NEW YORK, N.Y. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is skipping the United Nations General Assembly again this year, but he was in New York City anyway on Thursday meeting with global leaders and preparing to pick up a world statesman award.
As both Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, were set to address the UN, Harper met with the Haitian president at a mid-town Manhattan hotel just a few blocks away.
Harper and Michel Martelly shook hands and exchanged pleasantries before getting down to the business of discussing the Canada-Haiti relationship.
Harper also met with Henry Kissinger, the storied U.S. statesman, at his Park Avenue office. Kissinger will present Harper later Thursday with his world statesman award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith peace organization.
The prime minister was also scheduled to sit down himself with Abbas, and was scheduled to meet on Friday morning with Netanyahu.
Harper will be bestowed with the world statesman honour at the annual foundation dinner at the swank Waldorf-Astoria hotel. His office says he’s being recognized as “a champion of democracy, freedom, and human rights.”
Past winners include Canada’s Jean Chretien, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and former British prime minister Gordon Brown.
The event is taking place as hundreds of world leaders meet at the UN to discuss urgent global issues, including the situation in Syria, the growing tensions between Israel and Iran and the eruption of anti-American violence in the Middle East.
Harper has faced a barrage of criticism back home for his decision to opt out of speaking to the UN again this year.
But he’s insisted it’s not standard procedure for the Canadian prime minister to address the General Assembly every year. The UN has met seven times since he was elected; Harper’s spoken twice, in 2006 and in 2010.
In his place, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will once again address the UN on Monday. On Parliament Hill on Wednesday, Baird conceded the government has differences of opinion with the UN on some issues but denied any antipathy towards the organization.
“We’re the seventh … biggest contributor to the United Nations. When you look at something like the World Food Program, we’re the second largest contributor,” he said.