There is no way to determine definitively why Canada failed to secure a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council last week.
Since the UN was created after the Second World War, Canada had generally been elected to one of the temporary seats once per decade. This ended in 2010, when Canada lost its bid, and last Wednesday’s vote represents the second decade of Canadian absence from the prestigious council.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau contended that the successful countries – Ireland and Norway – had been campaigning longer. Also significant may have been the fact that Canada’s contributions to foreign aid and UN peacekeeping efforts have declined in recent years. Not to be dismissed also is the perception of Canada as an ally of Israel.
Since 2006, under Conservative and Liberal governments, Canada has voted against or abstained from the annual litany of 16 recurring anti-Israel resolutions at the UN General Assembly. That trend was broken last winter, when Canada unexpectedly endorsed a resolution condemning Israel.
Jewish and other pro-Israel Canadians have viewed Canada’s pro-Israel UN votes since 2006 as a principled position in the face of a global dogpiling – the votes are routinely passed with numbers like 160 to six, with Israel, the United States and American-aligned South Pacific micro-nations in the minority. No other country is singled out with such multiple routine censures.
Canada’s abrupt reversal of this stand last year was seen by some as an effort to distance Canada from Israel in advance of last week’s vote, particularly among the nearly 60 Arab and Muslim countries in the General Assembly.
While Trudeau made the case that Canada’s principled voice was necessary for the world in this challenging time, Opposition voices, like Conservative (and former Liberal) MP Leona Alleslev, argued that the government had betrayed its principles and, as a result, undermined its own argument for putting a Canadian representative on the Security Council.
The point is fair. To base our country’s campaign for the seat (at least partly) on the idea that we are a principled voice on the world stage and then do a 180 puts the whole venture into a weird light. For those countries who dislike our history of pro-Israel votes, the last-minute reversal must have seemed too little too late. For those (admittedly few) who admired our chutzpah, the recent vote must have been a disappointment, if not a betrayal. It’s almost a wonder that we got as many votes as we did.