As Canada pursues its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, we should all be rooting for its success.
The Security Council’s primary purpose is to maintain world peace and security. It is the UN’s most powerful body, consisting of 15 member states. Canada hasn’t had a seat since 1999-2000.
The country is competing against Norway and Ireland for two seats. Both of these competitors have strong cases. But now, more than ever, the world needs more Canada.
Globally, increased instability and climate change are being compounded by populism, nationalism authoritarianism and anti-feminism. This is challenging future prospects for liberal democracy as well as the very structures and values of the international rules-based multi-lateral system in areas such as human rights, gender equality and democratic freedom. And as the US withdraws into unilateralism and the UK turns inward with Brexit, a place is left for Canada to play a leading role.
There is, of course, inequality, poverty, pain and suffering in Canada that must be addressed, and our international development sector will continue to advocate for progress to be made domestically even as it asks the federal government to do more globally. Canada has long acted to improve the lives of others and is a champion on many fronts, historically on human rights, and more recently on climate change, gender equality and LGBTQ rights.
As a key player in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947, Canada gained a reputation as a leader on human rights, and it continues to advocate on the issue. In January 2019, Canada granted asylum to Saudi teenager Rahaf al-Qunun, who claimed to be fleeing abuse from her family. In November 2018, Canada spoke up against the Uighur detentions in China. Now is not the time to shy away from continuing to fight for rights around the world. As a member of the UN Security Council, Canada’s voice as a guardian of human rights would be strengthened.
Last summer, Canada recommitted its efforts on human rights, launching Voices at Risk: Canada’s Guidelines on Supporting Human Rights Defenders. The guidelines offer practical advice for Canadian diplomats in supporting human rights defenders who seek help. Canada’s missions abroad, which number almost 300, are constantly and consistently acting to advance these ideals.
Canada frequently tries to present a moderate, thoughtful voice, insisting on respect for international institutions that underpin world order, peace and diplomacy. Its stance on the Iraq war in 2003, when it refused to take part without United Nations Security Council approval, is just one example.
Some of Canada’s greatest recent achievements on the global scale relate to gender equality.
Our leadership on this has a long history. Since the Justin Trudeau government was first elected in 2015, gender equality and feminism have been important platforms in its approach domestically and on the international front. There were also important milestones during Stephen Harper’s government, with its commitments to maternal, newborn and child health.
This country has initiated and championed many initiatives in this area. In 2017, the Trudeau government introduced the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), which prioritizes gender equality, human rights and the empowerment of women and girls throughout Canada’s international aid programming. It was the first country to introduce such a policy. Now, other countries are following suit: France announced its commitment to advancing feminist foreign policy objectives last year, and, this January, Mexico announced the launch of a feminist foreign policy, the first by a Latin American country.
Two major initiatives have resulted from the FIAP: The Equality Fund and the Thrive Agenda.
The Equality Fund came first, bringing together the philanthropic community, private sector, governments and civil society organizations to focus on investing in the lives of women and girls around the world.
Then, in June 2019, the Government of Canada announced a 10-year, $1.4-billion annual investment in health and rights of women, adolescents and children around the globe, based on the Thrive Agenda. The Thrive Agenda was an initiative spearheaded by the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health, which brought a collective vision from the development aid sector for the future of Canada’s international health programs, and included a critical emphasis on the chronically underfunded areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Now Canada is asserting a feminist foreign policy more broadly, and its gender equality approach is evident in contributions to global security, notably through the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. This plan aims to integrate the “women, peace and security agenda in initiatives related to fragile and conflict-affected states.”
In addition, Canada continues to support developing countries combat poverty and inequality as well as recover from natural disasters through a large network of international aid agencies. Through innovative mechanisms such as the Emergency Disaster Assistance Fund, the Canadian Humanitarian Assistance Fund or matching funds, the country can assist survivors of small-scale and large-scale disasters, whether it’s a local flood that impacts thousands of people or when a cyclone strikes three southeast African countries and affects millions. Canada often acts strongly to support integrated, policy-coherent approaches – for instance by not only supporting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh but advocating and encouraging the world to act on the atrocities that forced their departure from Myanmar.
Canada has a well-earned reputation around peace, order and good governance, and is consistently ranked among the best countries in the world on many measures: quality of life (1st for the 4th year in a row), safety (2nd), business (3rd), women (5th), citizenship (2nd), and GDP (10th). The Good Country Index ranks Canada 11th. The Index of Economic Freedom ranks Canada 8th.
With recent developments on the international scene, Canadians might be feeling more vulnerable and lonelier in the world. The global climate crisis is ever present in the media, with new disasters dominating headlines every month. Recent years have seen difficult negotiations with the US on NAFTA. There are ongoing diplomatic and economic challenges with China, a country with a poor human rights record and where two Canadians are under arbitrary detention in reaction to Canada’s extradition proceedings against a Huawei executive. Both of these examples highlight the value for Canada of expanding relationships with other countries that can both contribute to reducing our trade dependence on the US and rally in support of Canada when needed.
Importantly, Canada has never shied away from doing what is right, for itself and also for other countries less fortunate.
As a trusted voice on issues of foreign policy, economics, peace and security, it has built a reputation as a peacekeeper and moderator. In fact, a New York Times columnist recently called Canada “a moral leader of the free world.” The world needs positive role models, and there aren’t many that can compete against Canada on that front.
Canadians are increasingly aware of the need to address climate change. Through climate financing, efforts at reducing carbon emissions and encouraging adaptation and mitigation efforts in accordance with the Paris Agreement, Canada can be a global leader. While we must address climate change challenges at home, Canada is in a position to be a leader on this issue globally as well.
Canada is a multicultural country, with deep ties to virtually all countries around the world. It is also a welcoming country, with a robust immigration system that works and that benefits all Canadians. According to UN numbers, this country welcomed more refugees than any other country in the world in 2018. Of the 92,400 refugees who were resettled that year in 25 countries, Canada took in 30 percent. It also led in per-capita rates of resettlement, at 756 refugees per 1 million residents.
It can be argued that Canada doesn’t always pull its weight, such as in its relatively low official development assistance or decreasing peacekeeping missions. But a seat on the UN Security Council would put Canada in a position to do more – to give the world more of Canada. And more Canada is a good thing, if we can match deeds to our policy ambitions.
A Canadian seat on the Security Council would bring to the table a progressive, measured voice, one that prides itself on being a bridge-builder and peacemaker and promoting effective UN reforms to rebuild the global rules-based order for the 21st century. It would mean more opportunities for Canada to encourage other countries to follow suit, whether it’s to promote gender equality, address human rights issues, fight climate change or counter the rise of nationalism and populism.
Canada has been called an “honest broker in morality and international diplomacy.” In this day and age, with so much polarization, isn’t that exactly who we want sitting at the world’s most important table?
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