Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing some mockery online after cameras caught quite a few empty seats during his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.
Gerald Butts, chief adviser to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, poked some fun on Twitter Friday.
Later, Butts compared the attendance for Harper's speech to that of U.S. President Barack Obama earlier in the week.
Others suggested on social media — some playfully, some not — that the seemingly spotty attendance is proof that the prime minister is not respected on the international stage.
But while the optics may not be great for the PM, who spoke in the early evening, it would appear he is not the only Canadian prime minister to have trouble packing the house at the UN headquarters in New York.
Here is a photo of former PM Paul Martin's address to the UN General Assembly in 2004, showing plenty of empty seats.
Photo credit: Tom Hanson, The Canadian Press
Here's Martin again in 2005:
Photo credit: Tom Hanson, The Canadian Press
And here's what it looked like when Jean Chretien addressed the UN General Assembly for the last time as Canadian prime minister in September, 2003.
Photo credit: Andrew Vaughan, The Canadian Press
Harper's speech Thursday was considered something of a surprise as he urged world leaders to focus on child and maternal health, but did not spend much time addressing other global conflicts and crises.
Harper did say, however, that Canada is ready to join with "other civilized peoples" to challenge "affronts to human dignity itself" present "in Eastern Europe, particularly Ukraine, in the Middle East, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and of course many parts of Africa."
Earlier in the day, Harper announced Canada will contribute to a new international fund to prevent maternal and newborn deaths, as part of what he calls his top development priority.
The prime minister addressed that cause at length in his speech, telling world leaders that saving the lives of mothers and children is a fight that can be won.
"We have it in our power to create a better kind of world for our children’s children than we have today," he said. "And we should."
Photo credit: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press
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The full text of Harper’s UN address:
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
It is both an honour and a pleasure for me to once again address this Assembly.
For more than 70 years, Canada has supported the United Nations and its institutions, in the pursuit of world peace.
On many occasions Canadians have put their lives on the line to deter active conflict between peoples.
It’s a duty we accept and it’s a record of which we are proud.
Today, there are many embattled parts of the world where the suffering of local populations and the threats to global security deserve our urgent attention, and I could easily use my entire time here on any one of them.
There are however, other areas of service to humanity.
It is to some of these that I wish to speak tonight.
For, there is more to peace than the absence of war.
Where human misery abounds, where grinding poverty is the rule, where justice is systematically denied, there is no real peace, only the seeds of future conflict.
Of course, misery and injustice are not the only roots of war.
We need only look at the world today to appreciate this.
Then we understand how the worst of human nature – perverse ideologies, religious extremism, and the lust for power and plunder – can rob people in so many places of property, of hope and of life itself.
That’s why Canada has always been ready and willing to join with other civilized peoples and to challenge affronts to the international order, affronts to human dignity itself, such as are today present in Eastern Europe, particularly Ukraine, in the Middle East, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and of course many parts of Africa.
Canada’s positions on these issues are well known, and we will continue to contribute to the extent to which we are able in assisting our friends and allies in the international community to deal with these grave challenges.
But while these extreme situations are being confronted, other problems, pandemics, climate change, and of course the problems of underdevelopment remain.
And we feel strongly that no effort is ever in vain if it offers people an alternative to conflict and an opportunity to better their lives and those of their families.
Canadians, therefore, seek a world where freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law are respected.
We hold these things to be intrinsically right and good.
And we also believe that they are the necessary foundation for a better world for more people, necessary for prosperity, and with prosperity comes hope, and with hope, the greater inclination of free peoples everywhere to find peaceful solutions to the things that divide them.
Indeed, we believe that freedom, prosperity and peace form a virtuous circle.
For this reason, the growth of trade between nations and the delivery of effective development assistance to ordinary people – simple, practical aid – these are the things that have become the signatures of our Government’s outreach in the world.
Trade means jobs, growth and opportunities.
It has made great nations out of small ones.
The story of my own country, Canada, is a case in point.
Historically, trade has built our country, just as today, it is reshaping our world.
Trade means ordinary people can support their families and even dare to dream of something much more.
Our Government has worked hard to establish a vast network of modern trade agreements.
The trade agreements we have concluded tear down the barriers of tariff and excise, and enlarge markets and opportunities for buyers and sellers alike.
Canada has now established such links with countries that today possess more than a quarter of the world’s people and nearly half the world’s business.
And our free-trade network will grow larger yet.
This is not, by the way, an exclusive club for wealthy nations.
Canada has liberalized its trade with countries known more for their determination to succeed than for the size of their economies, thereby opening the way for them to access Canadian and other markets.
There is no reason to stop now.
As indicated by my colleague from Senegal, President Macky Sall, aid is needed for development but what is needed even more is investment.
He is quite right.
Yet, no matter how freely we trade, millions of people will for some time to come need a helping hand.
Easily the most important example and the one closest to my heart, is the worldwide struggle upon which so many of you have been engaged, the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Initiative.
Saving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable mothers, infants and children must remain a top global priority.
That is, the world must honour the commitments made in this very room to mothers and children in the year 2000.
And there has been remarkable progress.
Thanks to inexpensive vaccines and the combined effort of multiple partners, more children are being vaccinated today than ever before.
And as the importance of nutrition becomes better understood, more and more children are surviving.
Thanks to simple, low-cost, easily accessible techniques, literally millions of mothers and children who, a mere 14 years ago, might have died today not only survive, but thrive.
I think especially of the 2010 meeting of world leaders at Muskoka, that raised about seven and a half billion dollars, two billion of it from private donors.
Based on that, the United Nations launched what the Secretary-General called the Every Woman, Every Child Initiative, with the goal of saving 16 million lives by 2016.
An important aspect of this work has been to monitor both the receipt of monies pledged, and how they are used.
The assurance of full accountability has allowed recipients to plan with greater certainty and donors to give with confidence.
With His Excellency, whom you just heard, President Kikwete of Tanzania, it was my honour to co-chair the World Health Organization’s Information and Accountability Commission linked to this initiative.
Ladies and gentlemen, on this, we have a clear vision and that vision is achievable.
We know how to help many of these vulnerable people.
We have seen what can be done.
We want, therefore, simply to rally the passion and the will to make it happen.
We are preventing, and we can prevent more deaths, deaths of thousands of children every day from easily preventable causes.
We can stop thousands of mothers dying in childbirth who, with relatively little intervention, would survive.
We also know who we need to be working with: new partnerships; partnerships that bring together governments, agencies of the UN – the World Health Organization, the World Food Program, UNICEF – with the private sector, partnerships that are producing real results and taking us to new heights of excellence.
Here, I’m thinking of the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Network in Canada, a group that represents a broad base of Canadian civil society, and are key implementing partners on the ground.
As many of you know, this past May in Toronto, Canada hosted the world’s leading actors on this subject.
We heard the success stories, for example, the Micronutrient Initiative through which 180 million children received Vitamin A, pills costing pennies, but that drop child mortality by 25 per cent.
We heard about the Vaccine Alliance, GAVI, and how during the three year period ¬between 2010 and 2013, immunizations saved the lives of two million children.
We have partnerships to deliver better nutrition and partnerships to deliver better measurement, because vital statistics are critical.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
And in this mission, we measure progress in precious lives saved.
So every child needs a birth certificate.
We also heard about the now greater demand for accountability, in regard not only to the vast sums of money pledged, but also the way in which that money is spent.
So our consensus was clear.
We have seen success, and we have momentum.
Saving the lives of children and mothers is a fight we can win.
To get it done, two things are needed now: the political focus and renewed financial commitment.
I therefore urge this assembly, in the strongest terms, to ensure that in the evolving, post-2015 development agenda, maternal, newborn and child health remain a clear and top priority.
And one of a limited number of priorities.
That is the political focus we need.
Then there is the financial commitment.
I know we all have many competing priorities.
But, to have come so far that to stop now would be a tragedy.
I must tell you, I was very encouraged this afternoon at the Secretary General’s Every Woman Every Child event, when President Kim of the World Bank and other leaders announced new financing for the Bank’s Global Financing Facility For Every Woman, Every Child.
This Facility will help developing countries access the financing required to improve their health systems.
I am pleased to announce that Canada will financially support the World Bank’s Global Financing Facility For Every Woman, Every Child.
We urge other countries to do likewise because, to provide viable solutions to prevent the tragic death of women and children, we need to increase budget allocations on the part of both donors and the developing countries.
Now ladies and gentlemen, in closing let me just say this.
There are many individual countries and many specific causes that will rightly occupy your, our, deliberations here this week.
Let’s also not forget to also look beyond those crises, at the long-term opportunities and efforts that can truly transform the world.
We have it in our power to create a better kind of world for our children’s children than we have today.
And we should.
For, it was never the intention of the founders of the United Nations, Canada being one of them, that ours would be a world where terrorists could get the resources necessary to sow death and destruction, but where workers and families could not get jobs and opportunities, or where mothers and children could not obtain the necessities required to live and to thrive.
The world that Canada strives for is the world that the founders of the United Nations wanted from the beginning, as boldly articulated in their declaration of 1942: I quote, a world where ‘life, liberty, independence and religious freedom’ are defended, where ‘human rights and justice’ are preserved, and where all join ‘in a common struggle against the savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.’
In such a world, there can be prosperity for the impoverished, justice for the weak, and, for the desperate, that most precious of all things, hope.
It’s easy to look at the many problems of the world today and become despondent.
Yet, for all our failings there has been, for most of humanity, tremendous progress in my lifetime.
Therefore, I am enough of an optimist to think that, because we can create a more prosperous, fairer and hopeful world, not only should we, but indeed, I believe we will find the will to do so.
Thank you very much for your attention.
With files from The Canadian Press