Before yesterday’s vote by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the message from Canadian government officials was one of cautious optimism. There might be tense moments and flustered diplomats, but Canada had not lost a vote for a Security Council seat in 60 years.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made two big speeches to the UN at the end of September, and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon sacrificed his Thanksgiving weekend to stay in New York and bat his eyelashes at other delegates. Besides, we were competing against Germany and Portugal for the two spots available for our region, and, with France and the UK already holding permanent seats on the Security Council, no way the international community would give Europe two more seats. Right?
But it did. Very embarrassing. Our government’s first response, naturally, was to blame Michael Ignatieff. He’d said some mean things about how we maybe didn’t deserve to sit on the Security Council. The other countries must have seen our lack of unity and lost faith in us. Perhaps. Except that CBC’s The National reported last night that most of the foreign delegates it spoke to at the conference didn’t know who Ignatieff was.
There are, of course, many possible explanations. Perhaps the General Assembly remembered that, before this recent show of affection, the PM’s last significant appearance at the UN had been a courtesy call after he was elected in 2006. Perhaps some representatives from Africa were concerned that last year Canada cut eight African countries from its list of priority aid recipients. Perhaps yesterday’s announcement of efforts to strengthen trade with Israel reminded other countries of our no-questions-asked friendship with the right wing of Israeli politics. Perhaps it was the ongoing skirmish with the United Arab Emirates over our unwillingness to exchange extra airline routes for an almost-secret military base.
Or maybe we failed to adequately counter-act the “rotten lying bastards” phenomenon, in which up to a third of the countries which promise to vote for you are really just too shy to say ‘no.’ In the frustratingly polite world of international diplomatic disagreements, all we can be sure of is that we’re not as popular as we thought we were.