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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seen here among G20 leaders in Japan in June, 2019, who governs the kingdom on behalf his father, has also spent that time consolidating his power by arresting public servants, military officers and his rivals within the royal family.ERIN SCHAFF/The New York Times News Service

The G20 is facing an existential crisis because of its abysmal response to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic shock.

Not only is Saudi Arabia, the current Group of 20 chair, responsible for the oil price war that devastated the global energy industry, the international forum has failed to deliver a meaningful action plan to tackle the twin health and economic crises.

Instead of crafting a co-ordinated fiscal response as it did during the Great Financial Crisis, the G20 is virtue signalling as divisions deepen among its members. Some, including Japan, the European Union and Canada, are spending heavily to jump-start the global economy. But others, including Saudi Arabia and China, are expending far less on fiscal stimulus (as a percentage of GDP) than they did back during the 2009 financial crisis, according to the Atlantic Council.

Worse still, instead of exemplifying international fellowship, some G20 members are undermining globalization. The Saudi-Russian oil conflict, the U.S.-China trade war and China’s diplomatic and economic feud with Canada are all symptoms of a fractured G20. The international forum’s commitment to shared prosperity is crumbling under Saudi leadership. Canada, itself a target of Saudi diplomatic and economic antipathy, has more reason than ever to boycott the November summit in Riyadh.

Tone is set at the top. Saudi Arabia, which assumed the G20 presidency in December, has spent the past six months putting its own economic interests first. As the pandemic’s death toll climbed and the global economy cratered, the kingdom was fixated on flooding the global market with its unwanted crude, ultimately driving the price of oil into negative territory.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who governs the kingdom on behalf his father, also spent that time consolidating his power by arresting public servants, military officers and his rivals within the royal family. He also did the inhumane: deporting thousands of Ethiopian migrants during a pandemic; denying live-saving medical treatment to imprisoned political activist Abdullah al-Hamid; and laying the groundwork for the release of those convicted in the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

In fact, Saudi Arabia had to be “coaxed” by India, Russia and Australia to convene a virtual G20 summit in March, according to Gateway House, a foreign policy think tank. The result? A statement offering empty words about the G20′s commitment “to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic” even as its chair and certain members went rogue.

Although the G20 claimed that it was injecting more than US$5-trillion into the global economy, critics pointed out this wasn’t new stimulus. “This figure was merely an aggregation of existing measures by G20 countries,” wrote the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

That contrasts with the robust action plan during the global financial crisis, CSIS added, noting this time the G20 failed “to convey a spirit of robust internationalism and multilateral cooperation.”

The Council on Foreign Relations also panned the G20′s response to the pandemic, stating its members “managed a barely passing grade” on global leadership.

That was followed by scathing criticism from John Kirton, director of the G20 Research Group, who wrote that a follow-up meeting of G20 health ministers “produced a deeply disappointing result from a badly divided group.” The G20 press release "exuded complacency rather than urgency, even as the global COVID-19 death toll soared and a second wave erupted in Japan and Singapore,” he added.

As chair, Saudi Arabia is bungling the G20’s response to this crisis and leaving the 21-year-old international economic forum in disarray. It’s alarming because the G20 represents 80 per cent of the world’s GDP, two-thirds of global population and three-quarters of international trade.

Canada must distance itself from this charade. Our energy industry was collateral damage in the Saudi-Russian oil price war. National Bank of Canada chief executive Louis Vachon rightly called it an “act of economic warfare” by Saudi Arabia.

“I don’t think we should let a foreign government dictate what our energy policy should be,” Mr. Vachon told reporter James Bradshaw in April. “How do you deal with foreign governments who pretend to be our friends from a diplomatic and military front, who are acting a completely different way on the economic front?”

Both the federal NDP and Agnès Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who investigated Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, have urged the Trudeau government to boycott the Riyadh summit.

But Global Affairs Canada confirmed Thursday that it still plans to attend, adding participating allows “Canada to emphasize issues of importance to us, including: defending the rules-based international order, advancing women’s equality and economic empowerment” among others.

Wrong. Participating in that gathering would be a slap in the face to ordinary Canadians who’ve lost jobs in the oil patch, to our eight citizens who remain imprisoned in Saudi Arabia and to the Canadian family of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and his sister Samar Badawi.

If Canada is to have any credibility, it cannot be feckless. Boycotting the Saudi presidency of the G20 is a principled response to the kingdom’s subversion of multilateralism. So is slapping a tariff on Saudi oil imports, banning military exports to the kingdom and taking charge of our own energy security.

Lending legitimacy to the current G20 farce is a path to disaster, not global prosperity.

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