Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looking out the window during his visit to Senegal/ Justin Trudeau’s Facebook Page
Winning over the votes of EU member states who may be hesitant to give Sinn Féin a voice at the UN Security Council will require Trudeau to finally show principled leadership, both in terms of passing his UNDRIP bill and substantively investing in UN peacekeeping.
By Amadeus Narbutt
In June of this year, a decision will be made about whether Canada, Ireland, or Norway will take up a two-year term as a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council. For the three contenders, two seats are available, but both seats require two-thirds support in the General Assembly. Though a rotating seat does not come with the same almighty veto power allocated to the five Permanent Members, the two-year term does allow for an assertion of influence over international security that Prime Minister Trudeau has displayed great interest in. As part of his campaign for the seat, Trudeau spent several days visiting leaders of African nations in order to persuade them to support Canada’s bid, including bringing Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri along with him for the trip. In addition to these votes, he is likely counting on the support of the Uniting for Consensus group of states who – along with Canada – advocate for UNSC reform.
Despite his liberal stardom and promise to return Canada to its role as a progressive internationalist power, Trudeau’s leadership on foreign policy has been largely ineffectual. While he admirably welcomed record amounts of Syrian refugees into Canada, much of the rest of Trudeau’s foreign policy has failed to live up to his promises of ‘sunny ways’. Trudeau has repeatedly declined requests for Canadian involvement in UN missions, bringing Canadian peacekeeping contributions to historic lows of 48 personnel globally, compared to some 3000 personnel decades ago. And while the Trudeau Government made positive promises regarding a feminist foreign policy and a development program focused on the empowerment of women and girls, these goals are backed up with development assistance funding levels of 0.26% of gross national income. This amounts to less than half of the UN target of 0.7%.
Domestically, Trudeau faced rail blockades and protests in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who opposed the construction of a $6 billion natural gas pipeline project through their territory in northern British Columbia. Though some semblance of an agreement does seem to be emerging, the pipeline issue is nonetheless concerning since it centers on climate justice, an issue that should be at the heart of any progressive foreign policy program. Further, the illegality of the Trudeau Government’s actions has resulted in Trudeau having to postpone the tabling of a bill that would bring the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into force. This failure of leadership has already impacted Trudeau’s reputation domestically, and drawn into question Canada’s suitability as a Security Council member.
Norway – with its well-respected reputation as a neutral conflict mediator – is certainly the front-runner of the three states, leaving Canada and Ireland competing for the second seat. Ireland’s largest bloc of supporting votes are its fellow EU member states, but those may now be in question.
The recent victory of Sinn Féin in Ireland’s election may throw Ireland’s ability to garner two-thirds of votes in the General Assembly into question. Sinn Féin is a left-wing party that has never led the Irish Government before, but may very likely be leading the next coalition. Last year, the Saudi ambassador to Ireland confirmed that Saudi Arabia would support Ireland’s bid because Irish diplomats have garnered a reputation for clarity and for not “waver[ing] because of who is in government”. Yet, Sinn Féin’s historic election may change this perspective. Sinn Féin’s radical roots continue to show in its extremely progressive foreign policy views, including calling for an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia in retaliation for human rights abuses. Further, Sinn Féin’s historic (though dwindling) Euroscepticism may impact its support from other EU members.
And so, with recent instability in Trudeau’s leadership and a radical change in government in Dublin, Canada and Ireland seem to be in a tight race for the second seat. Depending on the outcome of potentially lengthy Irish coalition talks and the resulting level of influence that Sinn Féin will have over Irish foreign policy, Trudeau may have an opportunity to edge out Ireland for the second seat. Trudeau maintains productive relationships with EU leaders and may be able to build on recent positive diplomatic capital from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) that Canada signed with the EU in his first term. However, winning over the votes of EU member states who may be hesitant to give Sinn Féin a voice at the UN Security Council will require Trudeau to finally show principled leadership, both in terms of passing his UNDRIP bill and substantively investing in UN peacekeeping.