In a stark break from tradition, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently said that, if elected, his party will not prioritize winning a seat on the United Nations Security Council, a post Canada has held in high regard since the end of the Second World War.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been making a big push to secure one of the two seats that are up for grabs at the UN body. The Security Council is made up of five permanent members and 10 non-permanent ones that are elected to serve two-year terms. Canada has served six terms on the council. The last one was in 2000.
The last time Canada made a push for a seat was in 2010 under then-prime minister Stephen Harper, and it did not end well for his government. Many blamed that failure on his government’s support for Israel.
Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto who specializes in Canadian politics, thinks the odds are against Canada winning a seat on the council. He noted that in 2010, Canada lost to Portugal, which he said was a “financial basket case at the time.” He also said that western European countries tend to support each other, which doesn’t bode well for Canada this go-round, as its top two competitors are Norway and Ireland.
“Canada isn’t going to beat those countries. They’re smaller. They have cleaner images, in some ways, than Canada. And, you know, it was very telling last time that Canada got blown out of the water by Portugal,” Wiseman said.
That said, Wiseman was also surprised by Scheer explicitly announcing that the Conservatives wouldn’t prioritize gaining the seat.
“It’s unusual to come out and make this statement,” Wiseman said. “I’m just surprised that Scheer brought this up … it’s sort of like throwing in the towel.”
Wiseman speculated that it may have been a preemptive defence against criticism if the Conservatives do win the election and fail to gain the seat, and the Liberals try to blame it on their lack of effort, failed foreign policy or Scheer’s stature on the world stage.
The Conservative party did not respond to a request for comment, but did mention the Security Council in its responses to questions posed by B’nai Brith Canada ahead of the election.
“Conservatives have never let popular opinion at the United Nations dictate Canada’s foreign policy. While Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have based their entire foreign policy agenda on winning a Security Council seat, Conservatives will restore Canada’s principled foreign policy,” the response read.
“This starts with speaking openly and honestly against Israel’s numerous enemies at the UN, most of whom represent authoritarian dictatorships with atrocious human rights records.”
Some Jewish groups have criticized the Liberals for abstaining from some votes concerning Israel at the UN, which has been attributed to its bid to win a seat on the Security Council; while others have praised them for working to get a seat, which would allow Canada to have more influence with regards to Israel. But Wiseman said Israel probably isn’t central to the Liberal’s motivations.
“Too many Jewish-Canadians view everything that happens at the UN and Canada’s role through a Middle Eastern lens. And there are a lot of other factors that are involved in the dynamics of what goes on at the UN and global politics generally. The whole world does not revolve around Israel,” he said.
Wiseman also said there is “no distance” between the Conservative and Liberal stances on Israel, calling them “essentially identical … for decades and decades.”
When asked to respond to Scheer’s announcement, a representative for the Liberals referred The CJN to a press release that criticizes the Conservative party’s foreign policy, but does not mention the Security Council bid.
A representative from the NDP sent a statement to The CJN saying, “This just shows that Andrew Scheer wants to isolate Canada from the rest of the world. Having a seat at the UN Security Council is an opportunity for Canada to contribute constructively to international peace and security, but it seems Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives are not interested in that.…
“New Democrats believe Canada should campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council, and have a clear plan for what exactly we want to accomplish using this seat.”