OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will test drive his priorities for the G8 and G20 summits this week at an elite conference in Davos, Switzerland, and he's expected to highlight the environment, development and global economic growth.
While Canada's official agenda for the end-of-June summits is not yet finalized, climate change will figure prominently at both meetings, a senior government official said.
Economic recovery, banking regulations, aid for mothers and children in poor countries, and global security are also top of mind for the prime minister as he leaves Tuesday night for a quick three-day trip.
He'll spend Wednesday and much of Thursday hobnobbing with the rich, the powerful and the thoughtful at the exclusive annual thinkathon in the Swiss Alps.
His speech on Thursday will be the first public unveiling of how Harper sees the two summits unfolding - starting with the Group of Eight industrialized countries meeting in Huntsville, Ont., at the end of June, and followed immediately by the larger Group of 20 summit in Toronto.
While Canada has been widely pilloried for its lack of plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Ottawa wants the two summits to push the world closer to a binding international treaty on emissions reduction, based on the agreement-in-principle reached in Copenhagen last month.
"We want to see a long-term agreement on climate change," said the Canadian official, speaking on background. He stressed that final decisions will need to be made through the United Nations.
The summits, he said, "can play a supportive role."
For the G8 summit, Harper plans to make child and maternal health a central theme, several sources said, although it was unclear whether Harper was ready to focus on that topic in his Davos speech.
Ottawa wants to foster collaboration among the richest countries to improve hospitals and health care for mothers and newborns in poor countries. The federal government also wants to set an example by increasing its own spending on maternal and child health in developing countries - although money has not yet been allocated for this effort.
Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and other security concerns will also be on the G8 discussion list.
For the G20, Harper will use his Davos speech to signal that the Toronto summit in June will focus on entrenching the global economic recovery.
Specifically, Harper is expected to stress that the rebound is fragile, and that the world won't really feel like recovery has taken hold until employment rises. He is expected to signal that he wants all G20 countries to demonstrate that they are living up to their unprecedented commitments to stimulate their economies.
He will also urge countries to be prepare "exit strategies" for discussion in Toronto, but he will stress that the removal of stimulus should be handled with care for fear of undermining the precarious recovery.
And Harper will be looking for stricter financial regulations, since the global financial crisis was caused in large part by lax banking standards - not just excessive bonuses for investment executives.
For now, countries are taking their banking regulations in many divergent directions, warned Nariman Behravesh, chief economist of IHS Global Insight.
"The hope is that the G20 (develops) a realistic agenda going forward. Don't get too ambitious," he said in an interview. "Be pragmatic, that would be my hope."
The World Economic Forum holds an annual conference in the ski-resort town of Davos in the Swiss Alps at the end of January every year. Skiers are sent packing and instead about 2,400 business executives, heads of state, academics, deep thinkers and the occasional rock star gather to launch new ideas and push their causes.
Media access is limited, and much of the conference is usually by invitation only.
The aim of the four days of round tables and discussions is to set the global agenda for politics and economics in the coming year. Last year's conference - which took place just after global trade had collapsed and major economies were plunging rapidly into a dark pit - left global leaders with a deep sense of unease.
This year, the theme is far more upbeat, with organizer Klaus Schwab encouraging participants to "rethink, redesign, rebuild." He's also made a last-minute request to focus on Haiti.
Despite months of planning, the conference will likely to take on a life of its own this year, said Behravesh.
That's because U.S. President Barack Obama's move this week to clamp down on big banks is sending shock waves throughout the global financial community, and will influence talk of recovery, he said. And it's also because the world is uncertain about Obama's foreign agenda after the loss of a key Senate seat in Massachusetts this week.
"Davos is going to play catch-up a little bit," said Behravesh. "All of this is happening so quickly that a lot of the workshops are on the old topics."
Harper's visit to Davos is his first. And it's the first time Canada's prime minister has made the trip since Paul Martin went six years ago, using the venue to unveil his approach to foreign policy.
Harper will spend Wednesday afternoon and much of Thursday in bilateral meetings telegraphing his summit plans to other G20 leaders and thinkers, officials said.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, who have both been to Davos before, will be making the trip again this year.