, 40 international parliamentary institutions existed, but since then, an additional 119 have been created.
Perhaps the most well known is the European Parliament, which helps over 492 million Europeans manage their mutual interests. It has evolved from an advisory body to become an elected parliament with co-legislative powers.
Another parliamentary assembly, the Council of Europe, has distinguished itself by investigations into secret detentions by the US Central Intelligence Agency. The Pan African Parliament began its work in March 2004, and a new South American Parliament is up and running. NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Commonwealth, and the Francophonie all have parliamentary chambers.
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 United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.
The idea is to start with an advisory body at the UN that gradually transitions into a world parliament. Article 22 of the UN Charter allows for creation of “subsidiary bodies.”
National parliaments would second MPs to the UN parliamentary assembly in proportion to party standings. Unlike UN ambassadors, UN parliamentarians would not take instruction from national governments, but would be accountable to citizens, and mandated to act according to conscience and the common good.
The UN Parliamentary Assembly 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 endorsed the UNPA concept in its June 2007 report. And of the 801 current parliamentarians who have endorsed the campaign, 41 are Canadian MPs or senators representing all our major political parties.
Around the world as the Arab Spring and Occupy Movement demonstrate, demand for democracy is growing, and the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly is part of that forward surge. Will Canadian foreign diplomacy take the lead and help democratize global governance, or will we sit idly on the sidelines, watching as the torch passes us by?
Warren Allmand is a former Liberal Cabinet minister and longtime MP. He currently serves as national president of the World Federalist Movement – Canada.