Trudeau faces tough fight in UN council bid


OTTAWA – The Liberal government faces a longer, tougher election campaign, this one worldwide, if it wants to win a UN Security Council seat, say the people who helped Canada win its last bid.

It’s not enough for Canada to be “back,” the government needs a platform outlining what it wants to accomplish on the world stage and it has to make up for a decade of UN neglect under the previous Conservative government, they say.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce Wednesday in New York that Canada plans to seek a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Trudeau will be meeting Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whom he hosted last month in Ottawa. That’s when Trudeau first mentioned the plan to seek a council seat. Canada lost its last bid for a seat in 2010 after a string of six terms on the council dating back to the late 1940s.

It is not clear when Canada could seek a new term, because the slate of candidates in the UN’s Western and European and Others Group, to which Canada belongs, is full until at least 2020.

But campaigns for the council typically take years and involve much diplomatic horse-trading, something the previous Harper government considered to be a compromise.

“It’s important to have an agenda, so you’re giving people a reason to elect you,” said Paul Heinbecker, Canada’s ambassador to the UN during its last stint on the council in 1999-2000. “It’s not enough to say we’re Canada and we’re nice and we’re back and therefore elect us.”

Trudeau doesn’t have to do that Wednesday in New York, Heinbecker said, but his government has to soon “create a platform, because it is an election.”

And from here on, at every meeting with a foreign leader, Trudeau will have to make a pitch for a vote for Canada, as will Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion in every meeting with counterparts, as well as other ministers and any MPs who meet a counterpart from another country, said former Liberal foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy.

“Canada has a lot to make up,” Axworthy said in an interview. “We had lost a lot of traction over the last 10 years in not being involved politically, not being involved in peacekeeping, reducing our foreign aid development.”

Heinbecker said Canada’s success in 1999 was based on Axworthy’s “human security” agenda. Its core principle held that the safety of civilians in armed conflict was paramount.

Canada’s two-year term laid the foundation for the creation of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine that the UN adopted in 2005. The R2P, as it is called, set out criteria for when the world could intervene in the affairs of a country to protect its citizens.

The doctrine has been criticized recently, with the Security Council unable to stop the bloodshed in Syria because it has been stonewalled by the veto of Russia, one of its permanent members.

Axworthy said one of Trudeau’s campaign planks should be to reform the Security Council to do away with the veto of the five permanent members when it deliberates “humanitarian intervention” in a country.

He also said it would be a natural fit for Trudeau to declare Canada’s support for an effort to choose a woman as the next Secretary General. Canada could also offer renewed commitments to peacekeeping and international development.

Trudeau has said he wants Canada to return to peacekeeping, but has not provided details. Last month, Ban gently urged the prime minister to meet the UN’s development spending goal of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income, which the Liberals have not committed to.

“It’s going to take some new equipment, it’s going to take an international development strategy,” said Axworthy.

“It will take resources to show that you really mean it.”

Heinbecker said it is not feasible for Canada to stand for a Security Council election before Trudeau’s current mandate expires in 2019, because there will be fierce competition, especially from Europe.