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The UN Security Council chamber, where some of the world's most important decisions are made. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The UN Security Council chamber, where some of the world's most important decisions are made. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Voters split UN blame between Harper and Ignatieff in poll Add to ...

Nearly a third of Canadians accepted the Conservative government's claim that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff cost the country a seat on the United Nations Security Council, a new poll suggests.

Some 31 per cent of respondents in a Harris-Decima survey conducted for The Canadian Press said they thought "public criticism" by Mr. Ignatieff caused Canada to lose a three-country contest for two seats on the UN's most powerful body.

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Canada suffered a historic loss last week to economically troubled Portugal in a bid for a temporary seat on the Security Council. After six successful attempts, it was the first time since the UN's creation after the Second World War that Canada did not win a seat on Security Council.

In the immediate aftermath, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, blamed Mr. Ignatieff, who weeks earlier openly questioned whether Canada had "earned" a seat this time around.

Mr. Harper has distanced himself from that initial attack on Mr. Ignatieff. He instead questioned the nature of the secret ballot, saying that Canada had enough written assurances of support to prevail.

Fifty per cent of those polled blamed "the government's recent record on international diplomacy" for the loss, but Mr. Ignatieff came in a close second.

In the Tory stronghold of Alberta, the blame was split evenly, 39 per cent to 39 per cent, between the government and Mr. Ignatieff.

"I'd say it's a significant number. Certainly more people put the blame at the feet of the government, but that 31 per cent cite Mr. Ignatieff's comments does show there's a sense that the comments were probably ill advised," pollster William Murray said.

Three weeks before the vote, Mr. Ignatieff said on Parliament Hill: "I know how important it is for Canada to get a seat on the Security Council but Canadians have to ask a tough question: Has this government earned that place? We're not convinced it has."

Most of those surveyed (51 per cent) were surprised Canada did not win, while 44 per cent said they were not surprised, the poll found.

Younger, more affluent Canadians and Ontario residents were more likely to be surprised at the loss, while a majority of Quebeckers were the least surprised by Canada's failure.

The loss has set off a fresh round of introspection in Canada.

On Tuesday, New Democrat foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar tabled a motion with the House of Commons foreign affairs committee to establish "select panel of experts" to review Canadian foreign policy.

"This is basically asking the committee to establish its own quasi royal commission, since the government refuses to take any responsibility for the loss," an aide to Mr. Dewar said.

Similarly, a retired ex-diplomat and foreign affairs analyst is calling on Mr. Harper to establish a task force, not unlike the Manley panel he struck on Afghanistan, to improve Canada's foreign service.

"It's been 30 years since we looked at the foreign service," said Colin Robertson, now a senior fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

"Use the UN vote as a wake up call to determine if we're getting best value from what has to be an important tool of national purpose - our foreign service and whether we they align with our national objectives."

Mr. Murray said he doubts the results of his firm's poll or the UN failure will have any role to play in the next federal election. The re-emergence of health care and the economy will play a larger role.

"However, it wouldn't surprise if part of the Opposition narrative in the next election will surround attacking the government for being unwilling to work co-operatively with others, and issues like the UN Security Council loss may be part of that," the pollster added.

The Oct. 14 ot Oct. 17 telephone survey of 1,000 people has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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