If we are to believe Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Canada's reputation at the United Nations is so brittle that a single comment by the opposition leader was enough to undo 2½ years of diplomacy and sink the country's bid to receive a coveted temporary seat on the Security Council.
Michael Ignatieff was a foreign policy intellectual before entering domestic politics, but even so, who would believe he could wield so much influence within the international community, or that the Conservatives would ever admit it if he really does? In fact, if Mr. Ignatieff genuinely does carry such global weight, why did the government not enlist his support early on in a non-partisan effort to win the Security Council seat? If Mr. Ignatieff had the power to torpedo Canada's chances, surely the converse must be true, and he could have clinched the bid.
Mr. Cannon's disappointment is understandable. Portugal has neither the tradition of peacekeeping nor the generosity of aid as a percentage of GDP, nor, being a country that has been in danger of a sovereign default, the reputation for financial and fiscal competence that Canada has. With six of 15 seats as of January, Europe is also overrepresented on the Security Council. The General Assembly vote seems unjust. But his response, lashing out at a domestic political opponent at a news conference at the United Nations on Tuesday, was neither diplomatic nor statesmanlike.
Of course, absent Mr. Ignatieff's culpability, the defeat is something critics would argue the government should have to wear. In that case, so be it.
Under the Conservatives, Canada has maintained its position of global leadership. It led at the G20/G8 this summer. It was the driving force behind a maternal-health initiative that promises to dramatically improve the lives of countless women in the world's poorest countries. It may hedge on an issue like climate change, but has enunciated an unambiguous message in terms of human rights, and democratic principles. It has aligned itself squarely with countries, such as Israel, which respect such principles. If Canada's failure to win a Security Council seat is a result of Conservative foreign policy, then it says more about the UN than it does about Canada.