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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 7, 2020
One of the first things Bob Rae did after his appointment as Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations was announced was reject any suggestion Canada’s reputation had been sullied by its failure to win a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.
“I don’t share the perspective that says this is some deep ominous message for Canada. I don’t believe it for a second,” he asserted. He could be right on that. Losing would only be a knock on our stature if we had much of a stature to begin with. Liberals like to insist the rest of the world goes to bed at night agog at the wondrous position Canada holds in the firmament of right-thinking nations, that we “punch above our weight” despite all evidence to the contrary, that before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared in 2015 that Canada was “back,” people gathered in mystified conclaves to scratch their heads and wonder where Canada had gone.
But maybe the rest of the world doesn’t have as high an opinion of Canada as we like to assume. Rae certainly didn’t think there was a message being sent, or so he claimed. “I’ve won elections and sometimes you over-read what that means,” he said. “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.”
So, no message. Just a lost vote. Nothing to see here. Trudeau made winning the seat a government priority, campaigned hard to secure it, spent five years lobbying for votes, jetted across oceans to buttonhole leaders, dangled inducements before hard-up mini-states and took time off from the coronavirus crisis to seek crucial last-minute support from such global titans as Tuvalu, Fiji or Saint Vincent and the Grenadines … but losing was no big deal. Didn’t mean a thing. We must assume Rae felt the same way when his NDP government in Ontario collapsed after just one tumultuous term, reduced to 17 seats from 74, tumbling from first place to third after five years and an economic crisis. Message? What message? They just lost a vote, that’s all.
Rae is a smart guy and a skilled politician. Talented. Well-spoken. When he was seeking the Liberal leadership some years ago he attended a National Post editorial board gathering where he was quizzed on Canada’s role in Afghanistan. He spoke at length and in detail to repeated questions; afterwards I couldn’t find anyone who could nail down just what he’d said. He’s a pro.
He should fit right in at the UN, a place made for people who can compellingly argue that what you think you just saw with your own eyes didn’t really happen. For instance, when the UN human rights council saw 53 countries support China’s imposition of a draconian new security law on Hong Kong, it was not a sign that “human rights” must mean something very different at the UN than it does in Canada. Those countries backing China’s action included such democratic stalwarts as Cuba, Zimbabwe, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Sudan and the famously tolerant North Korea. They easily overwhelmed the 27 countries that opposed the crackdown, mostly boring Western countries that let people choose governments freely via elections.
China’s Global Times proclaimed that “the landslide (UN) victory was seen by experts as showing that China’s achievements in human rights have won more supporters and become known by wider audiences.” That interpretation varied somewhat from the UN’s own Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which contains “independent experts” as opposed to government hacks. It expressed its “alarm regarding the repression of fundamental freedoms in China,” such as “repression of protest and democracy advocacy” in Hong Kong, “excessive use of force by police, the alleged use of chemical agents against protesters, the alleged sexual harassment and assault of women protesters in police stations and the alleged harassment of health-care workers.”
Rae will assuredly stand up for Canada’s views on such issues, and let it be known that we resolutely oppose the sort of brutal tactics employed by Beijing. We believe in democracy, individual freedom, rule of law. We don’t believe in kidnapping innocent people to use as political hostages, or forcibly sterilizing minority women to keep down the population, other practices China employs. Nor do we support rule-for-life of the sort Russian President Vladimir Putin just arranged via a referendum that will let him serve potentially until 2036.
The question is, why send someone like Bob Rae to an organization dominated by so many unappetizing entities, where both China and Russia have veto power over crucial actions? Just this week they used their veto to block deliveries of humanitarian aid from Turkey to northwest Syria, after previously working to cut medical aid and assistance in fighting the coronavirus. Or where Saudi Arabia (which is refusing to extradite 20 suspects in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi for trial in Turkey) or Venezuela (which is using a puppet court to try and rig elections by shutting down opposition parties) can serve as defenders of human rights?
The UN isn’t about to be reformed. It may be worth having a Canadian representative on hand to keep track of whatever its dominant clique of autocrats, dictators and despots is up to, but surely a junior functionary could do the job. Even if you disagree with Rae’s politics, which seem to range from well-meaning centre-lefty to moderate lefty-centrist, he’s capable enough and could surely be better employed at something that’s actually useful. Like maybe keeping Trudeau from stumbling into self-inflicted disasters like the WE debacle. He could use the help.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020