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TakeAction for October 2018: An expanded leadership role for Canada at the United Nations

In March 2016 Prime Minister Trudeau announced Canada’s intention to seek election to a two-year term (2021-22) on the United Nations Security Council. Canada is in a three-way race, competing against Norway and Ireland for two seats assigned to the Western European and Other Group of States (WEOG).

The Security Council is the United Nations’ most powerful body, with “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” Five powerful countries (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) sit as “permanent members” along with ten elected members with two-year terms. Since 1990, the Council has dramatically increased its activity and it now meets in nearly continuous session. It dispatches military operations, imposes sanctions, mandates arms inspections, deploys election monitors and more.

When others assess a country’s candidacy for election to the UN Security Council, their decisions are based in large part on that country’s contribution to the UN’s goals and purposes.

Norway and Ireland are two states that make significant and consistent contributions to the work of the UN. But an examination of Canadian contributions to maintaining peace and security and to reducing poverty indicate that this country’s record leaves a lot to be desired.

1) Keeping the peace.

Maintaining international peace and security is the UN’s primary purpose. But Canada’s contributions to peacekeeping have been late, and disappointingly well below what has been promised. In August 2016 Canada announced a commitment of up to 600 military personnel, 150 police and $450 million over three years. That commitment was reiterated last November by the Prime Minister in remarks at the Vancouver Ministerial Meeting on UN Peacekeeping. The Prime Minister went on to announce that Canada would make available tactical airlift support, an Aviation Task Force, a Quick Reaction Force and new deployments of police.

In March 2018 Canada announced that it would deploy up to 250 personnel to Mali, well below the 600
military personnel and 150 police promised for UN operations in August 2016. Meanwhile the Canadian “Quick Reaction Force” and deployments of additional police peacekeepers are nowhere to be seen.

2) Sustainable Development.

In September 2018 a report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned that the Trudeau government’s record on foreign aid spending is weaker than that of the Harper administration.

Mr. Trudeau’s latest promise of an extra $2-billion for foreign aid over the next five years will fail to restore Ottawa’s aid spending to where it was in 2012. Canada’s official development aid has declined to 0.26 per cent of gross national income, compared with 0.31 per cent in 2012 under the Harper government.

To coincide with the General Debate of the 73rd session of the General Assembly at the end of September, the World Federalist Movement – Canada has published the latest volume in the United Nations and Canada project, What Canada Could and Should Do at the United Nations 2018: A Question of Leadership. The publication addresses the government’s plan for pursuing a non-permanent seat on the Security Council in 2021, investigating various areas in which Canada can display international leadership.

The publication begins with an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland from WFMC Board Chair John Trent, who is also the editor of the UN and Canada series.

In the letter, Trent writes, “… the world is in economic, social and political turmoil that is putting pressure on international organizations. It requires countries like Canada to mobilize coalitions of actors and civil society to renew the international system. The objective of this booklet is to encourage your Government to return to your two goals of reengagement and leadership on the world stage before it is too late.

With regard to reengagement with the United Nations, the Liberals said Canada would enhance its participation in peacekeeping, welcome refugees and immigrants, combat global warming, increase aid to the poorest in developing countries, protect women and children in conflict, furnish humanitarian aid following natural catastrophes, change the approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, promote human rights and rebuild bridges with the international community.

There is also the question of UN renewal to achieve these ends. Your speeches on diversity, optimism, openness and tolerance were applauded around the world. But clearly we must move beyond words to greater action.”

The What Canada Could and Should Do at the United Nations 2018: A Question of Leadership publication is available for free download. Paper copies can be ordered for $15 through the United Nations and Canada website, where you can also find the articles posted individually and listen to some of the authors talk about their articles.

What you can do

Write to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and ask her how Canada will demonstrate our contribution to the UN’s goals and purposes, given such issues as Canada’s promised but slow and lower than promised contributions to UN peacekeeping and the recent strong criticism by the OECD of our Overseas Development Assistance funding levels.

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