Canada lacks the courage for a successful UN Security Council bid

In March 2016 at a press conference at the UN in New York City, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s decision to seek a seat on the UN Security Council for a two-year term in 2021-22.

Canada is ready once again to take a seat in the UN Security Council….With a renewed commitment to international peace and security, now is the time for our return.

But that welcome and well-received announcement was before the November 2016 presidential elections in the United States brought Donald J. Trump to the White House, occasioning major adjustments to the Canadian Cabinet to better facilitate the all-important Canada-USA trade relationship.

Way back in February 2017, warned that retention by Chrystia Freeland of the most important part of her erstwhile international trade portfolio — Canada-USA trade — while also becoming Canada’s foreign minister risked sidelining our UN agenda.

And that is exactly what has happened, with our bid for a UN Security Council seat looking more and more like the most high-profile casualty of our Trump-first fixation.

Canada is behind on its bid to win a United Nations Security Council seat, say former diplomats and foreign affairs officials, which they suggest shows a lack of political will to backstop a Liberal promise that has now become a low priority.

In fact the Justin Trudeau government may well be regretting they ever decided to seek a UN Security Council seat in the first place.

After all, such a position would force them to publicly take positions on a range of issues where the choice might well be to anger the Americans or abandon important international principles.  This problem would clearly be most acute were Donald Trump to secure a second term in office. (Perish the thought.)

But even with a friendlier White House in 2021, there still remains the thorny issue of domestic Canadian politics undermining good foreign policy.  Domestic considerations have always been a factor, but the Harper government took base political pandering to hitherto unseen depths.

In the view of Andrew Stobo Sniderman, a former human rights policy adviser to Stephane Dion when he was Foreign Minister:

What Stephen Harper understood well (and his successor Andrew Scheer understands still) is that bombastic bravado against bad guys abroad, however useless or even counterproductive, can score political points inside Canada.

Take for example the recent Conservative motion to freeze Canada’s relations with Iran, described by Sniderman as follows:

The recent Conservative motion about Iran represents the cheapest, most cynical form of politics: seeking partisan advantage at the risk of putting Canadians in real danger.

But the problem is that this cynical Conservative strategy worked. To the surprise of many, including the Conservatives, the Liberal government reversed its campaign pledge to restore full diplomatic relations with Iran and voted in favour of the Conservative motion.

Rather than potentially anger a small but very vocal segment of the Iranian-Canadian population, the Justin Trudeau government caved in.  So the question is obvious: if they cannot withstand this kind of cynical Conservative ploy now, why would they do any better when confronted with a plethora of such issues as a voting member of the UN Security Council?

For the full article on the state of play in Canada’s bid for a UN Security Council seat, see: Canada seen to ‘dial back’ UN Security Council bid, say insiders, all ‘rhetoric,’ no action (Samantha Wright Allen, The Hill Times, 20 June 2018).

For an in-depth discussion of the implications of the Conservative motion on Canada-Iran relations with panelists including Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason, and University of Ottawa Professors Omid Milani and Thomas Juneau, see: Parliamentary Briefing on Canada’s Iran Policy- Hosted By Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) (youtube, published by ICC on 20 June 2018).

And see also: Ottawa’s efforts to restore relations with Tehran going nowhere says academic (Beatrice Paez, The Hill Times, 20 June 2018).


Photo credit: PMO (PM Justin Trudeau addresses 71st Session of UN General Assembly)

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