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Prime Minister Jean Chretien listens to speeches at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 16, 2002. (KEVIN FRAYER/CP)
Prime Minister Jean Chretien listens to speeches at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 16, 2002. (KEVIN FRAYER/CP)

To understand the UN vote, listen to Jean Chrétien Add to ...

We'll never know for sure why Canada failed Tuesday in its bid to secure a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, since the delegates voted in a secret ballot. Still, in the wake of the vote, many reasons are being offered today to explain the result - everything from aid to Africa, to the Conservatives' Mideast policy, to climate change and even to Stephen Harper's visit to Tim Horton's.

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While some explanations for the failure sound more plausible than others, in most cases you don't have to dig too deep to find the real political agenda of the explainer offering the explanation. In the case of the opposition parties, this isn't too much of a surprise, but I include in this observation some of the explanations being offered by pundits and editorialists this morning. Special mention, however, must be made of the government's nonsensical position that Michael Ignatieff's ill-advised statements about not being convinced that Canada has earned a seat on the Council are responsible for the defeat.

As definitive proof of my thesis of political self-interest, however, I bring you an explanation of Tuesday's vote as expressed in a scrum in Trois-Rivières: "Jean Chrétien referred to Canada's relations with China, which were very good when he was in power. He's pointing his finger at the Conservative government's failure to make the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, an honourary citizen of Canada. 'For them, the Dalai Lama is a separatist! When I was prime minister of Canada, you will remember, I was not so hot on separatists'."

China had one vote Tuesday, and I doubt that its influence in the world body is such that it would have swung many delegates to support its position - even had it decided on a campaign to use that influence against Canada. Rather, Mr. Chrétien's analysis is directly linked to the longstanding bee in his bonnet about China-Canada relations - a bee that emerged at the Liberal leadership convention that chose Stéphane Dion, and a bee that is a matter of great importance to his Desmarais in-laws.

All we know for sure about the vote can be summed up by former UN ambassador Yves Fortier, set out in this morning's Globe and Mail: "It can only be interpreted as a slight to Canada by the international community." And, as the headline on the article correctly notes, that the rejection is "a deep embarrassment for Harper."

Still, as Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Harper has no higher obligation that to uphold our national interests. And, as The Globe observes in this morning's editorial, "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."

If there is any consolation for Mr. Harper in the UN rebuff, it can be found in a recent New York Times report that went unremarked in Canada:

"Rather than focus on reaching a legally binding climate agreement , the United Nations should take a stronger role in making sure that countries promote the development and use of cleaner energy sources, Yvo de Boer, the U.N.'s former climate chief, said on Friday….

Mr. de Boer, a Dutchman, all but ruled out chances for an international treaty at the next major gathering of nations in Cancún, Mexico, that starts at the end of November, though he said nations could eventually adopt a treaty….

The Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 climate treaty overseen by the U.N. but never signed by the United States, showed the limits of treaties, Mr. de Boer said.

Canada was not expecting to achieve its targets under Kyoto yet had not actually withdrawn. 'I don't see a lot of talk about consequences,' Mr. de Boer said, referring to Canada. 'Even something internationally legally binding is relative,' he said."

The Kyoto agreement is one of the most damaging international accords ever signed by a Canadian government - the government, as it happens, of Mr. Chrétien. Freeing us from the penalties set out in that agreement is much more beneficial to Canada than having a seat for two years on the Security Council. If Mr. Harper and the Conservatives paid a price at the UN for having helped in some small way with Kyoto's demise, for Canada it was well worth the price.

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