Canada needed 127 votes, but only got 114 on the first ballot and 78 on the second. Canadian diplomats claim they had promises from well more than the number of votes required. But the ballot is secret, and promising to vote for in a United Nations election and actually delivering the vote is a game that Canada has played too.
What happened? Isn’t it obvious? Canada’s foreign policy has taken a dramatic swing to the right since the Harper government took power. Many members of the General Assembly must have thought there was little point electing a country that would be little more than a ventriloquist’s dummy for one of the permanent members of the Council. Canada might belong on the NATO Council, but it hardly deserves a place on the Security Council, where the vast majority of General Assembly members desire that the elected members show courage and independence in the face of the permanent five. And a commitment to multilateralism, which was until recently a hallmark of Canadian foreign policy.
Canada’s human rights record over the past four years is largely to blame. Canada’s performance in the Human Rights Council has been disgraceful, a sea change from the constructive, progressive posture it was known for in the 1980s and 1990s, and the first few years of the last decade. Many were stunned at the first session of the Council, in 2006, when Canada actually voted against the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, one of only two states to do so (Russia was the other). Last year, Canada completely boycotted the Durban Review Conference on racism and xenophobia. Inside the country, we had the sorry spectacle earlier this year of Harper nominees working to destroy the distinguished Canadian organization Rights and Democracy.
Read Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch in the Ottawa Citizen (external - login to view) for a good discussion of this. Some government supporters have been blaming Michael Ignatieff, who is leader of the parliamentary opposition, because he suggested Canada didn’t merit a seat on the Council, given its indifference to the United Nations in recent years, but all that Ignatieff did was speak the truth.