OTTAWA — François-Philippe Champagne is likely to have full itinerary in his new role as foreign affairs minister, embarking on a long-shot campaign to win Canada a seat at the United Nations Security Council.
Champagne, the former infrastructure minister, will be seeking to woo UN members ahead of a crucial June 7 vote, which will decide whether the Trudeau Liberals achieve one of their key foreign policy goals and increase their prestige on the world stage. The bid for the council seat will likely blend well with the energetic style Champagne brought to his older file, where he endlessly traversed the country to attend anything from major ribbon cutting ceremonies to the unveiling of obscure wastewater facilities.
“He’ll be getting a lot of air miles very quickly,” said Christian Leuprecht, professor at Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University.
Champagne’s promotion comes just one day after Canada voted in support of a controversial UN resolution co-sponsored by North Korea, Zimbabwe and others. It condemns Israel as the “occupying power in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem” and says Israel’s actions impede the right of the “Palestinian people to self-determination.”
The move, according to some observers, was influenced by Canada’s need to win over a number of Middle Eastern votes in the upcoming Security Council vote. It marked the reversal of a 14-year voting pattern in which Canada’s posture toward the same resolution was aligned with the United States, which has struck an increasingly pro-Israel tone under the Trump administration.
“Everything Canada is doing at the UN has to be seen through the lens of the campaign for the Security Council seat,” Leuprecht said.
The United States was among five countries that voted against the resolution, while Australia abstained. A total of 164 countries voted in favour, including the U.K., Germany, and other western allies.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in August 2016 that Canada would campaign for one of 10 temporary seats on the UN Security Council. The five permanent members include the U.S., China, France, the U.K., and Russia.
The Liberal Party, for its part, is likely to place a high emphasis on winning the Security Council seat, which could serve as a bright mark for Trudeau after a bruising election.
“My guess is they will double down on this campaign, because when you have a minority government every vote counts. Really, it’s about domestic politics.” Leuprecht said. “The clock is running out on this.”
Everything Canada is doing at the UN has to be seen through the lens of the campaign for the Security Council seat
It will be a steep uphill battle for Champagne, a Quebec native, who will need to win over votes from regions where Canadian Forces are currently active, like Jordan, Lebanon, Mali and Niger, Leuprecht said.
Meanwhile, Canada’s standing with China, one of the permanent members, has been tense because of ongoing trade tensions.
Ottawa also inflamed tensions with Middle Eastern countries when it abstained from a vote in December 2017 that sought to strike down U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Many saw Canada’s recent vote in favour of Palestine as a way to reverse course, while also pushing back against the Trump administration’s announcement earlier this week that it no longer views Israeli settlements as illegal under international law.
Other observers are less convinced that Tuesday’s UN vote was influenced by Canada’s bid for a seat on the council.
“Mostly it’s about not showing resolve on a principle that they had earlier followed, and that was established by earlier governments,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, chief executive of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
He said the vote in support of the UN resolution came despite assurances from former foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland that Canada would maintain its supportive posture toward Israel.
Miranda Gallo, analyst at Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, applauded Canada’s decision to support the resolution, but is skeptical that the move points to a reversal of a more than 10-year voting pattern at the UN.
In recent weeks, Canada has voted in tandem with U.S. against a number of pro-Palestinian resolutions, including one that expresses “deep concern” about the financial situation of a UN human rights group aimed at supporting Palestinian people.
“It makes me question whether this is really a shift on the Liberal policy on Israel-Palestine,” Gallo said. “I hope it’s a genuine statement of support for Palestinian human rights.”
Canada lost its 2010 bid for a temporary seat to Germany and Portugal. Its latest attempt pits Canada against Ireland and Norway, who have had their hats in the ring for more than 10 years, and who have criticized Canada for trying to cut the line, according to media reports.