Opinion: Trade, economic priorities trump UN security council aspirations

Canada is well back

Yes, prime minister, as you said in 2015, Canada is back.

Indeed, Canada is well back.

We took third place in a race for the United Nations Security Council seat in which only gold and silver medals were accorded. As Jerry Seinfeld might put it to console Canada, no loser finished ahead of us.

There are plenty of silver linings in the failure. If you don’t get the Olympics, it’s not like you can’t compete in sports. Or, in Canada’s case, it’s not like there aren’t any domestic issues to address in what would have been two years ahead of occupying the council seat and obsessing on extra-territorial matters.

The UN perch had value – the council can sanction force or suffocate it with its resolutions – but it is also a complication Canada does not need as we look inward of necessity in our history. If we want to preserve and sustain our standard of living, we need to look at ourselves for the time being much more than we do the wider world. Much will change, countries will need to be nimble, and the UN is about neither.

Our pandemic world and what follows requires recalibration of our economies, first and foremost domestically our capacity to retain and rebuild our prosperity, get out ahead of what we can produce for others and prudently but not too protectively rethink the clearly fragile chains that supply us from abroad.

The country’s diplomatic challenge is to smooth bilateral relationships like cooing doves, not run with the wolf pack at the security council. If this will be a time of bringing jobs back home, it will also be a time of finding trustworthy allies, one by one.

Besides, there has been something disingenuous about Canada’s campaign to secure the security seat. We were selling values abroad we don’t entirely abide by at home, and other countries can certainly sniff out the incongruence. Their vote was essentially a public opinion survey writ large, and Canada finished behind Norway (a better aid provider) and Ireland (a larger peacekeeper) because the world opinion about us isn’t necessarily what Justin Trudeau and his team purport – or, perhaps, what the world particularly wants as an influence.

The easiest verdict the world could cast without breaking a sweat is that we remain hostile to those of earliest origin and unwelcoming to those of recent arrival. We have countenanced systems that do not stray considerably from what the UN regularly condemns – even of countries Canada embarrassingly begged for support for the seat. We are more than a little delusional when we claim the high ground. If we want into the inner sanctum of the council, we have reforms to perform before we can morally claim centre stage.

In the absence of a seat, though, there is much that can be done. If the pandemic has shattered our faith in global co-operation, then Canada can align itself and build better trading relationships with countries that share science, transparency and the rule of law.

Without question, our attention globally has to diversify beyond our two largest trading partners.

We have sat in the shadow of America, ridden its coattails when convenient, and now need a more diverse trading portfolio because our largest partner can’t be trusted, at least until November. We have a sorry situation with China that will endure well beyond November; it’s hard to know where to start on it, but we have stepped into quicksand and cannot figure our next move. These two countries, of course, have veto powers in any substantive resolution by a council we would have been hard-pressed to influence.

And the council is operating inside a Cold War-era institution that is, in business parlance, like running a financial firm without a computer. Not quite obsolete, but certainly not state-of-the-art.

Canada may yet again want this seat, but before it again spends millions of dollars on a vanity play, there are some priorities. Clean running water coast-to-coast is a start. Unimpeded opportunity for all is a logical step. An energy policy to help the wider world is a good olive branch. A renovated military is an authentic offering. A little less preaching, a lot more practice, would be welcomed. 

Kirk LaPointe is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and the vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.

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