Canada’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Marc André Blanchard, joined us for a joint event with Le Club Canadien de Toronto on Monday, October 16th to deliver remarks about his international agenda and to discuss the leadership role Canada takes on the world stage.
Host and Canadian Club Toronto Director, Awi Sinha, opened the event with a welcome in both of the country’s official languages. Listing just a few of the Ambassador’s many accomplishments; Sinha highlighted Blanchard’s background in law and business. He also applauded his decision to join the Canadian NAFTA Council in a volunteer role. “Canada is fortunate, in these times, to have a permanent representative to the UN.” Sinha remarked.
Taking the stage, Blanchard was all smiles. “I’m so touched…Sometimes we don’t celebrate our bilingualism enough in this country…it makes us stronger and more relevant.”, he said. He also acknowledged young Canadian excellence by recognizing two groups of students in attendance: University of Waterloo and York University, both finalists in the 2017 HULT Competition.
Ambassador Blanchard began by sharing two things he had quickly come to realize during his time with the UN: Firstly, that the world has very high expectations of Canada. Secondly, that Canadians have the opportunity to make a big difference now more than ever. With the sheer amount of chaos currently restricting the planet, Blanchard suggested that Canada has “a lot to contribute in terms of solutions”. In a conversation with Blanchard, the Ethiopian Ambassador to the UN praised Canada’s reintroduction on the world stage, saying “…you have the ability to make things happen like very few countries in the world have.”
Staying relevant and involved in our international community were two ideas that the Ambassador re-iterated frequently in his address. According to Blanchard, the current agenda of the world as a whole is “tailor-made” for Canada and Canadians. He noted that investing our time and energy on international projects will not only help people around the world, but will also maintain Canada’s relevance.
Discussing Canada’s showing at the recent UN General Assembly, Blanchard couldn’t have been more pleased. He lauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech as the high point, and applauded what is considered as Canada’s most active opening ever. Co-hosting 20 events, taking part in 40 bilateral meetings and having delegates participate in over 200 events meant Canada was actively staying in the spotlight.
In response to the ongoing conflict in Syria, Canada has gained credibility relating to immigration, Blanchard said. He recalled how Canada was able to remedy a Security Council deadlock by mobilizing enough member states to help the people of Aleppo. The end of this deadlock meant a call on the Syrian government to allow outside humanitarian aid and allowed evacuation for a portion of the population. Of course, the situation in Syria is still dire. Blanchard reminded the audience that this intervention was too little too late for many of the people of Syria. But Canada’s push to the world meant that there was help on the way for those still on the ground. “Our willingness to lead those difficult conversations at the UN meant steps in the right direction were taken.”
Protecting human rights around the world is one of the main priorities for the UN. However, these situations are precarious and fragile, oftentimes. Naming conflicts in Myanmar and Iraq, as well as the rise of the alt-right in North America and across the world, Blanchard said we must remain vigilant. When “many in the rest of the world…[choose] to look elsewhere” Canada has to be the one to bite the bullet and adapt our advocacy. The Ambassador insisted that “preaching, imposing and threatening will not work”, and instead we must always focus on partnerships, support and sharing our ideas and solutions.
The future in the UN’s hands is bright, Blanchard said. The Canadian government will once again join the peacekeeping forces of the UN. Currently, the forces have 125,000 peacekeepers on the ground in 16 conflicts around the world. He also spoke excitedly about the UN’s agenda on development. In 2015, history was made when 193 member states agreed on a strategic plan to improve the well-being of the planet and its people. He was referencing Agenda 2030, which highlights 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) including ending poverty, fighting climate change and strengthening gender equality that will contribute to a truly healthy world. At the request of former Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon, Blanchard began to look into the economic demands of this program. After discovering the large amount of capital needed to finance Agenda 2030, the Ambassador concluded that convincing the business world to align their investments with SDGs would be the only feasible solution. A working group established by Blanchard and the Jamaican Ambassador to the UN has begun to do just that: helping to align the private sector with sustainable development.
To close, the Ambassador discussed Canada’s campaign for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2021 and 2022. “We believe that we can contribute even more significantly to resolving major issues relating to development, peace and security.” Blanchard said. Pointing to Canada’s comeback on the international stage, he also affirmed that “Canada’s voice is one that the world today wants to hear.”
During question period with host Awi Sinha, Blanchard was asked about Canada’s likelihood of securing the open seat on the Security Council. “These things are highly competitive.” He said, pointing to other strong contenders Ireland and Norway. The chances are good, he remarked, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t put our best foot forward. Votes are given by member states for a variety of reasons and we should never be too presumptuous, he said. Another question from the crowd prompted discussion about reforms to UN infrastructure. The Ambassador believed the focus should be on management reform, reform of the development sector and peace operations. This boils down to managing resources and allocating funds properly, he said. “In the context of the UN, it’s a big, big change.”
The United Nations is a large, complex structure. Despite the best efforts of its member states, there will always be conflict and boxes left unchecked. It’s easy to fault the UN. But ultimately, it is up to each individual state to be committed to a better and healthier future for the planet. Before judging the organization, Blanchard suggested we all employ one of his favourite quotes: “The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.”
With our survival and development resting on the ability to unify and work toward a sustainable planet, we need a leader. Remaining a figure on the international stage bodes well for not only Canada, but for the rest of the world.
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Special thanks to Ambassador Marc-André Blanchard for being a guest of Canadian Club Toronto. Thanks extended to Canadian Club Toronto Director Awi Sinha for hosting the event and Monique Telmosse, President of Club Canadien de Toronto, for thanking.