Canada has lost its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, losing to Norway and Ireland on the first ballot.
Canada’s loss came in the first round of voting Wednesday in a secret ballot of 192 member states of the United Nations General Assembly for two available seats on the council for a two-year term starting next year.
It follows the loss by the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper in 2010, and after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared Canada’s candidacy once the Liberals came to power in 2015.
Canada needed 128 seats – or two-thirds of the voting members of the assembly. Norway passed the threshold with 130 and Ireland garnered 128 votes.
Canada fell short with 108 votes.
Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said even if Canada lost, it would continue its international efforts to fight against climate change, economic inequity and preserving the world’s increasingly fragile institutions.
Norway and Ireland had an advance start in campaigning because Trudeau only announced Canada’s intention to seek a seat in 2015 after the Liberals were elected.
Trudeau dismissed suggestions that a loss for Canada would be a political failure for him personally, given the capital he has invested in the bid – starting with his “Canada is back” declaration the day after he won the October 2015 federal election.
Trudeau said his government has been engaged in a wide range of international activities and groups because he said that is in the interest of all Canadians, who need global trade and economic success everywhere so they can succeed at home.
“These are the things that we will continue to do into the future, regardless of what happens this week. But it certainly would be nice to have that extra lever of a seat on the Security Council,” Trudeau said.
Canada’s campaign for the council has focused heavily on what it has been doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That has included convening like-minded nations to ensure food security in developing countries, keeping vital supply chains open across the globe, and working on new financing models to help struggling countries whose economies have been decimated by the pandemic.
European countries were expected to unite around Canada’s two competitors, which forced the Trudeau government to focus on Africa, Latin America, and Arab nations, as well as the small island states of the South Pacific that face potential extinction one day from rising sea levels caused by climate change.
But Norway and Ireland both spend more on international aid and contributions to UN peacekeeping missions – two criteria that were widely seen as essential in winning a seat on the council.
Trudeau levelled veiled criticism at the UN’s geographical organization that has placed Canada in a grouping against European countries, which can never agree on two candidates for the temporary seats on the council.
“I have nothing but respect for our two competitors, Ireland and Norway, that have demonstrated an engagement in the world,” he said. “It is unfortunate that we’re in a situation of having to compete against friends for this.”
Independent Sen. Peter Boehm, who lobbied small island states on Canada’s behalf, questioned in a recent interview whether Canada belongs in the Western European and Others Group, or WEOG, the UN geographical bloc that Canada has been assigned.
“WEOG is sort of a lonely place for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel. We don’t really fit,” said Boehm, who was Canada’s ambassador to Germany in 2010 when the European powerhouse won a seat alongside Portugal, vanquishing Canada in its last attempt for a seat on the council.
Boehm said Canada belongs in the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, which is less competitive and makes more geographic sense for Canada.
One analyst expressed concern that there has been too much focus on Trudeau’s political fate in the UN bid.
“This is not a leaders’ popularity contest; it is about perceptions of Canada’s effectiveness on the world stage compared to Norway and Ireland. Canadians can vote on Trudeau in the next federal election, and we need to remember this is a vote for Canada and not our PM,” said Bessma Momani, an international affairs expert at the University of Waterloo.