Skip to main content

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives to address the Millennium Development Goals Summit at United Nations headquarters in New York on Sept. 21, 2010.


If any Canadian woke up this morning still under the mistaken impression that Stephen Harper is some kind of political strategic genius, surely to God the result of the UN Security Council vote has put that once trendy canard to rest once and for all.

In politics, there are some issues that are thrust upon governments and that are largely unavoidable. Other issues are entirely of the government's making. Stephen Harper decided that getting elected to the UN Nations Security Council was this country's highest foreign policy priority - nobody forced that decision on him.

So to all the Conservatives now claiming "who cares about the UN," "they are a corrupt organization," and "I'm glad we lost" - I disagree, but are they any more corrupt this afternoon than this morning? In other words, why the heck did Stephen Harper make getting elected to this organization his number one foreign policy priority if the UN is some rogue organization that Tories (now) want nothing to do with?

Story continues below advertisement

To those Conservatives who are now claiming "we lost because our foreign policy is based on principle and our principles aren't popular with the UN membership," I say other than unwavering support for Israel and indifference towards Africa, can you articulate those unpopular but principled positions? Moreover, did these "principled" positions suddenly become unpopular in the last 24 hours in a quickly shifting public opinion environment? Surely Harper had some clue before the vote that Canada's foreign policy couldn't carry two thirds of countries?

Ah, but maybe Harper was running as a demonstration of principle. He knew Canada couldn't win the vote but making the "point," whatever that point may be, was worth the loss? Think of it a Dipper campaign gone international. Sure. Seems to me like something Harper would do. Yup.

But even if the Harperites now argue that's what they always were doing then why did they explicitly and implicitly manage expectations of victory to the roof. Every news in the last week gave the impression that while the vote might be close, victory was in our grasp. How did Harper get this vote so wrong? Canadians expected us to win the vote and that's why today's loss is so disappointing to many. As a political exercise, the Harperites failed in managing expectations domestically in a stunning display of political incompetence.

Ah, the Conservatives move on, but it was really all Michael Ignatieff's fault. Opposition leaders should never, ever criticize the government on the world stage and because of Ignatieff's elitist global network of cosmopolitans, his tepid critique of Canada's UN bid swung dozens and dozens of votes. Yes, Ignatieff is far more powerful on the global stage than the Prime Minister of Canada. Sure he is.

Opposition leaders should just keep their mouth shut. Yup. Except of course when a young opposition leaders named Stephen Harper openly mocked and criticized Jean Chr├ętien for not sending troops to Iraq in a letter to The Wall Street Journal. You remember that letter, when Harper stated that "for the first time in history, the Canadian government has not stood beside its key British and American allies in their time of need" and that "Canadians will be overwhelmingly with us."

But other than Harper, no other Canadian leader should ever criticize Canada.

To summarize, this was Stephen Harper's No. 1 foreign policy priority. I have no idea why he decided to make it so. Once he did, he could not have run a worse campaign to win the seat. They did a terrible job managing public expectation. To many Canadians, today's vote is an embarrassment (I'm a bit less fussed). Like past Economist headlines criticizing Canadian political leaders, I have no doubt this will become a big domestic political issue for Stephen Harper.

Story continues below advertisement

Oh, and now that Stephen Harper's No. 1 foreign policy priority has been utterly repudiated by the world community, what are we left with as a country?

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to