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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to reporters in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts Que., on Oct. 14, 2010. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to reporters in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts Que., on Oct. 14, 2010. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

PM ignores Ignatieff, defends Canadian principles in wake of UN defeat Add to ...

Canada is a country that stands on principle, not popularity, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday as he backed away from blaming Michael Ignatieff for Canada's failure to secure a seat on the mighty United Nations Security Council.

Mr. Harper's communications director, Dimitri Soudas, and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon both heaped blame on the Liberal Leader Tuesday after Canada, sensing certain defeat, withdrew its bid to rejoin the UN's most exclusive and coveted club.

In the wake of the loss, the Tories cited remarks Mr. Ignatieff made last month openly questioning whether Canada had earned the right to sit on the council. But on Thursday, the Prime Minister did not mention Mr. Ignatieff when he acknowledged the defeat during an appearance in the community of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts in eastern Quebec.

Instead, Mr. Harper launched a vigorous defence of Canada's foreign-policy record, which most critics and observers said was the more likely reason Canada failed to defeat Portugal on the second ballot. "Our engagement internationally is based on the principles that this country holds dear; it is not based on popularity," he said.

"We take our positions based on the promotion of our values - freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, justice, development, humanitarian assistance for those who need it. Those are the things we are pursuing and that does not change, regardless of what the outcome of secret votes is."

Mr. Harper did not elaborate on what he meant by the term "secret votes," although after Canada withdrew, Mr. Cannon and Mr. Soudas did say that some of the support that had been anticipated had failed to materialize in the voting.

Three senior federal officials, speaking on background, said Thursday that Canada had received written assurances of support from 135 countries, plus 15 verbal commitments of support. With what seemed to be 150 countries in Canada's camp, there was general optimism in the days before the vote.

Canada mustered only 114 votes on the first ballot, well short of the needed 127 votes, and withdrew after its dismal showing of 78 votes on the second. However, it's impossible to know for sure who abandoned Canada, since the vote was by secret ballot.

"It goes to show that when you have 135 written confirmations of support towards your bid, you can't take that at face value," one official said.

Richard Grenell, who served as spokesman for four UN ambassadors under former U.S. president George W. Bush, tried to lay part of the blame for Canada's failure at the feet of the Obama administration.

In an op-ed for Fox News's website, he said the American representative at the UN had made no effort to help its close ally win the vote.

"In fact, U.S. state department insiders say that U.S. ambassador Susan Rice not only didn't campaign for Canada's election but instructed American diplomats to not get involved in the weeks leading up to the heated contest," he wrote. "With no public American support, Canada lost its bid to serve."

The setback was viewed by many as a significant embarrassment to Mr. Harper, who travelled to New York last month to plead Canada's case. Canada first joined the UN Security Council in 1948, two years after its inception, and held a seat for a two-year term five more times, most recently in 1999-2000.

Germany also earned a spot on the council this week, while three other two-year terms went uncontested to South Africa, India and Colombia. The vote marked the first time Canada had failed to secure a seat in the panel's 64-year history.

Mr. Cannon insisted that Mr. Ignatieff's comments last month questioning whether Canada had earned a spot on the council almost single-handedly killed Canada's hopes. Mr. Cannon denied any knowledge that other issues might have played a role.

But some observers, African ambassadors in particular, cited a series of Canadian stances on issues ranging from African debt relief to the Conservative government cutting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and accusing it of having terrorist links.

There were also recent rumblings among member nations about Canada's Israel-friendly foreign policy.

On Thursday, an official from the United Arab Emirates - a country with which Canada is embroiled in a bitter and now very public dispute over airline landing rights - admitted his country lobbied delegates to vote against Canada.

Canada's refusal to open more flights for the fast-growing UAE carriers Emirates and Etihad has also led to the imminent closure of a military base near Dubai that is a key logistical hub for Canadian forces in Afghanistan.

The official said the UAE's opposition was based on Canada's "protectionist" trade policies and perceptions that Ottawa is weak on supporting Arab causes in the region, including efforts to ease the Israeli restrictions on Palestinians in Gaza.

It's unclear how much the UAE could have swayed UN sentiments against Canada, but the country carries influence beyond its small size because of extensive international business ties. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of standing government rules on behind-the-scenes briefings.

With reports from the Associated Press and Adrian Morrow

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