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UN Security Council Vote Loss: An Indication that Canada Has No Friends – By Prof. Phil Alalibo

By Prof. Phil Alalibo | NNP | July 18, 2020 – Canada’s foreign policy has come under intense scrutiny following its failed bid to secure one of the two available coveted temporary seats at the United Nation’s powerful Security Council. This Council with fifteen members (ten temporary and five permanent) is entrusted with the most delicate and important political and military decisions that impact the world. This is why every serious nation seeks an opportunity to vie for a seat on this council to demonstrate its strength, influence and relevance on the global stage.

It is against this backdrop that Canada’s failed bid must be viewed.  This failed bid is troubling on many levels. It comes on the heels of another failed bid in 2010 during the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party. It is little consolation that the vote tally in 2010 was closer to the mark than the one in 2020. The vote rejection suggests that Canada, as a middle power, is increasingly losing its influence in global politics for a myriad of reasons, and this cannot be good news for the politicians in Ottawa.

It further suggests that in the space of ten years, Canada did not forge enough multilateral relations across the world to ensure that its bid in 2020 is successful. It is troubling that two prime ministers from the two major parties in these ten years could not turn the minds of global leaders to support Canada’s bid in 2020 against two non-G7 member countries. At a time when nation-states are consumed with self-interest expressed in multilateralism, Canada has not leveraged its global reach, reputation as a peaceful and prosperous country to forge viable alliances to win the votes.

Canadian leaders should be worried that world leaders preferred two smaller countries, Norway and Ireland, for the rotating seats, a point that underscore Canada’s late arrival to the game and promotes the narrative of its declining perception around the world as a global leader. While Norway and Ireland began their bid in 2005 and 2007 respectively, Canada’s bid started in 2016, a year after Trudeau assumed office. It is questionable if Canada should have spent the sum of $2.3 million to campaign for a seat aware of the intense campaign already undertaken by the two European countries almost a decade earlier.

Prime Minister Trudeau, rationalizing his failure to secure a seat, stated that most of the countries had already committed to Norway and Ireland before Canada entered the race. This reflects poorly on Canadian leaders who appeared unaware of this important calculus. But there is more to Canada’s failure than its late entry. In the game of diplomatic politics, it is not inconceivable for Canada to negotiate with one of the two smaller countries to cede its interest in exchange for an economic package, military or political support on a number of fronts. Canadian diplomats either lacked the diplomatic finesses to engage in this high stakes negotiations or did not have the leverage as has been initially recognized to ensure success at the polls.

Over the years, since Trudeau assumed office, it has become clear that Canada has no friends. The first indication of this sad reality came when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), took exception to Canada’s criticism of the Kingdom’s poor human rights record following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the imprisonment of rights campaigners.

The diplomatic row was ignited by a tweet by then Global Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland and prompted the Kingdom to recall well over 8,000 of its sponsored students from Canada and ordered a divestment of its pension funds in Canadian companies. During the tense diplomatic standoff, Canada’s so-called Western allies, including its longstanding ally, the United States, were invisible and acutely muted, only issuing a half-hearted statement calling for restrain. This was an opportune moment for these allies to align with Canada to condemn the human rights excesses perpetrated by Riyadh on its citizens. But they valued their own economic relationship with Riyadh more than the human rights they claim to be championing.

China with no dog in the fight for the UN seat, would have been a willing even if temporary ally in Canada’s campaign. But Canada’s ongoing diplomatic feud with Beijing had forestalled any assistance from the second largest economy in the world. The hitherto warm and cordial Sino-Canada relationship hit rough waters when Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s CFO on a U.S. arrest warrant after she flew into Vancouver on December 1, 2018. Nine days after her arrest, China arrested two Canadians in what has been deemed by Ottawa as retaliatory. In an interesting turn of events, Beijing waited 48 hours after Canada’s rejection on the global stage to announce charges of espionage against the two, further dampening the mood of Canadian diplomats who had hoped for their release.

Though seen as a developing country, China’s global influence and geo-political brinksmanship cannot be ignored. Its increasing influence not only in the south-east Asia corridor, but in much of the developing world in Africa and Caribbean could have played in Canada’s favour had relations been warm. Canada has had to go it alone in its row with China with the so-called allies once again paying lip service in condemning China and affirming Canada’s case.

The consequences of tangling with the largest populated country in the world with massive economic and political leverage has been severe for Canada which ironically is being punished for upholding the interest of the United States. In the last several months, China has blocked agricultural exports from Canada causing ruin in the canola oil sector and further ruin in the pork industry.

It could not be mistaken that world leaders also considered the Trudeau brand and decided to look elsewhere. Trudeau significantly reduced his stock as a world leader with the badly mishandled trip to India in February, 2018. In that trip that has been described as a colossal failure with a convicted terrorist on the entourage, his host, Prime Minister Narandra Modi appeared to have ignored him while he toured the country with his family for a week, indulging in all manner of activities many considered excessive, including dressing in native attires garnished with Indian cultural and religious gestures and nuances to the dismay of Indians. As one Indian scholar put it, “PM Trudeau wants to be more Indian than the Indian.”

The revelation of his black face episode may have also dampened interest among world leaders in supporting Canada’s bid against a well-oiled and seemingly flawless opposition from Norway and Ireland. On the environmental front, many countries including ally Australia have taken issues with his pipeline project and position on climate change. The petition signed by many leading environmental activities that included David Suzuki, Greta Thunberg and others, may have deepened concern among world leaders.

The countries that won the seats have made bold commitments to global peace and development, while Canada has fallen short of targets set by the UN in these areas. Norway for example, spent 1% of its gross national income to developmental assistance around the globe, while Ireland has contributed significant number of troops to peacekeeping, one of the highest per capita. Canada’s contribution, was a paltry 250 troops to Mali for a one-year commitment, this coming two years after it was promised by Trudeau in 2015. Further, with expenditure of 0.27% of its gross national income, 0.4.3% short of the UN target, world leaders took note and rendered verdict.

At the end, Canada has paid the price for its isolationist foreign policy that at best is superficial and troublingly insouciance. Canada is not in Africa, it is not in Asia, it is not in the Middle East, it is not in South America or the Caribbean. Even against the odds of late entry, it should have won one of the seats with its membership or partnership with many international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS), Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, Asean Regional Forum, G7 and G20 group of nations, NATO and many more.

As the only country with French as a co-official language among the three that vied for the seats, Canada could have used its French language credentials to court Francophone countries. There are 29 countries where French is either the official language or co-official language, and Canada was not the candidate for many of these countries. Canadian leaders should learn the salient lessons of this failure and do it right in the next attempt.


Prof. Alalibo teaches political science and is the coordinating professor of Liberal Studies at Ontario’s premier public college, Centennial College of Applied Arts & Technology, Toronto.




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Posted by on Jul 18 2020. Filed under Africa & World Politics, Articles, Canadian Politics, Columnists, Headlines, NNP Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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