Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer signalled Tuesday that he isn’t worried about Canada losing its bid for a United Nations Security Council seat because of the cuts to foreign aid spending he would make as prime minister.
“It’s more important to me that I help Canadians get ahead than curry favour at the United Nations,” Scheer told reporters at a campaign event in Toronto.
“I am more interested in making sure that hardworking Canadian families get ahead, that they have more in their pockets, that they are able to provide for their families, raise their children, and achieve their goals. That is our priority, that is our focus.”
Scheer announced that a Conservative government would slash foreign aid spending by 25 per cent, reducing funding to what he describes as “middle- and upper-income countries” such as Italy, Brazil, and Turkey, as well as “hostile regimes,” such as Iran.
He said a Tory government would also “redirect” $700 million in foreign aid to the countries in greatest need, “while using the savings to help Canadians like you get ahead.” Tories say the money that isn’t sent overseas would instead be used to pay for measures they are promising on the campaign trail, including a $6-billion tax cut.
Canada is currently campaigning for one of two temporary seats on the UN Security Council, with a vote set for next June. Ireland and Norway are seen as Canada’s top competition to serve a two-year term on the council, beginning in 2021. Ireland and Norway hold an advantage for launching their campaigns earlier than Canada.
Asked how a cut to the foreign assistance budget might impact Canada’s bid, Scheer said this country’s allies already “know our capabilities when it comes to pulling our weight on the world stage.”
Scheer said a Conservative government would focus on “reinvigorating” ties with allies in NATO, NORAD, and the Five Eyes security partners. He also said he wants to strengthen relations with several countries, including Japan, India, and Israel.
Yet Scheer denied that this would amount to a “go-it-alone” approach to foreign policy that would mean pulling back from the multilateralism favoured by the Liberal government.
“This is about reinvigorating our relationship, strengthening our relationship on a multilateral level with our traditional allies and countries that share our same values,” he said.
Asked if his policy would make Canada “smaller in the world,” Scheer again suggested Canada’s track record in two World Wars, the conflict in Korea, and war in Afghanistan will matter in the UNSC campaign.
“But when it comes to obtaining that seat by using Canadian taxpayers’ dollars to be sent to countries that rank relatively high [on the development index] — middle and high-income countries — that is a disagreement. That is a choice I would not make,” he said. “I would take that money, bring it back here at home to help Canadians get ahead.”
The Tory leader also promised Tuesday he would scrap funding to the United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), an organization that aids Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. Scheer has accused the organization of being anti-Semitic and helping the Hamas terrorist group.
Justin Trudeau’s government reinstated funding to UNRWA that was cut by the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
Scheer is not the only federal leader who has pledged to cut foreign aid spending. People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier has promised to do the same.
The former Conservative foreign affairs minister said focusing financial support for strictly “emergency humanitarian action” would save billions. Bernier has also campaigned on the promise to pull Canada out of all UN commitments, claiming that being a signatory on non-binding international agreements “threatens our sovereignty.”
The Security Council is arguably the UN’s most influential decision-making body, but Canada’s last bid for one of two non-permanent member seats in 2010 was a historic failure. Though Germany easily won a seat that year, Canada pulled out of the run-off race for the second seat when it became clear the much smaller Portugal was going to win.
The loss was seen as a major international embarrassment for Harper’s government. But both the Harper and Trudeau governments made significant foreign aid contributions to the UN since the stinging defeat.
Harper’s government pledged $3.5 billion in funding toward maternal, newborn and child health initiatives. The Trudeau government has pledged to add billions of dollars more. At the Women Deliver 2019 Conference earlier this year, Trudeau pledged to allocate $1.4 billion annually for women and girls’ health and rights, starting in 2023.
The money helps build Canada’s reputation on the world stage — and sweetens the country’s chances of winning support from member nations ahead of next year’s Security Council vote.
Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, told HuffPost in an interview last year that having a Canadian at the table would open new avenues for the country to have an impact on foreign policy.
He pointed to Canada’s history of peacekeeping, and explained a Security Council seat would help the country address issues of climate change, violent extremism, economic security, and empowering women and girls on a global level.
“We have a proven record of working with other member states to bring fresh ideas and innovative approaches to tackle complex problems, from peacekeeping and policing to peacebuilding and transition,” Blanchard said.
With files from Althia Raj, a file from The Canadian Press