Justin Trudeau vs. Stephen Harper

Trudeau’s UN speech was about Canada’s example. Harper’s 10 years ago was about Canada in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a Global Compact Luncheon at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Monday, Sept. 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a Global Compact Luncheon at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Monday, Sept. 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly this afternoon, nearly 10 years to the day after his predecessor, Stephen Harper, made his inaugural address in the same New York temple to multilateralism.

Both speeches ran about 1,500 words, and that’s about all they had in common. The contrast will come as no surprise. Trudeau has given the UN pride of place in his foreign policy, reemphasizing Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping, which is central not just to his Liberal party’s policy but also to its defining mythology. And he’s seeking a temporary seat for Canada on the UN security council.

Harper was critical of the UN from the outset, not an uncommon bent among Conservatives, although by the end of his nine years in power he had surprised many by making a UN-led maternal and child health program a policy centrepiece. Still, his Tory government lost its bid for a turn on the security council membership, a significant embarrassment.

Comparing and contrasting Harper’s Sept. 21, 2006 address and Trudeau’s of Sept. 20, 2016 offers a study in starkly different approaches. (The quotes below rely on an advance text of Trudeau’s speech.)

The Top

Harper launches with minimal fuss straight into a description of Canada’s contribution to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, but also, more importantly, the deployment of 2,500 Canadian troops to the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban:

“All our actions in Afghanistan – civilian and military – are being taken in accordance with the mandate of the United Nations Security Council. In short, we all stand together with the democratically elected government of Afghanistan under the banner of the organization that represents our collective will.

“Let us be realistic. The challenges facing Afghanistan are enormous. There will be no quick fixes. Moreover, success cannot be assured by military means alone. This we all recognize. For success also requires a strong and unwavering civilian contribution: educators, engineers, elections advisors; direct aid and technical assistance. ”

Rather than draw attention to some signature contribution abroad, Trudeau opens by talking about what he learned during last year’s Canadian election race in “coffee shops and church basements and mosques and synagogues.” He says he met Canadians who were optimistic but also feeling anxiety about their economic future, and then he widened his field of vision:

“When leaders are faced with citizens’ anxiety, we have a choice to make: Do we exploit that anxiety or do we allay it? Exploiting it is easy. But in order to allay it, we need to be prepared to answer some very direct questions.

“What will create the good, well-paying jobs that people want, and need, and deserve? What will strengthen and grow the middle class, and help those working hard to join it? What will strengthen and grow the middle class, and help those working hard to join it?”

The middle

After his detailed opening section on Afghanistan, Harper switches to a critique of the UN itself. It’s only here that he allows himself a brief reference to Canadian domestic affairs, holding up as a model his young minority government’s early emphasis on a manageably short list of priorities and a push for more transparency. He touches on longstanding conservative misgivings about the UN:

“Will the new Human Rights Council become a forum where human rights are genuinely put above political maneuvering? Or will it emulate the fate of its failed predecessor organization? But I must tell you, the early signals suggest that too little has changed, that the page has not yet been turned.

“And what will be done to make progress on UN management reform? Earlier this year, Canada’s new government was given a mandate to make our national government more accountable, to ensure taxpayers get full value for their money, and to pursue a clear, focused agenda that produces tangible results. The United Nations should accept nothing less.”

Trudeau didn’t come to the UN to gripe about its shortcomings. Instead, he bridges from talking about listening to the anxieties of middle-class Canadians, to extending much the same perspective out into the wide world—even to refugee populations. After soaking up some applause on mentioning Canada’s welcome of 31,000 Syrian refugees, Trudeau goes on to say this:

“You see, refugees are people with the same hopes and dreams as our own citizens. But where while our people have felt anxiety, Syrians faced catastrophe. Do you want to know where Syria’s middle class is? They’re living in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

“They’re moving across Europe, looking for a place to set down roots, get their kids back in school, find steady work, and be productive citizens. Refugee camps are teeming with Syria’s middle class. Doctors and lawyers. Teachers and entrepreneurs. They’re well educated. They work hard.”

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 25, 2014. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Stephen Harper addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly September 25, 2014. (Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

The finish

Harper ends by circling back to Afghanistan. But he returns to that core topic only after pointedly noting that the UN isn’t just about lofty goals, observing that Canada joined the organization, more than 60 years ago, in order to advance both “our own pragmatic interests and noble aspirations for all of humanity.” And with that balance of realism and idealism established, he concludes:

“Today, Afghanistan leads the list of challenges that we face collectively: peace-building in a nation where there is not yet peace, and where progress requires a wide range of capabilities undertaken by a wide array of our member-states.

“My earnest hope is that we will say with pride to future generations of leaders: we, the United Nations, took up that responsibility in Afghanistan, rose to the challenge, and met it firmly, collectively, successfully.”

Trudeau also circles around, too, in a way. But there is nothing comparable in his text to Harper’s attention to a clearly defined foreign policy challenge. Instead, Trudeau alludes, without quite saying so, to a far broader worry—the political climate created by Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, and by Europe’s ongoing refugee challenge, and perhaps by a prolonged stretch of slow global economic growth:

“Every single day, we need to choose hope over fear, and diversity over division. Fear has never fed a family nor created a single job. And those who exploit it will never solve the problems that have created such anxiety.

“Our citizens, the nearly 7.5 billion people we collectively serve, are better than the cynics and pessimists think they are. They want their problems solved not exploited. Listen, Canada is a modest country. We know we can’t solve these problems alone. We know we need to do this all together. We know it will be hard work. But we’re Canadian and we’re here to help.”


Justin Trudeau vs. Stephen Harper

  1. Gee I wonder why Harper would have been talking about Afghanistan 10 years ago, good grief how sad this is.

    • Yes, how dare Harper bring the realities of what was happening in the world (Afghanistan) to the United Nations. Best to suck up and pretend everything is Rosie and that you are the perfect dupe. It is common knowledge Canadian pulled above its weight in Afghanistan. My guess is, they give two types temporary security seats on the security council. Despots they are hoping they can cajole into better behaviour and suckers and they think will go along with anything the permanent members come up with. Trudeau would be in the latter. He likes to have his ego stroked. Obama has played him like an instrument.

  2. Harper used the military like he used everything else, for political gains only. I think Trudeau is trying to bring back the legacy and reputation that Canada once stood for in the UN, humanity, dignity, and justice in the world, and if Canada receives a seat, bonus Trudeau then, leaves his own legacy. Isolationism from the world is not a solution, it will leave our world in destitution.

    • But we do know, he is playing for the SC seat.

    • Nice rhetoric but it sounds more like liberal political spin doctoring. What political gain was Harper after and how did he expect to achieve that? Come up with some facts not your liberal bs.
      Trudeau is after satisfying his own ego and he is willing to spend our millions billions if necessary and risking the lives of our military who must go even though they probably will not be correctly supplied. Hear anything about how much justin is willing to finance the military? The only thing he will spend is what he thinks will get him that seat.

    • You’re about as delusional as your puppet hero. S##t for brains was speaking to a nearly empty room. What dribbled out his mouth was fairy tale BS and laughable, I almost barfed. Lets see what C##k jaws has to say when body bags stuffed with young Canadian men and women start arriving home from Africa. This whole Liberal “Government” is a joke.

    • Do you mean the UN that is being sued by Haiti for introducing Cholera that killed 10K and is fighting the lawsuit using the defence that even though they are responsible, they cannot be sued….that UN or the UN whose renown peace keepers only weeks ago in South Sudan left its own aides to be beaten to death and gang raped within blocks of their compound with their full knowledge and just ignored repeated calls for help…that UN? Does that UN stand for “humanity, dignity and justice in the world?” Do you do any reading besides the Gerald Butts playbook? The UN through despicable actions has left desperate people more isolated and in worse destitution. Pretending this isn’t true, doesn’t serve anyone.

  3. Macleans’ John Geddes is comparing form (Trudeau) to substance (Harper).

    • Yes and that is not surprising is it?

  4. People ,writers, pundits, politicians, and critics who complained about Canada and its role in Rwanda and the Balkans, about how Canada didn’t do much to stop or prevent the conflicts in each country, well I say Canada did make a major influence, and major impact in these countries, even though their were a lot of lives lost throughout these conflicts, and what is, we have peace in them countries today. What would have happened if Canada wasn’t even involved in these conflicts, would we have peace in these countries today, I say no. Without Canada’s role in these conflicts, maybe they would still be conflicts.

    • What iffing is meaningless. Canada’s part in those conflicts showed the uselessness of the UN’s rules of engagement making Canada’s part one of bystander.

      • Right On!. Don’t forget the Libs got us into Afghanistan. I was and still am against it. Any effect has been washed away like sandcastles on the incoming tide. A lot of unnecessary deaths and injured as well as PTSD.
        Justine is acting on an old 1956 paradigm and even then it was useless when the Egyptians wanted to war with Israel. A reflection of the foolishness of UN rules the and Rwanda. Blue helmets make the peaceniks feel good.

        • It should have been a much more focused mission to go in and get Bin Laden. Instead it turned into a ridiculous exercise in “nation building” where we funneled billions to kleptocrats in Kabul while our troops were used to settle scores between war lords. Glad to see other commentators on here as wary about intervention in Africa as I am, should our men and women have to lay down their lives in the service of corrupt, barbaric and autocratic regimes? i dont think so.

    • Maybe Canada would have revealed as Romeo Dallaire did in his book that there is no peace keeping in regions that are still at war. Canada would have stood up and pointed out that Rwanda was a suicide mission and should classified as active duty. Do have any idea of the shape that Dallaire came back in? He suffered from severe PTSD. These same types of conflicts are happening in other countries that Trudeau suggested we should go to in Africa. His arrogance knows no bounds. Yet when he was in the opposition, he suggested dropping blankets and warm clothing and food. Isn’t that the Trudeau you voted for? Not one who is shopping for war opportunities to further his own ambitions.

  5. The guy is a joke on the world stage he is looking for one thing !! a seat on the UN which is going to cost us billions.His vision of Canada is only his. We have 3 more years until he gets kicked to the curb like all the provincial liberals I just hope Canada can survive him it will take generations to get back to where Canada was before he was elected

  6. It is obvious to anyone with any clue of diplomatic Liberal tripe that Trudeau hopes to bolster his pathetic resume by kissing every UN and NGO organization in the world before the end of the year. Another Chretien/Trudeau doctrine where they believe the best way to make themselves look good is disarm, and run around in blue helmets. His father did much the same ignoring the economic realities at home for his tenure, save dumping billions of graft onto Ontario and Quebec when he needed to win another election. The beauty of today is you can’t hide your BS due to social and other unconventional medias. They can’t sway Canadians using the Communist Broadcasting Network to post fluff for their benefit. It is a new day. The regular American and Canadian voter are pissed. They see Obama and now Trudeau giving away billions of hard earned tax dollars to countries and organizations mean while at home a segment of our population is in need. The trend is obvious. It should play out over the next decade. What is “little potato” going to do if Trump wins? Meanwhile Trudeau is hugging and selfie pic’s to everyone but real hurt Canadians.