In The Media

Canada faces ‘tough fight’ in bid for UN seat, experts say

by Terri Coles (feat. Colin Robertson)

Yahoo! News
March 15, 2016

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday that Canada will seek a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council. But some experts say while the country’s return to the council is possible, it won’t be easy.

“It’s a tough fight but I think it’s doable,” University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes tells Yahoo Canada News. “We’ve really got to pick our areas where we can show not just good leadership, but extraordinary leadership.”

Canada last held a seat in 1999-2000 and lost its last bid for a seat in 2010, ending a string of six consecutive decades on the 15-seat council. The federal government withdrew its candidacy then after two rounds of voting made it clear Canada could not beat Portugal for a rotating two-year council seat.

Several UN diplomats told CBC News that the earliest Canada could mount a successful campaign would be 2020, for a term that would begin the next year. The United States, China, France, Great Britain and Russia occupy the five permanent and veto-wielding seats on the council, and the other 10 are distributed on a regional basis.

However, while there are no uncontested seats open in the Western Europe and Other Group (WEOG) before 2020, Canada, which falls under this regional UN group, could take the unconventional approach of launching a campaign earlier. There are votes for two-year seats every year, with the next coming up in June. 

Running before 2020 would give Canada less time to garner enough votes, but would capitalize on the recent positive attention the country and Trudeau have received internationally, says Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a non-profit research organization focused on international aid and policy.

“It is possible that Mr. Trudeau would want to take advantage of the ‘honeymoon period’ and run sooner,” he says. “It would mean upsetting a little bit of the balance within the WEOG, but we’re not part of the European Union bloc anyway. It’s not impossible that we may decide to run sooner than 2020.”

Stiff competition

Even if Canada waits until 2020 to run, the country would still face an election, Robertson says — in the WEOG, Ireland, Norway and San Marino have all expressed intentions to run that year, and there are often more interested countries than available slots in a particular bloc.

And though Canada’s previous terms on the council were successful, even if we wait until 2020 the country will face tough competition from both Norway and Ireland, Mendes says. 

“Norway is probably the biggest competition because they’ve got a good reputation worldwide,” says Mendes, who is also president of the International Commission of Jurists, Canadian Section. The country particularly distinguished itself by taking the lead on the Oslo Process against cluster munitions, he says. 

Ireland also presents still competition for Canada, Mendes says, after it joined Norway in taking up the challenge of fighting against the use of cluster munitions. Canada lost an opportunity to lead on that, he says, after our respected work under then-prime minister Jean Chrétien on the Ottawa Treaty to ban land mines.

“What I think Canada has to do between now and 2020 is regain that leadership in different areas to get the bloc votes from Asia, Africa and other areas,” Mendes says. 

Robertson agrees that broad support is important for Canada’s campaign, because all UN countries vote on Security Council seats. While EU members tend to vote for each other, he said, Canada could garner support from fellow countries in the Commonwealth or the International Organisation of La Francophonie.

Campaigning for a seat on the council is a usually a years-long process. Canada’s chances are improved somewhat by the way Trudeau has managed to both receive international notice so quickly after his election, Mendes says, and how the prime minister has used that opportunity to signal a change from the country’s time under Stephen Harper, whose government was less focused on the kind of multilateralism that involves working with the UN.

For that reason, Canada’s relationship with the UN under the past government isn’t necessarily an indication of how the country will fare in any upcoming votes for a council seat.

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