POLITICS

Antonio Guterres, Former UN Refugee Chief, Calls Canada 'Honest Broker'

01/29/2016 11:17 EST

OTTAWA — A former United Nations refugee chief says Canada's new foreign policy makes it perfectly suited to play a major role in bringing peace to a world facing a dramatic shortage of it.

Antonio Guterres said Canada is now perceived as an honest broker and can play a leading role in bringing together warring factions to negotiate peace.

It's just one of many countries that must help negotiate peaceful solutions to the ongoing wars across the globe and their ensuing — and escalating — refugee crises, Guterres said Friday at a foreign policy conference hosted by the Canada2020 think tank.

"It is my deep belief that Canada is in a privileged position to play an important role in this regard,'' he said, citing the country's membership in the G7, G20 and NATO as advantages.

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Antonio Guterres, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, speaks at an event in Tokyo on Nov. 25, 2015. (CP)

"But at the same time with your new foreign policy, I believe Canada has all the conditions to be perceived as an honest broker.''

Guterres, who stepped down last year after a decade as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said Canada can play a major role in helping resettle the world's record number of displaced citizens.

The two-day conference is examining the new Liberal government's foreign policy, which focuses on increasing Canada's involvement in multilateral institutions such as the UN.

But there has been an undercurrent of criticism of the policies of the former Conservative government, which bristled at the notion of Canada as an honest broker.

"The time has come at long last to fashion once again a foreign policy for Canada that will be worthy of Canadians and that reflects those values and aspirations,'' University of Ottawa president Allan Rock, a former Liberal cabinet minister and UN ambassador, told the gathering.

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University of Ottawa President Allan Rock delivers a statement in Ottawa on June 25, 2014. (CP)

Canada's incoming UN ambassador, Marc-Andre Blanchard, said Canada needs to engage with international partners on a host of issues, climate change, poverty alleviation, gender equality and the global displacement crisis.

"Canada needs to be prepared to engage honestly, consistently and rigorously internationally,'' he told the gathering. "In doing so, we can drive change rather than simply react to it.''

Guterres said the fact that Canada has moved "from an unusual suspect to an honest broker'' increases its ability to lead and draw participants together to mediate solutions to intertwined conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

He said the world needs a "surge'' in peaceful diplomacy.

"Leadership needs to be shared,'' he said, with different countries "creating the conditions to convene'' warring factions and make them understand that continued conflict serves nobody's interest, including their own.

Guterres praised Canada's recent emphasis on bringing in more Syrian refugees and said the country was always a good partner during his decade at the UN refugee agency.

"Leadership needs to be shared.''

But he said the number of refugees and internally displaced people has almost doubled in the last decade to 70 million, a "staggering escalation.''

The Portuguese politician also lambasted his own continent for being ill-prepared to receive an influx of refugees and for not wanting them in the first place.

He said the world only started paying attention to the refugee crisis in earnest last fall, as Europe was deluged.

"This proves that if, indeed, everybody is equal, there are some that are more equal than others,'' he said, adding that the "rich'' only become aware that the "poor exists when the poor is entering their homes.''

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