Chris Selley: Trudeau’s best case for pursuing a UN Security Council seat doesn’t hold water

Chris Selley: Trudeau’s best case for pursuing a UN Security Council seat doesn’t hold water
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On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made one of his clearer attempts to explain his mostly baffling obsession with winning a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Basically, he told reporters, the time after COVID-19 will be a lot like the time after the Second World War. It will require multilateral action along the lines of what happened at the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire, where the Allied countries gathered and — among other things — birthed the International Monetary Fund and what would eventually become the World Bank.

“Canada’s voice is going to be really important, as it was around the forming of the Bretton Woods institutions, … as we create a better, more prosperous, fairer world for everyone,” Trudeau averred. “And Canada having a voice at the UN Security Council will allow us to continue to be at the heart of those discussions as we move forward as a planet.”

I suspect the time after COVID-19 won’t look anything like the time after the Second World War, but in the moment it’s at least semi-plausible: If you want to have your voice heard at the UN while epochal things are going on, it probably can’t hurt to be a member of a small committee whose permanent members are the most powerful nations in the world.

But why should Canada have that voice and not Ireland or Norway, our rivals for the temporary seat at next month’s vote?

“We are doing well managing the economy in the COVID era while keeping to the principles and values that we hold dear,” said Trudeau.

There are times when the prime minister opens his mouth and I genuinely wonder how he doesn’t burst into flame. This was one of those times.

Which principles and values exactly?

Not our international obligations to asylum-seekers, certainly. Until very recently the Liberals would shift into maximum dudgeon at the very suggestion that tens of thousands of people crossing the border “irregularly” — let no one say “illegally”! — at Roxham Road constituted any sort of problem.

“FACT: Providing asylum claimants due process is not a choice. It is the law,” then Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen tweeted in July 2018. Trudeau was dispatched to Queen’s Park to educate Premier Doug Ford, who wasn’t being welcoming enough. “It didn’t seem to me that the premier was quite as aware of our international obligations to the UN convention on refugees, as he might have been,” Trudeau faux-lamented. “So I spent a little time explaining.”

A country seeking such a prominent role would probably have a solid record on peacekeeping. Nope!

And then in March, it all got chucked into the incinerator. Try to cross the border illegally — we can say it now! — and you’ll get turned back into American custody.

So, what else? A country seeking a prominent role in creating a better, more prosperous, fairer world for everyone would presumably have a pretty good record on foreign aid spending. Canada’s is abysmal: Our contributions bottomed out at 0.26 per cent of gross national income in 2016. In both 2018 and 2019 they stood at 0.28 per cent. Our UNSC rival Norway is in another league entirely: Last year the country’s Agency for Development Cooperation semi-apologized for having failed to spend the target 1 per cent of GNI the year before.

A country seeking such a prominent role would probably have a solid record on peacekeeping — especially if that country was Canada under a Liberal government.

Nope! This week, some bright spark at Canadian Press noticed that Canada currently has fewer peacekeeping personnel in the field than at any point in the past 60 years: 35 men and women. Our UNSC rival Ireland has 474 peacekeepers deployed — more than 100 times as many per capita. Even at the height of the Liberals’ much-ballyhooed re-commitment to peacekeeping, Canada only had 150 or so people on the ground in Mali. They’re almost all gone now.

As for COVID-19, how exactly are we leading the world? To mitigate the economic crisis we’re essentially cutting millions of cheques and hoping for the best. That’s not to impugn the approach — it’s what most Western countries are doing — but it’s hardly innovative, hardly rocket science. We certainly have no lessons to teach the world on pandemic management per se: Far too often it has been a mad scramble. Statistically, our outcomes are middle of the pack.

All of that is to say that Justin Trudeau’s best case for spending so much energy in pursuit of this Security Council seat doesn’t hold water: It’s just a case instead of no case, something instead of the nothing we’re used to. Even with a seat on the Security Council, a country that wanted to play a big role in changing the world would have to spend vastly more than Canada does on foreign aid, the military, or both, and a country willing to do so wouldn’t need a seat on the Security Council to change the world. So, maybe there’s the rub: Canada being demonstrably unwilling to do those things, under Conservative and Liberal governments alike, perhaps our leaders’ thirst for a UN Security Council seat makes perfect sense — as an unearned symbol of self-styled virtue.

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