OTTAWA — In the wake of a vote by UNESCO to allow Palestinians a seat at the table, Canada's federal government said it will not be giving any additional money to the UN body.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told reporters Tuesday the government would not be offering further "voluntary" payments to the United Nations' cultural arm.
Baird said Canada would continue its funding at current levels, but will not add new payments.
Canada provides almost $12 million annually to UNESCO.
"Under no circumstances will Canada cover the budgeting shortfall as a result of this decision and Canada has decided to freeze all further voluntary contributions to UNESCO," Baird said.
The shortfall Baird referred to is in reference to U.S. law that immediately cuts off funding to any UN body that accepts Palestinians as full members. U.S. money makes up about 22 per cent of UNESCO's annual budget.
The minister said the government needed to send a message to UNESCO that it was not happy with the body's decision to include the Palestinians.
"The bottom line is there's going to be a large hole in UNESCO's budget because of the American law which withdraws funding and people at UNESCO should not look to Canada to fill that budget hole," he said. "They'll have to go to the countries who supported this resolution, that caused this budget loophole."
On Monday, the United States said it had stopped funding UNESCO, following its vote to grant the Palestinians full membership.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Monday the United States had no choice but to halt funding because of U.S. laws passed in the 1990s, saying Washington would not make a planned $60-million transfer that was due in November.
"The United States . . . remains strongly committed to robust, multilateral engagement across the UN system. However, Palestinian membership as a state in UNESCO triggers long-standing legislative restrictions which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNESCO," Nuland said.
Canada was one of 14 nations to vote against the motion to accept the Palestinians into UNESCO. Some 107 members approved the motion, while 52 others, including Japan and Britain, abstained.
UNESCO's vote was part of a bid by the Palestinians to gain full statehood status through the United Nations. Canada has said it would not support a UN resolution to recognize Palestine as a country and the U.S. has said it would veto such a resolution.
Baird reiterated the government's position on Tuesday, saying Israel and Palestine should come to a peace agreement themselves not use the UN as an end-run around the process.
Nuland called UNESCO's decision to admit the Palestinians as a member was "regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."
On Monday, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said Canada should not stop its subsidies to UNESCO.
"We've said very clearly an enduring agreement in the Middle East requires the approval of both parties," Rae said. "But, you know, the reality is that we're not going to get ourselves into a situation where we're cutting funding every time we get a resolution out of the UN that we don't like."
Any country that stops paying UNESCO for two consecutive years loses its vote in the cultural body.
With files from Agence France-Presse and Reutersrhiltz@postmedia.com