06/06/2016 06:36 EDT | Updated 06/07/2017 05:12 EDT

Trudeau: Liberals May Rejoin UN Drought Treaty Tories Abandoned

Spoiler: It involves the United Nations.

OTTAWA — Canada is considering reversing another controversial Conservative foreign policy decision by rejoining a UN convention that fights droughts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday.

The Harper government withdrew Canada from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in 2013, making it the only country in the 190-plus member UN that was not a party to the 1995 treaty.

The Conservatives called the decision a cost-saving measure that would spare Canada from participating in what it saw as a useless "talkfest."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement on climate change at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Friday, April 22, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

But many countries saw it as snub of the multilateral system.

Trudeau told the House of Commons on Monday the government will have more to say about the convention on or before June 17, an international day to recognize the need to combat desertification.

"We recognize not just the link between land degradation and climate change but also the risks that desertification poses to realizing sustainable development goals," said Trudeau, referring to the UN's new 15-year plan to eradicate poverty.

"We are co-ordinating with our international partners to implement the 2030 agenda and its ambitious objective to eradicate poverty, fight inequality and injustice and tackle climate change. We recognize the important work done by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and look forward to updating this House soon, possibly on June 17."

Tory move 'shameful: May

Trudeau was responding to a question by Green party Leader Elizabeth May, who called it shameful of the Conservatives to take Canada out of the treaty.

"It is a key instrument, not just for developing countries, but for dealing with increasing trials here within Canada," May said.

"This is an area where Canada was once extremely helpful."

A dry spring contributed to the massive wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta., while droughts in India, Indonesia and parts of Africa have sowed mayhem.

A drought in Syria, which drove farmers into cities, is seen as a contributing factor in the unrest that sparked a 2011 uprising which, in turn, led to the catastrophic civil war that has left millions homeless and hundreds of thousands dead.

Canada running for security council seat

The Bonn-based secretariat that administered the convention called Canada's decision to withdraw "regrettable."

Canada's withdrawal came when the encroachment of deserts onto usable farmland was becoming an urgent issue. The year before Canada left the treaty, renewed droughts plunged millions into poverty in Africa's Sahel belt and in East Africa.

Canada plans to run in 2020 for a temporary two-year seat on the Security Council; being the only country outside a UN treaty would not be a vote-getter.

The Liberals have also said they will make Canada a signatory to the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which the Conservatives also refused to sign.


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