OTTAWA—Maxime Bernier (or the person who writes his tweets) is at it again. The latest broadside by the People’s Party of Canada leader accuses the prime minister of supporting a “World Government” (through a proposed United Nations Parliamentary Assembly) and pressing for open borders in signing the UN Global Compact for Migration.
The tweets were appropriately satirized and criticized in equal measure by columnists and political opponents.
But, remarkably, there is still a groundswell of people out there for whom the larger UN is a subversive organization, pressing the agenda for globalism over national interests.
That tin-hat brigade could not be more wrong. While others have rebuked “Mad Max” for his insinuation, I would point out the World Federalist Movement has been around for a long time, and its objective, something like the Star Trek’s “Federation,” has gained as much traction as Esperanto (you might have to look it up).
Hence, as a former public servant, and having worked both for and with the UN, I offer a primer for Bernier and his disciples.
The multilateral system to which we belong was established in light of two major failures of the 20th century: the Great Depression and Second World War. The Depression can be linked to the rise of protectionism in the United States and Europe, the Second World War to the inability of the League of Nations to stop aggression and resolve conflicts. At the same time, there were significant disparities in income around the world.
In response to the need for economic development and reduced protectionism, the “Bretton Woods” organizations were established. Named after the location in New Hampshire where the 44 founding countries (including Canada) met in 1944, the institutions that grew out of the meeting—the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (or GATT, later the World Trade Organization)—opened up the world for trade and development and ensured financial stability.
Canada joined with others in 1945 to establish the UN with the objective of working to ensure security and conflict resolution between countries, while at the same time continuing the work of organizations like the International Telegraph Union (now International Telecommunication Union) to regulate communications and the Health Organization of the League of Nations to set health standards. To these were added agencies dealing with civil aviation, refugees, human rights, and humanitarian aid.
As Canadians, we have to recognize that without the multilateral system, we are limited in our options. Either we act bilaterally as a satellite of the United States, or we work multilaterally as a member of the UN, NATO, the Commonwealth, Francophonie, IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.
To those people who live in fear of globalism, I might remind them Canadian diplomats are involved in multilateral organizations to work for our interests. We have a small population with a vast territory, which relies on relationships with other countries to benefit our citizens. We need a rules-based international system to survive.
It is not cynicism to suggest all nations act in their own interests. But the history of multilateral organizations has been that whenever an issue has arisen that requires collaboration, countries have joined together in seeking mutual interest.
Since the establishment of the multilateral system there have been amazing changes in the world, not in spite of, but because countries realize they have to act in concert with others to accomplish objectives. To paraphrase John Donne, “no state is an island.” The result has been the eradication of smallpox and polio, standardized labour laws, safe air travel, human rights, easy communications, a thriving world economy, and, yes, orderly migration.
If the UN has failed, it has been at its centre, at the General Assembly and Security Council, when outlier nations act on the basis of narrow interests or prejudice. The frequent attacks on Israel are offensive and the comments on human rights by serial violators are hypocritical. At the Security Council, vetoes held by the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., and France, result in inertia. There is no doubt that reform is needed there.
But that does not mean the multilateral system as a whole is a failure or the standard-bearer for globalism or a “World Government.” It does its best, and Canada, rightly, is involved in everything from regulatory matters on health and trade to humanitarian work. That is where the heavy lifting and successes are found.
I have been a critic of the international system in the past, and I know as much as anyone where the flaws lie. But being an active member of multilateral organizations like the UN has always been good for Canada. And as a former minister of foreign affairs, Bernier should know better.
Andrew Caddell is retired from Global Affairs Canada, where he was a senior policy adviser. He previously worked as an adviser to Liberal governments. He is a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a principal of QIT Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hill Times
Enter your email address to
register a free account.