Canada is making a bid to take a seat on the United Nations Security Council for a two-year term beginning in 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today.

Flanked by five of his female cabinet ministers, Trudeau kicked off a two-day visit to the UN headquarters in New York CIty with the announcement in the lobby. 

Trudeau received a warm welcome from a crowd of Canadian UN employees and diplomats as he underscored Canada's commitment to tackling climate change, helping Syrian refugees and promoting gender equality

Canada's bid for Security Council seat10:38

Canada is prepared to play a leading role on the world stage, determined to "revitalize" Canada's peacekeeping efforts, support civilian institutions that prevent conflict and promote international peace and security.

"This is the Canada of today, this is how we will build the world of tomorrow," Trudeau said.

Noting that Canada last had a seat at the UN Security Council in 2000, Trudeau said "it's time for Canada to step up once again."

Respect for human rights

Respect for human rights and dedication to diversity and inclusion are central to how Canada defines itself, Trudeau said.

"These core values not only lead to greater equality among citizens, but also play a pivotal role in ensuring peace and security within and between nations," he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said Canada also has plans to beef up its peacekeeping role, though he said it's too early to give details on how that could take shape. The nature of peacekeeping has changed, with a trend to outside forces helping train local troops.

"We are in discussions with the UN and our allies and partners to see what would be the optimal way for Canada to re-engage itself in peacekeeping missions," he said.

Answering questions from reporters after the announcement, the prime minister defended his decision to stay on track with a $15-billion deal to supply light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia in spite of its well-known human rights violations. In principle, a new government can't simply undo contracts signed by the previous administration, even if it doesn't like the deal.

Former foreign affairs minister on Canada's UN bid8:26

Saudi Arabia arms deal

"It would indeed be just about impossible for Canada to conduct business in the world, or any country, for that matter, if there was a perception that any contract that went beyond the life cycle of a given government might not be honoured," he said.

Trudeau on future Canadian UN Peacekeeping1:40

Last month, Trudeau revealed Canada would push for a seat on the 15-member council during a joint press conference with Ban in Ottawa. At that time, he confirmed the government was looking at "a number of windows" to evaluate opportunities to mount a successful bid.

Canada 'back in the world'

Fen Hampson, a professor at Carleton University and director of the global security and politics program at the International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, said said securing a seat is important to the prime minister's political narrative that "Canada is back in the world."  

"If we are going to jump the queue — and there may be good reasons to do so — we are going to have to mount a particularly effective campaign and explain why we deserve a seat now," he told CBC News. "Either way, it's going to be a high-stakes campaign."

Currently there are two other countries running for two seats in the 2021-2022 term in the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) to which Canada belongs: Ireland and Norway. 

Canada has had a seat on the UN Security Council every decade since its inception, but in 2010 the federal Conservative government withdrew its candidacy when it became clear it would not receive the votes required to win the seat.

The five permanent veto-wielding members on the Security Council are the U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia and China, also known as the P5. The remaining 10 seats are distributed to countries on a regional, rotating basis.

Canada has held a seat on the UN Security Council six times. Its last term was in 1999-2000.

Advancing gender equality

Canada is also bidding for election to the UN Commission on the Status of Women for a term that would run from 2017 to 2021.

Trudeau took part in an armchair discussion with the UN Women, where he credited his "feminist" status to his mother and father, who both championed human rights. In this day and age, he said, it's "really, really obvious" that men and women should have equality"

 "That we should be standing up for women's rights and trying to create more equal societies — like, duh. That we should be respecting diversity and pushing back against racism… I mean, come on," he said.

While he welcomes the positive attention Canada is receiving recently for promoting women's rights, he said, there is still much progress to be made, especially when it comes to addressing pay equity, violence against women and family-friendly work environments.

Trudeau at UN

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about being a "feminist" during events at the United Nations headquarters in New York City Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (Benoit Roussel/CBC News)

On Tuesday, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau participated in UN events to mark the promotion of women and said Canada is embracing its role "with renewed energy and sense of purpose."

"It shows that Canada remains a strong voice and a world leader in the promotion and advancement of gender equality and the full realization of human rights for women and girls," she said during a telephone news conference from New York.

Tonight, Trudeau will be honoured at a gala dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for his "leadership in advancing diversity and gender equality,'' according to Catalyst,  the non-profit organization hosting the event.