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The United Nations and Canada: A Question of Leadership

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by Monique Cuillerier

In the fall of 2018, WFMC published the most recent publication in the United Nations and Canada series, focusing on “What Canada Could and Should Do at the United Nations 2018: A Question of Leadership.”

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

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 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 below what has been promised. 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.

What Canada Could and Should Do at the United Nations 2018: A Question of Leadership is available at for free electronic

download. (Paper copies can be ordered for $15 through the site.)

The articles cover a broad range of areas in which Canada could, should, or does show leadership:

Refugees: A Test of Political Will and Resilience (Lloyd Axworthy)

Development assistance: is 0.7% possible? (Aniket Bhushan and Yiagadeesen Samy)

Canada as a leader in world affairs (Andrew Cohen)

Making the Shift: Canadian momentum for “Sustainable Common Security” (Robin Collins)

Canada needs Africa to gain seat on Security Council (Jocelyn Coulon)

Strengthening multilateral capacity for LGBTI communities (Monique Cuillerier)

Canada and Saudi Arabia – some UN implications (Ferry de Kerckhove)

Peacekeeping Promises: Kept or Broken? (Walter Dorn)

Organizing to put Canada back in the International game (Daniel Livermore)

From leader to laggard: the shocking demise of Canadian disarmament diplomacy (Peggy Mason)

Securing human rights (Laura Schnurr)

Ideas for United Nations renewal (John Trent)

Mobilizing for UN reform (Fergus Watt)

Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy: Will It Travel to New York? (Beth Woroniuk)

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