Most observers believe that Canada’s voting record in the UN General Assembly or the Human Rights Council is the clearest indicator of its position on a particular issue, and a litmus test of the country’s moral rectitude.
Like other countries, however, Canada’s UN voting behaviour is often affected by factors unrelated to the specific resolutions under consideration. Such factors might include Canada’s diplomatic obligations to its UN regional bloc (Western European and Others Group [WEOG]) or to its allies among the other Western democratic countries; or behind-the-scenes efforts by Canada and like-minded countries to further the process of meaningful UN reform.
Although less public, the “Explanation of Vote” is increasingly used by Canada to express its true feelings about an issue, notwithstanding the extraneous factors that might have affected its decision to support, oppose or abstain on a particular resolution.
So, for example, Ambassador John McNee contextualized Canada’s decision to support or abstain on 14 of 22 resolutions affecting the Arab-Israeli conflict at the 61st UN General Assembly (2006-2007), in the following way: “Canada, however, does not believe that all the work that is done within the UN is contributing to resolving this conflict. Resolutions on the Middle East that come before this Assembly, for example, are rarely helpful in achieving the goal we all seek – peace in the Middle East.”
Given the automatic, anti-Israel majority in UN agencies, the Explanation of Vote can be a powerful tool of diplomacy for principled, moral countries like Canada.