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Trudeau, pictured in the House of Commons on Thursday, June 18, 2020, said the Liberal government knew Canada was behind its competitors when it announced its intention to run for a seat, but was hoping it could make up the difference during its campaign.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada wasn’t able to overcome the head start Norway and Ireland had in the race for a United Nations Security Council seat, resulting in Canada’s loss this week.

Mr. Trudeau said the Liberal government knew Canada was behind its competitors when it announced its intention to run for a seat on the UN’s most powerful branch in 2016, but was hoping it could make up the difference during its campaign. However, the opposition and experts say Wednesday’s loss wasn’t just a result of poor timing, arguing that it raises significant questions about the government’s foreign policy and its troubled relationships with a number of powerful countries.

“Norway and Ireland … had started their campaign four or five years before we did. We only entered the race 4½ years ago ourselves, so we were lagging behind and we didn’t make it in time,” Mr. Trudeau said in French at his daily press conference in Ottawa on Thursday.

Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, said some guarantees of support are made five to fifteen years in advance at the Security Council – evidence of the “brutal” politics at the UN.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer criticized Mr. Trudeau over the loss, accusing his government of “selling out” Canadian values in pursuit of the seat. Mr. Scheer cited Canada’s relationship with Iran, pointing to Mr. Trudeau’s handshake with the Iranian Foreign Minister earlier this year after the regime admitted involvement in the downing of Flight 752 that killed dozens of Canadians.

“He remained silent when standing beside leaders of countries with terrible human-rights records because he was afraid of offending and losing their vote,” Mr. Scheer said in the House of Commons Thursday. “Now, he comes back empty-handed, coming in last. So again, was it worth it?”

Canada spent $2.346-million on the Security Council campaign, not including staff salaries that come from existing budgets.

Thomas Kwasi Tieku, an associate professor and international relations expert at King’s University College in London, Ont., said Canada’s competitors had already “locked in” support by the time it announced plans to run. He said the campaign was also hurt by the government’s troubled relationships with Saudi Arabia, China and Iran, who likely influenced others to not vote for Canada.

“We know in diplomatic circles, once you have a fight with one country, you know very well that you have a fight with a minimum of five countries,” he said.

Canada was running for two available seats in the Security Council’s Western European and Others group for 2021-22. Mr. Trudeau announced the campaign after declaring “Canada is back” on the world stage when the Liberals formed government in 2015, making it a cornerstone of his foreign-policy agenda.

The government has since 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 in the first round of elections in 2010.

Asked why he thought Canada obtained fewer votes than the Harper government, Mr. Trudeau defended the campaign, saying the country is more active on the world stage because of it. He said that while he was disappointed with the result, the government will continue to promote the importance of multilateralism.

Allan Rock, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN, said a parliamentary review of Canada’s foreign policy is needed in the wake of the loss. He said Ottawa needs to “sharpen” its foreign policy, especially when it comes to its relationships with African states and China.

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