Times Colonist

Canada reconsider­s role in UNESCO

Canada ‘unhappy’ that agency has welcomed Palestine

- ROBERT HILTZ

OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says the federal government is looking into what role Canada will play in UNESCO after the UN’S cultural arm voted Monday to accept Palestine as a full member.

Baird told reporters the government hasn’t yet made a decision about the role Canada will play in UNESCO looking forward but it is weighing its options.

“We are not happy with the decision that UNESCO took and we’ll see what we will do to respond,” Baird said.

Canada was one of 14 nations that voted against the motion to accept Palestine into UNESCO. The vote passed with the approval of 107 states despite 52 abstention­s — including Japan and Britain.

Baird had to answer questions about UNESCO’S decision after the inclusion of Palestinia­ns triggered a U.S. law, passed in the 1990s, that has cut off funding to the UN body. Every year the U.S. gives UNESCO about $80 million — 22 per cent of its annual budget. The U.S. government said it will not be making a planned payment of $60 million in November.

Canada supplies nearly $12 million per year to the UN cultural arm.

Baird emphasized the good work that UNESCO does for world heritage sites, pointing to his previous experience as head of Parks Canada as minister of the environmen­t.

UNESCO’S decision comes as a symbolic victory in Palestine’s quest for statehood. The UN Security Council is weighing whether to allow it as full member of the United Nations — a move the U.S., Israel’s staunchest ally, has said it will veto.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said Canada should not pull the plug on its funding for the cultural body.

“The reality is that we’re not going to get ourselves into a situation where we’re cutting funding every time we get a resolution out of the UN that we don’t like,” Rae said.

After two years, any country that stops paying UNESCO will lose its vote in the cultural body.

One of the largest Jewish groups in Canada says the country should weigh its options carefully before it pulls out of UNESCO.

Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said UNESCO’S decision is bad for the organizati­on and for the ongoing attempts at peace between Palestine and Israel.

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