UNITED NATIONS – Canada’s historic loss in its bid to win election Tuesday to the United Nations Security Council came despite written promises of support from 135 countries, Postmedia News has learned.
The total, which comes from senior government insiders, would have been more than enough to assure Canada’s victory in the ballot.
Canada withdrew from a run-off against Portugal after twice running second to the diminutive European state.
The result means that the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the first to have failed to maintain Canada’s record of winning a place on the 15-member body – the UN’s most powerful – once a decade since the United Nations’ 1945 launch.
While the vote in the 192-member UN General Assembly is secret, broad opposition by members of the Islamic bloc appear to have scuttled Canada’s chances of returning to the council for the 2011-2012 two-year term.
The Harper government’s shift toward support for Israel compared to positions held by previous Liberal governments had not gone down well with members of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference, officials based at the UN revealed Tuesday.
One senior Islamic official also suggested that OIC members felt snubbed after Canada did not follow Portugal’s example of addressing the increasingly influential bloc as a group – even though Canadian officials say there were ministerial and other meetings with many individual Islamic states.
But the Canadian campaign appears to have successfully shored up broad backing in Africa. Critics of the Harper government had claimed many African countries were angry with Canada because of a consolidation of development aid.
Canada and Portugal had been joined by Germany in a three-way race to fill two council seats reserved for Western powers throughout 2011-2012.
Germany won outright in the first round with one vote in excess of the 127 needed for two-thirds support among the UN General Assembly states that were present and voting.
The assertion of undelivered promises brings back memories of Australia’s 1996 loss to Sweden in the face of ample pledges of support for the Australian candidacy.
Speaking earlier during a post-vote news conference, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon declared that support had been strong – but gave no specifics. Canadian officials also confided that there had been 15 verbal promises of support on top of their written promises of support.
"We did have strong commitments and strong support, and we’re very thankful to those countries that, indeed, did give us written support and committed to Canada," said the minister, who had been in New York to lead Canada’s final push for backing.
"The ambassador knows them very well," Cannon added in reference to John McNee, Canadian ambassador to the UN.
Cannon charged that an undetermined amount of support fell away in the wake of the recent statement by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff that Canada under the Harper government may not have "earned" a place on the Security Council.
"In my view, the ambassadors (at embassies in Ottawa) reported all of that information back, and it was used as an issue to prevent Canada from succeeding," Cannon said.
But he also acknowledged that foreign policy under the Conservative government had played a role in the loss – even as he said that policy is based on sound democratic and human rights principles.
"We will not back down from our principles that form the basis of our great country, and we will continue to pursue them on the international stage," Cannon said. "Some would even say that, because of our attachment to those values, we lost a seat on the council. If that’s the case, then so be it."
Joao Gomes Cravinho, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, addressed OIC member states while campaigning in New York on behalf of his country.
"He basically appealed to the OIC group for their support and, in the absence of Canada doing the same, they got support from the OIC member states," said a senior Islamic country official, who asked not to be identified because of the diplomatic sensitivity of his comments.
"This underlines the growing influence of the OIC group at the UN."
According to the official, Cravinho impressed many IOC members through his assertion that Portugal backs the Arab Peace Initiative in the Middle East. First proposed in 2002, the initiative calls for a "comprehensive" regional settlement in which Israel would revert to its borders before the 1967 Six-Day War, which Israel says was a defensive action.
Canada asserts that Israel’s borders should be fixed according to what’s agreed in talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The official also suggested that many OIC countries may see Canada as being too close to the United States, noting that Canada now often sides with the U.S. and also Israel on a number of "initiatives of interest" to the Islamic bloc.
"In looking at Portugal and Canada, there is a thought that it is balanced versus not balanced," the official said.
Other insiders revealed Tuesday that Brazil, the most populous of the Portuguese-speaking countries, had itself been quietly telling Arab countries that a vote for Canada would be as good as a vote for the United States.
A spokesman for the Brazilian mission to the UN said he knew nothing of such an assertion, and pledged to inquire with senior officials in Brasilia.
Harper met separately with both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres while attending the UN annual summit last month. Officials, meanwhile, confided that "a number" of the written pledges of support were from OIC member states.
Senior African officials cast doubt on long-standing claims by Harper government critics in Canada that Africa’s UN member states played a significant role in Canada’s loss.
"Canada co-ordinates a number of portfolios at the UN, such as women’s issues, which are key to Africa," said one official with the 53-member African Union.
"I don’t know of any (widespread) negative feeling in any African country as far as Canada is concerned."
But the official also said many African countries will have had a hard time picking between Canada and Portugal because "both enjoy really good relations with Africa."
The official said the Western "group" at the UN would have been better served to nominate just two candidates for the two Western slots to save the General Assembly from having to decide.
The assembly elected five new members in all, with clean slates offered by the other regional groups. From Jan. 1, India, Colombia and South Africa join Germany and Portugal as new Security Council members.
In the Western group’s first ballot, Germany obtained 128 votes, Portugal 122 and Canada 114.
In the second round, Canada obtained only 78 votes while Portugal obtained 113. The required majority in the second round was 128. The assembly subsequently confirmed Portugal’s election.