GATINEAU, QUE. -- Canada and its Western Hemisphere allies are calling on the rest of the democratic world to help bring stability to Venezuela, hobbled by a refugee crisis and economic collapse under a dictator they deem illegitimate.

"The world is watching each and every one of us to bring this new momentum in the quest for the Venezuelan people to democracy," Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Thursday as he opened the Lima Group meeting in Gatineau, Que.

"We gather today to discuss the challenges the Venezuelan crisis represents for all of us and how we, the Lima Group, can bring the world community together to re-establish democracy in that country."

Canada is hosting the gathering of foreign ministers from the coalition of about a dozen Western Hemisphere countries, minus the United States, who are trying to solve the Venezuela crisis.

But their efforts have yet to bear fruit. Canada last hosted the Lima Group one year ago, and that meeting resulted in a call to Venezuela's military to peacefully switch sides to the opposition, but that never happened.

"We are looking for a joint vision for the participation of the international community," Peru's Foreign Minister Gustavo Meza-Cuadra said through a Spanish interpreter.

"The only way to return democracy to Venezuela and overcome the crisis is to ensure that there are presidential and parliamentary elections that are free, fair and transparent and inclusive."

The meeting comes amid a renewed push for a new presidential election in Venezuela, one aimed at ousting the country's dictator president, Nicolas Maduro.

Canada and dozens of other countries recognize opposition legislator Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate leader, and view Maduro as an illegitimate president who stole his country's last election in 2018.

Guaido is not at the meeting at the Canadian Museum of History across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill, but was recently in Ottawa as part of a multi-country tour of Europe and the U.S. to bolster support for this democracy-building efforts.

"His international tour clearly demonstrated how strongly the world supports a return to democracy in Venezuela," said Champagne.

"The world needs to come together to stop the human tragedy in Venezuela, and the Lima Group can and must play a leading role in that effort."

The United Nations estimates that six million Venezuelans will have fled their country by the year's end, as its economic, health and education systems collapse.

The exodus has fuelled concern among some UN officials that the migration out of Venezuela and into neighbouring countries might be irreversible as new migrants start new lives and Maduro clings to power in their hollowed-out country. Some fear that Venezuela, once oil-rich and prosperous, might be on a slide toward becoming a failed state.

Colombia's ambassador to Canada, Frederico Hoyos, flatly rejects that assessment and maintains Venezuela's decline can be reversed with a peaceful, democratic transition. He says fleeing Venezuelans -- all 1.4 million of them -- will always be welcome in his country.

But he says the goal is to bring stability to Venezuela through free and fair elections so refugees can eventually return to their homeland.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020