The article raises two issues: (1) whether it’s appropriate for governors general to be political and (2) whether lobbying for a Security Council seat should be considered partisan.
I will leave it to constitutional experts like Philippe Lagassé to answer the first question. I am more concerned by implication that, through her actions, Payette was inserting herself into partisan politics.
A seat on the Security Council would belong to Canada - not to the Liberal Party. On paper, then, interventions to secure that seat seem to further the national interest, not one party’s partisan agenda.
Yet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has gone to great lengths to brand the Security Council campaign in his image. For the first time in Canada’s history, it was he – and not the minister of foreign affairs or a senior public servant – who officially announced Canada’s intent to bid. What’s more, the decision to pursue a seat was framed in the context of a distinctly Liberal message that Canada was “back” on the world stage after a ten-year hiatus under the Harper Conservatives.
The politicization of Canada’s Security Council aspirations is a relatively new phenomenon. In the last successful campaign of 1998, the opposition Reform Party offered the governing Liberals their full support.
Things changed at some point during the Harper government’s unsuccessful campaign for a seat for 2011-12.
Conservative supporters blame the Liberals, whose leader, Michael Ignatieff, publicly questioned whether Canada “deserved” a seat on the council in light of what he deemed to be the Harper government’s confrontational and ineffective foreign policy.
Conservative critics fault the Harper government for refusing to solicit or accept assistance from the opposition parties during the campaign and then blaming Ignatieff for the defeat.
Neither side is innocent.
More important, though, is what the current government can do differently over the five months that remain before the vote on June 17th. Here are three ideas:
First, offer opposition leaders a confidential briefing on the state of the campaign and the way ahead. Particularly in a minority Parliament, such outreach should be automatic.
Second, invite qualified members of the opposition to participate in the current bid. Conservative MP Peter Kent lobbied for council votes effectively on the Harper government’s behalf in Latin America in 2010. The NDP’s Heather McPherson is the former executive director of the Alberta Council on Global Co-operation and has previously served on a Canadian delegation to the UN.
Finally, form a non-partisan advisory council to feed into Global Affairs Canada’s thinking on all things Security Council-related. The group’s composition and mandate should mirror the NAFTA Council that served the Trudeau government well in 2017-18.
In short, it doesn’t matter whose fault it was for injecting politics into Canada’s Security Council aspirations. Partisanship hurts the bid, and the Trudeau government should do everything it can to eliminate it.
To learn more about Canada’s history on the Security Council (and why pursuing a seat is consistent with the national interest), please check out my new book or the podcast that discusses it. The Canadian Global Affairs Institute also just released a shorter, policy brief that I wrote about the history of Ottawa’s nine efforts to pursue a council seat. My research draws extensively from the excellent scholarship of David Malone, currently the rector of United Nations University and a former director general in Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and David Bosco, whose own history of the UN Security Council, Five to Rule them All, is outstanding. If you are interested in the UN more generally, take a look at some of the scholarship by the University of Manitoba’s Andrea Charron or my RMC colleague, Jane Boulden.
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