Experts are blaming Canada's failure to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council on its foreign policy, not political division, a day after Tuesday's surprise loss in New York.
Paul Heinbecker, Canada's former ambassador to the UN and a leading critic of the government's foreign policy, said many of Canada's decisions — including decreased African aid, its support of Israel, and its stance on climate change and peacekeeping — are unpopular with the international community.
Still, Heinbecker said, it is a painful loss.
"It's a big disappointment, and it's a shock," he said.
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Stephen Harper's government faced criticism early on for not having a cohesive foreign policy. In 2006, Harper attempted to bolster his foreign policy credentials, boasting "Canada's back, as a vital player on the global stage."
In recent months the government had been making progress by developing a stronger relationship with China and hosting the G8 and G20 summits.
But despite the international attention, Canada showed poorly on the second ballot of Tuesday's UN vote — scoring just 78 votes to rival Portugal's 113 in a vote that needed a two-thirds majority to win.
John McNee, Canada's UN ambassador, made the surprise announcement that Canada would pull out shortly after.
Heinbecker said that despite the loss, the country should continue to strive for a spot on the council.
"The fact is the UN is too important to ignore," Heinbecker said.
"The UN is in some sense the central operating system … the UN charter is the basis of international law, so from the Canadian government perspective, I don't think it's possible just to walk away from the UN and say it doesn't matter.
Conservatives insisted Canada's bid was "strong" and "principled," and blamed the opposition — Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff in particular — for the defeat.
"I do not in any way see this as a repudiation of Canada's foreign policy," Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday. "The principles underlying our foreign policy, such as freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, were the basis of all our decisions."
Cannon said the Canadian government will continue to work with its UN partners despite the outcome. Germany won one of two seats up for grabs in the first round of voting earlier Tuesday, with 128 of 191 ballots cast, while Portugal came second with 122 votes and Canada collected 114.
It is the first time Canada has failed in its bid for a Security Council seat. Canada has been on the Security Council six times, roughly once a decade, since the 1940s. The country's last term ended in 2000. Germany and Portugal have also been on the council before. Canada campaigned for nine years — since its last term on the council — for a seat. In the final days of Tuesday's bid, Canada wined and dined diplomats, offering them gifts of Canadian beer and maple syrup.