Skip to main content

Lloyd Axworthy is the chair of the board of CUSO and a former Canadian minister of foreign affairs. Allan Rock is president of the University of Ottawa and a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced that Canada would seek election to the UN Security Council in 2020. It's a major step in our re-engagement with the world. But it won't be a coronation.

Three candidates have now declared for the two available seats, and the competition from Ireland and Norway will be stiff. The secret ballot enables member states to pass judgment on candidates' worthiness for the job. Our defeat in 2010 was a stinging rebuke from which we are still recovering.

By contrast, the highest number of votes ever cast for a Security Council candidate was tallied in Canada's favour in the 1998 election. What set that campaign apart? Among other things, Canada ran on a platform of concrete proposals. Our goal was to move the council's focus onto human security, standing against autocrats and warlords who abuse their populations and protecting civilians, including women and children. In the shadow of Rwanda and Srebrenica, that platform struck a responsive chord, generated unprecedented support and provided momentum that allowed us to achieve, during our term, much of what we had proposed.

The time has come again for Canada to fashion a coherent platform that will seize the imagination and gain the support of UN member states. For a country wanting to re-engage after almost a decade of disdain for multilateralism, the council election presents Canada with an opportunity to reclaim our place in the world with a campaign of substance – grounded in humility and respect, aimed at collective solutions.

Last week, during a conference at the University of Ottawa, leaders past and present from around the world discussed Canada's place in the changing global order. What emerged was a consensus that Canada, as it rejoins the community of nations, should "play to its strengths" by aligning what we do best with what the world needs most.

Canada's platform need not prescribe solutions for all of the world's intractable problems. But member states are entitled to know the values that motivate us. The Prime Minister made a good start at our campaign launch by saying that Canada would base its participation on the promotion of inclusion, diversity and respect for rights. How to bring those values to life?

Let's start with UN reform. It is time to burnish the legitimacy of the institution, beginning with merit-based and accountable hiring practices. We can start with the process for selecting the next secretary-general (and Canada should support one of the many qualified women candidates). The global commission co-chaired by Ibrahim Gambari and Madeleine Albright last year recommended far-reaching changes to UN governance that would reform the dysfunctional Security Council and establish regional security organizations. They also proposed a UN standby force of specially trained troops, police, health workers, disaster experts and development officers, aided by the latest in new communications and early warning technology, including surveillance by specially designed drones.

The migration crisis also affords an opportunity for Canadian leadership. Let's use the favourable attention we attracted by accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees to argue that this is a global, not a European, challenge and to urge additional resettlements in countries beyond Europe. That would help lessen the pressure on the EU and reduce the number of needless deaths by desperate migrants.

Canada must re-engage with Africa and work with partners there toward improving governance, preventing conflict and protecting public health. The global south will look to us for a commitment to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, to address the conditions endured by more than a billion of the world's poorest people.

Finally, we can signal our values through the choices we make at home, like working toward fairness for Canada's indigenous population and turning military investments away from yesterday's wars to an increased capacity to establish and maintain peace.

A winning Security Council campaign will require good ideas from every quarter. The business sector, civil society, our universities and others should be encouraged to put their thoughts on the table.

So let's show the world once again that in the Security Council election, the currency of fresh ideas and the value of a positive vision can still carry the day.

And let's rally the country to the cause, achieving not just a success for government but also a victory for Canadians.