NEW YORK—Canada launched its bid for a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council with the diplomatic equivalent of boisterous election rallies yesterday, as large crowds turned out to watch the campaigner-in-chief.
A cellphone-photo-snapping throng of diplomats showed up to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement in the foyer of UN Headquarters—a rarely-used venue last set aside for Pope Francis.
The crowds got bigger over the course of the day.
The prime minister announced the intention to compete in 2020 for a two-year term, which potentially could end the longest spell Canada has ever gone without a seat on the influential, decision-making body.
Trudeau followed that up by speaking to a forum on women’s rights, where he drew enthusiastic ovations from the standing-room-only auditorium while proudly branding himself a feminist and describing the work that went into recruiting the women who later formed his gender-parity cabinet.
The next event was a boardroom meeting with Ban Ki-moon, where the UN Secretary General joked about the larger-than-normal gang of photographers.
“I don’t know why you are so popular,” Ban quipped.
“These guys are here for you,” Trudeau replied. “I’m sure they’re here every day.”
Several UN staff insisted that this was, in fact, not normal for a Canadian politician.
One said Hillary Clinton or Vladimir Putin might draw a bigger crowd, but a female UN staffer said there’s unusually high interest in a young leader who goes around calling himself a feminist.
“It’s like ‘Beatlemania’ . . . it’s a huge deal,” she noted.
The actual substance of Canada’s ambitions at the UN have yet to be laid out, other a renewed commitment to peacekeeping.
Foreign Affairs minister Stephane Dion said the specifics still are being worked out on locations for such Canadian efforts.
But he added the troop numbers will be lower than in previous eras because developing countries have since become more involved in peacekeeping.
Dion also reminded people about Canada’s history with the UN—taking a bipartisan tack by specifically citing the work of former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney against apartheid-era South Africa.
Chris Plunkett, a former diplomat who was part of the last security-council bid, said it is a great idea to draw prominent Canadians into the campaign.
He specifically mentioned Mulroney, his foreign minister Joe Clark, Jean Chrétien foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, and former governor general Michaelle Jean, now head of the Francophonie.
But Plunkett said the most important thing the government can do is have its foreign minister reach out, constantly.
“We’re so close to New York,” he noted. “The foreign minister can fly in that morning, do 10 bilateral meetings, one-on-ones with a number of ambassadors, and fly out that night.
“You don’t even need to stay overnight.
“What other country can do that?” mused Plunkett. “Maybe Mexico, if they’re pushing it.”
The campaign for the council seat is no shoo-in.
Ian Martin, executive director of the UN’s Security Council Report, said there will be strong rivals in the next two elections for which Canada is eligible.
He said that may explain why Trudeau picked a long time frame, which stretches past his government’s present mandate.
Trudeau stressed his commitment to gender equality yesterday whenever he had a chance.
He told the crowded auditorium at the UN that he looks forward to the day when a man being a feminist isn’t considered news.
Trudeau conceded Canada still has challenges—including unequal pay and violence against women, particularly aboriginal women.
But he said people in powerful positions need to reach out and design family-friendly policies that promote economic equality between the sexes.