Our failing grade on international aid and peacekeeping were part of the reason that Canada did not succeed. The other part had to do with strategy.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on June 22, 2020.
OTTAWA—The bad news is that Canada lost its second bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The good news is that most Canadians don’t really care.
In autopsying the defeat, a journalist said that had the seat been secured, the discussion would have been around the irrelevance of the win.
Ordinary Canadians do not lose any sleep worrying about Canada’s world status. We have a mildly misplaced belief in Canada’s role in peacekeeping and international aid.
But last week’s defeat should force us to take another look at how Canada has slipped so badly on the world stage.
It is not enough to tell the world that Canada matters. Canadian politicians need to convince Canadians that the world matters.
Our failing grade on international aid and peacekeeping were part of the reason that Canada did not succeed.
The other part had to do with strategy.
The key negotiator for Canada was named to the United Nations at the very moment that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signalled his intention to pull out all the stops in his campaign for a temporary seat.
United Nations Permanent Representative Marc-Andre Blanchard has impeccable Canadian credentials. As chair and CEO of McCarthy Tetrault, he has been named among the 25 most influential lawyers in Canada. He also served as a former president of the Quebec Liberal Party.
He knew the province intimately, but his international bona fides were less evident. So, he needed the help of heavy hitters.
According to press reports, Blanchard recruited two retired politicians for the campaign.
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest and former prime minister Joe Clark both travelled the world in support of Canada’s bid last year.
These political figures are well-known in Canada but their influence on the international scene is less apparent. Charest is also a partner in Blanchard’s former law firm.
Noticeably absent from the list of eminence grise political elders were names like Jean Chrétien, Brian Mulroney, and Lloyd Axworthy.
During his three majority governments, prime minister Chrétien established deep and strong relationships with a number of countries, including China. After he left politics, Chrétien also chaired the InterAction Council, a group comprised of former world leaders who advise the United Nations on issues like climate change.
As for former prime minister Mulroney, his relationships with political leaders in the United States and La Francophonie would have been very helpful. As Barrick International Advisory Board chair, his influence in Africa and Oceania is clear.
On the Security Council seat, China’s robust international aid program was reported to influence up to 50 votes. Canada was not the beneficiary of that influence. Nor were we in good standing with our American neighbours.
As for Axworthy, he served as president of the United Nations Security Council back in 1999-2000. He was also nominated for a Nobel Peace prize for his work in banning land mines.
The trio share robust international relationships across five continents which could have made a difference in the outcome.
Attracting five votes away from either Norway or Ireland would have forced the process into a second ballot, which could have yielded a different result.
It is certainly possible that there was an attempt to enlist the trio. If they turned down the invitation, that also speaks volumes.
Successful politicians usually try to avoid being at the head of losing campaigns. Both Ireland and Norway had entered the race years before Canada.
And Canada has also had almost double the prior Security Council participation rate of either competitor.
Trudeau was obviously very invested in the campaign, but being so personally committed also comes with its own risks.
Having made more than 50 calls to other world leaders, he obviously believed the seat was worth the effort.
The bruising his reputation will take is likely only an international blemish, not a domestic disaster.
But on the home front, the government really needs to undertake a major review of our foreign policy.
Questions around military deployment for peacekeeping need to be answered. So does the time frame for Canada’s commitment to increasing our international aid envelope.
The growing influence of China in the world, and Canada’s Huawei conundrum are also major reasons for the Security Council loss.
Chrétien offered his help on that file at the very beginning of the Canada-China downward spiral.
His offer was spurned, by way of an aggressive public rebuttal by then Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Maybe all-hands-on deck should be the new watchword for Canada’s foreign policy.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.