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Bob Rae: democracy will persevere despite global challenges

Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), recently won the Parliamentary Centre’s inaugural “Because Democracy Matters” award. Rae has been a key political figure in Canada’s history, serving as the Premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995, and acting as the interim leader of the Liberal Party from 2011 to 2013. This award recognizes his lifelong dedication to building and promoting inclusive democracies across the world. In November, Rae joined OMNI Television for an exclusive interview to discuss the pressing matters facing the world today.


U.S. and the international state of democracy

These past few years were marked by a series of historic political events, threatening the foundation of democracy. Right next door, Canada witnessed its American neighbours experience political events that challenged political notions and processes. For instance, the Capitol Hill attack on January 6, 2021, was catastrophic. Millions of Americans and politicians believed the Democrats had “stolen” the 2020 elections.

However, Rae stated threats to democracy don’t lie within the United States, or North America, but on an international level. “Democracy is a challenged idea all around the world, not just in one part of the world or another,” Rae said.

Prior to the midterm elections, U.S. President Joe Biden warned that democracy is under siege in the country. As an ambassador to the UN, Rae said he wouldn’t comment specifically on American politics, but like any other country, the reality is that there is always going to be a growing movement trying to create an alternate reality.

“People are not accepting facts, they’re not accepting central values, they’re rejecting these approaches,” Rae said. “I think it’s a mistake to think this is only an American issue; it’s a global issue.”

Bob Rae walks by a group of writers and artists demonstrating outside Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, Ont., May 25, 1992. The Premier was on his way to a cocktail party prior to the following dayÕs constitutional conference. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Becker

When asked about the future of the United States and its leadership, “It will unfold, as it will unfold,” Rae said.

“I think we will see different people emerge in leadership positions or seeking to put forward their views about their candidacy.”

“The important thing from my perspective is that we face these challenges together. Canada faces challenges, the world is facing challenges, the United States is facing challenges, and we’re all going to meet them in our own way.”

It is inevitable that threats to democracy will be made, however, Rae said we must trust the democratic idea and recognize its strength and resilience.

“It’s important for us to be self-confident in the logic, in the values, and in the strength of our ideas.”


Disinformation, misinformation and journalists

In the recent past, the spread of disinformation and misinformation have heightened on social media platforms. These challenges are not the first time we have encountered these problems as a global community. From propaganda attacks on democracy, to cyber crime, technology has acted as an asset for disinformation and misinformation.

“The real problem is the danger of polarization that we face in our democracies and elsewhere,” Rae said.

“As somebody who has been involved in politics for a long time, I think we have to recognize this is a real menace, something we have to continue to identify and fight against.”  

The younger generation is left facing the results of disinformation and are desensitized to the political turmoil that exists in recent years. But Rae trusts that young people will have to put their faiths into the system of elections and engage in democracy.

“We need to have the engagement of young people in this world,” Rae said.

“We want people to feel comfortable in the world of freedom and the world of facts, and we have to create greater solidarity for people so they can see the benefit of what we have been able to build for ourselves for the future.”

Journalists remain a target for threats and violence internationally. The climate of aggression and anger aimed towards journalists creates an epidemic of risks.

“The threats to personal safety and security of individual journalists, is very severe,” Rae said.

“We have to do everything we can to stand up and fight for journalists. That’s always been something that I have believed in strongly, and I will continue to do so.”


Russian war and invasion in Ukraine

This year began with a deadly, costly, and tragic political development. The Russian war and invasion in Ukraine sparked a crisis of global order and democratic freedom. This was disastrous for not only Ukraine, but the entire world as we were left with the negative impacts. When asked about what we can do as a global community to ensure Ukraine will survive, Rae was optimistic.

“The Ukrainian democracy is strong; Ukrainian resilience is frankly remarkable,” Rae said.

“We need to continue to express great confidence in what the future will bring.”

The Honourable Bob Rae speaks on the Challenges of Leadership, to The Chief Justice of Ontario’s Advisory Committee on Professionalism Eighth Colloquium at the Faculty of Law, The University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario Friday May 25, 2007. Rae eluded to his role in the investigation of the Air India bombing. (CP PHOTO/Dave Chidley) CANADA

Rae believes Russia cannot succeed in its attempts to overcome Ukraine or establish a regime in Kiev.

“We have to continue to do what we can to support Ukraine. In humanitarian terms, we have to show them every possible measure of solidarity in their struggle,” he said.

Rae affirmed that this is not just an issue for Ukraine, but about dealing with aggression and abusive powers.

“That is an issue that affects every country, all of us. It doesn’t just affect one place or another, so we have to stand firm with Ukraine in every way.”


Right-wing victory in Italian elections

For the first time since World War II, the far right won the Italian elections. This alarmed much of Europe, as Italy is the European Union’s (EU) third-biggest economy. When asked about the risks of the far right and its influence on the nature of democracy to other European countries, Rae talked about the power of politics.

“When people come into power, they are tempered by power, by the responsibility of power, and the realities of power.”

Rae stated that as Italy is a member of the EU, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and UN, people are going to have to come to terms with the reality of the trading relationship.

Moreover, Rae refers to the growth of “mindless populism.” Populism is not only about listening to people and trying to respect the will of people, but also about democratic practices.

Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae gesture during a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday, April 25, 2006. The Liberal Party of Canada will choose a new leader during a leadership convention in Montreal in December 2006. (CP PHOTO/Fred Chartrand)

“We all know what democracy is, but democracy is also about protecting minorities, the rule of law and respecting institutions,” he said.

As a global community, we will need to understand the enormous benefits and values of democracy, which we have established over many years.

Rae stated that it is important for us to work against people who are just moving on impulse. Politicians must think about the consequences, not only in Italy, but anywhere else in Europe or around the world.


Emergency regulations in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is facing an exceptional political and economic crisis that has sparked months-long protests across the country. The Sri Lankan government is using emergency powers to deploy security forces to suppress the protests. Freedom of expression is arbitrarily restricted to forbid legitimate political expression. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka recently decried police violence against children and other peaceful protesters.

“We have to make sure we are acting on, as well as engaging in, a very sustainable way with all of those groups within Sri Lanka that are seeking more democracy and better protection for minorities.”

Rae said he has been closely monitoring the unfurling events in Sri Lanka and will continue to do so. The UN provides him with opportunities to work with many other countries in trying to advance the cause of pluralist democracy, around the world and particularly, in Sri Lanka. 

“I think it’s important for everyone to be able to deal with more than one crisis at a time because the world has more than one crisis at a time, even if it’s not on a headline, or not being widely featured in social media,” Rae said.


China, Taiwan and the cross-strait relations

Relationships have deteriorated sharply between Taiwan and China since U.S. House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, visited the island. This summer, a series of military exercises and incursions were conducted into Taiwanese airspace by China. Rae said the miracle of Taiwan has been there for everyone to see over the last 75 years, therefore the upset of relationship is completely unnecessary, and the two societies can live in peaceful coexistence.

Taiwan has grown from a military and political dictatorship to a place where freedom is exercised, and people are allowed to speak their mind. Its citizens can practice their own religion and participate within the order of a structured society that has elections.

Rae said China must recognize this. Since the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the two societies have grown up in different ways of doing things.

Liberal interim leader Bob Rae delivers a speech to the Canadian Federation of Municipalities in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

“It worked fine. I mean there’s no need to upset the balance,” he said.

“Any upsetting of this balance would have the most serious consequences for the security of the region, and I think in fact for the security of the world.”


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

There have been claims that Charter of Rights and Freedoms is turning into a dead letter, citing another move to use the notwithstanding clause by Ontario’s premier Doug Ford over educational workers’ rights to bargaining.

“I mean it is a cause for concern; I do not believe the Charter is a dead letter,” Rae said.

“I think that’s an exaggeration. In fact, the public response to legislation is an indication, that it is absolutely not a dead letter,” he said.

“The fundamental strength of a constitution is not written down on a piece of paper, it’s the extent to which the values are embraced and embedded in the population. What we do and what we say, how we act; to reflect on the meaning of the constitution and the meaning of the Charter.”

Rae reaffirmed that rights are always real and cannot be merely eliminated by legislation. He believes the Charter is far from being a dead letter, rights and freedoms are values that are deeply entrenched within Canadian opinion.

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