Diplomats have cautioned that Canada faces stiff competition in its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. Commentators have labelled it doomed, in danger, or pointless anyway.
But if Justin Trudeau can’t win that seat over Ireland and Norway, he’s going to have to hand in his membership in the anti-Trump club and his “Canada is Back” socks.
This is, after all, a race to win the hearts of an international community that literally just laughed in U.S. President Donald Trump’s face – this week, during his speech to the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly.
If Mr. Trudeau can’t sell Canada as the brighter side of North America to a world dealing with Trump derangement syndrome, then that really will count as a failure.
But right now, with the vote almost two years away, Canada can consider itself a favourite. It’s not a doomed effort. It’s not a pointless one, either.
A seat on the UN Security Council is coveted for a reason. It brings influence, because many countries care deeply about the Council’s decisions. For all the UN’s dysfunctions, the Security Council is the only place that can authorize global sanctions or peace missions. Canada, as a UN member, pays hundreds of millions of dollars each year for UN peacekeeping operations – it makes sense to want a say on them once in a while.
But while Mr. Trudeau spent part of this week campaigning, attending events around the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, there have been danger signs. Jocelyn Coulon, who was an adviser to former foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion, suggested Canada should approach Ireland about splitting a two-year term with them. One headline asked whether Canada stands a chance.
Maybe there’s a hangover from the loss in 2010, when Canada was beaten by Germany and Portugal. This time, the race is against Ireland and Norway, model UN citizens. And the Liberal government has had some international disputes. Mr. Trudeau didn’t endear himself to India’s government on a gaffe-filled trip in February. And Saudi Arabia, which funds a lot of countries in the Islamic world, launched a retaliation campaign over Canada’s human-rights critiques.
So it’s lucky for Mr. Trudeau that there’s Mr. Trump. The big visceral issue for the UN, the world’s chief multilateral institution, is that there’s a U.S. president who is attacking multilateralism itself. Mr. Trudeau, whose celebrity appeal retains more of its shine abroad than at home, has portrayed himself as a defender of multilateralism, and different from Mr. Trump in many ways. It’s a boon to be the other North Americans. The Canadians running the UN bid seem to know that’s an advantage.
“Heads of state, heads of government, foreign ministers, permanent representatives were going to the PM [this week] and saying, ‘Multilateralism is being challenged, and now is the time we need to hear from Canada,' ” Marc-André Blanchard, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview.
It’s true these races are never a walk. Canada is in a tough group where it competes against candidates from Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It’s a secret ballot, so countries can lie about who they support.
And it’s also true that Norway and Ireland are, in some respects, the UN ideal. Norway is a very generous aid donor, more so than Canada. Ireland contributes to peace operations, more so than Canada. UN members count those things. But they’re not the only things.
If Saudi Arabia stays angry, it might try to sway some of the many countries that receive its largesse. But some resent their donor enough they wouldn’t necessarily follow its lead. In two years, that Saudi spat might be in the past.
But the biggest thing is context. Canada used to win a seat on the Security Council every decade. In 2010, Stephen Harper’s government turned off some at the UN – Canada was seen as more pro-Israel, unresponsive on climate change and skeptical of the UN. Mr. Trudeau hasn’t dramatically changed Canada’s actions, but the image on the international stage is that Canada is the old, multilateralist, UN-loving country again. And when Mr. Trump goes to the UN to deliver a message against multilateralism, it’s sure to boost the campaign of his northern neighbour.