Canada Fighting for a Seat at the Table

Canadians may have escaped from a national election this summer, but yet another crucial election still looms over the heads of the government. In October 2010, Canada must compete against Germany and Portugal for one of the two Western European seats in the Security Council of the UN. With speculation flying over whether Canada will actually be able to capture a seat this decade, the United Nations Association of Canada (UNAC) held a Panel discussion on June 19 to discuss the strengths and weaknesses in Canada’s bid. The panel included former Canadian ambassadors to the UN Paul Heinbecker and Yves Fortier, as well as respected journalist Steven Edwards.

The three generally agreed on what Canada has going for and against it in its bid, but disagreed on what its chances in actually winning are. According to Heinbecker and Edwards, Canada’s greatest weaknesses are its diminishing role on the international stage. Once renowned for its involvement in peacekeeping and peace building initiatives, Canada is now generally accused by other members of being rather dormant within the UN. Now ranked 51st in the world in terms of contributions to peacekeeping and far behind in its development aid pledges, it has little to show for itself for the last ten years.

Edwards argues the Conservative government has not done itself any favours. Until recently, it has shown very little interest in the seat and has done virtually nothing to promote Canada’s bid abroad. Although the government has made its campaign a top priority this year, its efforts may be too late to drum up the 128 votes in needs to secure a seat. What’s more, Edwards believes that the government’s foreign policies have actually made Canada less likeable abroad. It has angered much of the Middle East by taking a pro-stance towards Israel, and it is still unclear whether Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan has lost it even more support in the region. Its decision to reduce the number of African countries it will provide development aid to has also made Canada less popular in the continent. Edwards notes that without the support of both regions, Canada cannot hope to win the vote.

Although Canada’s strengths may not lie in what it is currently doing abroad, the panel believes the Canadian government can rely on past accomplishments to demonstrate why it should be a member of the Council. Previously, Canada has spearheaded major agreements such as the treaty to ban landmines and the Responsibility to Protect, and it could use these examples to illustrate the positive influence it could potentially have on the Security Council’s affairs.

Yet Canada’s greatest advantage, according to the panelists, is that it is the only non-European candidate in an already European-filled council. Potentially 5 of the 15 seats in the Security Council will already be held by European countries, and the speakers believe that countries will vote for Canada to prevent a sixth seat from going to the European Union.

So just what are Canada’s chances in being elected into the Security Council? Fortier believes it to be a sure thing, and Edwards seems relatively confident as well. Heinbecker is a little more pessimistic, believing Canada will definitely lose the first seat to Germany, but it could potentially win the second from Portugal. “It’s a jump shot in traffic,” he said, “a shot we could make, but one we’ll probably have to get it on the rebound.”

Win or lose the upcoming election into the Security Council, Canadians must seriously question their position within the international community. After all, how is it that a country that boasts of being a world leader in peace building and development aid must build a campaign around being the only non-European option in order to win a seat? While Canada’s self-projected image may have been valid in the past, it is increasingly becoming difficult to substantiate today. As the panelists noted, Canada now hardly contributes in peacekeeping missions, but instead participates in NATO-led invasions of other countries. Once, African countries could look to Canada for development aid, but recently more and more of them have had their funding severed. While much of the world appears to be cooling towards the “new” Canada, Canadians themselves seem imprisoned in their memories of past accomplishments and oblivious to their country’s actual involvement in international affairs.

Edwards warns that losing this election would seriously damage Canada’s reputation amongst the international community. “Running and losing would be much worse than not running at all.” Yet perhaps such a painful loss of face is a necessary wake up call to stir Canadians from their daydreams of past glories, and get them to seriously evaluate the direction they are actually heading.

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