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UN failure fits into 'increasingly damaging narrative' for Tories

Flanked by junior minister Peter Kent and UN Ambassador John McNee, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon takes questions after Canada's defeat at the Security Council on Oct. 12, 2010, in New York.

Richard Drew/AP

By most accounts, Stephen Harper and his government were humiliated Tuesday at the United Nations, losing a coveted Security Council seat to Portugal. The defeat is still the buzz of official Ottawa and political spin doctors have been working overtime.

Cabinet ministers and even the Prime Minister's own communications director, Dimitri Soudas, are blaming Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff for torpedoing the deal. This, after he publicly declared Canada did not deserve the seat because of the Harper government's foreign policy.

The Liberals, meanwhile, are blaming Mr. Harper and his international policies for the loss. Mr. Ignatieff has accused the Conservatives of ignoring the United Nations.

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That's the spin in Ottawa. But how is this playing in the rest of the country? We asked our pollsters to weigh in.

"I think all this does is demonstrate that the UN is out of touch," says Dimitri Pantazopoulos, of Praxicus Public Strategies, who does not believe the debacle will have a negative effect on either leader.

Mr. Pantazopoulos notes that foreign-policy matters don't generally drive voter behaviour. "Some people will blame Michael Ignatieff, others will blame the Arab states for voting against Canada as a bloc, while others will blame it on Stephen Harper's foreign-policy approach."

Nik Nanos agrees in part with Mr. Pantazopoulos. The Nanos Research pollster says international issues, such as winning a seat on the Security Council, will not have an "impact in the ballot box."

Mr. Nanos notes, however, that it could raise questions as to why Canada was not successful. Ultimately, he sees this as "another political flashpoint where the parties can use the outcome to attack and define each other."

EKOS president Frank Graves, meanwhile, believes it could be more than that. He says this will be a good issue to watch, especially among the educated classes, who may be concerned about the impact on the country's reputation. Canadians, he says, are very sensitive to how they are viewed on the world stage.

Mr. Graves's polling shows that the highly educated classes began leaving the Conservatives for the Liberals over the government's decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census. "The big exposure for the government is that this fits into an increasingly damaging narrative that portrays the country as lacking sophistication and gravitas," he says. "This would certainly be problematic with the professional and university-educated classes who have been showing increasing reservations about the government's management style."

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Mr. Graves notes that one of the reasons the Conservatives did well in the last election was because they attracted both the Tim Hortons crowd and professional, affluent Canadians.

"The current issues around the gun registry and the long form census place them on the wrong side of this group," he says. "The failure to gain a seat on the security council would also be problematic for this group. The possible trump card for the government with this group is their superior bona fides with economic stewardship, but they may be straining this advantage by a cumulative series of disappointment on other fronts."

<iframe src="" scrolling="no" height="650px" width="460px" frameBorder ="0" allowTransparency="true" ><a href="" >John Ibbitson weighs the consequences of Canada's UN rejection</a></iframe>

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