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Among the global economic powers of the G20, Canada has a privileged position.

Whether the Conservative government is able to use that position to push its agenda for hard targets on reducing national debt loads will become clear this fall, when world leaders of the G20 gather in St. Petersburg, Russia.

One little-discussed aspect of the rise of the G20 in recent years has been the lead roll Canada is asked to play year after year.

Canada – along with India – co-chairs the G20 Framework Working Group for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth. Mexico had asked Canada to continue in that role when it hosted the G20 last year and this year's Russian hosts once again asked Canada to stay on.

A briefing note to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty from his deputy minister, Michael Horgan, offers a small glimpse into why Canadian officials were pleased to get another invite.

"This role has provided important benefits to Canada, including providing us with greater access to senior government officials across the G-20," states the Aug. 21, 2012 memo, which was recently released to The Globe and Mail in response to an Access to Information request.

The note indicates the Russians expect the committee to carry a heavy work load.

"They also want the Framework Working Group to develop an Action Plan that would be a key deliverable at the St. Petersburg Summit in the Fall of 2013," the note states.

Mr. Flaherty was in Washington Friday for a meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bankers, where he pushed the G20 countries to make hard targets beyond 2016 for reducing debt-to-GDP.

Friday's communique did not include hard targets, but Mr. Flaherty said Canada will keep pushing.

"We in Canada support targets. We support setting targets and then achieving them," he said in a conference call with reporters Friday. "I think these are desirable objectives, that is, to have hard targets… There's more work to be done in terms of the targets."

In the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the G20 emerged as the dominant forum for international discussion of the global economy, eclipsing the G7/G8. Canada was first asked to co-chair the special working group when G20 leaders met in Pittsburgh in 2009. The early G20 meetings at the leaders' level – such as the one in Pittsburgh and an earlier one that year in London – were widely credited for approving a co-ordinated response to the crisis, one that included widespread stimulus spending and new policies to strengthen global banking rules.

The G20 meets at different levels. There are meetings of G20 deputies, central bankers, finance ministers, leaders and sometimes ad-hoc meetings of other ministers in areas like agriculture or labour.

The G20's reliance on Canada was also made clear when G20 leaders chose Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney to head the Financial Stability Board, the Basel-based watchdog of global financial rules.

More recently as the atmosphere of crisis has lessened, the effectiveness and cohesion of the G20 has been questioned. There is far less consensus in recent years on key agenda items, including the details of banking reform or preventing currency wars.

Still, Mr. Flaherty remains very interested in the expanded international component of his job; a fact that is often overlooked amid the occasional speculation about his retirement from politics.

In an unusually unscripted, candid and retrospective speech to the Economic Club in February, Mr. Flaherty looked back on these international summits such as the G7 and the G20, acknowledging that some are less important than others.

"These meetings tend to be quite boring," he said. "Large communiques are produced by officials, which are nice, and largely unread, including by participants sometimes."

Mr. Flaherty said the meetings in late 2008 though were far from boring as world leaders argued over how to respond to the crisis. He singled out one "dramatic" weekend meeting of the G7 in October of 2008, where he said the Europeans "were quite aggressive against the Americans" over the recent bankruptcy of financial services giant Lehman Brothers.

"Canada actually played a good role at that meeting because we sort of played our traditional role of peacemakers, like, 'This isn't going to help if we fight a lot between Europe and the United States about Lehman Brothers. We really need to make sure the markets on Monday.'"

The meeting led to a united pledge not to allow any more banks or significant financial institutions to fail.

"This was a time of great intensity, but it worked," said Mr. Flaherty. "The reason I bother to go into this story in that much detail is to give you some confidence in the usefulness in these international institutions."

Bill Curry covers finance in The Globe's Ottawa bureau.