Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The foreign policy coup that wasn't

The Harper gang at the UN today.
Another one of those pictures that speaks a thousand words, capturing the day at the UN for the Harper team. Truly an unexpected development, the consensus going into today's vote was that despite the Harper government's foreign policy, we'd get the seat on our longstanding reputation. Despite the efforts on the world stage to hold up concrete work on climate change, we'd get it. Despite a faltering commitment to Africa, we'd get it. Despite our abandonment of Canada's honest broker's position on the Middle East, we'd get it. That ride is over.

There are those major stances that have clearly had repercussions. Throw in this new dust-up with the UAE that has flared in the week leading up to this vote and the world may have gotten another fresh reminder of the Harper government's posture on the world stage. It's described today as another Harper unilateral decision along the lines of the domestic census decision-making: "the Prime Minister would not budge." Spun as not meaningful, but the world has to have taken note.

How it played out is also instructive to gauge the extent of our support:
Based on states present and other considerations, the countries in the group with Canada needed 127 votes to go through on the first ballot. Germany obtained 128, 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, but Canada’s withdrawal, announced to the assembly by John McNee, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, left the way clear for Portugal.
To round out the day, here's some reaction. From a former Canadian diplomat:
“We’ve suffered a loss that we haven’t previously suffered in our foreign policy,” Paul Heinbecker, a prominent former Canadian diplomat who represented Canada at the UN, commented in an interview. “It’s a significant defeat.”
"It is a reflection not so much on Canada as on the Harper government," said historian Robert Bothwell, an expert on foreign relations at the University of Toronto.
"This is, after all, the prime minister who showed his contempt for the UN by very publicly skipping a session and going to a Tim Hortons to be photographed."
Quipped Bothwell: "Perhaps Harper can get a seat on the Tim Hortons security council."
Some additional well-placed reaction to the blame Ignatieff effort:
Une interprétation rejetée par Louise Fréchette, qui a été vice-secrétaire générale de l'ONU de 1998 à 2006. «Ça n’a certainement pas joué. Il y a des raisons plus profondes. Les autres pays ne suivent pas à ce point la politique intérieure du Canada. Je suis triste du résultat et si le gouvernement ne fait que rejeter la faute sur Ignatieff, il va passer à côté du vrai examen de conscience qu’il a besoin de faire sur sa politique étrangère», a-t-elle dit lors d’un entretien téléphonique avec Le Devoir cet après-midi. Mme Fréchette est aujourd'hui associée au Centre pour l'innovation en gouvernance internationale, à Waterloo.
That didn't play, she said. There are deeper reasons, other countries don't follow our internal politics. What they really need to do is wrestle with why Canada lost. Common sense advice.

At the UN, the Ignatieff factor didn't seem to play either:
Several ambassadors who emerged from the vote made no mention of Ignatieff's remarks; one had never even heard of him.
Instead, African ambassadors, in particular, pointed to a series of Canadian stances on issues ranging from African debt relief to the Conservative government cutting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and accusing it of having terrorist links.
Last word on the Ignatieff blame to this guy:
Mr. Harper promised he would return Canada as a credible player on the world stage. He has now suffered a significant embarrassment on that stage and he has only himself to blame.
That's a full 360 from his early take on this that suggested the PM was on the brink of a "foreign policy coup." Hope the spinners are waking up to brutal reality. Just because the Harper Conservatives spin something does not make it so.

On the heels of the huge gun registry bill defeat, the fall has now seen two major rebukes to the Harper government. Chickens coming home to roost and about time.