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Canada mobilizes campaign team for Security Council bid

by Chelsea Nash (feat. Colin Robertson)

The Hill Times
February 8, 2017

Global Affairs Canada has established a dedicated team to work on the government’s goal of winning a two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council beginning in 2021.

Eight people are working on Canada’s bid for the Security Council, with six at headquarters in Ottawa and two at Canada’s permanent mission to the UN in New York City, according to the foreign ministry.

Jocelyn Sweet, a spokesperson for Global Affairs, wrote in an email that the team is “tasked with co-ordinating at headquarters, at the UN in New York, and across our diplomatic network to support the international engagement of the prime minister, ministers, and diplomatic representatives.”

She said the team, which has been put together using existing resources, “provides senior officials advice on how Canada can most effectively strengthen its international engagement, particularly with respect to this important multilateral forum.” She added that “staffing requirements to support Canada’s engagement at the UN and resource allocations will evolve over time.” 

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said he knows some of the senior advisers working on the campaign. He said he thinks it’s “smart” that the government has an organized team.

I think you need, obviously, diversity covering different parts of the world, because this is a geographic election, at the end of the day.”

Tamara Mawhinney is the executive director of the campaign team and is based in Ottawa. According to her LinkedIn page, Ms. Mawhinney has a background in working with multilateral organizations, most recently with La Francophonie. Her deputy directors, all based in Ottawa, are Jeremy Adler and Brian Darling. Also working on the campaign in Ottawa are senior policy officer Lindsey MacKinnon, policy adviser Ashley Lefler, and adviser Jeffrey Heaton. The department wouldn’t give the names of those working for the team in New York who, like other diplomats posted abroad, are not listed on the government’s online staff directory.

Global Affairs declined a request to interview a member of the team, citing timing. 

The top diplomat on the file is Canada’s permanent representative to the UN in New York City, Marc-André Blanchard.

One of his predecessors, Paul Heinbecker, said the team is likely working on keeping track of which countries Canada has received a commitment from, which votes it has committed to other countries in exchange for their support, and who has pledged support to its competitors. Compiling these lists and forming strategy to lobby certain countries whose support has not yet been committed is a big part of the job, he said.

Canada is competing for one of two available seats against Ireland and Norway, which Mr. Heinbecker said is strong competition.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) announced Canada’s intention to vie for the coveted seat during a March 2016 visit to the UN headquarters in New York. 

“We’re Canadian, and we’re here to help,” the PM told the UN General Assembly in a speech in September.

Mr. Trudeau’s predecessor, Conservative Stephen Harper, was criticized for his perceived disengagement from multilateral fora, including the United Nations. Mr. Harper’s government lost its bid for the Security Council in 2010, the first loss of an election to the UN’s most powerful body in Canadian history.

“The last time around, the backing wasn’t there, it was indifferent,” Mr. Robertson said, referring to Mr. Harper’s unsuccessful bid. Now, he said, “This is a government priority. I know that every visit abroad by a minister, one of the tick boxes is a Security Council seat,” meaning it’s a talking point to pitch to foreign colleagues.

“Working through the UN allows Canada to have greater impact and to amplify our voice by shaping international programs, policies, and practices on a range of issues, from security and development to climate change and human rights,” Ms. Sweet said via email.

She emphasized Canada’s work with the UN and its agencies on human rights, aid, gender equity, respect for diversity, and inclusion.

Some observers blamed the 2010 loss at least in part on Mr. Harper’s strong support for Israel, his stance on climate change, as well as what was seen as disengagement from Africa, including through aid.

The Trudeau government has indicated it wants to pursue a more “balanced” position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though it has restored funding cut by Mr. Harper to the UN agency providing relief to Palestinian refugees, the Trudeau government has continued the Canadian practice of voting with Israel on sensitive resolutions on the conflict at the UN. 

Mr. Trudeau has also sought to emphasize Canada’s ties with Africa, visiting Liberia and Madagascar last fall, though the Liberal government has long delayed announcing where it plans to focus a proposed Canadian peacekeeping mission or missions to Africa. The Trudeau government has also been keen to tout its support for multilateral moves against climate change.

Mr. Robertson said working on the UNSC campaign is like any other posting, and that it’s more than likely those working on it now will be rotated out by the time the election for the seat actually rolls around.


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