Politics

Bob Rae named Canadian ambassador to the UN

Former Ontario premier Bob Rae has been appointed Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, the Prime Minister's Office announced today.

'It's in my DNA,' says ex-interim Liberal Party leader, who will replace Marc-André Blanchard in NYC

Bob Rae has been appointed Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday. Rae was premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995 and, after switching parties from NDP to Liberals, served as interim leader of the federal Liberal Party from 2011 to 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Former Ontario premier Bob Rae has been appointed Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, the Prime Minister's Office announced today.

Rae, who also served as the interim Liberal Party leader between 2011 and 2013, will succeed Marc-André Blanchard as Canada's representative to the body.

The ambassadorial shakeup comes less than a month after Canada failed to secure a temporary seat on the Security Council, losing to Norway and Ireland on the first ballot.

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Rae said "job No. 1" is to convince Canadians of the continued importance of the UN.

He said that with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging in some parts of the world, Canada will be central to efforts to "rebuild a successful world order. Nothing short of that will do."

He said Canada shouldn't retreat from the world scene just because it lost its bid for a Security Council seat.

"I can tell you with certainty neither victory nor defeat are permanent. We always exaggerate the impact of either," Rae said.

"The message is we didn't win the vote. We have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again. That's the nature of life at the United Nations, as it is in many other aspects of human endeavour."

Asked about the past presence of countries with poor human rights records — such as China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia — on the UN's Human Rights Council, Rae said the flaws in the UN's structure should simply inspire Canada to engage more.

"It would only get worse if we left. You don't get a better place by leaving," Rae said. "The answer isn't to pull out. That doesn't make sense to me."

"The United Nations is not some intergalactic organization. It represents all of the human frailties that are known to mankind."

Rae has called Trump 'unhinged'

Since leaving federal politics in 2013, Rae has been outspoken on social media. He has expressed disdain for U.S. President Donald Trump's leadership on more than one occasion.

In an August 2019 post on Twitter, Rae called Trump the most dangerous Western leader to emerge in his lifetime.

"The most unhinged, the most unworthy of public office," he said of Trump. "There's no point pretending anything else. Those who choose to apologize for him, or appease him, are making a terrible mistake. And he will not be easily defeated in 2020."

In an August 2019 tweet, Bob Rae called U.S. President Donald Trump "unhinged" and the most dangerous Western leader in his lifetime. (Bob Rae/Twitter)

On another occasion, he called Trump "delusional" and said his presidency is undermining the "premise of the postwar project" by asking countries to reject "globalism" in favour of a more nationalist approach to diplomacy.

Rae told CBC News in a statement through Global Affairs that his job as ambassador will be to represent Canada and its interests at the UN — and that includes working closely with Canada's allies. 

"It is no surprise to anyone that I've been prolific in my views over the years. I have a new job representing the government of Canada, and I very much look forward to that," Rae said in the statement.

On another difficult file for Canada — the relationship with the People's Republic of China — Rae said today that, as ambassador, it will be his job to "carry out the policy of the government of Canada."

"I will not be inventing policy, and I will not be expressing personal opinions one way or another," he said.

Rae calls detention of 2 Michaels 'completely unjustified'

Canada has been locked in a diplomatic confrontation with that country since the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver's airport in 2018 and Chinese authorities' subsequent incarceration of the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Rae said he agrees with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada should not engage in some sort of prisoner swap to secure the release of the two men.

He rejected a recent call in a letter signed by some prominent Canadians to release Meng and end her extradition process in order to restart relations with China. Rae said he knows all of the letter writers well but disagrees with their approach, adding that Canada must protect "its values."

Rae vowed to work with Trudeau and others "to find a solution to the very, very unfair and completely unjustified and unjustifiable imprisonment of two Canadian citizens."

WATCH | Bob Rae is named Canada's ambassador to the UN

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae as Canada's new ambassador to the United Nations. 2:18

Blanchard said he is stepping away after four and half years as the head of Canada's permanent mission in New York to spend more time with his family. He said he and his wife spent a lot of time apart while he was living abroad.

Blanchard, one of the longest-serving Canadian ambassadors to the UN, said Canada's Security Council bid laid the groundwork for a more active role for the country on the world stage.

He said the lobbying campaign improved Canada's bilateral relations with countries that had long been dormant.

"I can say that I'm more enthusiastic about the UN, and I'm more convinced that the UN is essential than I even was a few years ago," Blanchard said. "I did everything I could to serve the country as best as I could."

He said Canada started its bid for the seat late — Norway and Ireland were in the running for the better part of a decade — and Canada gave it a valiant try.

Trudeau has tapped Rae for other foreign policy-related roles in the past. Rae served as Canada's special envoy on humanitarian and refugee issues during the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, the CBC's French-language service, Rae said he was "very, very honoured" to be picked by Trudeau for the job.

He said his father, Saul Rae, was a career diplomat who also served as Canada's ambassador to the UN in Geneva and New York between 1972 and 1976.

"It's in my DNA," Rae said.

Rae said Canada will be pushing for reforms to the UN at a time when international institutions have been tested by the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO), in particular, has faced criticism for its handling of the virus.

"COVID-19 is a revealer — it reveals the weakness and fragility in all our institutions. This will be very much on my mind as we go forward," Rae said.

"The well-being of the world really depends on a rebuild and a reconstruction of our international institutions, and I think that's the task ahead for Canada and a great many countries."

He said while "authoritarianism and nationalism are making a comeback" in some countries, Canada, as a middle power, must support multilateral institutions like the UN.

In his 2009 autobiography, From Protest to Power, Rae recounts growing up the son of a diplomat who worked for the then-fledgling Department of External Affairs.

Rae's father joined the department at the start of the Second World War — when Canada was trying to be more assertive on the global stage at a time when national interests were still secondary to the country's place in the British Empire.

"When my dad joined … there were only eight in his entry class," Rae said. "They all shared certain core views about Canada and its place in the world. The British Tory view of Canada as a colony was rejected outright."

Rae's father, who served alongside other diplomatic leaders including former prime minister Lester B. Pearson, was posted to Mexico, North Vietnam, the Netherlands and the United States during his time in the foreign service. Rae spent much of his childhood in Washington, D.C., and Geneva during his father's overseas postings.

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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