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The UN at 70: A Canadian Perspective

Group Photo with Lloyd Axworthy

In 1970, to mark the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau addressed the House of Commons and told those in attendance: “Canada has consistently sought, within the measure of her resources and influence, to strengthen the UN’s institutions in the service of peace and the improvement of quality of life for all … it is timely to pledge this government and the people of Canada to continuing support for the UN as the best hope we have that the grave challenges facing Canada and the world can be met.” As we approach the 70th anniversary of what was a remarkable achievement in international cooperation, the attitude of the Canadian government towards the UN seems drastically different. A greater emphasis has been placed on Canada’s part in NATO, the G8, and even the British Commonwealth of late. Yet, according to recent polls, Canadians continue to regard UN peacekeeping as the most important international action this country undertakes. This provides some indication that a renewed Canadian interest in the UN would be both possible and welcomed by many Canadians.
A one-day symposium was held June 12, 2015 that brought together an interdisciplinary mixture of scholars whose interests lie in the history of the UN, Canadian foreign policy, development studies, peace studies, and political science. It assembled those who study the UN using a number of different approaches, not simply the study of policy. These included: the efficacy of the UN as a progressive force; Canadian interactions with the UN; and Canada’s future with the UN. The first of these topics captured some of the idealism that greeted the UN’s birth in 1945 and measure the effectiveness of this project for a better world through the decades to the end of the Cold War. The second topic focused on the intellectual, political, and financial investments that Canadians have made in the United Nations. Prominent and ordinary people alike have had remarkable encounters with the UN, and this panel delved more fully into how the UN and Canada have mutually constituted one another. The final panel looked at the UN in the present and offered cogent analyses of its current operations and how it might move to become a more effective organization in the near future.

The Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University, one of the premier organizations in the country, hosted this event on 12 June 2015 in Hamilton, Ontario. The keynote speaker was former Minister of External Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy. This symposium offered a chance to debate the past, present, and future of Canadian involvement with the UN in a constructive and collegial manner.