This week members of the United Nations General Assembly voted to fill non-permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) for the committee’s 2021-2022 term. The UNSC is the U.N.’s most powerful board. Canada has not held a seat on the UNSC since 2000.
The seats are allocated by geographic region. India, for example, ran unopposed and won a seat, and the same is true for Mexico. In Canada’s geographical region, Ireland and Norway were also competing. Ireland and Norway were successful in their bids for a seat.
The Security Council has 10 non-permanent seats, each serving a term of two years. The five permanent, the United States, China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom have the power to exercise a veto on any resolution. In order to win a seat, countries must claim two-thirds of the votes from the U.N. General Assembly. Competition is stiff. Ireland and Norway, for example, have been campaigning for a seat much longer than Canada, which didn’t enter the competition until 2016, just four years ago. Ireland has been at it since 2005 and Norway since 2007.
Winning two-thirds of the votes meant that Canada needed to win 128 votes. Canada won 108 countries of a total 192 that voted Wednesday afternoon at UN Headquarters in New York. Norway received 130 and Ireland received 128. Critics blame Trudeau’s late entry into the competition as a reason for the loss. And, the timing was probably wrong, too.
“The prime minister will be forced to wear that loss personally,” said Adam Chapnick, the author of a book about Canada’s history on the Security Council and a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada.
While it’s important for Canada to have regular representation on the council, Chapnick said, the political calculation to run this cycle “was a very bad one,” given the truncated campaign time and the fact Ottawa forced a contest.
The loss didn’t come because of a lack of trying – Trudeau pulled out all the stops. In the competition with Ireland and Norway, concert tickets look to have been very popular in fighting for leverage.
Wednesday’s election comes after months of intense campaigning. Canada says it spent nearly $1.7 million on its campaign, which included an invitation for U.N. diplomats to attend a Celine Dion concert.
The BBC reports that Norway spent a whopping $2.8 million to secure one of the UN’s top positions. While spending only $800,000, Ireland courted diplomats by bringing them to a U2 concert.
The opposition party leader, Andrew Scheer, wasted no time in tweeting about the loss.
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.
— Andrew Scheer (@AndrewScheer) June 17, 2020
When Justin Trudeau first became Prime Minister, he promised to bring Canada back onto the world stage. This is why the defeat at the U.N. is a particularly embarrassing one. At the time he said, “Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years. Well, I have a simple message for you: on behalf of 35 million Canadians, we’re back.”
“It’s really the biggest embarrassment he will suffer in his prime minister-ship in Canada, particularly on international affairs,” said Shuvaloy Majumdar, a senior fellow at the MacDonald Laurier Institute and former adviser on foreign policy in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative government.
Canada has now been overlooked for the second time in the past decade to become a non-permanent member on the agency’s decision-making body.
Nor did Covid-19 slow down Canada’s campaigning. Trudeau co-hosted a virtual UN conference to raise funds for developing countries to fight the pandemic.
“Canada was always coming from behind in this race after starting late. To get over 100 votes despite this handicap is a pretty impressive feat,” said Richard Gowan, UN Director at International Crisis Group, via email. Trudeau and his diplomats “have done pretty much all they could.”
Mostly, though, this defeat looks to be a slap at his inability to govern successfully. His failures in peacekeeping efforts come to the forefront with U.N. member nations, as well as Canada’s unwillingness to contribute a full pledge to international development aid. And he’s been plagued by scandals recently, as well as not having a particularly good relationship with President Trump.
Norway regularly gives the U.N. target of 0.7 percent of gross national income in development aid, while Canada’s comes in at 0.27 percent. Meanwhile, Ireland has 474 peacekeepers deployed on U.N. missions and has prioritized peacekeeping in its platform, whereas Canada contributes 35 such personnel.
Canada promised more peacekeepers than it ultimately deployed to Mali in 2018. The fact it ended the mission early after a year “is probably not a good sign, or a good signal to the world generally,” Lewis said, noting the irony that a Canadian prime minister, Lester B. Pearson, is credited with founding modern-day peacekeeping.
Trudeau also has been distracted by political upheaval at home during the course of the campaign. While he made the bid a priority early in his first government, Chapnick said, President Donald Trump deciding NAFTA should be renegotiated “changed everything for Canada,” as then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland took the reins on the country’s relationship with the U.S.
“It’s really hard to run a campaign from behind when you don’t have support from the center,” he said.
Trudeau really only has himself to blame. He usually comes off as a far-left soy boy out of his league on the world stage. Canada is an important partner in the world, with the proper leadership, and yet Trudeau has overseen a deterioration of relations with China and Saudi Arabia, for example. Remember that disastrous state visit to India? Yeah, that was a not a shining moment for Canada. And there were the blackface scandals, too, that surely didn’t do Trudeau any favors, especially with the African and Caribbean nations he was courting for their votes. Trudeau often looks like he is more concerned about appearing woke and progressive more than anything else.
Trudeau is trying to put a good face on his defeat, as is the Foreign Affairs Minister. I’ll let you make your own blackface jokes.
“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,” Trudeau said in a statement Wednesday after the vote.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said at a press conference the country’s campaign allowed Canada to renew and strengthen bilateral connections across the world.
In the days of the coronavirus pandemic, voting at the U.N. is different. Voting was done by secret ballot and voted one-by-one to respect social distancing measures
Historic vote at the @UN as Member States cast ballots for PGA, ECOSOC and five new non-permanent members of the Security Council. One person in, one person out, with everyone wearing masks and following social distancing measures. pic.twitter.com/izCz4aiVkQ
— Ambassador Kelly Craft (@USAmbUN) June 17, 2020