The Harper government will not mount another campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council after Canada's historic defeat last year, says Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
"It's not something I envisage," Baird told The Canadian Press when asked whether he planned another bid for a two-year, temporary term on the powerful council in the coming years.
While Baird said, "you never want to stand for something and not be elected," the often-combative rookie foreign minister was defiant and cutting in his reasoning for the decision.
"Listen, I mean, we don't go along to get along. That's just not a phrase," said Baird, using the oft-repeated mantra that has morphed into the mantra for his first six months as Canada's top diplomat. Baird first used it at least eight times during his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly in September.
Canada was trounced by Portugal last year for the second of two temporary two-year, non-veto-wielding seats on the UN's top body. It was the first time in the six-decade history of the UN that Canada failed to win a seat for which it made a bid.
The loss sparked criticism in many quarters about whether Canada's foreign policy under the Conservative government –perceived tilts in policy toward Israel and away from Africa and an unpopular policy on climate change, among them – may have cost the country support among a majority of the UN's 190-plus member countries.
Baird shot back at critics on all fronts in a wide-ranging interview in his Foreign Affairs Department office shortly before Christmas.
"Maybe if we had shut up, and not talked about gay rights in Africa; maybe if we had shut up and been more quiet about our concerns about Sri Lanka; maybe if we hadn't been so vocally against the deplorable human rights record in Iran, maybe Iran might have voted for us," Baird said in the Dec. 20 interview, one of several he conducted with various media outlets that day.
"But we didn't and I don't think we regret anything. Iran probably voted against us; North Korea probably voted against us; Gadhafi probably voted against us. I think those are all badges of honour," he said.
Baird said he is especially proud of his stand against Sri Lanka's government for not adequately investigating alleged atrocities by its military forces when they annihilated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.
"We're appalled at that. Someone needs to stand up and say the lack of accountability for war crimes, the lack of any meaningful reconciliation ... it may not be very popular, but someone needs to raise these realities. I think it's tremendously important."
Baird defends position on Israel
Critics say Baird and the Tories are playing what has been called "diaspora politics" by taking positions that may win them support in large blocs of newly-arrived Canadians. Tamils, for example, number in the hundreds of thousands in key Toronto-area ridings, the population's largest concentration outside Sri Lanka.
Baird rebutted the criticism, saying: "We didn't do it before election day."
On Israel, the Conservatives have incurred the ire of Muslim and Arab-Canadian groups with what is seen as their unqualified support of Israel.
Baird dismissed that as unfounded, suggesting it was a creation of the media. "It's a principled position. If you look at our position on Israel – in my riding we have 2,800 Jews and 11,500 Muslims and Arabs. We don't do it for political gain; we do it because we think it's right and we believe in it."
Baird said he plans to travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories in early January. He heaped praise on Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, after meeting him earlier this year. "He is probably the world's quietest success story. The security situation in the West Bank has improved immeasurably under his leadership," said Baird.
"We've been working very closely with him on that with a lot of Canadian support. On the security side, their transparency and getting rid of corruption is a gigantic accomplishment for him and the Palestinian people. The economic growth rate has improved considerably, so it's been good news."
As for Canada being a laggard on climate change, a topic Baird raised without being asked, he said: "Travelling almost twice around the world, I've only had two foreign ministers raise climate change with me." Baird added: "It's a big issue for some; it certainly hasn't been one that I've heard a lot about."
Baird said Canada remains committed to helping the Arab Spring countries – Libya and Egypt in particular – to build democratic societies that respect the rule of law. But the minister could offer few specific examples of programs.
Defending women's rights important
"We want to continue to promote Canadian values. How do we support the people themselves, and not impose our values and principles ... offer them support on democratic development on how you conduct an election, on the rule of law."
Baird reiterated the rights of Arab and Muslim women should not be trounced in the months ahead. "It's funny because I'm not a natural champion of feminism but the role of women in North Africa, and the Middle East and the Arab Spring is tremendously important because I think it leads to not just equality, which is a Canadian value, but I think it leads to a more civil society," he said.
"I think like most Canadians, I watched what looked like to be Egyptian security forces beating a woman on the streets of Cairo. I was disgusted by that violence against a woman who, by all accounts, appeared to be just exercising her rights of free speech in a political demonstration."
Baird said he uses strong words because he is "passionate" about human rights and protecting the abused."When people are being put to death in Africa, whose only crime is the criminalization of homosexuality, it's really difficult to raise that when there's intolerance. But I think it needs to be said," he said.
"When you talk about rape as an instrument of war, women being raped in Libya, it's a very uncomfortable issue. Just ignoring it, throwing it under the carpet, it's not an option."