UN loss 'most embarrassing moment': Ignatieff

Canada's failure to win a temporary seat on the UN Security Council was 'the most embarrassing moment for Canada on the world stage in more than 60 years,' Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says.

Canada needs foreign policy changes for 'internationalist generation'

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations in Montreal on Tuesday. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))

Canada's failure to win a temporary seat on the UN Security Council was "the most embarrassing moment for Canada on the world stage in more than 60 years," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Tuesday.

"Last month, for the first time since 1948, Canada failed to win a seat on [the council]," Ignatieff told the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations. "This was a great disappointment for Canada — and a clear condemnation of our foreign policy."

In a bilingual speech titled "Rebuilding Canada's Leadership on the World Stage," Ignatieff took broad swipes at the minority-government Conservatives.

He took careful aim at their reaction to Canada's loss to Portugal on Oct. 12 for the UN seat, accusing the Tories of trying to "escape accountability for their failure" by blaming others, rather than themselves, for the loss.

"The fact is that every prime minister who has tried to win a seat for Canada on the UN Security Council has succeeded — except for Stephen Harper," he said.

Ignatieff also accused the Conservatives of:

  • Ignoring China and India.
  • Letting Canada's share of new markets fall behind.
  • Walking away from Canada's partners in Africa.
  • Abandoning the country's role as a respected mediator in the Middle East.
  • Ignoring climate change.
  • Withdrawing from UN peacekeeping.

"When you add all of that up, you have a pretty convincing set of reasons why we lost on the 12th of October," he said.

"But I'm not here to be negative. I'm here to be positive and to suggest positive ways Canada might take back its place on the world stage."

Policy suggestions

For example, Canada could wage an international campaign against the use of child soldiers, he said. It could also work to prevent nuclear proliferation, support the Geneva Conventions and return to the fight against climate change.

In the Middle East, Canada should not play favourites by siding only with Israel, Ignatieff said.

"The foreign policy debate in Canada should not be about who is Israel's best friend," he said. "It should be about how we bring peace and security to Israelis, Palestinians and the region."

Canada should also aim to improve ties to China, India and Brazil, he said, part of what he described as a "whole of Canada approach to international relations."

"Our current way of engaging these countries is with narrow commercial agreements, narrowly economic agreements, when what we're looking for are agreement that embrace education, culture, tourism, family reunification and economic interaction."

All of these improvements are necessary to benefit "the most internationalist generation that Canada has ever produced," Ignatieff said in French, referring to "a generation that takes for granted that a Canadian citizen is a citizen of the world."

"What an incredible generation. They need a government that is worthy of them and they're going to get it."