Canada lost its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council Wednesday, nearly five years after the Trudeau government declared winning a seat one of its highest foreign-policy priorities.
The loss marks the second time in a decade that Canada has failed to secure a seat on the UN’s most powerful branch. For years, the Trudeau government has criticized former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper for withdrawing Canada from the 2010 Security Council race after it became clear it would lose to Portugal. However, Canada obtained less support Wednesday than it did a decade ago, only garnering 108 votes compared with the 114 that it got on the first round of elections in 2010.
Norway and Ireland won the two available seats Wednesday with 130 and 128 votes, respectively. The election was conducted by secret ballot.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government campaigned hard for the Security Council seat. In February, he travelled to Ethiopia and Senegal to highlight Ottawa’s bid. A month earlier, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne and International Development Minister Karina Gould made a high-level visit to the continent. The government also enlisted former prime minister Joe Clark and former Quebec premier Jean Charest last year to travel the world and persuade foreign governments to support Canada in its campaign.
Despite the loss, Mr. Trudeau said Canada will continue to promote its values of peace, freedom, democracy and human rights on the world stage.
“We will continue to pursue this approach at the United Nations and in other international forums – because Canada does well, and Canadians do well, when we strengthen our international relationships and fully engage on the world stage.” Mr. Trudeau said in a statement Wednesday evening.
Mr. Trudeau announced plans for Canada to run for a Security Council seat in March, 2016, after declaring “Canada is back” on the world stage and campaigning on a promise to restore the country as a leader in the world. It last sat on the body in 1999-2000.
Speaking to reporters in New York, Mr. Champagne said Canada can still argue that it’s back.
“For Canada, this campaign allowed us to renew and strengthen many of our valuable relationships,” Mr. Champagne said. “Over the last four years, we made countless connections at all levels and cemented friendships that will last for years to come. We convened, we listened and we learned from other countries around the world.”
The voting process was unprecedented, as representatives from member states entered the UN assembly at a staggered rate to respect COVID-19 restrictions.
Heading into the election, Canadian officials anticipated a number of rounds of voting to determine who would win the two available seats in the Security Council’s Western European and Others group for 2021-22. However, Canada lost in the first round.
Ottawa focused its campaign on supporting the world’s most vulnerable, particularly African, Caribbean and Pacific island states that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also touted its membership on numerous multilateral organizations, including the G7, G20 and NATO, and leaned heavily on its role as a convener on the world stage.
Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, said the country faced stiff competition from Ireland and Norway.
“Each country has 193 different reasons why they would support one country or another,” he said, referring to the 193 UN member states. “This is the politics of the UN. That is very tricky, very difficult and complex.”
Norway outshines Canada on international aid, contributing 1 per cent of its gross national income to development assistance in 2019, compared with only 0.27 per cent in Canada. For years, Canada has faced calls from the NDP and international-development advocates to set out a plan to reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent but has failed to do so.
Ireland is stronger than Canada on the peacekeeping front, with one of the highest per capita troop contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. Mr. Trudeau campaigned in 2015 on a promise to restore Canada’s commitment to UN peace operations, but took more than two years to announce plans to deploy only 250 Canadian peacekeepers to Mali for a one-year operation, which has since ended.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer took to Twitter to attack the loss as “another foreign-affairs failure for Justin Trudeau.” Mr. Scheer has accused the Liberals of selling out Canadian values in order to win the seat, pointing to the government’s failure to list Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity and its support for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which has alleged links to the Hamas terrorist group.
“He sold out Canada’s principles for a personal vanity project and still lost. What a waste,” the tweet read.
As of Monday, Canada had spent $2.346-million on the Security Council campaign. The figure does not include staff salaries, which come from existing budgets.
NDP foreign-affairs critic Jack Harris said Canada came into the campaign too late and Wednesday’s loss is a “wake-up call” for the Liberal government that it isn’t doing enough when it comes to development, peacekeeping, climate change and human rights.
“Prime Minister Trudeau announced in 2015 that ‘Canada is back!’ but there is little to show for it,” Mr. Harris said in a statement.
Bessma Momani, a professor and assistant vice-president of international relations at the University of Waterloo, said the opposition will use the Security Council loss against the Liberals for years to come. However, she doesn’t think it is as significant as 2010.
“Last time, we lost to Portugal – which I think was more of an embarrassment if we’re going to really take stock – than today, where we lost out to two very strong progressive countries that are very similar to us,” Prof. Momani said. “At the end of the day, they outspent us.”
Prof. Momani said the government is now going to have to rethink its foreign policy and be careful with mantras such as “Canada is back” or “the world needs more Canada.”
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