Way back in 2015, flush with election victory, newly minted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced “Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years. Well, I have a simple message for you: on behalf of 35 million Canadians, we’re back.”
More specifically, at a high-profile peacekeeping summit in 2917, hosted by Canada, the prime minister promised a 200-soldier Quick Reaction Force for UN peacekeeping. The UN is still waiting. And people are asking.
The U.S., for one, is requesting we keep our promise. A diplomatic note received by Global Affairs Canada in November reminded us: “We are aware that Canada committed to providing a Quick Reaction Force to UN peacekeeping at the Vancouver ministerial. We urge Canada to fulfil this promise.”
Seventy-three years ago, one of Canada’s most honourable contributions to the international community was born. The first armed UN peacekeeping mission, an emergency force formed to deal with the Suez crisis, was created, largely due to the efforts of then Canadian Minister of External Affairs Lester B. Pearson. Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
At one time we were major contributors. In the early 90’s Canada contributed more troops to UN peacekeeping missions than anyone—over 3,000 soldiers. Peacekeeping has continued to grow while our contribution shrinks.
We were a leading contributor under a Conservative government led by Brian Mulroney, our contribution declined under the Liberals, and then collapsed in 2006 under a very different Conservative government commanded by Stephen Harper.
Today, Canada has 58 soldiers and police officers on peacekeeping missions, according to the UN, less than half the number deployed when the PM announced our return.
Earlier this month Minister of Defence Anita Anand participated in a UN peacekeeping conference hosted by South Korea. Our Foreign Minister, Mélanie Joly, the lead minister on peacekeeping, didn’t bother to attend. No mention was made of our promise.
The government has given itself until the end of 2022 to fulfil its promise of the Quick Reaction Force. Then, perhaps, we can fairly say Canada is back.