Charest’s woo­ing of Gulf states part of Canada’s too-costly push for UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil seat

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - DOUG SAUN­DERS

The desert king­dom of Oman re­ceived a dis­creet Cana­dian vis­i­tor last month. Jean Charest came to Mus­cat and hand-de­liv­ered a let­ter from Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau to His Majesty Sul­tan

Qa­boos bin Said, the monarch. He met with the higher-ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter and an­nounced Canada’s de­sire to ex­pand ed­u­ca­tional ties. And he had con­fi­den­tial meet­ings with a num­ber of other se­nior of­fi­cials. What was un­usual was not that Mr. Charest was rep­re­sent­ing Canada – given his ex­pe­ri­ence and con­nec­tions, he is a good choice – but the pur­pose of his visit. His ti­tle, he told the Oma­nis, is “Spe­cial En­voy of the Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter for the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Mis­sion,” I learned this week. My col­league Michelle Zilio con­firmed this with the For­eign Min­is­ter’s of­fice.

In other words, Mr. Charest was on a tour of the Per­sian Gulf states to try to per­suade them to cast their bal­lot for Canada next year, when the 193 United Na­tions mem­ber coun­tries vote on one of the non-per­ma­nent seats on the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

The Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, which votes on cru­cial mat­ters of de­fence and in­ter­na­tional law, has five per­ma­nent seats – China, France, Rus­sia, Bri­tain and the United States – and 10 open ones. Canada is vy­ing for a twoyear tem­po­rary po­si­tion in 2021 and 2022, and both Nor­way and Ire­land are com­pet­ing for the same seat.

Mr. Charest’s role – it’s an un­paid vol­un­teer po­si­tion, although Ot­tawa cov­ers his travel ex­penses and costs – is only one part of a big cam­paign the fed­eral Lib­er­als have mounted to win that seat.

Since 2016, they’ve spent $1.5-mil­lion on the cam­paign, mainly on the salaries of 11 full-time em­ploy­ees based in New York, but also on ex­penses for a num­ber of high-pro­file vol­un­teer “in­flu­encers” in­clud­ing Mr. Charest – and un­spec­i­fied costs for gifts.

That isn’t a lot of money, even com­pared with the sums pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments have paid. But that doesn’t in­clude the con­sid­er­able time and money spent by most of Canada’s 129 em­bassies and scores of Global Af­fairs Canada staff in ne­go­ti­at­ing and mak­ing deals to try to win votes. It is, I’ve been told by staff at sev­eral em­bassies, a full-court press in­volv­ing the en­tire Cana­dian diplo­matic corps.

Nor does it in­clude the cost of those deals. To win a re­luc­tant coun­try’s vote, Canada will typ­i­cally prom­ise to vote for that coun­try’s favourite per­son to be head of a big in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion, or for that coun­try to host some­thing such as the Olympics – even if that vote is oth­er­wise con­trary to Canada’s in­ter­ests. Or Canada will of­fer to par­tic­i­pate in their pet project. Why did Canada sign a for­eign-in­vest­ment promotion and protection agree­ment with Moldova last year? Some say it was the quid pro quo for their Se­cu­rity Coun­cil vote.

This isn’t just a Lib­eral thing. Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer an­nounced this week that he’d con­tinue the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil cam­paign if his party comes to power. It’s Canada’s never-end­ing in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal re­lay race; this cam­paign was be­gun by Stephen Harper’s Con­ser­va­tives, who spent con­sid­er­able time and money on a cam­paign for a 2010 Se­cu­rity Coun­cil seat, which they lost to Por­tu­gal.

That loss helps ex­plain why no­body’s talk­ing about get­ting out of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil-seat game. Why does Canada ex­pend so many re­sources on some­thing of so lit­tle ac­tual value? Be­cause it makes your gov­ern­ment look bad when you don’t.

If you ask Lib­er­als why they’re both­er­ing with this, they’ll point out that Canada has a long tra­di­tion of us­ing Se­cu­rity Coun­cil seats to pro­mote its values, that it’s im­por­tant to have a sta­ble lib­eral democ­racy on the body and that in the eight­ies and nineties, it used those seats to push for end­ing apartheid and ban­ning con­flict di­a­monds.

But Canada didn’t pre­vail on those files be­cause it was on the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil for a cou­ple years. (Canada last sat on the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil in 1999 and 2000.) While its seat didn’t hurt, those wins were ac­com­plished by old­fash­ioned one-on-one meet­ings be­tween lead­ers.

And the rules-based in­ter­na­tional or­der would be up for grabs if Canada were com­pet­ing against, say, less lib­eral-minded coun­tries such as Hungary and Venezuela. Nor­way and Ire­land sure aren’t threats to that or­der, and may in fact be bet­ter choices than Canada.

Ire­land, a pop­u­lar Euro­pean Union mem­ber, prob­a­bly has most of the 44 Euro­pean votes tied up. So Canada is going ag­gres­sively after a sim­i­lar num­ber of votes in the Mid­dle East and North Africa, which Mr. Harper lost be­cause of his un­pop­u­lar Mid­dle East poli­cies.

How is Canada do­ing in that corner?

Peo­ple close to the Omani gov­ern­ment tell me that Mr. Charest’s ex­er­tions to win their vote were welcomed, but may not have been suc­cess­ful. Shortly after meet­ing with him, the coun­try’s for­eign min­is­ter flew to Oslo where he heard a lav­ish pitch, re­plete with prom­ises, from their del­e­ga­tion. If Canada wants to outdo that, it may have to come back with bet­ter goods.

Mul­ti­ply that by 100 coun­tries and a decade of ef­forts and com­pro­mises and deals and prom­ises, and you have a good sense of what Canada’s spend­ing for two years of sym­bol­ism.

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