At the United Nations headquarters in New York, on Tuesday, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Barak Obama – leaders of two friendly neighbouring countries –walked step in step, worked hand in hand, and sat beside each other discussing challenging issues facing the world – from refugees, economy, climate change, gender equality, peacekeeping, and global security scenarios, in general.
On Tuesday, Barak Obama made his last speech as President of the US, and Justin Trudeau made his first speech as Prime Minister of Canada. Trudeau has publicly praised US President Obama for “mentoring” him during their first encounter last year, immediately after his election, last October, as Canada’s Prime Minister.
It was Canada’s re-entry of sorts, into the 193-member UN world family, and re-emergence on the international scene after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decade-long dislike and disdain for the UN.
In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, on Tuesday, September 20, 2016, Prime Minister at the outset stated, “We need to focus on what brings us together, not what divides us. For Canada, that means re-engaging in global affairs through institutions like the United Nations. It doesn’t serve our interests – or the world’s – to pretend we’re not deeply affected by what happens beyond our borders.”
At the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees hosted by President of the United States Barack Obama, also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Trudeau candidly admitted: “we had had many failures…from turning away boats of Jewish and Punjabi refugees, to the shamefully continuing marginalization of Indigenous Peoples.” But he added, “Canadians have opened their arms and their hearts to 31,000 Syrian refugees…welcoming them “not as burdens, but as neighbours and friends.”
However, on the same day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was expressing regret at her handling of refugee crisis last summer, when she accepted Syrian refugees. Her remarks came after her party suffered dismal defeat in state elections this month, to the upstart anti-immigrant party Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD). But, according to Trudeau, “In Canada, we see diversity as a source of strength, not weakness. Our country is strong, not in spite of our differences, but because of them.”
In the same vein, Trudeau told the “International Action and Cooperation on Refugees and Migrants: The Way Ahead”, at the UN, on Monday, “Canada is a nation built from the ground up by immigrants and refugees. We have a proud history of opening our arms – and our borders – to those most in need, and we look forward to welcoming many more migrants and refugees in the coming years. We will continue to lead with warm hearts and open minds.”
On the economy Trudeau, in his speech to the UN, promised, “We’re determined to build an economy that works for everyone – not just the wealthiest 1% – so that every person benefits from economic growth”.
Turning his attention to politics of fear, perpetrated by some for political purposes, PM Trudeau observed, “Fear has never fed a family nor created a single job,” and added, “every single day, we need to choose hope over fear, and diversity over division”.
Canada also promised to fund UN agencies involved in peacekeeping and promoting gender equality, because, according to Prime Minister Trudeau, “ It doesn’t serve our interests – or the world’s – to pretend we’re not deeply affected by what happens beyond our borders.”
As part of the visit to New York, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion announced a package of up to $25 million of support over three years to enhance UN capacity in the area of conflict prevention, mediation and peace building.
This is the kind of activism Canada is known for on world stage. This is the kind of mutually beneficial engagement, on the international scene, that befits Canada. These are the kind of Canadian values that Canada can now project through engagement with the international community at the United Nations.
So, all in all, Tuesday turned out to be a good day for Canada and the United Nations and the world community. As for Canada, it found its natural, well-recognized, passively activist role, and a familiar place in the world community of nations – the United Nations!