Bob Rae: The UN is a Complex Place in a Complex World

July 16, 2020 – By DANIEL HOROWITZ

When former Ontario Premier Bob Rae was asked to become Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations earlier this month, he found it an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“It’s a very uncertain time in the life of the world and I was very honoured to have been asked. I am delighted to be taking on this challenge,” Rae, who served as Ontario’s NDP premier from 1990 to 1995, told the CJR in an interview.

Bob Rae
Bob Rae

“I couldn’t refuse the job because of the significance of the times we are living in, and the significance of COVID and the impact it is having,” said Rae who served as interim federal Liberal Party leader from 2011 to 2013 and starts his new job on Aug. 4. “That is something that requires a different approach, which I’m glad to be able to advocate on behalf of our government.”

The biggest challenge before him, he said, is the COVID crisis.

“How do we recover globally from COVID and how do we work together to ensure universal access to a vaccine?” asked Rae. “And how do we ensure that the worst financial and economic impacts on countries will be averted?

“That’s going to require a lot of my time and energies, and working with other countries.”

The UN is not the only place where these discussions will take place but the topic will be “front and centre” at the world body.

When Rae assumes his newest role following the completion of Marc-André Blanchard’s four-year term at the UN, he will also go into the family business: Rae’s father, Saul, held the same position from 1972 to 1976.

Looking back at those days, his obviously proud son said he learned a lot by watching his father in action.

“I remember as a high school student, when my Dad was ambassador to the UN in Geneva, witnessing first-hand the challenges of working in a multilateral environment, and the job’s constant pace,” Rae recalled. “My Dad had a personal style that included a lot of humour and reflection – both qualities that I hope I’ve inherited.”

As for the Middle East, Rae is quick to point out his government’s belief in a two-state solution.

”Since the late 1940s and the end of the British Mandate in Palestine, the Canadian government has been a supporter of the notion of two states for two peoples,” Rae explained. “We were there when Israel was admitted to the UN; we’ve had diplomatic relations with Israel since the early 1950s. We’ve had a strong bilateral relationship with the state of Israel for a very, very long time. We’ve been part and parcel of the entire diplomatic process which proceeded since 1967 – to encourage the Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel, and for Israel to accept a two- state solution.”

Rae said the policy “struck us then as a logical approach to take, and frankly, it still underlies the positions we’ve taken.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne have made it clear that they do not support Israel’s unilateral annexation of territories in the West Bank, Rae went on.

“We still believe that direct negotiations between the parties are going to be required in order to establish any possible deal,” said Rae. “But I think we all recognize that the differences between the two sides are quite strong and have remained so for a long time, and getting to a settlement is going to be very, very difficult.”

Canada has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem or the West Bank, he noted. That’s why the government has said that Israel’s annexation plans, on hold for now, would make a settlement of the conflict “more difficult in our view.”

As for those who might see the UN as irrelevant, Rae countered: “I always said that if we didn’t have the UN, we’d have to invent something like it.”

It’s a complex institution, he noted, because it reflects a complex world.

“I believe very strongly that we need greater international cooperation to deal with the major challenges of our time,” he said. “The UN makes mistakes. The General Assembly doesn’t always vote the way we’d like them to vote. That happens. But it’s like any other institution. It’s an important part of the architecture of what’s going to be required to make the world a stable and more prosperous place.”