Harper at the UN: The Speech He Could (But Won’t) Give

In a few days, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will address the UN General Assembly. In an alternate universe, imagine a scenario where he is planning to use the event to announce a fundamental new direction for his foreign policy. Perhaps he realizes, in the wake of several turbulent months in global politics, that ‘no going along to get along’ is proving a bit of a doctrinal flop. Or maybe the Prime Minister is conscious that, to date, he has made little impact on the world stage, and that he is aware too that polls suggest this may be his last year in office.

Whatever the reason, the speech might go something like this:

Your excellencies and distinguished guests, it is great honour to appear once again before this important gathering. Although I have not addressed the General Assembly for several years, I want to assure you that this in no way reflects upon the importance I attach to the United Nations and its work. The UN is a great undertaking. Like all great endeavours, it proceeds imperfectly, in fits and starts. Too often we focus on the UN’s many failures. We must not lose sight of the fact that this body, and our collective commitment to the obligations we assume as UN Member States, is still the best hope for the peaceful and prosperous world we all aspire to leave to our children.

My focus today is not to condemn others, but to commit Canada.

We meet today at a time of great global uncertainty and in the face of growing risks to the UN’s core objectives: peace, freedom and prosperity. Rather than detail these at length, I propose to outline the actions that my government will take over the next year to meet those risks and to advance peace, freedom and prosperity in the world. My focus today is not to condemn others, but to commit Canada.

I do so in the firm belief that in today’s interdependent world, the security and prosperity of the few cannot be won at the expense of the insecurity and misery of the many.

First, as regards the challenges to global peace and security, Canada and its NATO partners will continue to condemn and sanction Russia’s destabilizing and illegal support for the armed insurgency in the Ukraine. And Canada fully supports the steps the U.S. and other allies are taking to meet new threats in the Middle East.

But we mustn’t fool ourselves. We must confront aggression and terror, but military means alone will not bring a peaceful solution in Ukraine, nor in Iraq, Syria and the wider region.

It’s better to jaw-jaw than to war-war, as Winston Churchill put it. In decades past, Canada played an active role bringing warring parties to the negotiating table. We need to do so again and with added urgency, and alongside partners in the UN, other governments and civil society. To this end, I have asked my foreign minister to create an Office for Conflict Resolution, and I will ask Parliament to provide it with a yearly budget of $100 million dollars, half of which should be disbursed to the UN and other global mediation efforts.

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Canada’s commitment to human rights is unwavering. If today we are failing to stop the carnage in Syria, we can do much to protect the rights of those many hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled the country. To this end, I am pleased to announce that Canada will initiate a program, in collaboration with Canadian civil society and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to resettle 30,000 Syrian refugees in Canada over the next year.

Furthermore, in the wake of news this past week that a many hundreds more asylum-seekers drowned in the Mediterranean, fleeing tyranny in Eritrea, and war in Somalia, Libya, and South Sudan, Canada stands prepared to increase substantially the scope and pace of its overseas refugee resettlement programs, and will task substantial, additional personnel to its embassies in Cairo, Nairobi and Tunis for this purpose.  Geography should not be the key determinant in sharing the global refugee burden.

To further advance human dignity and freedom, Canada will increase its efforts to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be agreed in the next few months, include strong commitments to human rights on the part of both rich and poor countries. Economic and political freedom, social and civil rights, rights to food and to free speech—all must advance together.

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Some developing countries resist such linkages. They are wrong to do so. Yet they win support for their position by pointing to the reluctance of rich countries to let their trade, aid, investment and environmental policies be scrutinized for their human rights impact in poor countries. Therefore, I am announcing today that in the renewed debate on the SDGs, Canada will work with others to ensure human rights accountability for rich and poor countries alike.

The ebola crisis in west Africa is worsening. The UN has called for $1billion additional funds, and I believe more will be required. The governments affected have asked for medical and security personnel.

Today, Canada is responding. We will provide immediately $250 million to the UN efforts. Further, I have asked my health and public safety ministers to meet urgently with their provincial counterparts and Canadian civil society to draft an all-Canada plan to send 2,000 Canadian medical personnel to the region within the next month.

Finally, at the climate summit that Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is hosting this week, I will detail plans to introduce a carbon tax in Canada. It will be modeled on legislation in British Columbia, which has won widespread global praise for its impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions while contributing to economic growth and the development of renewable energy sources.

Thank you.

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