It is a positive coincidence that both Canada and the United Nations are at a stage in their existence where they are asking themselves some basic questions about their identity, their purpose and aspirations.
Who are we? What do we aspire to achieve? What do we want in our relationship with others?
These are the introspective issues facing Canadians as we celebrate a rebirth of sorts with the arrival of a new era under Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau and his incoming Liberal government.
These are the same introspective issues facing the UN as it celebrates its 70th anniversary in a world of economic and social challenges, political strife and armed conflicts, environmental degradation and the full range of human suffering that arises from all these factors.
Of the many possible answers that come to mind, three significant considerations stand out: reduction of inequality and of poverty; democratic renewal; and restoration of fundamental human rights and freedoms.
How should Canada see itself in the United Nations?
A reasonable first reaction to this important aspect of our foreign policy is the reassertion of our principled role in the UN and other multilateral settings in the promotion of peace and de-escalation of political and armed conflicts within and between the countries and territories that make up the world community.
In addition to our pioneering role in international peacekeeping, there is the wider question of avoiding antagonistic and partisan involvement in major conflicts of our time. One good place to start is rebalancing our role in mediating a settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, inside and outside of the UN’s mechanisms.
In that vein, our new prime minister has also taken a clear position in favor of Canada assuming a less military approach to the threat that ISIS represents for the security of the Middle East and the wider world.
On another aspect of conflict resolution, the international crisis inherent in the ongoing movement of millions of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa, our contribution is likely to be most effective in a gradual but sizeable increase in the number of these migrants we welcome to our shores. We are yet to formulate a policy to address the root causes of that mass exodus, in the very relevant context of the economic, political and military intervention of Western countries in decades and centuries past.
A second area of focus, namely international cooperation for sustainable management of the environment, is already engaging the attention of the incoming government. It is refreshing to see that the spirit of cooperation in national governance has led Trudeau to include our provincial premiers and main political leaders (including Elizabeth May of the Green Party, our most valuable political asset in these matters) in our country’s official delegation to the crucial UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris in December.
On a third point, Trudeau will have to walk a fine line in managing Canada’s approach to the three principal “free trade agreements” that frame Canada’s commercial relationship with the world. No one envies him as he seeks to balance our interests with our responsibilities in the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Pacific Rim countries, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with European countries, and the North America Free Trade Agreement that links the U.S., Canada and Mexico. These agreements are to be reconciled with each other in the context of our national interest and their compatibility with the legal provisions of the World Trade Organization, which regrettably is not a UN agency, unlike its predecessor the GATT.
Consistent with its now well established editorial policy, The Caribbean Camera also finds it necessary to highlight one significant aspect of the role of the UN in Canada.
It is our strong view that the UN does have locus standi in the matter of Canada’s management of the rights and needs of our Aboriginal peoples. Many of the international conventions and legal fora relevant to our responsibilities and obligations towards our Aboriginal peoples belong to the UN system.