NEW YORK — Canada launched its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council with the diplomatic equivalent of boisterous election rallies as large crowds turned out Wednesday to watch the campaigner-in-chief.
A cellphone-photo-snapping throng of diplomats showed up to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement in the foyer of the UN Headquarters, a rarely used venue last set aside for Pope Francis.
The crowds got bigger during the day.
The prime minister announced the intention to compete in 2020 for a two-year term, which could potentially end the longest spell Canada has ever gone without a seat on the influential decision-making body.
He followed that up by speaking to a UN forum on women’s rights, and then to an evening gala. He drew ovations in the standing-room-only UN auditorium for proudly branding himself a feminist and describing the work that went into recruiting the women who eventually formed his gender-parity cabinet.
The next event was a boardroom meeting with Ban Ki-moon where the UN secretary general joked about the larger-than-normal gang of photographers: “I don’t know why you are so popular.”
Trudeau replied: “These guys are here for you. I’m sure they’re here every day.”
Several UN staff insisted this was not, in fact, normal. One said Hillary Clinton or Vladimir Putin might draw a bigger crowd, but a female UN staffer said there is unusually high interest in a young leader who’s actually proud to call himself a feminist: “It’s like Beatlemania … It’s a huge deal.”
As for the substance of Canada’s ambitions at the UN, it has yet to be laid out.
The government promised a renewed commitment to peacekeeping, although Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said specifics are still being worked out on locations and mission types. He did say troop numbers would be lower than in past generations, because developing countries have since become more involved in peacekeeping — so Canada can focus on other means to support missions.
Dion also reminded people about Canada’s long history with the UN, taking a bipartisan tack by specifically citing the work of former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney against apartheid-era South Africa.
Chris Plunkett, a former diplomat who was part of the last security-council bid, said it’s a great idea to draw prominent Canadians into the campaign.
He specifically mentioned Mulroney, his foreign minister Joe Clark, Chretien foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy and former governor general Michaelle Jean, now head of the Francophonie.
But he said the most important thing the government can do is have its foreign minister reach out — constantly.
“We’re so close to New York,” he said. “The foreign minister can fly in that morning, do 10 bilateral meetings, one-on-ones with a number of ambassadors and fly out that night. You don’t even need to stay overnight. What other country can do that? Maybe Mexico, if they’re pushing it.”
The campaign for the council seat is no shoo-in.
Ian Martin, executive director of the UN’s Security Council Report, said there will be strong rivals in Canada regional category. He said that may explain why Trudeau picked a long time frame, which stretches past his government’s present mandate and beyond the already crowded races.
Trudeau stressed his commitment to gender equality Wednesday, whenever he had a chance. He told the packed auditorium at the UN that he looks forward to the day when a man being a feminist isn’t considered news.
He said Canada still has challenges — including unequal pay and violence against women, particularly aboriginal women. But he said people in powerful positions need to reach out and design family-friendly policies that promote economic equality between the sexes.