G8 nations a spent force: Martin

PUBLICATION: Montreal Gazette | DATE: 2006.06.08 | BYLINE: ELIZABETH THOMPSON

The G8 group of the world's most powerful nations can no longer speak for the entire world or take the support of other countries for its initiatives for granted, former prime minister Paul Martin says in his first major international speech since leaving office.

In a speech to be delivered in Germany today, Martin says a new international body, the L20, is needed to tackle global problems ranging from energy and trade to climate change and stopping pandemics.

Where other countries once followed the G8's lead, that is no longer the case, he explained.

"We need a body that can form the consensus required to deal on a timely basis with issues of all kinds that have global repercussions," Martin says in the speech to be delivered to the Development and Peace Foundation. "In short, the time has passed where the G8 can take the world for granted."

Yesterday, however, it appeared that Martin's proposal, which he says is garnering international interest, won't get the support of his own country.

"This government has no plans to support that initiative," said Sandra Buckler, director of communications to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Martin's comments come only five weeks before Harper is to represent Canada at the next meeting of the G8 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In his speech, Martin draws a blueprint for how the L20 should work and how it can complement the G8, which he believes should continue to exist.

Martin says the G20, which brings the finance ministers of the world's industrialized nations together with those of emerging markets, has proved to be successful in resolving problems because it broadens the range of countries at the table and ensures a better representation of various regions.

The time has come to move from the G20 of finance ministers to an L20 which brings together leaders of those nations to tackle the challenges posed by globalization, he says.

Among the issues that an L20 meeting should address would be energy, health, environment and trade, Martin said.

An L20 could be invaluable in preventing the spread of infectious diseases ranging from HIV/AIDS to avian flu, Martin said.

"Given the deep cultural differences and financial capacities of individual countries that currently prevent timely action, co-operation at the leaders' level may well be necessary to deal with the menace of a global pandemic or to find the balance between intellectual property rights that underwrite much of our medical research on the one hand, and the overwhelming need to alleviate the suffering of those who cannot afford the fruits of that research on the other."

The environment is another area in which the L20 could make a difference, he said. "The issue is climate change and the problem is threefold: those countries which have fallen behind on their targets, including my own; those countries that have not accepted the threat as a threat; and the major emerging economies who feel the problem is for others to solve."

"We've had enough escapism. The time has come for the kind of hard talk that corresponds to the magnitude of the problem we're handing to our children. It doesn't hurt for leaders to call it like it is when their peers are around the table, and the cameras are not."

ethompson@thegazette.canwest.com

ONLINE EXTRA: In advance of the G8 summit that Russia is hosting, President Vladimir Putin mixes it up with the foreign news media. montrealgazette.com