COMMENTARY: Canada badly wants a seat on the UN Security Council. Are other countries listening?

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The UN General Assembly votes June 17 to decide which countries get a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2021 and 2022.

Canada is one of the candidates, and there are numerous reasons it does not deserve to win.

Justin Trudeau’s government, like Stephen Harper’s before him, has cut foreign aid spending. And five years ago, Trudeau claimed peacekeeping would be a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Today, only a few dozen Canadian blue berets are employed around the world.

The number of days Prime Minister Trudeau spent in the developing world since winning office in 2015 can be counted on one hand. He spent more time surfing or on vacation with the likes of his immensely wealthy family friend, the Aga Khan.

Such priorities may matter to some UN members, particularly the poorest, which hold many of the votes.

Canada is in a three-way race with Norway and Ireland for two rotating UNSC spots. Whoever wins gets to share the same lowly council status as current minnows such as St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Estonia, Niger and Tunisia.

On the other hand, the winners will also get to briefly breathe the same rarefied air as the five veto-wielding permanent council members — the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and France.

Unless it is simply a vanity project, it is a bit of a mystery why the Prime Minister’s Office has been putting immense pressure on Global Affairs Canada to put other files aside and get all hands on deck for the final days of the UNSC campaign push. The PMO’s intense interest begs this question: if sitting on the Security Council is so important, why did the government only raise its game a few months ago, though the plan to make a serious run for a seat was well known several years ago?

The issues most likely to be discussed at the UNSC begin and end with how to get along with the nascent superpower, China. Also part of this toxic stew is a mischievous, irredentist Russia, jihadists and homegrown terrorists, cyber and information warfare, climate change, and most recently, how to tackle public health emergencies such as the current coronavirus pandemic.

Climate change excepted, Canada has a different agenda than almost any other country. Its top priorities include feminism, gender equality and indigenous rights. As Trudeau discovered at the G7 in Tadoussac two years ago and when he went to China in 2017, as popular as his signature issues may be among some Canadians, they often get short shrift abroad.

With the world in tumult, few nations are keen to be lectured by the UN’s Dudley Do-Right.

The frantic late campaign to sell the UN members on Canada’s Security Council candidacy took a new twist in March. Global Affairs suddenly became focused on the idea that the country was uniquely qualified to help other countries navigate the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 universe.


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