Trudeau begins his three-day visit to the UN General Assembly on Monday, where he will schmooze with other nations in order to try and gain a seat on the Security Council for a two-year term starting in 2021.
The members of the General Assembly won’t vote on the candidates until the fall of 2020, but Trudeau is still hoping to secure one of the two open seats, and of course, will have to win another federal election in 2019 if he wants to personally see Canada do it.
It’s been 21 years since Canada’s last stint on the Security Council, the country’s longest absence from it in United Nations’ history. So do we stand a chance now?
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Why does Canada want on the Security Council?
The UN Security Council has 15 members, with five permanent seats — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. — and 10 non-permanent rotating ones.
The UN itself consists of 178 other countries that aren’t part of the Security Council, which means they can participate but they don’t get a vote when it comes to making decisions.
Being part of the Security Council means you get to vote on issues such as suspending economic and diplomatic relations between countries, imposing blockades, and authorizing the use of armed force.
Members are also more likely to receive foreign aid and World Bank loans with relatively soft conditions, according to a study from the University of Munich.
“There is also a prestige aspect to it,” Jane Boulden, professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada, said. “It sends an international signal that Canada is back to playing that kind of role, to put us back on the international scene.”
Until 2000, Canada had obtained a seat on the Security Council in each decade of the UN’s existence. Canada has also never lost a bid, until 2010 when Stephen Harper’s government attempted it but lost to Portugal.
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After Canada announced its bid for the seat in 2016, Trudeau campaigned on a pledge that “Canada is back” on the world stage.
According to Trudeau, not only do “Canadians benefit when we have time on the Security Council,” but that “the world benefits when Canada has a voice on the Security Council.”
Who is Canada up against?
Canada is up against Ireland and Norway for the 2021 seat.
“It’s tough competition, there is no question about that,” Boulden said. “Ireland and Norway have more recent peacekeeping credentials in the last 10 years. And they have much higher foreign aid contributions.”
According to briefing memos prepared by Global Affairs Canada, Ireland is the competition to look out for.
“Ireland is currently running for one of two open seats on the UN Security Council for the 2021-22, against Canada and Norway,” reads the December 2017 note.
“Ireland won on the first ballot when it competed against Norway and Italy for a seat for 2001-02, and Irish officials are privately confident that their campaign will be equally successful this time.”
Ireland won its last bid for a seat in 2001 by a landslide.
Ireland also commits more in foreign aid, something scholars have said could influence Security Council membership.
According to data collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) using GNI (gross national income) as a benchmark, Irish foreign aid accounts for 0.36 per cent of its annual budget while Canada’s accounts for 0.28 per cent.
That puts Ireland as the 12th largest donor when it comes to foreign aid, and Canada the 14th.
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The number of peacekeeping troops a country donates could also be a factor. The study from the University of Munich showed that the more troops a country contributes, the more likely it is to gain Security Council membership.
According to an August 2018 UN report on peacekeepers, Ireland has contributed the most troops, at 521. Canada has contributed 173 peacekeepers and Norway, 67.
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What are the costs?
It can cost millions of dollars to put up a bid for the Security Council, which goes towards paying for staff salaries and wining and dining other nations.
“It costs a lot of money to campaign,” Boulden said. “There are certainly add-on costs too. Trudeau would probably not be in New York for three days otherwise. Travelling and liaising add up.”
When Canada campaigned for a seat on the Security Council in 2010, it cost nearly $1 million to fly diplomats around the world — and it was not even a successful bid.
Documents show thousands of dollars were spent entertaining foreign diplomats and U.S. officials, including a visit to a New York Yankees game with Cuban, Thai, Bosnian, Sri Lankan and Cambodian representatives. Canada also picked up tickets to take officials from Oman, Brunei, the Philippines and Italy to see the Cirque du Soleil.
Global Affairs Canada said that the government has spent $532,780 since 2016 on its campaign to land a Security Council seat — well behind the pace of the $1.9 million Canada spent over four years to win its last two-year term in 1999-2000.
Does Canada stand a chance?
Canada’s campaign to win a two-year temporary seat on the Security Council will also be under scrutiny with many questioning whether it is even feasible given the energy being expended to save the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Paul Heinbecker, who was Canada’s UN ambassador during the 2000 stint on the council, said the western group is more competitive than any other, and Canada faces a tough battle, especially in Europe.
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Lloyd Axworthy, Canada’s foreign affairs minister in the late 1990s, said Canada has lost standing at the UN over the last decade and needs to work hard to regain it.
He said Trudeau needs to come up with an agenda that shows a commitment to peacekeeping, which Canada has largely abandoned, as well as foreign aid, which has been declining steadily.
“Canada still has a strong reputation in the international community and we are making a real effort, which could help,” Boulden said. “One way that we are different is that we are not a European nation. So we could say pick a Europe nation and Canada in order to regionalize it.”
— With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly and The Canadian Press