Canada has lost its high-profile bid for one of the rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council.
The loss marks the second consecutive failed quest for one of the two seats available in the category for member states from western Europe and other countries, something Canada has now sought and failed to win under two very different governments.
A total of 128 votes were needed to secure a two-thirds majority.
Norway secured 130 votes while Ireland got 128.
Canada received just 108 votes, even fewer than the 114 first round ballot votes that it received in 2010 when the former Conservative government ran and failed to win the same seat.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had frequently billed the seat as an avenue for Canada to exert greater influence on the world stage at a time when international institutions like the UN are under significant scrutiny and international relations are anything but harmonious.
The Conservatives lost to Portugal on the second ballot in 2010 after support collapsed to just 78 votes.
In a statement issued following the loss on Wednesday, Trudeau congratulated Norway and Ireland and said Canada will continue its commitment to the values it has advocated throughout the campaign.
“Throughout every step of our campaign, and in a time of global uncertainty, we promoted the Canadian values of peace, freedom, democracy, and human rights,” he said.
“We will continue to pursue this approach at the United Nations and in other international forums – because Canada does well, and Canadians do well, when we strengthen our international relationships and fully engage on the world stage.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne took questions from reporters and while he wouldn’t speculate on why Canada lost, he said there will be lessons learned.
He was asked specifically about whether he will consider a foreign policy review akin to the defence policy review undertaken by the Liberals in their last mandate, given the global upheaval and calls for major reforms to many global institutions.
“Will we be open to considering different things? Yes and we should as Canadians,” he said.
Trudeau has repeatedly pointed to the 2010 failure to win a seat as a sign the Conservative approach to more hawkish foreign policy was not as effective as his own focus on multilateral and quieter diplomacy.
But after five years of using “Canada is back” as a rallying cry on the world stage, it appears the major African, Asian and Caribbean voting blocs did not share his enthusiasm.
Trudeau had courted them heavily via foreign trips, phone calls and support for initiatives of shared interest at the UN, particularly with regards to improving the coronavirus response around the world.
But foreign policy experts say they suspect the “Canada is back” talk just didn’t square with the concrete resources that the Canadian government brought to the table.
“Trudeau may be the amicable poster child of multilateralism and diversity … but at the end of the day, that’s not enough,” said Bessma Momani, professor of international relations at the University of Waterloo and a fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
“Where’s the dollars? Where’s the troops? Where’s the presence that people expect?”
Despite pledging in the 2015 campaign to recommit Canada to traditional peacekeeping, Trudeau only briefly deployed Canadian troops as part of a limited contribution to the United Nations mission in Mali.
The total number of Canadian peacekeepers deployed fell this year to its lowest number in 60 years.
“The Trudeau government, rhetorically, has been much more supportive of the United Nations, certainly hasn’t done the kind of criticism of it in the way that the Harper government did,” said David Perry, vice president and a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
“But if you look at the actual hard contributions — dollars spent, troops contributed — what’s remarkable to me is the degree of continuity. They were small numbers to begin with, but they went down even further.“
Voting took place under unprecedented new rules imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 193 ambassadors from UN member states cast their votes via secret ballot in staggered, assigned voting periods rather than at a UN General Assembly meeting.