When the time came for Canada to count its friends in its bid for a seat at the United Nations Security Council, India wasn't there.
Those with a close knowledge of how nations voted in the General Assembly say India supported Portugal over Canada in the contest for a temporary seat on the council this week. That vote stings: Prime Minister Stephen Harper has invested a great deal of political capital in improving Indo-Canadian ties. In this instance, at least, his efforts were for naught.
There were good reasons for Canada to hope for India's support. The subcontinent is the second largest source of immigrants to Canada, which has a large Indian diaspora.
Mr. Harper visited India last November, and the two nations signed a nuclear energy co-operation agreement earlier this year. The Conservatives have identified its fellow Commonwealth member as a key market, as Canada seeks to pivot from the Atlantic to the Pacific in search of new, emerging markets for its resources and manufactured goods.
But India supported Portugal nonetheless.
The reason is simple: India's most important priority at the UN is to be asked to join the Security Council as a permanent member. Portugal supports that campaign.
Canada opposes expanding the number of permanent members, any one of whom can veto a resolution. Instead, it supports an expanded and regionally representative group of non-permanent members on the council.
Shashishekhar Gavai, India's High Commissioner to Canada, refused to comment on how India voted, pointing out that the member nations cast a secret ballot. However, he said Canadians should not become preoccupied with the loss of face associated with the defeat, pointing out that India lost a similar contest in 1996.
"One has to move on. It's not really the end of the world," Mr. Gavi said Wednesday in an interview. "Canada's position does not stand diminished in any way."
But India was not the only Asian tiger to abandon Canada this week. Informed observers speaking on background said it was virtually certain that China voted for Portugal against Canada as well.
Although Stephen Harper stood beside Chinese ambassador Lan Lijun Wednesday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Canada's diplomatic recognition of China, maintaining that "the strategic partnership between Canada and China has never been more promising," in truth relations between the two countries until recently were strained, in part because of the Conservative government's insistence on raising human-rights issues with China.
Canada regularly votes with the United States on issues such as sanctions against Iran, where China would prefer not to interfere. Portugal is seen to be much less obstreperous on such issues.
Wenran Jiang, chair of the University of Alberta's China Institute, said he believes China voted for Portugal on the second round because Beijing would feel its interests are more closely aligned with the European nation's. "I think on a number of issues China still perceives Canada to be very much on the side of the United States."
And in what has been described as a new Marshall Plan for Europe, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was in Greece last week, offering aid and promising to purchase bonds when that troubled nation next goes to market. Portugal's economic straits are almost equally dire.
Those close to the vote say Canada had 136 written commitments of support from nations at the General Assembly when voting began. But Canada received only 114 votes in the first round, and by round two, the count was down to 78, forcing Ambassador John McNee to withdraw Canada's name.
Despite appearing to not have a friend in the emerging-economy world, Conservatives and their supporters spoke defiantly on Wednesday about preferring to lose their bid for a seat than to make unsavoury deals to secure votes.
"If the only way you could win it is to sacrifice your principles or relationships, then I think there are occasions when it's better to lose than to win that way," said former Reform Party leader Preston Manning. "I don't think a seat on the Security Council at the UN, for example, is worth sacrificing some of Canada's current principles and commitments."
The fact remains, however, that Canada will not be present at one of the most interesting Security Councils in the UN's history. Almost all of the major emerging economies - including India, Brazil, South Africa and permanent member China - will have representation on the council when it meets Jan. 1. How well the new powerhouses mesh with the old order could presage the level of global co-operation the world can look forward to over the coming years.Report Typo/Error
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