Skip to main content

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will co-host a virtual United Nations meeting on the COVID-19 pandemic this week, as Canada enters its final stretch of campaigning for a UN Security Council seat.

Thursday’s meeting will focus on the international development emergency caused by the pandemic and will be co-hosted by Mr. Trudeau, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness. The event comes as Mr. Trudeau reaches out to world leaders for support ahead of the Security Council vote on June 17.

Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, says the meeting is a demonstration of the Canada’s leadership on the global response to the pandemic.

“The world needs Canada to help at the moment,” Mr. Blanchard said in an interview from New York. “This is Canada being Canada, convening partners, thinking about problems that are real and getting to solutions to actually get results on the ground.”

The UN says the pandemic will cause the global economy to sharply contract this year, forcing more than 300 million people out of work and another 30 million people into extreme poverty. Mr. Blanchard said he is particularly concerned about the impacts on developing and small island states, which anticipate cash-flow problems as critical sectors, such as tourism, are devastated by the pandemic.

During Thursday’s meeting, world leaders and the heads of major multilateral institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, will address debt concerns for developing countries, the need to expand liquidity in the global economy, and measures to align pandemic recovery policies with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), among other challenges.

The SDGs are an ambitious set of 17 UN objectives focused on ending poverty, fighting inequality and tackling climate change by 2030. Without a rapid response from the international community, the UN says the pandemic will “derail” the world’s chance of achieving the SDGs by 2030.

The meeting will give Mr. Trudeau more face time with world leaders at the UN, following weeks of near-daily phone calls with his counterparts in the lead up to the Security Council vote. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said that while the global response to COVID-19 has been the focus of Mr. Trudeau’s bilateral calls, the Security Council campaign has come up in some conversations.

Allan Rock, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN, said it is expected that Mr. Trudeau would be calling his counterparts in the weeks leading up to the vote. He said Mr. Blanchard has probably shared his “tally card” with Mr. Trudeau, indicating which countries have decided how they will vote, so Mr. Trudeau doesn’t waste his time calling leaders who have made up their mind.

Mr. Rock said the Prime Minister is likely calling leaders who have regional influence, such as his Jamaican counterpart, whom Mr. Trudeau spoke with on May 13. Mr. Rock said Canada can rely on its strong bilateral relationship with Jamaica to seek support from CARICOM, a Caribbean alliance of 15 countries.

“We will probably not only ask them [Jamaica] to support us but we’re probably also asking them to go to the CARICOM table on our behalf and make the case for Canada,” Mr. Rock said.

Mr. Blanchard says Thursday’s meeting is not an attempt to boost the Security Council campaign. Canada is seeking one of 10 rotating, non-permanent seats on the UN’s most powerful branch in 2021-22.

“This is what I mean by this is the not the time for campaigning and thinking strategically about this or that.”

He predicts a “competitive” three-way race between Canada, Norway and Ireland that will be decided by a few votes.

However, experts agree Norway is the front-runner for the Security Council seat.

“Everybody recognizes that Norway is a shoe-in and that’s because Norway over the years has been such an exemplary multilateral member in every respect,” said Stephen Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN.

“The fight is really between Ireland and Canada and I think we have a fighting chance but that it won’t be easy.”

If Canada does win, Mr. Lewis said it will be in “significant measure” to Mr. Blanchard. Mr. Lewis said anywhere from 15 to 20 per cent of ambassadors will vote against the guarantees given by their leaders, as the vote is a secret ballot. Those ballots could be the difference maker for Canada, given Mr. Blanchard’s reputation as a well-regarded, charismatic and accessible diplomat in New York.

“I suspect you’re going to get a number of ambassadors who are voting for Blanchard as Canada’s representative rather than vote as they’re told by their capital,” Mr. Lewis said.

Canada last sat on the Security Council in 1999-2000. Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government withdrew Canada’s candidacy for a Security Council seat in 2010 when it became clear Canada would lose to Portugal.

Canada’s current run for a Security Council seat has a been a cornerstone of Mr. Trudeau’s foreign policy since he declared “Canada is back” on the world stage in 2015. Mr. Lewis said that declaration will no longer stand if Canada loses on June 17.

“If we lose, the world has a measure of Canada,” he said. “We have to look hard at our multilateral and international policies which clearly have not resonated with the rest of the world if we were to lose.”

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow topics related to this article:

Check Following for new articles

Interact with The Globe