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Canada will stay engaged regardless of UN Security Council outcome: Trudeau

Trudeau offered a last public appeal for the seat on the world's most powerful body as voting was underway for two temporary positions on the security council


OTTAWA – Even if Canada loses its bid for a United Nations Security Council seat, it will continue its international efforts to fight against climate change, economic inequity and preserving the world’s increasingly fragile institutions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

Trudeau offered a last public appeal for the seat on the world’s most powerful body as voting was underway for two temporary positions on the security council.

Canada is competing against Norway and Ireland for two seats, and the competition is expected to be heated. Both those countries had an advance start in campaigning because Trudeau only announced Canada’s intention to seek a seat in 2015 after the Liberals were elected.

Trudeau dismissed suggestions that a loss for Canada would be a political failure for him personally, given the capital he has invested in the bid – starting with his “Canada is back” declaration the day after he won the October 2015 federal election.

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Since then, Trudeau said, Canada has been engaged in a wide range of international activities and groups because he said that is in the interest of all Canadians, who need global trade and economic success everywhere so they can succeed at home.

“These are the things that we will continue to do into the future, regardless of what happens this week. But it certainly would be nice to have that extra lever of a seat on the Security Council,” Trudeau said.

Canada’s campaign for the council has focused heavily on what it has been doing to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. That has included convening like-minded countries to ensure food security in developing countries, keeping vital supply chains open across the globe, and working on new financing models to help struggling countries whose economies have been badly damaged by the pandemic.

European countries are expected to unite around Canada’s two competitors, which has forced the Trudeau government to focus on Africa, Latin America, and Arab nations, as well as the small island states of the South Pacific that face potential extinction one day from rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Trudeau levelled veiled criticism at the UN’s geographical organization that has placed Canada in a grouping against European countries, which can never agree on two candidates for the temporary seats on the council.

“I have nothing but respect for our two competitors, Ireland and Norway, that have demonstrated an engagement in the world,” he said. “It is unfortunate that we’re in a situation of having to compete against friends for this.”

Independent Sen. Peter Boehm, who has lobbied small island states on Canada’s behalf, questioned whether Canada belongs in the “Western European and Others Group,” or WEOG, the UN geographical bloc that Canada has been assigned.

“WEOG is sort of a lonely place for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel. We don’t really fit,” said Boehm, who was Canada’s ambassador to Germany in 2010 when the European powerhouse won a seat alongside Portugal, vanquishing Canada in its last attempt at winning a seat on the council.

Boehm said Canada belongs in the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, which is less competitive and makes more geographic sense for Canada.

One analyst expressed concern that there has been too much focus on Trudeau’s political fate in the UN bid.

“This is not a leaders’ popularity contest; it is about perceptions of Canada’s effectiveness on the world stage compared to Norway and Ireland. Canadians can vote on Trudeau in the next federal election, and we need to remember this is a vote for Canada and not our PM,” said Bessma Momani, an international-affairs expert at the University of Waterloo.

The voting began at 9 a.m. Eastern time, with the 193 UN ambassadors gaining staggered access to the General Assembly meeting hall to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who travelled by car to New York City on the weekend, cast Canada’s vote around mid-day.

The historic promenade of electors was expected to take at least five hours – it would have taken about one in a full pre-pandemic chamber – and it could all be repeated Thursday if two of the competing countries can’t get 129 votes, or two-thirds of the assembly.

“I see that as being meaningful and I know in my discussions with foreign ministers around the world, and people with whom we’ve been engaging in Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific islands, a number of them really rely on Canada to be part of building back better – the great reset,” Champagne said in an interview.

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, the Nigerian diplomat and scholar who is the current president of the General Assembly, has overseen a painstaking negotiation that resulted in all 193 UN missions agreeing to the new COVID-19 format of staggered voting.

“We have undertaken that within 24 hours after the election, when it’s known we need a second round, we’ll start the process. The secretariat has worked very, very hard to plan should that be the case.”

Champagne said if a second round is needed he will be making calls and sending text messages to swing support. And so will Canadian diplomats who he said have a game plan for all scenarios.

“This is Team Canada playing. We’ll be there with everything we’ve got.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2020.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2020