OTTAWA — Bob Rae played down the importance of Canada’s failure to secure a Security Council seat while touting the country’s continued involvement in the world as the former Ontario premier was tapped to become Canada’s next ambassador to the United Nations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Rae’s appointment on Monday, only weeks after Canada’s bid for a two-year seat on the UN Security Council ended in defeat. Canada lost on the first ballot to Norway and Ireland.
The loss has since been seen as an embarrassment for the Liberal government, sparking concerns about Canada’s standing in the world as well as calls for a comprehensive review of the country’s foreign policy.
Rae was having none of it as the former NDP premier and one-time interim leader of the federal Liberals talked of his many electoral successes and failures over the years to illustrate the vagaries that define elections of all kinds.
“I’ve won elections and sometimes you overread what that means,” Rae said during a news conference on Parliament Hill. “And when you lose elections sometimes you tend to internalize it and say: ‘This is a very clear message.’
“The message is: We didn’t win the vote, we didn’t have enough votes. That’s the only message I take.”
And while the Rae acknowledged plans to take stock of what other countries say about Canada and the challenges it faces when he arrives in New York, the 71-year-old expressed confidence in Canada’s attitude to the world.
“The basic fundamentals of how we approach life, how we approach politics, how we approach international relations, those foundations are strong,” he said. “And I don’t want to see us throw any babies out with the bathwater.”
Rae was appearing alongside Marc-Andre Blanchard, who has served as Canada’s ambassador to the UN since April 2016 and led the failed Security Council campaign. Both mounted a vigorous defence of the UN and the need to work with other countries, even those Canada disagrees with.
Blanchard — who said he told Trudeau before the Security Council loss about his plan to retire this summer — mentioned COVID-19 and climate change as global challenges that underscore the need for a forum in which countries from all around the world can sit and talk.
“Many Canadians say to me: ‘Why don’t we spend all of our time focusing on Canada and make sure we are doing that as opposed to helping others?’” Rae added.
“But we have to understand that in order to protect Canadian security, in order to protect our prosperity, we have to engage globally. And in particular we have to engage at a time when things are so difficult.”
Monday’s appointment is the latest for Rae under the Trudeau government. He most recently served as Canada’s special envoy for humanitarian and immigration issues and, before that, special envoy to Myanmar, during which time he advised the prime minister on the Rohingya crisis.
Yet the appointment to be ambassador to the UN is different in the sense that it is the culmination of those earlier roles and also because Rae is following in the footsteps of his father Saul Rae, who was Canada’s ambassador to the UN from 1972 to 1976.
Rae noted that link on Monday, saying: “For me to be able to work in the same place as my father and to be able to have his picture in my office and be engaging constantly in a sense that we’re part of a very fine tradition is a wonderful moment for me.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2020.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press