In the House of Commons Monday, Liberal foreign affairs critic led off Question Period with an attack on the Conservatives for failing to secure a two-year, non-permanent seat on the Security Council. In the Prime Minister's absence, House Leader John Baird answered for the Government.
Here's how their exchange went:
Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the government. Instead of blaming the leader of the official opposition, blaming the members of the UN General Assembly and suggesting that having a seat at the Security Council is not important, when will the Conservative government take responsibility for a major defeat for Canada and for our reputation around the world?
Hon. John Baird (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I want to say at the outset that our government is very proud of the principled foreign policy position that we have taken over the past five years. Our government makes foreign policy decisions based on what is right and not on what is popular, and we have nothing to be apologetic about.
Rae: Mr. Speaker, let us look at the facts: a significant refusal on the part of the government to even talk to the Government of China over many years; a decision to exclude a number of African countries from being recipients of aid; freezing our entire CIDA budget into the indefinite future; and a complete abnegation of responsibility with respect to climate change. When will the government take responsibility for a major diplomatic failure on the part of Canada?
Baird: Mr. Speaker, right from the outset, the Prime Minister and this government have taken principled foreign policy decisions. We have nothing to apologize for. We are incredibly proud of the great leadership that the Prime Minister has exhibited, particularly this year when we were able to host both the G8 and the G20.Again, we make foreign policy on this side of the House based on what is right and not on what is popular.
Rae: Mr. Speaker, since when was incompetence a matter of principle? That is what we are faced with. We are faced with sheer incompetence. When we add to it ideology and neglect, that is what we have. It has nothing to do with principles. It has to do with incompetence. There is no finer example than what the government has allowed to happen with the Government of the United Arab Emirates. How could we have sunk so low in our diplomatic capacity that the government would have allowed these negotiations to go completely off the rail, threatening our entire operation in Afghanistan? That is what we are faced with. It is incompetence. It has nothing to do with principle.
Baird: Mr. Speaker, it is not the practice of this government to comment on operational matters of the Canadian Forces here on the floor of the House of Commons. However, the government always chooses arrangements that are in the best interest of Canada and that provide value to our men and women in uniform. This government has shown an unprecedented commitment to our men and women in uniform. I can say, for my friend from Toronto Centre, that thank goodness the dark decade, the 10 lost years of the previous Liberal government, is over, thanks to the leadership of this Prime Minister.
One issue - the Mideast - is absent from Mr. Rae's list of Conservative misdeeds. Notably absent, I should add: While no one will ever know for sure about the motivations of those who voted in this secret ballot, to varying degrees the Harper government's Mideast policy figures on just about everyone else's explanations as one reason for the UN rejection. That is not a view shared by Mr. Rae, however, judging from a recent interview he gave to the Canadian Jewish News (in which he expounds at length on the Mideast):
Taking issue with the perception that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has been more pro-Israel than previous Canadian governments, he said, "I don't think that's true. No party has a monopoly on its commitment to Israel's security within recognized international borders."
Rae, claiming that Harper's foreign policy is based too much on "partisan advantage," said he has failed to recognize that Canada has a national interest in defusing the Arab-Israeli conflict….
He downplayed media speculation that Canada's failure to win a non-permanent seat on the United Nation's Security Council last week was partially a function of its increasingly unflinching pro-Israel stance.
"Not really," he said. "Canada has always consistently supported Israel."