Foreign affairs experts slam Stephen Harper's relationship with the U.N.

Canada Politics

The pile-on against Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his handling of the foreign affairs file continues. 

Harper is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday evening  his first such address since September 2010.

To coincide with this rare event, a venerable collection of Canada’s foreign affairs community has released a series scathing essays slamming the government’s disengagement from the ‘community of nations.’ 

The essays, released on Wednesday, were published by the World Federalist movement, a non-profit research organization that studies and advocates for global governance reforms and democratization. 

The University of Ottawa’s John Trent, who edited the project, says that the Harper government’s foreign policy positions have been starkly different than any other government in Canadian history.

"Canada has had a steady policy with regard to multilateral relations with international organizations like the U.N.," he told Yahoo Canada News.

"All the Conservative governments, all the Liberal governments have always held the same policy: we work with the United Nations to improve it. Because we can achieve a stable international system..where we can trade and where we can have influence. And the best place to have influence is [at the United Nations]. 

[ Related: Obama at UN: With coalition, US will dismantle Islamic State ‘network of death’ with force ]

The project contributors include the likes former cabinet ministers, university professors and Canadian foreign service officials. 

Here are some of excepts from those essays.

Former Liberal foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy on Canada’s contributions  or lack thereof  to the U.N.. 

"It seems somewhat surreal to be composing thoughts about Canada’s contributions to the UN when aside from paying its dues (reluctantly), and taking a role on maternal mortality (constructive), there isn’t much
to relate.  

"And, while it is always tempting to adopt a prescriptive mode, it’s clear that most ideas or recommendations will never make the ministerial briefing book. The reality is that the present government openly and with forethought doesn’t want to engage with the UN in any meaningful way.
In fact, it’s not particularly interested in any kind of multilateral, collaborative, ‘internationalist’ engagement.”

Robert Fowler, a foreign policy adviser to three former prime ministers, about why Canada didn’t get a seat on the U.N Security Council:

"How tiresome, how smug and — I will argue - how un-Canadian is the stolid simplicity of the Harper-Baird "we won’t go along to get along" mantra. But it is that arrogant me-first, ‘I’m all right, and to hell with you" posture coupled with extravagant insensitivity which destroyed Canada’s bid for a seventh term on the Security Council three years ago. 

"Until that changes, those attitudes will ensure that Canada is excluded from any important role within the community of nations."

Walter Dorn from the Canadian Military College about Canada’s peacekeeping role:

"Is Canada the prolific peacekeeper it once was? Unfortunately, the answer is no. While Canada once contributed as many as 3,000 military personnel to peacekeeping, it currently provides only 34 – not enough to fill a school bus. While the United Nations currently (July 2014) deploys an all-time high of over 80,000 military personnel in the field, Canada has kept its numbers at historical lows since 2006."

And finally, Dr. Christian Holz, former Executive Director of the Climate Action Network, Canada

"Canada has a serious image and trust problem in international climate politics stemming from a long history of unfulfilled and abandoned commitments. This includes Canada’s failure to meet the greenhouse gas
reduction commitment made in 1997 under the Kyoto Protocol and its subsequent withdrawal from the Protocol (the only country in the world to do so).

"Furthermore, it is all but certain that the substantially weaker commitment made in 2009 in Copenhagen will also be missed, save for an immediate and thorough change in direction from Canada’s federal government.

"Additionally, after a short period from 2010 to 2012 of contributing a genuinely fair share ($400 million per year) to a global fund to assist the poorest countries in reducing their own contributions to climate change and dealing with its impacts, Canada’s climate finance contributions have shrunk to very low levels."

[ Related:  Brian Mulroney becomes the latest ex-prime minister to criticize Stephen Harper

When it comes to foreign policy, Harper has also been criticized  in recent years  by each of the last five prime ministers. 

Most recently, Brian Mulroney suggested that Harper didn’t have a good relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama claiming that a Canadian prime minister doesn’t “have much clout internationally” without a strong kinship with the White House. 

And, in 2012,  Paul Martin said Canada was no longer “well-positioned” to be a player on the international stage and put all the blame on Harper.

"[The United Nations is] going to be looking for countries that have a role to play internationally," he told Postmedia News.

"Well, if you have walked away from Africa, if you have walked away from climate change, you’re not going to have a great deal of influence in the rest of the world."

[ Related: Harper, Tar sands a focus for Canadians at the New York climate rally

For their part, the Harper government hasn’t hidden the fact that they’re doing things a little differently. 

In the summer of 2011, Harper talked about a new liberated global vision for Canada, one where we no long try “to please every dictator with a vote at the United Nations.” 

Moreover, the government hasn’t been shy about criticizing the U.N. and once even had a backbench MP question the efficacy of Canada’s membership with the U.N..

[ Related: Stephen Harper to skip U.N. climate summit, to attend post-meeting dinner instead ] 

Instead of ‘going along to get along’, the Harper government has instead picked it spots with regard to how they relate to the United Nations. 

While he skipped Tuesday’s climate summit, for example, Harper will take park in the U.N.’s Every Woman Every Child Event, a legacy project of his which includes providing foreign-aid for maternal health. 

"The development of trade between nations and the delivery of effective development assistance to people living in poverty – simple practical aid – these things have become the signature of our Government’s worldwide outreach," the prime minister said in a statement.

"In New York and beyond, Canada will continue to champion saving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable mothers, newborns and children and press for it to remain a top global priority."

With regard to other foreign affairs files  outside the direct purview of the U.N,  Harper hasn’t been afraid to ruffle some feathers as we’ve seen with his tough talk against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his decision to send 69 military advisers to Iraq to fight ISIS. 

And despite the criticism from the ex-PMs and the learned experts, it seems that Canadians back Harper. 

Last week Abacus Data released the results of a survey gauging Canadians’ opinions on the prime minister’s approach to foreign affairs.

The results showed that the 49 per cent agree with Harper when it comes to Canada-US relations, 27 per cent disagree; 45 per cent agree with steps taken to help Ukraine, 27 per do not; 41 per cent of those surveyed agree with Harper’s tough talk against Putin, 29 per cent disagree; and 45 agree with his decision to send military advisers to Iraq. 

In other words, don’t expect Harper to change course on foreign policy now.

(Photo courtesy of The Canadian Press) 

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