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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government was defiant on Tuesday after the country's failure to win a United Nations Security Council seat, vowing to stick to policies that may have cost it support, while blaming the leader of the main opposition party.
The setback, which one top diplomat termed "a disaster", is bound to influence a general election widely expected next year. Polls show the race between the ruling Conservatives and their main Liberal Party rivals is almost too close to call.
Analysts said Canada had lost out to Portugal in part because some Conservative policies -- such as firm support for Israel, a decision to cut bilateral aid to several African nations and perceived foot-dragging on the climate-change file -- had put off potential backers.
The chief spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada would not dilute what he called its principled foreign policy, even though that may have helped defeat the bid.
"Canada will stick by its principles, by its core values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We will not barter those values," Dimitri Soudas told reporters.
Soudas put some of the blame on Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who said last month that Canada's policies under the Conservatives meant the country might not deserve a seat.
"Canada did not have a united front on this issue. We were faced with the reality that our opposition leader opposed the bid ... he's not in it for Canada," said Soudas, using language that Conservative attack ads have already employed to describe the Liberal leader.
Ignatieff, who spent decades outside Canada as an academic and broadcaster before taking over as Liberal leader in December 2008, said Harper had sullied the reputation of a country that had long prided itself on its support for the United Nations.
"After more than four years of a Harper Conservative government, the sad reality is that too many countries have lost faith in the way Canada conducts its international relations," Ignatieff said, dismissing the idea that he was to blame as "too ridiculous to entertain".
Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, said Harper's policies had helped undermine backing among U.N. permanent representatives, who cast the votes.
"(They) know our policies and know our attitude toward the U.N. better than anyone else does ... they were in a position to punish us, which they seem to have done," he told Reuters.
Heinbecker, highlighting Harper's moves on Africa and Israel, noted that Muslim and Arab nations have a total of 57 votes while African nations have 51 votes.
Fen Hampson, an international affairs professor at Ottawa's Carleton University, said the defeat "suggests that perhaps we should have campaigned harder and perhaps tried to do more vote-buying". As recently as May 2008, Harper said he did not know if Canada would run for the seat.
"I'm shocked ... I thought going in that we were in a strong position," Hampson told Reuters.
Jack Layton, leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party, said Harper had "been on the wrong side of important global issues, from combating climate change to eradicating poverty".
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson