Canada won't cover UNESCO budget gaps

Canada will be cutting voluntary contributions to UNESCO following Monday's decision to give the Palestinians a seat on the organization, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says.

Unhappy with decision to give Palestinians seat on agency

Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian envoy at the UN in Geneva, says the Palestinians hope to join 16 other UN agencies in the wake of a vote that allowed them to join UNESCO. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/Associated Press)

Canada will be cutting voluntary contributions to UNESCO following Monday's decision to give the Palestinians a seat on the organization, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says.

Baird said that Canada will not reduce its currently assessed contributions, but it will not be offering any new voluntary contributions to cover shortfalls.

"Canada's deeply disappointed by the decision taken by UNESCO," Baird said on Tuesday. "Canada believes the only solution to this issue is a negotiated settlement between the two parties. Under no circumstances will Canada cover the budgeting shortfall as a result of this decision and Canada's decided to freeze all further voluntary contributions to UNESCO."

Canada contributes about $10 million a year to the agency.

"The bottom line is there's going to be a large hole in UNESCO's budget because of the American law which withdraws funding, and people at UNESCO should not look to Canada to fill that budget hole," he said.

"They'll have to go to the countries who supported this resolution, that caused this budget loophole. And if they want to appeal to Canada to make even more contributions to voluntary UNESCO initiatives, we will not be looking at entertaining new ones."

Baird added that Quebec, which has its own seat on the organization, did not vote on Monday and the decision to fund or not was Parliament's alone.

Earlier, the Palestinians' top envoy in Geneva said Tuesday he believes that joining the UN agency for culture, education and science will "open the door" to joining 16 other UN agencies within weeks.


Canada's response to the UNESCO shortfall spurred over 1,000 comments from CBC community members.

"There are procedures and standards that have to be met in order to join UNESCO. If Palestine meets them to UNESCO's satisfaction then that is all there should be to it," said JonnyX.

"Rightly or wrongly, UNESCO was aware of Canada's position on this issue before the vote, therefore it stands to reason this would have been the expected result," said Robotech.

Read more comments in our community blog.

Ibrahim Khraishi, the top Palestinian envoy at the UN in Geneva, told The Associated Press that Palestinian diplomats are now planning to capitalize on Monday's landslide vote to allow the Palestinians into UNESCO by preparing papers to join the other UN agencies and a variety of other international organizations.

"Now we are studying when we are going to move for full membership on the other UN agencies," Khraishi said. "It's our target for [us to join] the international organizations and the UN agencies."

He said the UNESCO vote sets a precedent to allowing such broad memberships.

"We are working on it, one by one," he said. "Because it's now precedent that we are a full member in one of the biggest and one of the most important UN agencies, UNESCO. So it will open the door for us now to go further in our efforts to join other UN agencies."

In Jerusalem, Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the Palestinian strategy not only undermined the need for peace talks, but also could cause grave damage to the workings of the United Nations. He said that by joining more UN bodies, the Palestinians would try to "hijack" these committees and press an anti-Israel agenda. "There will be huge collateral damage for the working of international institutions," he said.

The Obama administration cut off funding to UNESCO after Monday's vote, and U.S. officials warned of a "cascade" effect at other UN bodies that might follow UNESCO's lead.

The Palestinians have triggered a long-standing congressional ban on U.S. funding to UN bodies that recognize Palestine as a state before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached.

Joining UNESCO, for example, could give the Palestinians an advantage in joining the UN World Intellectual Property Organization, whose rules say membership is "equally open" to those already a member of other UN specialized agencies.

But it's not clear whether that means membership is automatic and Geneva-based WIPO spokeswoman Samar Shamoon had no comment on the matter Tuesday.

With files from The Associated Press