The United Nations General Assembly has strongly rejected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s worldview and his narcissistic personal brand of diplomacy.
For Canada’s candidacy to not even make it to the second round of balloting against two minnows with sharks’ teeth — Norway and Ireland — is a sharp lesson to all those Canadians who travel abroad and confuse polite smiles for great affection and respect for our country.
Clearly, we are neither so great nor as loved as we or our prime minister think we are.
It has always been difficult to understand why the Trudeau government so eagerly sought a seat on the United Nations Security Council. The two-year position has zero clout.
Worst of all, by almost every measure — foreign aid cuts, withdrawal from UN peacekeeping, silence on China’s abuse of its Muslim Uighur minority and so much else related to that country’s dictatorship — we did not deserve it.
Norway and Ireland won and Canada, a member of the mighty G7, was a very poor third — about 20 votes behind — because the two European nations have been persistent supporters of foreign aid, peacekeeping and the UN.
They did not need a highly publicized last-minute campaign to boast of themselves as among the sainted because they are not a Johnny-Come-Lately. They’ve been a constant. They’ve been there all along.
Canada lost for many reasons. One of them was because of our government’s timidity. It chose to say as little as possible on many of the most emotive issues of the day, lest it offend a country and lose its vote.
Our criticisms of other countries have mostly been couched in gentle euphemisms or were part of group statements that never really stated what our position was and what we might do.
Until a few weeks ago, it was taboo for ministers to even utter the word “Taiwan.” On importing 5G technologies from China, we have seemed paralyzed long after our security agencies and most of our allies have declared they want nothing to do with it.
Such a craven approach was a hopeless strategy to justify why Canada should have a place in the Security Council chamber.
The reality laid bare by this stark rebuke is that Canada is hamstrung by a preachy foreign policy that has latterly become heavily based on imposing our domestic cultural orthodoxies on others. This has made us a preening nag, a bore and — as the vote by the 190-odd countries that make up the United Nations General Assembly demonstrates — largely irrelevant, except to ourselves.
The government’s pious sanctimony has become almost cult-like since Trudeau foolishly declared that “Canada is back,” without providing a road map to explain where we had been or where we’re going.
What is obvious is that we have a habit of selling things no one wants to buy. Worse than that, we are not even good at sales. It is obvious we are so inconsistent in the application of our values that we end up being unable to stand for anything.
Where to begin in dissecting this debacle?
The first mistake was to build Canada’s reputation around that of the prime minister. The world does not see him as many Canadians do. His performance on the global stage has been one confusion after another.
India has not forgotten the prime minister’s song and dance routine and his ambivalence about closer ties with the world’s largest democracy. Wearing costumes from a Bollywood wardrobe was, at best, tomfoolery, and at worse, terribly condescending.
Daubing on blackface and brownface, including once when he was a teacher, may have been largely forgotten or excused in Canada. But there is every chance it influenced the voting of some African and Caribbean countries.
The Canadian media and political opposition paid almost no attention but Trudeau dissed the prime ministers of Japan and Australia when he failed to show up to ink a trade deal in Vietnam. They were understandably livid. Such egregious faux pas have consequences.
Canada has not done very well with the world’s Big Three, either. Chinese state media has described Trudeau as Little Potato. Trudeau’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, is banned from Russia. U.S. President Donald Trump has been repeatedly irritated by Trudeau’s behaviour at international gatherings.
Trudeau expressed his admiration for China’s “basic dictatorship” and the fondness he thinks Cubans have for Fidel Castro. These were rookie diplomatic mistakes of someone with no world experience or a cogent, realistic world view.
On security issues, Canada has been in full retreat.
The Canadian government has been nowhere near meeting the pledge it made to NATO to increase defence spending to two per cent, wanted no part in Ballistic Missile Defence, shunted the fighter jet buy further down the road, and convinced itself that by contributing small contingents of soldiers to missions in Latvia, Ukraine and Iraq, the country demonstrated that is was a credible security partner.
A thoughtful white paper on defence was produced on Trudeau’s watch by the military. But most of the spending was backloaded into the mid-2020s. Much of it will now likely never come to pass because COVID-19 spending has trashed the federal budget.
Canada announced a Feminist International Assistance Policy that supports gender balance and empowerment of girls and women, speaks up for diversity and human rights, and is against racism and climate change. These are noble causes.
But it must be understood that as worthy as such values are, many in the motorcycle gang of nations do not embrace them, or say they do and then do as they please.
These causes hardly represent a national security policy, yet the position that Canada sought was on the United Nations “Security Council.”
There were other blunders. The prime minister bizarrely began styling himself and Canada as world leaders in confronting the coronavirus.
A casual investigation of the numbers by any UN ambassador would indicate that whatever myths are being created about this at home, when compared to countries such as Norway, Australia and Taiwan, Canada’s performance in fighting the pandemic has been patchy and middling at best.
If we can’t make a decision on Huawei’s 5G phones, if we cannot constantly criticize the illegal imprisonment of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in China or condemn gross human rights violations of Uighurs and Hong Kongers, what does that say about Canada? Was our plan to abstain on every vote that came before the UNSC?
This is not only the fault of the politicians. There is little discussion of these issues in this country by the media, academics or business leaders. The UNSC seat was treated like a bauble and Canada believed it deserved its term.
We’re a world leader in what? Pray tell.
Having failed to get over even the hurdle of the first ballot, Prime Minister Trudeau has embarrassed the country and achieved the result he least wanted.
Matthew Fisher is an international affairs columnist and foreign correspondent who has worked abroad for 35 years. You can follow him on Twitter at @mfisheroverseas