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Canada Loses Race for Security Council Seat | Explained

A four-year campaign to get Canada back on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has ended in failure. On Wednesday, Canada was eliminated on the first ballot with Norway and Ireland winning the two non-permanent seats available.

The Takeaway: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had enthusiastically campaigned for the seat through multiple foreign trips, phone calls and statements emphasizing commitments to multilateralism. This defeat will likely spur-questions surrounding what Canada’s foreign policy direction is, and whether it is losing prestige on the global arena.


The Vote: The decision came down to a 192-country vote in the United Nations General Assembly today where Canada needed to receive at least two thirds to win the seat.

  • Norway received 130 votes, Ireland received 128 votes and Canada received 108 votes leading to its elimination on the first ballot.

The Seat: The Security Council holds 10 non-permanent seats which are elected for two-year terms; helping to maintain international peace and security. The UNSC carries a level of importance and status that states can leverage, having won it over others. 

Expected result? Despite a well-publicized and expensive bid to win the seat, there was pessimism over Canada’s ability to win due to the very strong campaigns run by both Ireland and Norway.

  • Both Ireland and Norway have more peacekeepers deployed than Canada.
  • Norway’s development assistance consistently exceeds UN targets of 0.7% GDP with a 1.0% average. Meanwhile, Canada currently gives just 0.26%.
  • Ireland has posited itself as a peacemaker in the post-Brexit world.

Leader on the World Stage? The vote results represent the second time in a row that Canada has lost a security council seat, with the previous Conservative government losing a 2010 bid. This begs the questions of what Trudeau’s foreign policy legacy will look like.

What they’re saying:

“As I’ve said from the beginning, getting a seat on the UN Security Council for Canada is not an end in itself. It’s a means to an end, it’s a way for Canada to continue to be influential and have an impact in multilateralism and around the world”

Justin Trudeau on the eve of the UNSC vote

“Some of the principles and ideas that Canada stands for are needed in the world today as never before: feminism, speaking up for diversity, speaking up for human rights, speaking up for the environment; these are all central values for our government and they are issues that Canada champions around the world”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The Bottom Line:

  • Seeking the seat in such a hotly-contested race was a risk for Trudeau. Losing it on the first ballot will likely spur questions from the opposition, press and public over the expensive lobbying campaign to win the seat.
  • Canada’s foreign policy under Trudeau will likely also be put under a microscope leading to increased discussions over arms deals with Saudi Arabia, support for regime change in Venezuela and Bolivia as well as worsening relations with China.

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