Despite an intense and costly diplomatic push, Canada has lost its bid for a coveted seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Norway and Ireland won the two available temporary seats, with 130 and 128 votes respectively. Canada won 108 votes, falling 20 short of the 128 needed to win a spot at the table.
Countries need the support of at least two-thirds of the General Assembly to get elected to the council.
It’s a heavy blow for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne and other high-level officials who had been reaching out to political leaders around the world in a campaign to secure one of the two available rotating seats.
In a statement, Trudeau said throughout the campaign, federal officials promoted the Canadian values of peace, freedom, democracy and human rights.
“We listened and learned from other countries, which opened new doors for cooperation to address global challenges, and we created new partnerships that increased Canada’s place in the world,” he said in a statement.
“This important engagement has contributed to our broader efforts to tackle the most important challenges of our time, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and has acted as a foundation for further international cooperation on other key issues.”
Strengthening bilateral relationships
During a news conference in New York, Champagne said that while the result was not the one he’d hoped for, Canada had no guarantee of victory in such a tight race. He said the campaign was an opportunity for Canada to renew and strengthen bilateral relationships around the globe.
“Due to that campaign, Canada is more present right around the world,” he said, adding that Canada will play a leadership role in promoting global cooperation and advancing gender equality and sustainable peace.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was quick to criticize the Liberal government on Twitter.
“Another foreign affairs failure for Justin Trudeau. Keeps the streak alive! He sold out Canada’s principles for a personal vanity project and still lost. What a waste,” he tweeted.
The federal government has spent more than $2.3 million on its quest for a seat.
Canada’s failed 2010 bid for a Security Council seat, under then-prime minister Stephen Harper, saw Germany win 128 votes, Portugal 122 and Canada 114 on the first ballot. The voting went to a second round — Canada received 78 votes and Portugal took 113.
The Security Council holds ten seats for temporary members that join the table for two-year terms. The council has five permanent members — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China — which have the power to veto resolutions.
Defeat ‘very disappointing’
NDP foreign affairs critic Jack Harris called the defeat “very disappointing” and said Canada’s contributions to developmental assistance, peacekeeping, climate change and Indigenous rights were likely factors.
“What is more, we have been inconsistent in our support for human rights, going so far as to vote against almost every UN resolution upholding Palestinian rights and signing a new arms export agreement with Saudi Arabia, despite their egregious human rights abuses,” he said.
Harris said Canada can still have a positive influence with other countries through its membership in the G7, G20 and other global organizations, but the government must repair the damage and follow through on its commitments.
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who served as special envoy to bolster Canada’s bid, said many countries had already committed their votes by the time Canada entered the race.
Canada put forward its candidacy in 2016, about a decade after Ireland (2005) and Norway (2007) announced they were running.
Charest said Canada put forward a strong bid and strengthened its international ties.
‘Honourable outcome’ for Canada
“This is a tough outcome, but an honourable outcome for Canada,” he told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos.
Canada’s ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard said he doesn’t think Canada’s loss was a rejection of its global priorities. He said there were “three great countries” engaged in a very tough competition.
“It’s a very difficult choice,” he said.
Pro-Palestinian and other groups point to Canada’s Middle East policies as a factor in the failure to secure a seat. Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) issued a statement saying the defeat “proves that Canada’s failure to demonstrate leadership on human rights and international cooperation has isolated it from world opinion.”
“In recent months, Trudeau has also been relatively quiet on the threats of Israeli annexation, especially when compared to the vocal and long-standing condemnations from competitors Norway and Ireland,” the group said.
Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Canada faced serious challenges in its bid — including the fact that the two other candidates are anchored in the EU and “almost automatically” got support from the European continent, and Canada’s current tensions with Russia and China.
Perceptions that Canada hasn’t been pulling its weight in UN peacekeeping and development aid likely also hurt its bid, he said.
“These contests are complex, and we are concerned with the inaccurate suggestion from anti-Israel groups that Canada’s defeat was a result of its historical pro-Israel policies, a single and irrelevant issue. This distracts from reflection about the campaign and the actual obstacles that prevented a successful outcome,” Fogel said in a statement.
Shortly before the results rolled in, Trudeau cited Canada’s record on combating climate change, promoting peace and security and supporting developing countries and women’s rights.
He said no matter what happens, Canada will continue to fight to reduce global conflict and social inequities.
Exporting Canada’s values
“Canada has continued to be a strong voice on the world stage. Because this is what Canada does well and we will continue to do it,” he said.
“Yes, a seat on the UN Security Council will be an additional lever and an extra way that Canada can make sure that our voice and our values are being heard at the highest levels. But we will continue to make a difference in the world and defend multilateralism, not just because it’s good for the world, but because it’s good for Canadians.”
Given its relatively smaller contributions to global peacekeeping and international development assistance, many observers have argued Canada was facing a tough challenge from its competitors, Ireland and Norway.