The following post was written by Emma Lange, one of our UNAC-Vancouver website writers.
During his visit to Ottawa last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon joked: “The weather here is quite cold, but the relations between the United Nations and Canada are very, very warm.” The UN Secretary was referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent pledge to pursue a more progressive foreign policy through greater involvement with the organization.
The United Nations’ enthusiasm carries more than a little relief, particularly after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s uneasy relationship with the organization. The Harper government tended to down play the UN and its influence around the world by often skipping General Assembly meetings as well as other important gatherings, such as climate change conferences.
Decreasing aid to Africa and cuts in funding to Palestinian refugees, effectively removed Canada from important UN missions and allowed more money to be allocated to initiatives such as the Universal Child Care Benefit, which Harper hoped would benefit his legacy as Prime Minister. The impact of the government’s lack of involvement was highlighted in 2010 when the country failed to make a strong bid for a rotating seat on the Security Council and lost for the first time in history.
Re-gaining a seat at the council was one of Trudeau’s election promises, and is one way in which the new Prime Minister aims to reinstate Canada as an active and influential player in the UN. In addition to this, he has committed to increasing efforts to ‘peace operations’, including conflict prevention, peacekeeping and civil reconstruction.
Specifically, the Prime Minister has expressed interest in working in areas where sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. Trudeau has also agreed that Canada should contribute to the peacekeeping missions in Mali and the Central African Republic, where Canadian bilingual troops could help by increasing communication between civilians and officers.
Dave Perry, senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, pegs the current UN peace operation in Mali as an ideal opportunity to reintroduce Canadian involvement. Established in 2013, after a military coup toppled the government, the mission is still fairly new and Canadian troops could contribute a great deal, in terms of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Throughout his stay, the UN Secretary-General praised Trudeau’s enthusiasm. He also commended his contributions to the UN Climate Change Conference last December and emphasized how much he valued the Liberal Party’s commitment to shelter 25000 Syrian refugees by the end of February.
“The United Nations owes a lot to [Trudeau’s] leadership. Canada has completely changed and shown leadership,” said Ban Ki Moon.
These comments provoked criticism from Conservative MPs, who deemed the flattery lip service to secure more funding from Canada. Since UN capacities are dependent upon contributions by members, it is no secret that if Canada hopes to play a larger role in the organization, it will be expected to start contributing more financially.
At the Paris Climate Conference, Justin Trudeau pledged 2.65 billion CAD to help developing nations make their economies more green and sustainable, demonstrating his willingness to increase aid spending. The UN hopes Canada’s reengagement will mean meeting the UN target of dedicating 0.75 percent of gross national income to foreign aid as an investment in global security. While no OECD country has ever met this target, Canada’s aid contributions reached a high of 0.5 percent under Justin’s father, Pierre Trudeau, and Brian Mulroney. From 1970 to around 2000, the country continued to give more than the OECD average. Today, however, its contributions are valued at just 0.24 per cent of its GNI—a figure which has placed Canada in the bottom half of the group of 28 advanced economies in terms of donations.
Some Canadians have expressed wariness about such a drastic increase in spending, especially at a time when declining oil revenues are raising federal deficit. Yet Trudeau’s plans for greater involvement are still garnering strong popular support, showing a broad consensus for the country to recover its influence in the UN.