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Ottawa still doesn't want you to know why Canada lost its UN Security Council bid

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(Documents released by Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade under the Access to Information Act.)


It was among Canada’s most crushing diplomatic defeats.

More than two years after Canada lost its bid to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council, the Harper government refuses to release to the public most of its analysis on the debacle—save for a few self-congratulatory emails.

Canada began its campaign for the coveted UN post in 2001, and by 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was claiming “Canada’s back, as a vital player on the global stage.”

Canada was up for the two-year UNSC post against Portugal and Germany, which was considered the odds-on favourite for one of the two seats.

But the result was a disaster for Canadian diplomacy. Germany received 128 votes, Portugal 122 and Canada 114 in the first round. Canadian support dropped considerably in the second round against Portugal, with the latter receiving 113 votes to Canada's 78.

Foreign aid experts suggested the Conservative government's unbridled support of Israel, decision to cut aid in Africa, and its unpopular policy on climate change may have cost Canada support on the international stage. “The world doesn’t need more of the Canada they have been getting," former Canadian diplomat Bob Fowler told The Star's Jim Travers in April 2010.

“When the first ballot results were announced, there was an audible gasp in the room, both for the weaker than anticipated German results and Canada's third place finish,” Masud Husain, Minister-Counsellor at the Canadian mission to the UN, wrote in an Oct. 15, 2010, email labeled “Secret” to heads of missions. “The Canadian delegation received congratulations from many delegations following the vote for the demonstration of grace and elegance in defeat.”

DFAIT official Patrick Wittman wrote in an Oct. 19, 2010, email to colleagues that Canada is hardly the only large country to lose at the UNSC.

“There is also a growing recognition that the non-European members of Canada’s electoral group are increasingly disadvantaged in UNSC elections… to put things into perspective, other major countries have also lost recently (Sweden 1992, India 1996, Italy 2000) and were subsequently elected.”

On Nov. 12, 2010, McNee wrote an email to CIDA President Margaret Biggs that appears to make suggestions about Canadian foreign aid.

"One month after the UNSC election, we should dispassionately consider..." The rest of McNee's paragraph is blacked out, as are details about "the most troubling aspects" of the UNSC vote.

McNee does offer later that, “The Portuguese FM publicly lauded the influential roles of Brazil, Spain and Turkey in Portugal's success.”

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That’s about as much self-reflection from the government as Canadians should probably expect. Two months after the loss, McNee writes another email to colleagues.

"Of all the reasons adduced for Canada's lack of success in the UNSC election, I think one of the most obvious and convincing explanations has not been spelled out: that is, ...."

The rest of McNee's views are blacked out.

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Canadian foreign affairs minister John Baird has since said Canada doesn't immediately plan another campaign for a UNSC seat.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead


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I know why: Canada sucks!

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