Canada should not seek a seat on the United Nations Security Council if it means compromising its support for Israel, said Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement.
“If turning our back on Israel is the price of admission, I don’t think it is worth it,” Clement said at the annual conference of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada on Feb. 11.
On that day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had announced his government’s intention to make a bid for a council seat, during UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Ottawa, part of his government’s broader goal of “re-engaging robustly” with the United Nations and the international community.
In 2010, Canada, under Stephen Harper’s government, failed to win a seat, finishing in third place during first-round voting in the General Assembly. Canada had held a seat on the Security Council on and off for some 60 years.
Clement said given that rejection, the chances are very good Canada will get a seat in its next foray.
“I can’t imagine we would not get it, if we don’t do something really wrong… This is an easy one for Mr. Trudeau to promise,” he said.
Asked what went wrong when his government, in which he was a cabinet minister, tried for a seat, Clement responded: “In the 2010 bid, a lot went wrong, but to make it right would have cost too much.”
Part of that price, he indicated, was toning down Canada’s support for Israel. “Clearly, we were on the wrong side of many states.”
But he does believe Canada must be present on the world stage.
“I’m going to say something radical for a Conservative: I think we have to engage in international fora, including the UN. However, it is important that we stand for certain principles.”
The UN needs reform, he continued, and to see that happen, Canada has to be at the table.
On the issue of Iran, Clement ranked the Islamic regime as more dangerous to the world than North Korea or Russia.
He believes sanctions against Iran are being lifted too hastily, and a slower timetable would serve to “build confidence” in Iran’s intentions.
He is opposed to Canada’s resumption of diplomatic ties with Iran, as long as the state sponsors terrorist groups abroad and has a policy of eradicating Israel.
While it appears to be abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal, Clement said Iran is simultaneously building up its ballistic missile technology in violation of UN resolutions.
“This hardly shows good faith… There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of Iran’s intentions.”
Clement termed the ending of Canada’s air mission in the U.S.-led coalition’s fight against Islamic State “very unfortunate… at a time when Britain, France, the United States and our other allies are seeking to increase pressure…
“This is not the tradition of the Canadian military, it is not in our security or political interest.”
The Canadians were doing an extraordinary job of targeting Islamic State ordinance while minimizing civilian casualties, he said, in providing air cover for ground troops.
“Increasing training on the ground, near the front, increases the risk – it will attract the fire of [Islamic State].”
However, Clement is optimistic that in the near future there will be a coalescing of the major players fighting Islamic State – as diverse as Russia, the Saudis, the United States and Iran – who will put aside their secondary political objectives in the region and work together on their common goal.
In contrast, NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière was ecstatic over the Liberal government’s direction in foreign policy, hoping it will be a step toward “repairing the damage made in the last 10 years.
“Canada’s reputation really declined under Harper. We had been and should be actively engaged in the world,” she said on Feb. 12 at the conference whose theme was “Canada on the Global Stage.”
“It seemed the Conservatives did not care about the rest of the world. The result was we lost influence… Today, we need to recover that lost influence. But it won’t be quick or easy to rebuild.”
Laverdière, who was a foreign affairs service officer for 15 years before being elected an MP in 2011, said Canada must return to the “honest broker role which enabled us to punch above our weight” in international affairs.
That is especially true in the Middle East, she said, rejecting the Harper government’s “good guys vs. bad guys” approach, particularly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It was so short-sighted,” she said.
She urged Canada to fully restore funding to UNRWA, which was cut by the Conservatives and has meant the closure of schools for Palestinian refugees.
“What happens? They have no jobs, no future. They may be recruited as jihadists. It was not a wise decision for the long term.”
Indeed, she thinks the best way to fight terrorism around the world is to increase humanitarian and development aid.
In strengthening its relationship with the UN, Laverdière advised the Canadian government to keep in mind that the body “is not a buffet where we can pick what we want; we have to be in the kitchen to decide what’s on the table.”