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O, Canada, Where Are You at the #UNGA?


Prime Minister Trudeau addressing the Unifor Constitutional Convention in Quebec City, Aug. 19, 2019. He was not scheduled to come to the UN General Assembly opening session in September, but deciding who would speak in his stead has been a belabored process for Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a point of bringing Canada back to the international stage at the United Nations to win a coveted nonpermanent seat on the Security Council for the 2021-22 term. But amid Trudeau’s re-election campaign and an international scandal around his use of blackface, Canada has sent a low-level delegation to the annual General Assembly opening session. The country has even been delayed to speaking to Monday, Sept. 30, the last day of the world leaders’ debates.

After dragging out to the last minute the mystery of who would speak on behalf of Canada at the UNGA, as it is called, Canada was taken off the list of speakers for Sept. 24. Technically, the citation was “head of state.” Since Trudeau was not scheduled to come the UN, the speaker was supposed to be Gov. Gen. Julie Payette. But Payette never showed up in New York City.

Then Canada unveiled on Sept. 25 — after much uncertainty — that its ambassador to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, will address the General Assembly for Canada, on Sept. 30. Ambassadors rarely speak for their countries at the UNGA. The delegation that has been attending the high-level debate is led by the deputy foreign minister, Marta Morgan, who has been accompanied by two former prime ministers, Jean Chrétien and Joe Clark.

Morgan left the UN on Sept. 27, when Blanchard took over as head of the delegation. While Canada is active during the UNGA and has been holding side events, such underrepresentation could undermine its campaign for an elected seat on the Security Council. Ireland and Norway, which are also running for the two open seats in the Western Europe and Others regional group, sent the highest level of representation to New York for this year’s opening session of the General Assembly.

The timing is crucial, as this Assembly debate is the last time that UN member states will gather en masse before the Assembly votes in June 2020, choosing the winners for the Western as well as other regional blocs for 2021-22 Security Council term. The Western bloc contest is especially keen, pitting Canada against two like-minded countries for the two seats.

The outcome of the Canadian election, to be held on Oct. 21, could also affect the country’s Security Council campaign, although the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Andrew Scheer, promised to keep the campaign going if he is elected.

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This article was updated.


Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.

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O, Canada, Where Are You at the #UNGA?
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4 years ago

The “low level delegation” is, in part, because of the “Caretaker Convention,” which restricts how much government business can be conducted during an election campaign, in this case leading up to the 21 October election. More on that here

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