OTTAWA – United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for last year’s climate-change charm offensive in Paris, but urged him to spend more of Canada’s wealth on the world’s poorest people.
The usually staid Ban appeared almost gleeful at times Thursday as he took Trudeau up on his offer to re-engage with the UN during a packed, day-long visit to Ottawa, including high-level meetings on Parliament Hill and a feel-good assembly at a boisterous local high school auditorium.
“I am here to declare that the United Nations enthusiastically welcomes this commitment,” Ban declared. He praised not only Trudeau’s climate-change advocacy, but his desire to return Canada to its peacekeeping roots – which, he said, Canada helped create under external affairs minister Lester Pearson in the 1950s.
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Trudeau has stressed re-orienting Canada towards world organizations – the UN in particular – as part of a new multilateral foreign policy that often tries to invoke the so-called Pearson-era golden age of diplomacy.
Neither he nor Ban mentioned that Pearson had another influence on the world: chairing an international commission in the late 1960s that eventually led to the establishment of today’s UN target for aid spending by rich countries: 0.7 per cent of gross national income.
“I know that the prime minister may have all different priorities but I’m sure that Prime Minister Trudeau and his government will pay more focus on this matter. I count on your leadership,” Ban said, noting that only five countries had reached the target.
Canada never has, despite Pearson’s role in creating it.
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But Ban also made it very clear he was extremely happy with what Trudeau has managed to accomplish on the world stage in what the prime minister referred to as the end of his first 100 days in office.
Ban said he had “respect” for the Liberal government’s decision to withdraw its fighter jets from the coalition battling Islamic militants. He praised Canada repeatedly for deciding to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees, and for the more than $1 billion in development and humanitarian spending earmarked towards the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Ban recalled how Trudeau used his “charm and popularity” during the November and December UN Paris climate-change talks, energetically moving from delegation to delegation. He said Trudeau’s leadership helped secure the breakthrough agreement from the meeting.
“The United Nations owes a lot to his leadership. Canada has completely changed – completely changed and shown leadership,” said Ban.
Trudeau has been critical of the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper, which often criticized the UN for being ineffective, especially in stopping the five-year-old civil war in Syria.
Ban himself noted the inability of the Security Council to take decisive action against Syria, saying its inaction – which stems from the veto wielded by Russia, a Syrian ally – was part of a “perfect storm” that has led to the rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East.
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Trudeau confirmed that Canada is looking to win a seat on the Security Council as part of a move to renew its relationship with the world body.
“I highlighted to the secretary general that part of Canada wishing to re-engage robustly with the United Nations and in multilateral engagement around the world includes looking towards a bid for the UN Security Council,” Trudeau said.
“We’re looking at a number of windows in the coming years. We are going to evaluate the opportunities for Canada to mount a successful bid.”
Officials have told Trudeau that Canada’s next viable window to run might not come until after 2020. The prime minister offered no specific time frame on Thursday.
A return to the council would mark a major comeback for Canada, after the country lost to tiny Portugal in 2010 for a two-year, rotating seat. The Harper government was criticized at the time for failing to make a strong bid for the seat.
Ban said he welcomes Trudeau’s plan to rebuild a robust relationship with the UN, saying Canada has a long and distinguished partnership with the organization.
Trudeau said he told Ban that Canada wants to be involved as a peacemaker.
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During the tenure of successive Liberal and Conservative governments, Canada’s commitment to UN peacekeeping has dropped sharply since the 1990s, when the country deployed thousands of blue-helmeted peacekeepers.
“I reiterated the commitment of our government to strengthen the UN’s ability to maintain international peace and security, including by increasing support for peace operations and contributing more to mediation, conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction efforts,” Trudeau said.