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As failed vanity projects go, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recently thwarted bid for a two-year seat for Canada on the United Nations Security Council was certainly a high-profile face plant.
The question is, will Trudeau learn anything from last week’s humiliating loss to Norway and Ireland?
Based on the rhetoric from the Liberal government so far, that seems doubtful.
Take, for example, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s dubious declaration that Canada, as a result of its intense lobbying effort to win one of the rotating UN Security Council seats for 2021-22, is now “more present right around the world.”
Right. In fact, one reason Canada finished behind Norway and Ireland — two countries with more impressive resumes for international involvement — was due to this country often being seen as missing in action on the global stage for the past two decades.
After ending the nine-year reign of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper in 2015, Trudeau liked to boast that Canada was back internationally.
But the reality rarely matched the rhetoric.
Both Norway and Ireland contribute more, in terms of peacekeepers and aid for foreign development as measured as a percentage of GDP, than Canada.
Meanwhile, the Liberals kept approving arms deals to Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most repressive countries, especially regarding women’s rights. They continued ignoring the dismal behaviour of Canadian mining companies in many Third World nations.
And while wooing votes for his cherished UN Security Council seat, Trudeau was widely criticized for courting dictators with appalling human rights records.
Trudeau’s vanity project did not come cheap. At least $2.3 million was directly spent on the campaign to win. But that doesn’t reflect the cost of the many hours politicians and staff spent on the bid, nor possible progress that could have been accomplished on other files instead.
Global Affairs Canada reportedly advised against putting Canada’s name forward in 2016, pointing out that Ireland and Norway, in 2005 and 2007 respectively, already had long-standing formal candidacies for those seats, which experts say, by tradition, this country should not have contested.
But Trudeau, who ripped Harper for losing Canada’s last bid for a Security Council seat in 2010, insisted. This time, Canada received even fewer votes than had the Conservatives’ bid a decade ago — 108, compared to 114 under Harper. Candidates need 128 votes for a place at the table.
Many critics question whether the supposed prize, temporary membership on the 15-country Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body, was even worth the effort.
Real power is wielded by the five permanent SC nations — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France — with veto powers. In practice, that has meant deadlock whenever the perceived self-interest of members of the veto-carrying club diverge. As a result, the UN is often unable to fulfil the very function it was created for — forging a more peaceful, collaborative world.
Instead of trying to join that flawed body, Canada should be pushing for real UN reform.