Canada has lost its high-profile bid for one of the rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council.
The loss marks the second consecutive failed quest for one of the two seats available in the category for member states from western Europe and other countries, something Canada has now sought and failed to win under two very different governments.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had frequently billed the seat as an avenue for Canada to exert greater influence on the world stage at a time when international institutions like the UN are under significant scrutiny and international relations are anything but harmonious.
The former Conservative government lost its own bid for the same seat in 2010 to Portugal.
Trudeau has repeatedly pointed to that failure as a sign that the Conservative approach to more hawkish foreign policy was not as effective as his own focus on multilateral and quieter diplomacy.
But after five years of using “Canada is back” as a rallying cry on the world stage, it appears the major African, Asian and Caribbean voting blocs did not share his enthusiasm.
Trudeau had courted them heavily via foreign trips, phone calls and support for initiatives of shared interest at the UN, particularly with regards to improving the coronavirus response around the world.
But foreign policy experts say they suspect the “Canada is back” talk just didn’t square with the concrete resources that the Canadian government brought to the table.
“Trudeau may be the amicable poster child of multilateralism and diversity … but at the end of the day, that’s not enough,” said Bessma Momani, professor of international relations at the University of Waterloo and a fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
“Where’s the dollars? Where’s the troops? Where’s the presence that people expect?”
Despite pledging in the 2015 campaign to recommit Canada to traditional peacekeeping, Trudeau only briefly deployed Canadian troops as part of a limited contribution to the United Nations mission in Mali.
The total number of Canadian peacekeepers deployed fell this year to its lowest number in 60 years.
“The Trudeau government, rhetorically, has been much more supportive of the United Nations, certainly hasn’t done the kind of criticism of it in the way that the Harper government did,” said David Perry, vice president and a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
“But if you look at the actual hard contributions — dollars spent, troops contributed — what’s remarkable to me is the degree of continuity. They were small numbers to begin with, but they went down even further.“
Voting took place under unprecedented new rules imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 193 ambassadors from UN member states cast their votes via secret ballot in staggered, assigned voting periods rather than at a UN General Assembly meeting.
More to come.
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