OTTAWA – It will be at least five more years before Canada makes its return the United Nations Security Council, has learned.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce today that Canada will vie for a seat on the Security Council for a two-year term starting in 2021.
The 190-plus members of the General Assembly won’t vote on candidates for the vacancy until the fall of 2020, which means Trudeau will have to win another federal election in 2019 if he wants to personally see Canada come “back” to the UN’s most powerful, if flawed, body.
If Canada succeeds, it will still mark the country’s longest absence from the council in the history of the United Nations -21 years since the end of Canada’s last two-year stint in 2000.
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Canada served six times on the Security Council, once every decade since the late 1940s, before it was upset by tiny Portugal in 2010, a defeat that was blamed on a lacklustre attempt by a Conservative government that wasn’t overly fond of the UN to begin with.
Advisers told Trudeau that it was unlikely Canada could run any time before 2020 because the UN grouping of countries to which Canada belongs – known as the Western European and Others Group – had a full slate of competitive candidates already lined up.
Campaigning for the Security Council usually takes years, and involves much politicking and deal making, a reality that former prime minister Stephen Harper found unappealing.
Trudeau will officially launch Canada’s campaign this morning at UN headquarters in New York where he will evoke the legacies of two prominent Canadians.
“From John Humphrey’s work on the UN Declaration on Human Rights to Lester B. Pearson’s pivotal role in the development of peacekeeping, Canadians have accomplished extraordinary things in support of the UN’s mission to promote human rights, development, and peace and security,” says a copy of Trudeau’s prepared remarks obtained by .
“We are determined to help the UN make greater strides in support of its goals for all humanity.”
But Canada can’t rely on nostalgia alone if it wants win a return to the council, experts say.
“Any campaign will also have to be clear about our agenda,” said Fen Hampson, director of the Global Security Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.
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“Those supporting our candidacy will not only want to hear that ‘Canada is back in the world,’ but also what exactly is it that we are bringing to the world and prepared to do.”
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.
“There is the issue – or not – of the solidarity of the European Union. We were able to split the Europeans in 1999, but it’s not obvious to me that you can do that again.”
Ian Martin, executive director of the UN’s Security Council Report, said the most competitive elections now take place in Canada’s grouping.
“This year there’s a closely fought election between three European members” he said, referring to the contest between Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands.
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.
– with files from Alexander Panetta in New York