NEW YORK — Prime Minister Stephen Harper evoked the sorrow and sacrifice of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan to make the case Thursday for a seat on the powerful United Nations Security Council.
Harper used a solemn speech to the UN General Assembly to remind delegates of the “heavy price” Canada continues to pay as part of the NATO-led mission in the war-ravaged, poverty-racked country, both in terms of lives lost and money spent.
“We pay it in both the resources of Canadian taxpayers, but also with profound sorrow, in the priceless lives of our young men and women who serve there in the Canadian Armed Forces,” Harper said in his speech.
“In Afghanistan, our military efforts have gone hand-in-hand with our reconstruction and development programs there.”
Canada — a founding member of the UN and the seventh-largest contributor to its finances — has also been a world leader in food aid and economic development in Africa, and played a major role in relief efforts following the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, he added.
Harper also made a thinly veiled reference to fears in Canada of protectionist behaviour in the United States, Canada’s largest trading partner and a country that has been struggling to extricate itself from the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
“Nations that do not consider the effects of their economic choices on others may not only hurt their trading partners, but themselves as well,” Harper said.
“Those who succumb to the lure of protectionism soon find that trading partners denied a market also lack the means to be a customer.”
Harper’s speech is designed to press Canada’s case for one of two available berths on the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful decision-making body.
Officials have said Canada has a tough fight against Germany and Portugal to secure one of the seats, which last for two years. Canada has typically held the seat once every decade since the late 1940s; if it fails to win again in October, it will mark the country’s longest absence from the council.
There’s been a full-fledged Canadian lobbying effort in force this week at the UN, with various government ministers in attendance advocating for Canada. Canadian officials have been wearing Canadian flag lapel pins and pressing the point to their UN colleagues that Canada deserves a seat.
In the crowded corridors of UN headquarters this week, however, some have suggested Canada may run into trouble winning a seat, especially among blocs of countries that could decide the race — such as the Arab League and the African Union, which may object to some of the Harper government’s foreign policies.
Earlier Thursday, Harper met with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Peres expressed thanks and appreciation for Canada’s ongoing support of Israel.
“We know we are not alone,” he said.
Harper, meantime, commended Israel and the Palestinian Authority for restarting peace talks.
Former diplomat Colin Robertson predicted Canada won’t have any problems beating Portugal for the seat, currently facing substantial economic problems.
He pointed out that Harper’s growing reputation as an international statesman, the country’s recent hosting of the G8 and G20 summits and the Winter Olympics will ultimately win votes at the UN.
The race will be decided on Oct. 12 when the UN’s 192 ambassadors cast a secret vote.