Mr. Speaker, today is Commonwealth Day. It is observed every year on the second Monday in March by all Commonwealth countries to celebrate the Commonwealth, its values and principles.
The theme for this year's Commonwealth Day is "Talking to One Another". Communication has always been an important feature of the Commonwealth whether it is between governments, non-governmental organizations or simply interested individuals. Although the Commonwealth consists of 53 diverse countries, it is a family of nations with many shared values and beliefs. By talking to one another, whether at intergovernmental meetings or increasingly through the Internet, we in the Commonwealth have advanced the causes of democracy and human rights and the fight against poverty and injustice that are extremely important to us.
Last year was an important year for the Commonwealth. Canada played an active role in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Harare Declaration, CMAG, which has met seven times in the last 15 months to discuss serious and persistent violations of the Harare declaration.
CMAG was created as a result of the last Commonwealth heads of government meeting in New Zealand in 1995 to study the situations in Nigeria, the Gambia and Sierra Leone. This was part of a wide ranging plan adopted by leaders for increased action to promote democracy, development and consensus building.
The action group will be presenting its report to the heads of government in Edinburgh in October. At the Edinburgh meeting the Harare declaration will be consolidated and strengthened as we revisit the issues of democratic development in our member states. In addition, for the first time, the broader economic issues of trade, investment and development among our member states will be a major focus of our discussions. A non-governmental organization forum and a business forum will be held in conjunction with the governmental meeting, which will draw together the vitality of the private and public spheres.
The Commonwealth is much more than governments and officials. It is also a vibrant and growing association of ordinary people in every part of the globe. Thousands of Canadians are active in the professional, development and service associations which are the strength of the Commonwealth. The relationships built between Canadians and individuals through these organizations are an important force in developing international understanding.
This year we went one step further by looking beyond governmental meetings to actively consult with both the private sector and the Commonwealth NGO community on how government can best promote and preserve democratization and human rights. The round table sessions were successful and several good initiatives are being developed as a result. We look forward to more consultative sessions in the future.
The Commonwealth is a force in the world for the values Canadians cherish, and I urge all members to join me today in saluting the Commonwealth.