Canada has regularly been on the Security Council about once a decade since the founding of the organization. As a charter member, as a significant contributor to both the operating and special budgets of the UN, as an instigator of peacekeeping operations (see the Suez Crisis in 1956 and Lester Pearson's subsequent Nobel Peace Prize in 1957), as once a leading military and financial contributor to those missions, and as a multilateral player in numerous arenas (including the G8, G20, NATO, Commonwealth, and francophonie), Canada's diplomatic impact was often characterized as "hitting above its weight."
But that description seems to have fallen away, not solely due to the Harper government but certainly not helped by it. Now, Canada cannot rest on its laurels and expect its turn at the Security Council table every decade or so. This year, Germany and Portugal are also in the running for the two seats available for the "Western European and other countries" category. Germany appears to be a lock. Until the recent financial crises in Portugual, the second seat remained contested. Canada launched its behind-the-scenes campaign in earnest a couple of years ago, but policy after policy (from the stronger positioning behind Israel in the Middle East to the decrease in the number of African priority countries) undercut Canadian diplomatic efforts to secure voting commitments. Portugal has been an increasingly active player across Africa. It can count on much European support. Its close ties to Brazil are in strong contrast to regular Canadian-Brazilian competition and trade conflicts in the aerospace field. Portugal can portray itself as a good representative of smaller countries, a better reflection of most of the UNGA's constituent members. Canada, conversely, has only the Carribean as its semi-regional support base. At the recent G8/G20 summits Canada displayed none of the leadership that it did at Kananaskis in 2002. The current government has alienated many once close African friends. The Arab states, and perhaps many others with a Muslim majority, look warily at Canadian policy which now seems more unabashedly pro-Israel than even that of the US. Not enough differentiation from American policy has been made over the last few years to convince the world that a vote for Canada to the SC will ensure a non-American, non-European independent voice for the next two years.
"Enlightened Sovereignty" became the Prime Minister's slogan in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He reiterated that theme today, stressing that all members of the international community are in the same boat: we all sink or swim together. What countries do domestically matters for the international system. Global good must be considered in all aspects of policy-making, with trade protectionism held up as the prime example of what not to do in a crisis. Sloganeering aside, there is not much new behind the concept of enlightened sovereignty, and certainly no specific actions of this government can be traced to any new international orientation besides the SC vote. Harper is a domestic policy wonk. In foreign affairs, his attentions are on the USA. Foreign affairs are an annoyance; the expenditure of blood and treasure in Afghanistan is the price to pay for keeping out of Iraq.
But despite the shortfalls of a four year decline in Canadian reputation abroad, Canada will likely defeat Portugal for the second seat. That will have nothing to do with the Harper government: Canada survived the global banking crisis given regulatory frameworks and historical economic policy decisions in place long before this government. Portugal's macro economic health, on the other hand, is rather suspect. Thus, on October 12th it is more than likely that Canadian's current reputation as a financially stable and conservative jurisdiction (and the fiscal flexibility to keep supporting the UN and ODA budgets that enables) and its historical reputation as a multilateral player will make the difference.
Next time around, perhaps Canadian diplomats will be given the best ammunition for a SC campaign: not a slogan but a vision, a real reason for UN members to recognize that Canada is bringing more to the table than a dusty reputation and an expectation that, every decade or so, we get our place at the adult's table.
NOTE: Canada indeed lost the vote to Portugal that year, and has not run again for a seat on the UNSC since (through to fall 2014).