Government of Canada

Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

The Commonwealth

Table of Contents

© Tom Baird / Commonwealth Secretariat


The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 countries that work together toward shared goals in democracy and development. These member states range from large countries such as Canada to small islands such as Jamaica.

The mandate of the Commonwealth is to serve the needs of its member governments and their citizens in political, economic and social development and to provide a forum for deliberation, problem solving, consensus decision-making, and action on matters of importance to the organization.

Canada joined the Commonwealth in 1931 and has played an important role in its evolution, from the days of the British Empire before the Second World War through its transition into the modern Commonwealth of today—a worldwide, multicultural association of sovereign and equal states. The Commonwealth includes three inter-governmental organizations:

Canada is an engaged and committed partner in the Commonwealth Secretariat's development work. The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) is the main development arm of the Secretariat, and Canada is its second largest donor, providing about one quarter of its annual funding.

Canada contributes to several Commonwealth election observation missions.

Headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) was created in 1987 to encourage the development and sharing of education, knowledge, resources, and technologies to help developing nations improve access to quality education and training. DFATD provides about one third of its annual funding making Canada its largest donor.

Canada is a member of the governing boards of these organizations.

Thematic Focus

The Commonwealth Secretariat's goals include strengthening peace and democracy in member countries and improving economic growth to benefit the poor. These goals align closely with two of Canada's priority themes for international development, namely stimulating sustainable economic growth and securing the future of children and youth, and the crosscutting theme of democratic governance.

Economic growth

The Secretariat's focus on helping member countries strengthen their public policy and management capacities to achieve economic growth makes it a key multilateral partner for Canada in formulating, negotiating and implementing trade policies, diversifying export bases, strengthening debt management, and attracting new investment.

Children and youth

The Secretariat supports member country efforts to secure a future for children and youth by providing technical expertise in vocational education for youth, education and teaching tools for professional development, fostering vibrant youth networks, and promoting youth enterprises.

Democratic governance

The Secretariat promotes peace and democracy by helping to strengthen democratic institutions and processes in member countries, including improving election processes, strengthening the rule of law, adopting and implementing human rights standards, and implementing measures to prevent and combat corruption.

Canada's Strategy for Working with the Commonwealth

Canada's international development work with the Commonwealth focuses on three strategic objectives:

  1. Strengthening the focus of the Secretariat's programs in areas of established expertise, particularly democracy and good governance, and promoting greater South-South technical cooperation.
  2. Encouraging the Secretariat to use a results-based management approach to planning and reporting on the implementation of its strategic plan (PDF, 699 KB, 53 pages).
  3. Working to ensure the recommendations of the 2008 review of the CFTC are implemented by the Secretariat.


In 2011, with the support of Canada and other donors, the Commonwealth and its institutions:

  • Sent Commonwealth teams to observe and assess elections in Zambia, Cameroon, Gambia, St Lucia, and Guyana
  • Helped seven member countries ratify or adopt eight different human rights agreements and conventions, including protecting the rights of children, protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and protecting political rights
  • Helped four Caribbean countries develop national and regional policy frameworks and associated legislation related to maritime and ocean governance to build economic resilience and contribute to improved food security and livelihoods
  • Established the Caribbean Association of Debt Managers to provide practical assistance to countries within the region in developing technical capability and meeting core debt management objectives
  • Helped 300,000 girls and boys in 10 countries attend 12 open schools (learning on-line or through correspondence rather than physical presence in a school)
  • Helped an estimated 108,000 students in 10 countries learn how to improve maternal and child health, prevent HIV/AIDS and non-communicable diseases, and improve environmental health
  • Increased access to quality technical and vocational education/training through open and distance learning in seven institutions in three African countries
  • Helped the Virtual University of Small States of the Commonwealth offer courses in six institutions in six countries

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