OTTAWA – The Harper government spent nearly $1 million ferrying diplomats around the world in an unsuccessful bid to shore up support for a Canadian seat on the United Nations Security Council, newly released documents show.
Foreign Affairs officials travelled from the Polynesian island of Tuvalu to the Solomon Islands and dozens of other destinations in an attempt to win backing for membership in the world’s most exclusive club.
Documents introduced in the House of Commons this week list 150 trips taken in support of the bid between January 2008 and last October, when United Nations member countries snubbed Canada and instead cast more ballots for Portugal.
It was the first time in 50 years that Canada had failed in an attempt for one of the 10 elected spots on the Security Council.
The failure was seen by some as a repudiation of the Conservative government’s foreign policy, which has seen it take more assertive positions in support of Israel and other allies. The Prime Minister’s Office blamed the embarrassing rejection on Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, accusing him of failing to publicly support Canada’s candidacy.
Much of the diplomatic effort to shore up the bid appears to have been expended in the Middle East. Foreign Affairs officials made 10 trips to Libya and seven to Egypt, with additional stops in Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
They also made multiple trips to Ethiopia and Rwanda in Africa.
The documents show thousands of dollars were spent entertaining foreign diplomats and U.S. officials, including a visit to a New York Yankees game with Cuban, Thai, Bosnian, Sri Lankan and Cambodian representatives. Canada also picked up tickets to take officials from Oman, Brunei, the Philippines and Italy to see the Cirque du Soleil.
Other officials were taken to unidentified events at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Though the balloting is secret, Postmedia News reported in October that Canada secured uncertain support from Africa but opposition from the Islamic bloc of nations ultimately scuttled the bid.
Travel with the primary objective of advancing the bid cost $884,000, but Foreign Affairs notes that "other Canadian interests and objectives were also advanced during the course of this travel."
But the bid was "brought up during every trip taken by the ministers and the parliamentary secretary," Foreign Affairs said.
"Even when the campaign was not the primary objective of the visits, the campaign was always mentioned as part of the discussions (e.g. lobbying on the margins of major international meetings and summits or raising Canada’s candidacy during bilateral-focused visits where other diplomatic business and objectives were pursued)."