Canada was left reeling last week, after losing the vote for a seat on the UN Security Council. This is the first time Canada has failed to secure a seat on the 15-nation council in the history of the organization.
Canada dropped out of the running after losing to Germany and Portugal in the initial rounds of voting. This loss has left the government searching for an explanation. Canadian citizens are also trying to find a reason for their country’s failure.
“A large part of this country’s cultural identity… political identity,” says Dr. Pietro Pirani, an assistant professor in Western University’s political science department, “has been that this country is a peacekeeping country, that has been standing with the United Nations forever and it has gained a lot of respect internationally because of the United Nations.”
Failing to secure a seat with the UN violently clashes with this identity.
Many point to the Conservative government’s foreign policy as causing a rift between Canada and the UN. Many policies, such as the nation’s support of Israel, have been unpopular on the international stage.
Additionally, recent disputes with the United Arab Emirates over domestic flights into Canada have lead to very vocal opposition from the Middle East.
Conservatives, for their part, have been pointing the finger at Michael Ignatieff, claiming that his vocal opposition to the Conservative party has portrayed Canada as a nation divided. But while Canadian politicians play the blame game, not everyone is so upset.
“Canadians have a shared disposition to think critically of ourselves,” says John Grant, a professor of political science who teaches primarily at Brock University. “We might be wringing our hands a little too tightly. We can go up for election again and win again.”
Piriani, who specializes in international relations and the United Nations, thinks this event has the potential to be an important lesson for Canada.
“It should force our politicians to think a little bit more carefully when they take a stand or at least to accept that there are repercussions to certain choices,” says Pirani.
While some Canadians are upset and others are optimistic, one who has certainly not enjoyed the ordeal is Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
After paying little attention to the UN over the past few years, Harper personally spearheaded a last-minute campaign to get Canada on the Security Council. Harper made numerous speeches to the UN and went so far as to have an RCMP officer flown to New York for photo opportunities with UN delegates.
With Harper’s efforts ultimately failing to secure Canada a seat, this may be an opportunity for Canada to stand back and re-evaluate its foreign policy.