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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves the closing news conference at the Global Fund conference Saturday, September 17, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves the closing news conference at the Global Fund conference Saturday, September 17, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

At UN General Assembly, Trudeau must try to move past Harper years Add to ...

Justin Trudeau will make his prime ministerial debut at the United Nations General Assembly this week, where he will present Canada’s plan to re-engage with the UN and close a chapter of chilly relations between the previous Conservative government and the multilateral body.

In his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau will emphasize his view that “prosperity leads to peace,” according to a government official speaking on background. His address will position Canada as a contender for a UN Security Council seat and attempt to move past years of strained UN relations under Stephen Harper’s rule.

“I would expect that Mr. Trudeau will be articulating a fundamentally different message from his predecessor, whose disdain for the UN was all too evident,” said former Canadian ambassador to the UN Robert Fowler.

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“Prime Minister Trudeau and his ministers have made very clear that they believe the UN is essential to effective global management, and a vital part of Canadian foreign and security policy.

“I anticipate that he will wish to drive home the message that Canada is intent on resuming its role as a committed, constructive and creative UN member state.”

Canada’s campaign for a Security Council seat will hover over Mr. Trudeau’s conversations in New York City. Earlier this year, Mr. Trudeau announced Canada’s intention to seek a two-year seat on the Security Council for 2021-2022. Facing stiff competition from Ireland and Norway, Canada is under pressure to campaign hard for its chance at one of 10 non-permanent, rotating Security Council seats.

Canada last sat on the Security Council in 1999-2000; Mr. Harper’s government withdrew its candidacy for a seat in 2010 when it became clear Canada would lose to Portugal.

The Liberal government could face criticism from some countries on its decision to sell $15-billion worth of light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia, a country known for its abysmal human-rights record. Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said Canadian allies probably won’t do so, as many also sell arms to Saudi Arabia. He said Iran could bring up the Saudi arms deal in retaliation for a Canadian resolution at the General Assembly criticizing the Islamic Republic’s human-rights record.

“It’s entirely possible that the Iranian government, which is of course no friend of Saudi Arabia, would use this … to say that countries shouldn’t be paying attention to Canada’s efforts to criticize Iran’s human rights record because, after all, Canada is cavalierly allowing LAVs to be sent off to Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Neve said. “The motivation for that would be entirely political. It would not be that Iran is somehow demonstrating some principled human rights diplomacy.”

Sources say Canada will join the Rome Format, a multilateral stabilization effort for Libya. The group consists of the permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. – and several other European and North African countries and organizations.

Much of Mr. Trudeau’s visit will focus on the global refugee and migrant crisis. He will take part in the Refugee and Migration Summit, hosted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and co-host U.S. President Barack Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees.

While no major announcements are expected on the refugee file, a government official said Mr. Trudeau will discuss measures to help refugees better integrate into new communities. Canada will also share with other countries best practices from its experience resettling more than 30,000 Syrian refugees since the Liberals took office last November.

The Prime Minister brings another major commitment to the General Assembly this week: $450-million for a new peacekeeping program, which will commit up to 600 Canadian Forces troops to UN peace operations. The government has not indicated where the troops will be deployed, and senior officials said that announcement will not be made at the UN this week.

However, Steve Saideman, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University, says he is hoping to hear more about the number of peace operations Canada is considering joining.

“I would like to get some hints about that question of many missions or one,” Dr. Saideman said. “Once they decide that, then we can start talking about different kinds of place to go to.”

Canadian officials are currently in Africa assessing mission options. Experts say Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic are top contenders for Canadian troops.

Mr. Trudeau will also use his time at the UN to encourage countries to follow through on the Paris climate change agreement to cut global greenhouse gas emissions. A senior government official said the Prime Minister wants to bring the pact to the House of Commons for a vote this fall, with plans to submit it at the UN summit on climate change in Morocco, Nov. 7-18.

Mr. Trudeau will be joined in New York by Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Immigration Minister John McCallum and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. The ministers will take part in the General Assembly and related side events, including more than 20 bilateral meetings for Mr. Dion.

With a report from Robert Fife

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