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Politics Canada can help strengthen multilateralism amid attack on international institutions: UN

President of the United Nations General Assembly Maria Fernanda Espinosa is photographed at Chateau Laurier in Ottawa during her visit on Nov. 26, 2018.

James Park/The Globe and Mail

Canada can play a key role in strengthening the state of multilateralism worldwide, the president of the United Nations General Assembly says, amidst attacks from U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders on institutions such as the UN.

Maria Fernanda Espinosa, a former Ecuadorian cabinet minister who’s now president of the General Assembly, met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Monday to express her gratitude for Canada’s support of the UN. The Liberals campaigned in 2015 on a promise to re-establish Canada’s place on the world stage and improve its relationship with the UN, after a decade of strained relations between the previous Conservative government and the multilateral institution. Multilateralism refers to the practice of an alliance of multiple countries working together in pursuit of common goals, such as maintaining worldwide peace and security.

“We see that there are some countries that are not so keen to embark into multilateral solutions to global challenges,” Ms. Espinosa told The Globe and Mail. “Canada is such an important, reliable partner to multilateralism and I think that the practices, the policies, the good examples need to be shared across the border.”

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Mr. Trump has led an attack on multilateralism and global co-operation since becoming President. He used his speech to the UN General Assembly in September to tout his “America First” approach, reject globalism and demand respect for U.S. sovereignty.

Ms. Espinosa said while the multilateral system goes through “ups and downs,” the majority of UN member states believe in the institution. However, she said the UN has to be prepared to handle dissent and countries that decide to not be part of some processes and agreements.

“If a member state is not prepared to join, our hope is that at some point, they will reconsider and rejoin because there is no other way … to address to global challenges than with collective action and strong global leadership.”

Ms. Espinosa said she hopes the success of major world deals such as the Paris climate change agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Compact for Migration can convince countries opposed to such agreements to join.

Canada will join other countries in adopting the Global Compact, the first-ever UN agreement on international migration, in Morocco next month. The non-binding agreement aims to mitigate factors that drive migrants out of their home countries, reduce the risks they face if they are forced to leave and create conditions that allow migrants to contribute to society.

The government’s actions on migration have been criticized by the Conservatives. They say Canada should not sign the Global Compact given the Liberal government’s “severe inability” to manage the arrival of thousands of asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. border over the past two years. Nearly 38,000 asylum seekers have illegally entered Canada – mostly through Quebec – since January, 2017, putting immense pressure on Canada’s refugee system.

Ms. Espinosa, however, applauded Canada’s leadership on the migration front, particularly the federal government’s decision to welcome Syrian refugees and its support for the Global Compact. She said more countries need to adopt Canada’s immigration policies and open their doors to refugees.

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