Canada’s UN Security Council seat is not worth the cost
On Nov. 19, 2019, Canada abandoned a longstanding, bi-partisan tradition of voting against UN resolutions that single out Israel. Instead, it supported one put forth by North Korea, Egypt, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, and the Palestinians that ignores crucial context of the conflict. The symbolic move is in direct opposition to the liberal democratic values that Canada has always championed both domestically and on the international stage.
The shift is disturbing for multiple reasons. Canada has consistently maintained a foreign policy focused on promoting democracy and human rights–regardless of which party has been in power. In recent years, Canada has been one of the loudest voices condemning the Maduro regime in Venezuela and abuses in Ukraine.
Canada has also been a consistent ally of Israel. In July 2018, at the request of Canada, the US, and European countries, Israel played an indispensable role in rescuing hundreds of “White Helmet” rescue workers in Syria. According to Canada’s Deputy Head of Mission in Israel at the time, “there was no way to save their lives” without Israel. In 2019, Canada revised its free trade agreement with Israel and adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism–a definition that recognizes as antisemitic efforts that uniquely single out the Jewish State.
So why the apparent contradiction?
The most obvious answer is that the Government of Canada has decided that the ends justify the means. Canada is hoping to gain one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council in 2021. In order to get the requisite votes, Canada needs dictatorships, autocracies, and the human rights abusers of the world to choose it over its competitors, Norway and Ireland. Sacrificing moral values and switching a symbolic vote here or there could prove beneficial in this regard.
Morally, though, this move comes at an obvious cost.
It is also surely costly to Canadian taxpayers. According to a Nov. 4 CBC article, as of Sept. 30, Canada had already spent close to $2 million on its campaign for a Security Council seat. The article further notes “that sum does not include the salaries of the 13 government employees appointed to work full-time on Canada’s bid,” adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the price tag.
But the UN is not the only arena where Canada has made costly choices recently. This summer, UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinians, was caught in a major scandal, including accusations of “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, and other abuses of authority” by senior UNRWA officials. Unlike other Western democracies, such as the Netherlands and Switzerland, which froze funds when the story broke, Global Affairs Canada simply expressed its “concern” and cited the fact that its $50-million contribution had already been provided. But why, given the potential for significant misuse of taxpayer dollars, were funds not withdrawn? Why was a stronger promise of future funding being suspended not given?
Another example is that of Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberal government’s strong stance against BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions). Yet, Global Affairs Canada is providing at least $500,000 to a group promoting boycotts of Israel. When alerted to this apparent discrepancy between policy and practice, Global Affairs did not rescind funds, but instead added an unsatisfactory provision to the grant that states no funds will be used for BDS campaigns. However, money is fungible, rendering such promises empty. If Canada truly rejects BDS, it should have absolutely no financial relationship with groups that advance discriminatory campaigns against Israel.
There are also costs for regular Canadian citizens. Consider the virulent antisemitism wrapped in anti-Israel packaging seen on Toronto campuses the past couple weeks–whether it be kosher food being labelled “pro-Israel” or Israeli speakers needing police protection. What message is the government sending to young Canadians with this new foreign policy approach?
However, all is not yet lost. Canada can refuse to be a tool in the hands of human rights abusing regimes and side with democracy at the UN. It can freeze and revoke funds to groups that can no longer be entrusted with Canadian taxpayer funds. It can ensure that there are checks and balances in place to guarantee that foreign aid is in line with stated policy.
But, to do this it will have to decide whether maintaining its moral character is more important than the fleeting boost in diplomatic prestige a UN Security Council seat brings. If the price is abandoning Canadian values, then surely it is not worth it.
Becca Wertman is Canada Liaison and Managing Editor at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.
The attacks on Saudi oil facilities in September cannot so far be confirmed to have originated from Iran, according to a UN report.
The Saudi Kingdom believes Iran was the nation behind drone and cruise missile attacks which earlier sent a portion of the global oil supply temporarily offline, but a leaked UN report says investigators cannot find enough proof of origin.
“At this time, [the UN] is unable to independently corroborate that the cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles used in these attacks are of Iranian origin,” Secretary General António Guterres wrote in the report, seen by Reuters and AFP news agencies.
The Houthi movement currently fighting against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has taken responsibility for the attacks, while Iran has denied involvement.
Currently, some believe the Houthis could not execute such a large-scale attack without outside help, but others have argued the opposite pointing to the relatively low cost of drone strikes, with most costing no more than $15,000 per hit, according to an expert speaking to the New York Times.
While drone strikes are relatively cheap, the report interestingly did find that the Houthis “have not shown to be in possession, nor been assessed to be in possession” of the drones used in the attacks.
This key caveat could leave open the possibility of outside help or involvement.
Becca Wertman is Managing Editor and Canada Liaison at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.
December 10 marks Human Rights Day, a day meant to recognize and reiterate the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the Declaration captures the fundamental human rights of equality, life, and freedom, among others, which are supposed to underpin everything the UN does.
However, what I experienced last week at the UN in Geneva was the polar opposite of this promise.
On December–5, 2019, as a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Israel underwent its regular review by a panel tasked with evaluating State Parties’ adherence to this convention.
There was some hope that this would not be a standard UN attack against Israel. This was the same UN CERD Committee that in August reviewed the Palestinians, and took them to task for the deplorable presence of incitement and antisemitism in Palestinian textbooks. Perhaps the review of Israel would be fair; criticisms, which are unavoidable, would at least be based on fact.
Unfortunately, my speck of optimism was misplaced.
The Committee members’ evaluation of Israel was informed in large part by a group of organizations that seek to delegitimize the Jewish State. These non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which falsely claim to champion human rights and fight discrimination, utilized the review of Israel to promote racism and deny universal rights to Jews.
Their vitriol was in full effect during an informal briefing between NGOs and Committee members, where NGOs could provide the Committee with information they could use in their evaluation and answer questions. Other than me, the Managing Editor of NGO Monitor and someone who believes that the Jewish people deserve a sovereign state of our own, the NGO representatives were all virulently hostile to Israel.
What ensued in the hour-long meeting was a well-coordinated tirade against the only Jewish State, its right to exist, its right to defend its population, and the latter’s right to life. Very few comments made were actually based on fact. Most were based on pure hatred.
One familiar theme was the false canard of “apartheid”. An NGO official claimed that “there is an arbitrary categorization of Palestinians under different names imposed on Palestinians by Israel… Muslims, Christians, Druze… in order to deny Palestinian identity.” Needless to say, there was much consternation when I pointed out that many Druze, at least the ones I know, do not identify as Palestinian, but as Druze, and more importantly, it is not their role or mine to determine how anyone should self-identify.
Nor were they pleased when it was finally my turn to speak. I told the Committee that allegations that Israel has a “shoot to kill” policy are false, and that Israel faces real security concerns, including rockets regularly fired from Gaza and terror attacks throughout the country–such as the one I was in at Sarona Market in June 2016.
What made them most enraged was when I highlighted the widely endorsed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism (adopted by the Canadian government in June 2019). I encouraged Committee members to use the definition as a tool to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism. As the NGO activists fully understood, this definition renders most of their attacks as antisemitic, in particular claims that Israel’s “raison d’état” is racist.
Unfortunately, the NGO rhetoric was parroted by members of the Committee in their review of Israel. As mentioned in an official UN press release about the proceedings, Israel’s Permanent Representative to the UN took note that “some of the non-governmental organizations that submitted reports to the Committee were exploiting this opportunity to present false facts that were later reflected in the questions raised by some Committee Experts.”
The UN ought to uphold the values of universality and not deny rights to select groups–especially at the time of year surrounding Human Rights Day. It is my sincere hope that in their forthcoming report, the Committee members will understand the absurdity of the NGO claim that every Israeli policy–from its security concerns to its very existence–is only in place to discriminate against the Palestinians. Such NGO statements are not only false, but are also antisemitic and contrary to universal human rights.
The Trudeau government will be reducing government revenue by $3-6 billion in order to cut taxes by roughly $25 per month for working Canadians.
According to a motion tabled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Ottawa will increase the personal income tax exemption by $2,000, to $15,000.
The proposed amendment to the Income Tax Act would ensure that Canadians who make under $147,000 a year would pay no taxes on the first $15,000, with benefits being spread out over four years.
Interestingly, given the wording of the motion, a dual-income family earning nearly $300,000 would receive the full tax cut.
While some wealthy Canadians would receive the cut, nearly 1.1 million Canadians would pay no tax at all as a result of the increase.
Based on the government’s own estimates, implementing the cut will cost government revenues of $3 billion in the first year, rising to $6 by 2023.
While any tax cuts will be sure to be received well by Canada’s rather overtaxed population, especially when you look at the average tax rates across our southern neighbour, the timing of the cut may worry deficit hawks.
As of now, Canada is on track to hit a $27.4 billion dollar annual deficit, multiple times higher than what the Trudeau government promised, and on track to balance no sooner than two decades from now.
With 22 years needed to balance, according to the nation’s Finance Department, Canada could be in a problematic situation should a global recession occur.
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre slammed the minority Liberal government and the media at a Sunday press conference in Ottawa, where he called on Finance Minister Bill Morneau to come up with a plan to “restart” the sagging Canadian economy that shed 71,000 jobs last month.
“Others here in the bubble, inside Ottawa, might be fascinated by the palace intrigue of leadership politics,” replied Poilievre to a reporter’s question about his party leader Andrew Scheer’s viability at the Conservative helm.
“But if you’re one of those 71,000 people who just lost your job in November, you probably couldn’t care less.”
Poilievre and the Opposition Conservatives are calling for on Morneau, “to present an urgent fall economic update to salvage Canada’s teetering economy.”
Last week, Statistics Canada posted the worst one-month job loss numbers in the country for a decade as 71,000 additional people were out of work for November 2019. This included 18,000 in British Columbia and 18,000 in Alberta. It was especially terrible news for Alberta as it has already shed more than 150,000 jobs since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first took office in 2015.
According to the Carleton MP, whose riding is on the outskirts of the “Ottawa bubble”, the update should come with “major tax cuts for entrepreneurs and workers, so they can spend and invest and get out economy moving again.”
The Conservatives also want the government to cut “the insane, high levels of red tape holding (entrepreneurs) down,” said Poilievre. “(And) reassure investors by presenting a reasonable plan to help phase out the deficit in the medium term.”
With just five sitting days in the House of Commons scheduled before the Christmas break, Poilievre took exception with media queries about whether there was enough time to accomplish the task.
“You seem to be suggesting that our prime minister spent his first 10 days after the election surfing rather than working… the election was in October, they’ve had plenty of time,” replied Poilievre, referencing Trudeau’s Tofino trip, a post-election holiday he took after the October 21 vote.
“The storm clouds of our economy have been gathering overhead for a long time (and) the average Canadian wasn’t surfing in November. The average Canadian was worried about his or her job…and then we got a report that south of the border they had a quarter million new jobs.”
“So this is a made in Canada problem. It requires urgent action and we’re calling on the government to take that action by calling for a fall economic update.”
As for Morneau, Poilievre said if the finance minister were “competent, he’s got it already written. But that is not a safe assumption.”
“We’re prepared to work through the Christmas break, if necessary… and I’m sorry if Liberals have vacation plans. Cancel them.”
Asked whether the Conservatives red-tape cutting, lower taxes mantra was in need of an overhaul in light of the previous election result that boosted Conservatives presence in the Commons but failed to unseat Trudeau, Poilievre bristled.
“The trendy pundits that you bring on CBC… they tell us that we need to abandon everything we believe in. That we need to embrace big government, high deficits and high taxes,” replied the Carleton MP.
“That is the absolute worst thing Conservatives could do. That would be an electoral, political and economic disaster for the country if we went down that road. Our goal is not just to fit in with the four socialist parties. Our goal will be to stand out. To stand out as the only voice of taxpayers.”