Canada’s UN Security Council election loss is an urgent wake up call


The yawning rhetoric-reality gap catches up to Canada

With Norway garnering 130 votes, Ireland 128 and Canada 108 in the first round of voting, our country failed in its bid for one of two non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council for 2021-22.

The loss was not a defeat for Canada’s multilateral foreign policy agenda. We were beaten by two countries with a better track record on those issues. – Former Amb Peggy Mason

In a 16 June webinar (one day before the UN vote), Mason regretfully predicted Canada’s impending loss and outlined the many policy areas where Canada’s record simply did not live up to its welcome rhetorical support for the UN, multilateral diplomacy and international law.

For a more succinct summary of what went wrong and how to fix it, see: Did Canada Deserve a Security Council Seat? Robin Collins, forthcoming in Peace Magazine).

Scheer Conservatives continue Harper era denigration of the UN

As CBC journalist Aaron Wherry deftly articulated in his analysis of Canada’s defeat, the Conservatives, never big fans of the United Nations, tried to turn their 2010 Security Council defeat around by arguing that they’d been rejected only because they had refused to compromise on their principles — including their vocal support for Israel. In short, they “would not go along to get along”.

The Scheer Conservatives, in turn, even went so far as to argue that a victory for Canada would happen only because the Liberal government had been “less principled” in its pursuit of the coveted Security Council seat.

Shortly after the voting results were announced, Andrew Scheer tweeted out:

He [the Prime Minister] sold out Canada’s principles for a personal vanity project and still lost.” – @Andrew Scheer 4:47 PM · 17 June, 2020)

Some might ask just what is wrong with Andrew Scheer continuing the Harper era “principled foreign policy”? Let us count the ways:

1) It never was principled in the first place but depended entirely on a cynical cost-benefit analysis of political and economic friend and foe.

  • The human rights record of Iran and Venezuela were vilified and sanctioned while the country with a far worse record, Saudi Arabia, was rewarded with a $15 billion dollar arms deal, the secret terms of which Canadians are still not permitted to know. Russian unilateral annexation of Crimea was met with sanctions while the Israeli occupation of Palestine did nothing to inhibit the negotiation of a Canada-Israel free trade agreement that breaches international law in its treatment of goods originating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

2) If all a country does is talk to its friends and “likeminded”, then how exactly are problems and differences with the rest of the international community to be resolved?

  • Canada does not have the military or economic clout to bully most others and, even if we did, the impending existential threats of climate catastrophe and environmental devastation, not to mention their pandemic offshoots, cannot be addressed without broad multilateral cooperation.

3) The driving factor is not principle at all but a craven pandering to domestic political interests (Ukrainian nationalists, pro-regime change Iranian lobby groups, the Israeli lobby in Canada) at the expense of international law and a diplomatic resolution of the underlying issues.

The real critique of Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy is that his government has not been courageous enough in extricating itself from the domestic political landmines laid in the Harper era and thus has failed to “re-balance” our policies on Russia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Iran and most especially Israel-Palestine to accord with our championing of multilateralism and peaceful dispute resolution.

Role that Canada’s voting record at the UN on Israel-Palestine may have played in the election results

Recent Ceasefire blogs has catalogued wide-ranging efforts by civil society to draw attention to Canada’s highly problematic voting record at the UN on the issue of Palestinian rights under international law, a pattern that contradicts stated Canadian policy, with a few welcome exceptions.

In Canada’s failed 2010 campaign, the UN votes Canada had repeatedly cast in support of Israel — sometimes in a minority made up of the U.S., Canada, the Jewish state itself, and a few tiny Polynesian and Melanesian islands that generally allow the U.S. to dictate their UN votes — alienated a large bloc of nations at the UN.

This starkly pro-Israel voting pattern that was begun in the Harper era has been largely maintained by the Justin Trudeau government:

That voting pattern continued in spite of the fact that it clearly undermined another Canadian foreign policy goal: winning a seat on the UN Security Council.

On 18 June 2020, the morning after the historic UN vote, three Canadian civil society leaders participated in an online television discussion of the role this voting pattern might have played in Canada’s Security Council loss. The panelists were Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason, Independent Jewish Voices National Coordinator, Corey Balsam and Karen Rodman of Just Peace Advocates.

To view this online panel, click below. The discussion begins at the 12-minute mark.

Opposition grows to Israeli annexation plan for West Bank

In related news, opposition is growing in the USA to the illegal Israeli plan to unilaterally annex the West Bank (Occupied Palestinian Territory). This now extends even to the most powerful American pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), with the result that the annexation plan will be an issue in the upcoming U.S. presidential campaign.

Here in Canada a brand new EKOS survey found that:

…three out of four Canadians want their government to oppose Israel’s annexation of large parts of the West Bank, while almost half support the use of sanctions.

Serious period of reflection needed on Canada’s foreign policy

The EKOS survey referenced just above not only shows strong Canadian public support for Palestinian rights but also what else the public wants from Canada’s foreign policy:

The results of the poll also show that many Canadians want the government to increase its contribution to international peacekeeping and combating climate change… Moreover, in a challenge to Canada’s pro-Israel record, a majority of Liberal, NDP, and Green supporters want Canada to increase its support for Palestinian human rights.

So what now?

How do we get from here to there? Closing the gap between rhetoric and action has been a consistent theme in our blogs since this government was first elected in October 2015. And we have been calling for a foreign policy review since 2016 when a defence review was announced and undertaken, without the broader foreign policy framework first being put in place.

Here is what is needed:

  • Immediate steps to live up to our UN re-engagement promises and our declared commitments to international law, disarmament and sustainable common security;
  • The establishment of a Commission with the mandate to underpin Canada’s multilateralism in a new foreign policy framework for the post-COVID 2lst century; and
  • The development and implementation of a plan to rebuild Canadian diplomatic capacity and to strengthen civil society expertise and engagement therein.

Former Canadian Ambassador Jeremy Kinsman concludes an excellent commentary thusly:

Time now to figure out what we really stand for, how to help contribute to it, and how to work our arrangements on the North American continent, easier if Joe Biden wins in November, and an essential point of our existential contemplation.

Wither Canada?

 The government appears to have taken the defeat in stride. In the words of the Prime Minister:

We will remain committed to multilateralism, to engaging constructively and positively in the world, because it’s something that matters to Canadians and it also matters to many, many countries around the world that Canada continues to be present and defending multilateralism.

That is good news but it is not nearly enough.

 We call on the government of Canada to commission a review of Canadian foreign policy including a plan to rebuild diplomatic capacity and to strengthen civil society engagement. In the meantime, steps should be taken to increase our foreign aid, up our peacekeeping contribution and fulfill our declared commitments to international law, disarmament and sustainable common security.


The Arms Control Association published an extraordinary list of responses to the US musings over a possible resumption of nuclear weapons testing. See: Reaction to White House Nuclear Testing Proposal Strongly Negative (, Issue Brief, Volume 12, Issue, 4, 16 June 2020).

The NGO, NATO Watch has a new briefing, entitled: NATO’s reflection process (NATO 2030): will it address the twin elephants in the room (American exceptionalism and militarism)? (Briefing No. 77, 16 June 2020). Sadly, but unsurprisingly, they argue that the make-up of the group of ten experts (including one Canadian) and the composition of its launch event suggest not.

There was a new and dangerous turn in the Canada-China-Huawei-two-Michaels saga with the news today of China’s decision to formally lay charges against Michael Kovrigand Michael Spavor, two Canadians who have been detained for well over a year on spurious allegations of espionage. In a transparent effort to pressure Canada, Chinese authorities have directly linked the case of the two detained Canadians to the judicial proceedings of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei.

    • The Conservatives, and at least one high profile former Canadian diplomat, have called repeatedly on Canada to “take a tougher negotiating stance” with China, without ever specifying what those new steps might be, given the vast power differential between the two countries.

 Photo credit: UN (Open VTC mtg of UNSC and peacekeeping missions)

Tags: "two Michaels", 2010 UN Security Council election, 2020 UN Security Council election, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Arms Control Association (ACA), Canada versus Norway and Ireland, Canadian foreign policy review, China, Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer, Corey Balsam Independent Jewish Voices, EKOS survey, Former Ambassador Jeremy Kinsman, Harper Conservative so-called principled foreign policy, Huawei, illegal Israeli annexation plan for West Bank, IndusNews, Karen Rodman (Just Peace Advocates), NATO Watch, Palestinian human rights, Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason, Robin Collins, UN voting on Israel and Palestine