Did Canada's support for Israel cost it a seat on UN Security Council?
United Nations Security Council seat goes to Portugal in secret vote; Islamic states thought to have voted as a bloc against Ottawa.
Canada lost its bid to acquire a seat on the prestigious United Nations Security Council when the UN General Assembly voted to give Portugal the coveted position. The Canadian press was abuzz with speculation over possible reasons for the losing the vote, with many commentators attributing it to the Conservative government's strong support of Israel.
Canada has long commanded respect on the international stage, serving six two-year stints on the UN Security Council since the body was first established in 1948: in 1948-49, 1958-59, 1967-68, 1977-78, 1989-90, and in 1999-2000. This is the first time that Canada's efforts to acquire a Security Council seat have not proven successful.
Voting for the 10 temporary seats on the most powerful UN body is cast by secret ballot, but the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which represents 56 countries in the UN General Assembly, have historically voted as a bloc in order to affect the outcome of UN votes and consistently vote to censure Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.
The current prime minster of Canada, Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper, came to power in February 2006 after 13 consecutive years of Liberal Party rule. Under his tenure, the Canadian government abandoned its traditional multilateral diplomacy – which Harper called a "weak-nation strategy," according to the Economist – and embraced Israel with increased vigor, while its relations with the Palestinian Authority cooled considerably.
Soon after Hamas emerged victorious in elections for the Palestinian parliament, Canada's conservative government broke off all contact with the group and cut off financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, which had previously amounted to $7 million annually, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Hard-line Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Canada in July 2009, and praised the country for its diplomatic solidarity with the government of Israel. "Canada is so friendly that there was no need to convince or explain anything to anyone. We need allies like this in the international arena," Lieberman told Radio Reza in a Russian-language radio interview, according to Canadian Jewish newspaper The Jewish Tribune.
In January 2010, Canada was the only country to reduce its financial contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides education, health care and emergency aid to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, cutting $18 million in aid, as reported by the Ma'an News Agency.
The day before the last week's UN vote for the security council seat, Canadian International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan visited Israel and announced his intention to increase the amount of trade between the two countries, according to Canadian newspaper The National Post. That move may have been the last nail in the coffin for Canada's Security Council aspirations.
However, some political commentators have surmised that the rebuff of Canada's efforts to secure a Security Council seat may not be directly related to its Israel policy. Instead, it has been suggested that the Conservative government's decision to scale back its commitment to international agreements in general, and its participation in the United Nations in particular, may be the real cause for Canada's disappointing UN election results.
"Canada's unilateral withdrawal from the United Nations' legally binding treaty on climate change [Kyoto Protocol] may have played an important role in Canada's lost bid," the CBC quoted John Bennett, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Sierra Club Canada, as saying.
According to Canadian national newspaper The Globe and Mail, Harper even skipped out on U.S. President Barack Obama's speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2009, in order to attend the dedication of a Canadian doughnut factory.
"This is a government that for four years has basically ignored the United Nations and now is suddenly showing up saying, 'Hey, put us on the council,'" said Canadian Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
"Don't mistake me," Ignatieff told the CBC. "I know how important it is for Canada to get a seat on the Security Council, but Canadians have to ask a tough question: 'Has this government earned that place?' We're not convinced it has."