Studying Canadian voting behaviour at the United Nations General Assembly is a relatively new and emerging area of study within political science. Scholars, including Stéphane Paquin, Annie Chaloux, and Steven Seligman, have examined voting patterns of the Canadian delegation in order to further our understanding of Canadian foreign policy.
However, these studies raise some serious questions: do votes on resolutions necessarily represent anything beyond the General Assembly Hall in New York? Are votes indicative of a country’s actual foreign policy? In the Canadian context, the link between voting behaviour and foreign policy is questionable at best, which can be demonstrated by examining some of the voting patterns and their related foreign policy stances undertaken by the government of Prime Ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau.
One of the many examples of such disconnect between voting behaviour and foreign policy stances can be observed in Canada’s actions regarding the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine. Canada has long been an advocate for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace in the Middle East. Both the Harper and Trudeau governments officially advocated for a peaceful solution to the conflict, which can be examined on the Harper government’s archived “Canadian Policy on Key Issues in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” page and the Trudeau government’s current page.
However, neither of the governments’ voting behaviour at the General Assembly has been consistent with their foreign policy. Between 2011 and 2015, the Harper government voted against Resolutions 66/17, 67/23, 68/15, and 69/23, and the Trudeau government also voted against Resolution 70/15. Despite the fact that both Prime Ministers advocated for a peaceful settlement to the question of Palestine in their official foreign policy, this did not match their voting behaviour on the related General Assembly resolutions.
Another example of this disconnect can be observed in the case of the Canadian government’s stance on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan. Again, both governments declared the Israeli settlements to be illegal in their official foreign policies. At least officially, they denounced the settlements as a major barrier to achieving peace in the ongoing conflict, which is outlined in their respective policy pages. These policy stances are again described on their policy pages related to the conflict.
However, their governments’ voting behaviours at the General Assembly on resolutions calling for the denunciation and reversal of Israeli settlement policy were in direct contradiction with their official foreign policies. Between 2001 and 2015, the Harper government voted against Resolutions 66/78, 67/120, 68/82, and 69/92, and continuing the trend, the Trudeau government also voted against Resolution 70/89 in 2015.
As these two examples have demonstrated, there are cases where Canadian foreign policy does not match governments’ voting behaviour at the General Assembly. However, it is also important to note that in other cases there is correspondence between the two, such as the example of Canada’s foreign policy on nuclear disarmament.
Under the Harper government, Canada pursued a foreign policy directed at non-proliferation, reduction, and elimination of nuclear weapons. Reflecting this policy, the government voted in favour of Resolutions 61/74, 62/37, 63/73, 64/47, 65/72, 66/45, 67/59, 68/51, and 69/52 between 2006 and 2015, all of which called for renewed determination towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.
As these examples have clearly shown, there are cases where Canada’s voting behaviour at the General Assembly directly corresponds with the country’s foreign policy, but there are also cases where they do not at all. Studies that rely on these voting patterns as representations of official government foreign policy should do so with a grain of salt, as these actions do not necessarily represent anything in terms of foreign policy stances.
As stated on the Harper and Trudeau government pages on policy pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “. . . Canada assesses each resolution on its merits and consistency with our principles . . . Canada advocates a fair-minded approach and rejects one-sided resolutions and any politicization of the issues.” Evidently, voting stances on resolutions at the General Assembly are political endeavours, influenced by factors beyond indicating foreign policy stances.
This does not seek to delegitimize or deter studies that analyze Canadian voting patterns on resolutions at the General Assembly. These examples merely demonstrate we must be careful when using resolution votes as indicators of actions beyond the General Assembly Hall in New York, especially in the case of foreign policy.
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