So, a couple of days ago, Canada failed in its bid to win a seat on the UN Security Council. To Portugal. Though I have nothing against Portugal, I have to admit that this loss stung a little. In Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s case, it appears to have stung a lot.
It was Harper who brought up the possibility that we might return to the Security Council, with his PR people and the media making much of his speech to the UN General Assembly (in spite of, frankly, embarrassing photographs which suggested that his speech was rather sparsely attended). In 2006, Harper promised that Canada would “return” to the international stage. What he really meant to say was that we’d march in lockstep with the Bush Administration. This has meant eschewing multilateralism, and generally downplaying the importance of the UN. A year ago, ma few people noticed that while important meetings were taking place at the UN, with a number of world leaders present, Harper had stayed away, to attend a ceremony in Oakville celebrating the fact that Tim Horton’s had returned to Canadian ownership.
As the record of the Conservative government lengthens, one cannot help but compare it to the record of the Liberal government before it, and here Harper doesn’t come out so well. Not only is Harper starting to match the previous administration in terms of regional pork barrelling and beat it in terms of incompetence, the comparison between the success of the Liberals’ foreign policy initiatives to the Conservative ones don’t reflect well on the Conservatives. And the fact that the UN turned Canada down flat at the Security Council vote presents the clearest evidence yet that the international community has noticed Canada in this respect, and does not like what it sees.
But the icing on the cake, illustrating Harper’s ham-fisted handling of government, is in the administration’s response to this apparent snub. In the past two weeks, when reports surfaced suggesting that Canada didn’t have the votes to win this coveted seat, rumours rose that the Conservatives were preparing attack ads on this basis, blaming Canada’s failure to win a seat on the UN Security Council on Michael Ignatieff. The rumoured attack ads haven’t run, yet, but Stephen Harper’s media rep Dimitri Soudas was quick off the mark to make the excuse everybody expected the Conservatives to make.
“I would say a big deciding factor was the fact that Canada’s bid did not have unity because we had Mr. Ignatieff questioning and opposing Canada’s bid… …That was a factor that played ultimately against Canada because people outside of Canada were saying, ‘Well, Germany and Portugal have a united front, their opposition and their governments seem to be fully, 100 per cent behind this bid… …Canada did not have that required advantage. We had an Opposition Leader that opposed Canada and clearly was not in it for Canada on this one.”
I’m sorry, but I have to say that, in my opinion, Dimitri Soudas is a partisan idiot and an idiot partisan.
Let’s leave aside the fact that we don’t know the reason Portugal beat Canada for the UN Security Council seat, and that Soudas is leaping on the most partisan response possible. Let’s leave aside the fact that the Harper government is essentially admitting that opposition leader Michael Ignatieff now has more international clout than they do. Does Dimitri actually believe that this is all Michael Ignatieff’s fault because he dared to criticize the Canadian government? Does he actually believe that this is all Michael Ignatieff’s fault because, as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the man was doing his job?
I seem to recall that, before he became prime minister, Stephen Harper had some choice words about Canadian government policy, especially during the beginning of the Iraq war. Indeed, if anything, these comments by Harper were much stronger than anything Ignatieff has said about this government’s policies towards the UN. And the possible consequences of Harper’s words then were at least as serious as the alleged consequences of the mighty Ignatieff’s mighty UN-shaking criticism. Harper criticized the Canadian government to American audiences, during a moment when relations between Canada and the United States were strained, thanks to a disagreement between the two countries’ governments on how to handle the Iraq war. America’s our biggest trading partner. You think the economic risks of such comments sort of outweighs the minor embarrassment of being denied a chair at a room in the United Nations?
Personally, I would say that Harper had a right to speak his mind back in 2003, just as Michael Ignatieff has an obligation to hold this government’s feet to the fire here in 2010. Still, it would seem that Harper himself would disagree. How blind, how hypocritical, does one have to be not to see the equivalence, here? Is Harper really saying that it’s only okay to criticize the government if the opposition is Conservative? Or is this another case of a politician saying one thing when campaigning for power, and doing something else once he finally has it?
Finally, even if Michael Ignatieff’s criticisms caused the members of the United Nations to shy away from the idea of supporting Canada’s bid for a seat on the Security Council, whose fault is it, really, that the criticisms stuck? Whose responsibility is it to answer criticism and defend government policy? Mr. Harper: it’s you. And the fact that not enough diplomats felt that your responses to whatever criticisms the opposition raised against you were adequate is your fault and yours alone. You wear this failure. And I think only the most partisan Conservative fails to understand this.
Shame on this government for once again insulting the intelligence of Canadians.