Foreign politics and daily life in Canada can seem a world apart. However, according to the Hon. Bob Rae, Canadians are mistaken in thinking events occurring across the globe do not affect their lives. “This notion somehow that foreign policy and domestic policy are different, are divided, that there’s somehow a world in which foreign policy or foreign politics takes place and that’s a very different world from the world in which we are living here in Canada, is completely wrong,” he said.
The liberal MP and foreign affairs critic spoke to a D.B. Clarke Theatre filled almost to capacity last Tuesday as part of the ongoing Henri Habib Distinguished Lecture Series.
Rae said the question that he is most often confronted with when talking to Canadians about foreign policy is “Why should I care?” In a line, his response was: “There is no peeing section in a swimming pool anymore than there is a smoking section in a restaurant,” he said. “You can’t put walls up around your country which will stop pollution from flowing.”
Moreover, he added, as evidenced by the recent turn of events in the Middle East, it can no longer be Canadian foreign policy to simply throw support behind the government whose rule brings about stability. He likened that tendency â€“ that of turning a blind eye to undemocratic processes in exchange for stability – to President Roosevelt’s backing of the Cuban dictator Batista: “When one of his advisors said ‘That guy’s a real bastard,’ President Roosevelt is reported to have said, ‘Yes he is, but he’s our bastard.’ That’s an attitude we can’t afford.”
The tone of the event then became conversational, if only momentarily, as he and the dean of arts and science sat down in the leather arm chairs on stage. Dean Brian Lewis kicked off the Q&A period by asking Rae what he thought was the most pressing issue facing Canada in 2011. Rae, who at the start of the lecture described himself as a “recovering politician [who] has now fallen quite decisively off the wagon,” said the question of conflict was the most important one in the world today. He also slipped a bout of self-promotion into what had been a mostly non-partisan speech, saying “I think that what we need to do about it is to have a country which is more engaged, more effective, more on top of, more willing to yes, take risks in order to be an effective intervener in dealing with the conflicts – and that’s the kind of foreign policy I would dearly love to lead.”