Harper says he'll boycott Commonwealth
Oct 7, 2013 / 6:40 am
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has used the platform of one international leaders' summit to fire a torpedo into the hull of another.
Harper stepped to the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering on this idyllic Indonesian tourist island Monday to formally confirm he'll boycott next month's Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka.
Perhaps more significantly, Harper threatened that Canada could cut the purse strings to the 64-year-old Commonwealth organization due to ongoing human rights abuses by the host Sri Lankan government.
The prime minister cited everything from the impeachment of a chief justice to allegations of extra judicial killings and disappearances and the jailing of political opponents and journalists.
"In the past two years we have not only seen no improvement in these areas, in almost all of these areas we've seen a considerable rolling back, a considerable worsening of the situation," Harper said in a brief availability at the APEC summit site.
"Based on that, I have made a decision I will not attend the Commonwealth leaders' summit this fall."
Harper said he made the move with "somewhat of a heavy heart," but he has been threatening the boycott since the last Commonwealth leaders' meeting in Australia in 2011, so it comes as little surprise.
But his frank displeasure with entire organization, and sabre rattling over funding, raises the stakes.
Canada contributes about $20 million annually to various Commonwealth initiatives, including $5 million to the secretariat that runs the organization, making Canada the second largest financial contributor.
The grouping of 54 countries formerly under British rule is facing an existential crisis in a global community crowded with international clubs — including those like the Pacific Rim leaders' summit here that are explicitly focused on trade and commerce.
Canada could skip a year at APEC — U.S. President Barack Obama was forced by Washington's budget crisis to miss the Bali summit and sent Secretary of State John Kerry in his stead — with barely a notice.
But any extended Canadian absence or cash withdrawal from the Commonwealth could be fatal to the tottering enterprise. Sri Lanka holds the chair for the next two years.
"Obviously we will examine our engagement and our financing of the Commonwealth, which is quite considerable, to make sure that we are wisely using taxpayer dollars and reflecting Canadian values," Harper said.
"But this is a decision the Commonwealth has made and the Commonwealth will have to live with it."
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