The World We're In: The Impact of Conflict, Energy, and Climate Change on Canada
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9 June, 2022 The World We're In: The Impact of Conflict, Energy, and Climate Change on Canada
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June 9th, 2022

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

The World We're In: The Impact of Conflict, Energy and Climate Change on Canada

Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Vice-President, External Affairs & Professional Learning, Humber College

Distinguished Guest Speakers
The Honourable Bob Rae, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Richard Carlton, CEO of the Canadian Securities Exchange
Dr. Rhonda Lenton, President & Vice-Chancellor, York University

It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau. Literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon fellow directors, past presidents, members, and guests. Welcome to the 118th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I’m the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada, and Vice-President, External Affairs and Professional Learning at Humber College. I'm your host for today's keynote speech by Canada's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Bob Rae.

I'd like to begin this afternoon with an acknowledgement that I'm hosting this event within the Traditional and Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege my ancestors and I have had in this country, since they first arrived here in the 1830’s. As farmers in Southwestern Ontario, I imagine they felt a deep connection to the land, and yet likely did not recognize how that connection was built on the displacement of others. Delivering a land acknowledgement, for me, it's always an important opportunity to reflect on our human connection, and responsibility to care for the land; and to recognize that to do so, we must always respect each other, and acknowledge our histories. We encourage everyone tuning in today to learn more about the Traditional Territory on which you work and live.

Before we get into today's event, I'd like to share that we have a very special luncheon planned for next week, and it is going to be the final in-person event of the season. Join us on June 16th, as we host Canada's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland. Minister Freeland will be speaking about the state of the Canadian economy, the global challenge of inflation, and the steps the federal government is taking, to make life more affordable for Canadians. Tickets are available to join us in person at the Arcadian Court in Toronto, or you can tune in virtually to watch the speech. More details and information for registration is at

The Empire Club of Canada is a non-profit organization. So, I now want to take a moment to recognize our sponsors. They generously support the Club, and they make these events possible, and complimentary, for our supporters to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsors, the Canadian Securities Exchange, and York University. Thank you to our supporting sponsor, Seneca College. Thank you, as well, to our season sponsors, Bruce Power, the Canadian Bankers Association, LiUNA, and Waste Connections of Canada.

Before we get started, just a couple of housekeeping notes. Anybody who's participating today, I'd like to remind you, this is an interactive event. So, if you're attending live, I encourage you to engage by taking advantage of the question box you can find below your on-screen video player. We reserve some time for audience questions following today's keynote addressed by the ambassador. We also invite you to share your thoughts on social media, using the hashtags displayed on screen throughout the event. And if at any point you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team, using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. To those watching on-demand later, and to those tuning in on the podcast, welcome.

It's now my pleasure to invite Richard Carlton, CEO of the Canadian Securities Exchange, to deliver some opening remarks, and to introduce our guest speaker. Richard, welcome.

Opening Remarks by Richard Carlton, CEO of the Canadian Securities Exchange
Thank you very much, Kelly. And before I begin my opening remarks, I'd like to congratulate Kelly on a tremendous term as the President of the Empire Club this past year. It was obviously tremendously challenging, but Kelly executed her office with the grace and aplomb throughout, and it's been a real pleasure to work with you over the course of the last year Kelly. As Kelly said, my name is Richard Carlton. I'm the CEO of the Canadian Securities Exchange, and it is my privilege today to welcome Ambassador Bob Rae back to the Empire Club of Canada. Ambassador Rae's career mirrors the arc of the Canadian political conversation for, I'm afraid to say, more than 50 years at this point. A few examples. Apparently the first campaign that he worked on, in a wonderful illustration of the political cycle of life, was Pierre Trudeau’s campaign in 1968. In 1979, as a member of the NDP’s shadow cabinet, Ambassador Rae actually introduced the budget amendment that resulted in the fall of Joe Clark’s minority government. Ambassador Rae was a key opposition supporter to Prime Minister Trudeau’s constitutional reform package, that of course culminated in the implementation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. But we welcomed him back to the great province of Ontario, and to provincial politics. In 1986, he caused another minority government to fall with a no confidence motion, resulting in the end of Frank Miller's administration, and leading to David Peterson's Ontario premiership. Ambassador Rae, of course, became Ontario's 21st Premier in 1990, and served, for those of us who are old enough to remember, five pretty tumultuous years, as the as the Premier of Ontario. And between 1978 and 2013, Ambassador Rae, even with a brief retirement in the middle there, successfully contested 11 consecutive elections at the provincial and federal levels.

Now, since leaving electoral politics behind, Ambassador Rae has continued his career in public service, with important work on reconciliation with Canada's First Nations, the strengthening of international democratic institutions, and responses to human humanitarian crises and rights abuses in several parts of the world. As Kelly mentioned, he's currently Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations, and Canada's permanent representative thereof. At the Empire Club, we pride ourselves on hosting conversations that matter. Ambassador Rae will speak to, “the World We’re In: the Impact of Conflict, Energy and Climate Change on Canada.” I can think of few more important topics on our current agenda. Ladies and gentlemen, the Honourable Bob Rae. Thank you.

The Honourable Bob Rae, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Richard, thank you so much for that very generous, and lengthy, introduction. I'm not sure everyone wants to be reminded of it all, but I'm delighted to be with you. I had very much hoped to be able to join you in person, but as you will tell from my voice, and as I’ve mentioned publicly on Twitter, I've come down with COVID, and so, I'm not able to travel. But I am still able to work from home, and I very much wanted to keep this commitment in my calendar, so I can join you virtually, it's not as good as being with you in person—I was very much looking forward to it—but this is better, not being able to be there, than nothing at all. So, thank you so much for joining, and thank you to the Empire Club for continuing with the event, despite my sudden notice to them at the beginning of the week that I had COVID. Normally this would be a lunch, so I thought what I would do is, to kind of remind you of my NDP roots, is start with quoting from, A Grace Before Meat from JS Woodsworth. I must say, a grace that I heard many times, but I thought of it this morning when I was thinking about the event, and reading it again, I realized how relevant it is to where we are. Woodward said:

We are thankful for these and all the good things of life. We recognize that they are a part of our common heritage and come to us through the efforts of our brothers and sisters the world over. What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all. To this end, may we take our share in the world’s work, and in the world’s struggles.

Well, for the last few years, thanks to Mr. Trudeau, I have been able to take my part in the world's work and the world struggles. First is the work I did for him on the Rohingya crisis, and the state of the refugee problem more broadly, and now as the ambassador to the United Nations. It is, needless to say, a time of more than just urgency, more than just importance, but it is a moment of emergency, and it is a moment of crisis. Sometimes the crisis word is used too much; everything is described as a crisis. But from where I see it, here in New York, and as we experience it, in being forced to really deal with the world's struggles—not just Canada’s struggles, but the world's struggles—it's very clear that we're in a very tough spot at the moment. And it's one that's going to require an extraordinary amount of dedication, and leadership, from all the members of the United Nations, in order for us to be able to deal with it.

You will see throughout my remarks that the common thread is this: and that is the extent to which, as a country, we are implicated in the world, and to what extent the world is implicated in us. And that's a theme that has animated much of my life, much of the work that I've been able to do, is to be constantly reminded of the extent to which the globe is getting smaller, the world is getting smaller, and our connection and contact with the world is far more intense than it's ever been. And the second is the extent to which Canada itself, in the process of change that we have gone through, has become a place where people feel at home, and come to us from all over the world. We are a country where we are literally one of the most international of countries, precisely because of our demographic makeup. And that has contributed enormously to our identity, and to the extent to which Canadians, I think, naturally feel caught up, and involved in what is going on in the world. It's not just the way in which the world impacts us economically, the way it impacts us socially; it's also the way in which Canadians themselves feel very strongly that they are directly involved, because they have families all over the world, they have loved ones all over the world, and they have a connection with the world that puts them at one.

This is even true of Indigenous people. One of the great breakthroughs over the last 30 years at the United Nations was the extent to which Canadian leadership, provided by the Indigenous people of Canada, has made an incredible difference in a growing recognition of Indigenous rights, not only in Canada, but around the world. And having helped to draft that document, eventually Canada said, “well, we'll ratify that and make it part of our own laws, and our own approach to things.” So, in every aspect of our life, we are implicated.

When I came to New York in August of 2020, it was very clear that the COVID crisis had, once again, made people realize how close together the world is. This has been, of course, accentuated by climate change as well, and by the world of conflict, which is all around us. One of the mistaken statements that is made, is the statement that we're all in the same boat; that that is what globalization has done. And my view, is that that actually is not entirely true. What is true, is that we're all in the same weather. We're all being impacted by the same storms, the same rains, the same winds; we're all being affected by that. But the reality of our world—and I certainly see this in the UN as well—is that we're all actually in different boats. Some are very sturdy, some are big, some are solid; Canada's is very solid, for example, very sturdy. Our boat is okay; we can make it. But there are other boats that are not as lucky as we are. They’re boats that are surrounded by conflict, they’re boats that are islands, that are being affected dramatically by the rising of seawater, there are countries that are being affected and devastated by drought, countries that are being devastated by poverty—poverty far greater, and far more serious, and far more challenging, than what we face in this country.

And so, being at the UN has, in a sense, forced me back to my roots. My father was here as an ambassador in the 1970s; I went to an international school in the 1960’s, in Geneva. And what this opportunity has meant for me is, not just a completion, as Richard has said, of a political cycle, but very much a personal cycle, where the importance of global issues has, again, come back to me, I think, in a way that will now not ever leave me, and forced me to understand that part of my job—the one for which I really getting paid—is to represent Canada at the United Nations. But another part of my job, I think, is to help represent the United Nations at home. To try to describe the place and the crises that we face, and to try to make them as real as possible for Canadians. And perhaps, I hope, to motivate more Canadians to understand and to feel, how directly impacted we are by the crisis that we're in. Some people would call it the mess that we're in. Whatever words we find for it, we need to understand that it is an urgent situation.

It starts with the premise that, if you take the foundation of the UN in 1945, the Charter was, in a sense, the good news of 1945. The bad news was how the war ended, with a nuclear bomb—two nuclear bombs. And the nuclear Sword of Damocles has never ceased to leave the world, although we’ve become immune to it, and oblivious to it, I think increasingly, perhaps a little less now than before. But we need to understand that what the nuclear era has meant, is that we're living in an era where we actually have the technological capacity to put an end to most of life on Earth as we know it, if that's what we choose to do as a species. It's also a time of dramatic, gradual change, post ‘45, in terms of the decolonization of the world. But the decolonization of the world did not change the inequities that existed, and it's certainly created others. And that is, again, a process that we're very much part of in New York. We feel the pain, of colonization, of colonialism, we feel the pain of racism, we feel the pain of discrimination, and the pain of inequality. So, those bedrock challenges and realities of the world are with us in New York, at the United Nations, and around the world, every day. It's part of our reality; we can't afford to ignore it in everything that we do.

And on top of these existing challenges, if you like, which would be difficult enough to face up to, we've had to come to grips with climate change, its reality, COVID-19, and now, the recurring prevalence of conflict—and of course, I want to come to the conflict in Ukraine, and its consequences, in just a moment. To start with climate change: it's a real thing. We industrialized the world at a cost, and the cost was the pollution of the atmosphere in such a way that it has affected the climate. I say has affected the climate, because sometimes when we talk about the targets that we make for 2050, we kind of have this notion in our heads that somehow climate change is something that happens in the future. Climate change does not happen in the future. It’s happening now. And it's already having a dramatic effect, it’s effects are enormous. First of all, obviously, in many parts of the climate of the world, it's becoming unbearably warmer. We've seen that here at home. We've seen it in British Columbia forest fires, we've seen it in the impact on the permafrost in our Arctic, in northern Siberia. All around we see it, with drought in Africa, with rising sea levels affecting many island nations—there are some island nations of the UN that will not have a land base of the next 15 years. So, this is not a theory about what are we going to do between now and 2050? It's about a reality that we have to contend with. And it's been an ongoing political challenge to get the world to take climate change as seriously as we need to take it. There are two issues. One is how do we mitigate the emissions; how do we reduce the emissions? And the second one is, how do we deal with the ongoing impact and the need to adapt to that? We see it in every part of Canada, every part of North America, every part of the world, and yet, I think we have to admit to ourselves that we are not doing enough. And one of the consequences of the poverty that we're seeing in the world, is that many countries can't respond quickly enough, and can't do enough to adapt. And we're going to have to do more to help them.

COVID-19 has taught us, that the threat of a pandemic—and here I speak to you as, hoped that I wouldn't get it, but I'm one has gotten it. Luckily, I've gotten it late enough in the ongoing pandemic, that many treatments are now available, and many vaccines are available. And I, sitting here in New York, I've been able to take advantage of all of them. And it's made what could have been a catastrophic illness for somebody of, you know, somewhat advanced years, with having had some history of heart condition, and with asthma, could have made my life extremely difficult and tenuous at the beginning of the pandemic. But thanks to where I am, and the job that I have, and who I am, I'm very confident that I'm going to be able to get through this without too much problems. But we need to understand that the pandemic is still very alive in many parts of the world, and we need to understand that most of the world is still not fully vaccinated. In fact, there are large parts of the world, the poorest parts of the world, where no one is vaccinated, or less, 2% or 5% of the population, are vaccinated, and we are still not doing enough to change that. We're starting, we're doing more, we've contributed, we've done, some would say we've done our bit, we're doing what we can. But I can tell you that, from the point of view of public opinion, globally, we're not doing enough, and there's still more to be done. And the other good news, I have—not speaking ironically, perhaps inappropriately, but I have to say it—is that there will be more pandemics. And the global health challenge is not going to change, it's not going to go away, it's not going to get any easier. And building resilience around the world, building resilience in every country, to cope with the impact of COVID, is going to cost a lot of money—and I'll come back to that in a moment.

Finally, we have the increase in conflict. It's been growing for quite a time. The combination of in ethnic nationalism, ideological conflicts, continuing racial issues, countries that have too strong an appetite for expansion, radical ideologies, some of them religiously, so-called, inspired, all of these things together have created a world which we know very well, a world which is, in many parts, very insecure, very unstable. The euphemism we use here at the UN is fragile states, and fragile states basically means governments that don't have the ability to govern. It means countries that where people can't look at all to their government. We look to our government, we hold them to account, and we blame them—and we don't like politicians, in many cases—but we have government, we have institutions, we have things that can be done and institutions that can function. Sometimes they don't do what we would like them to do, but they do. But we need to understand, there are many parts of the world where this doesn't exist.

Most recently—and really, I know many of you want to come to this, I certainly want to talk about it—we have an almost unparalleled situation since 1945. Most of the wars that we've seen in the world in the last 50 to 75 years, have not been between countries, they've been within countries. And those have been what my friend Michael Ignatieff referred to as the conflicts of blood and belonging. But the Ukrainian situation is different. Because what the Russians are doing, is attacking directly, a fellow member of the United Nations, whose borders and boundaries are established by agreement, and by law, as being the ones that allowed Ukraine to join the United Nations at exactly the same time as the Russian Federation joined the United Nations, as former members of the Soviet Union. It's a war of aggression. It's not the Russian-Ukraine war, it's not the Ukrainian conflict, it's the Russian war of aggression. And this name is important because wars of aggression are against the law. They're against the Charter of the United Nations, which is international law. It's against the premise of every code of international law since the 17th century, which is that countries are not supposed to invade other countries, and not supposed to be aggressors against other countries. And there's no question, as much as the Russians might try to describe it as a special military operation, there’s nothing special about it. It's brutal, its murderous, it is, in the view of the Canadian Parliament, and in my personal opinion, genocidal, and it is causing enormous havoc, not only in Ukraine, to Ukrainians, but it's causing havoc to the global community. I have to say that it's also been a moment when I have been forced to recognize, that not only the great things in the United Nations Charter, but also the weaknesses of the Charter. The fundamental weakness of the Charter is that, like many international agreements, and any many international treaties, it's only as strong as the will to enforce it. We don't go screaming through traffic lights because we know that somebody will enforce that law. We live in a country where, if you commit a crime, you can reasonably expect to be found out, and to be tried, and convicted if you're guilty. This is not the case with international law, and this is the problem. There's a lot of effort being made to try to do a better job of enforcing it, we've joined together with a number of countries to enforce sanctions against Russia. But we've also limited to what extent we're going to provide assistance to Ukraine. We're providing them with weapons, we’re providing them with the means to defend themselves, but we're not ourselves defending them, although we could, under Article 51 of the Charter, join in Ukraine's self defence. We've done that before with respect to South Korea, we joined in South Korea's self defence. But we have chosen not to do so with Ukraine, because of a fear that this would lead to an escalation of the conflict. And that's the current dilemma with respect to the military situation, and the political situation in Ukraine.

But the global consequences of the way in which the Russians have carried out this attack, are now enormously serious for the whole global community. It's affecting food supply, in a very critical, time-sensitive way. The food is not getting out of one of the great bread baskets of the world, is not getting out to the countries that have grown completely reliant on it for their own food. Oh, and by the way, drought conditions make it that much more difficult for those countries to provide food for themselves. It's also led to dramatic increase in inflation. It's affecting the energy situation around the world and led to a huge spike in the price of energy, which is affecting Canada and Canadians. I know Minister Freeland will be talking about this next week, and when she says it's a global crisis, she's absolutely right. It is not something which any domestic government, whether it's in Canada, the United States, or Europe, or anywhere else around the world, can flick a switch and say, “let's solve that.” It may be easy to point a finger at one leader or another and say it's their fault, but it's not their fault. The fact of the matter is,it's a global crisis. And this particular global crisis, I think, is an equal challenge to our commitment to solidarity, and to our commitment to understanding that we're not going to get out of these crises by ourselves.

So, all the crises that I've listed, the great global crisis of inequality, the tremendous challenge of climate change, the challenge of this pandemic and other pandemics, the challenge of conflicts that we face, none of these things are going to be addressed by one country alone. None of them are going to be addressed by appealing to nationalism or appealing to populism, unless it's a kind of global populism that says, “let's take care of each other.” None of these things are going to happen, unless we do it in a different way.

Canada I would have to say—and here I'm treading lightly on eggshells because of my role—I would have to say the Canada is doing more than we have done before. Many countries in this past two years have cut back on foreign assistance. Canada has not. That's the good news. The difficult news is that we were starting from a pretty low base, compared to where Mr. Pearson said we should be in 1967. We need to figure out how to stay the course on providing more assistance, and in fact, understanding that none of these things will happen without an increase in development assistance. It will also require an unprecedented degree of investment by companies and by businesses around the world, because we need to understand that we've seen rich, and we've seen poor, and richer is better—I call that the Billie Holiday news. It is better for countries to be wealthier, it is tougher for countries to be really poor, because deeply impoverished nations inevitably end up in much deeper trouble, and financial trouble. We've also contributed on COVAX, and on the international effort on the vaccine. We've played a strong role, as we always have, in strengthening international institutions. We've agreed to do more on defence—although I'd have to say we started there, again, from a relatively low base—because we, I think, have to come to grips with the fact that some of our security is going to have to be collective, and some of our power is going to have to be hard power, as well as soft power. I think, again, to quote Mr. Pearson, it's very good to have the ability to be a great diplomat, but it's really important to have the support of your country, and to know that we have the ability to keep the peace, and to maintain the peace, and that we're willing to expend the money, and send the troops, in order to do that. And that, I think is how we have to see our role. We're not a war-making country, but we have to come to grips with the fact that, in the world today, there are a lot of war-making countries. And Canada, since the decision it made to join the war in 1914, and in 1939, and again, in Korea, we've made a very clear decision as a country that, when required, we will face the challenge of dealing with aggression. And I do believe that that is going to be a continuing challenge that will face us as a country going forward.

Finally, in conclusion—and so many thanks to all of you for coming and listening to what I have to say—I think we need to put it this way, if I may, and that is that our current challenge is to build peace and security, stronger global institutions, but to do so without imperilling the planet. But the work must begin, because the house we began in 1945 is unfinished, and there are powerful forces at work that are pushing them in different directions, tyranny, environmental degradation, irrational nationalism, ethnic hatred, lethargy, indifference, and selfishness. The list of our weaknesses, and our enemies, is very long. But our biggest enemy, I continue to believe, is despair, because it stops us from working on doing what we must do. Our greatest friends, therefore, remain love, and courage. And with those words, I pass it back to Kelly. Thank you so much for listening.

Kelly Jackson
Thank you, Ambassador Rae. And first, I just want to start off by saying that I am so pleased that we were able to be able to still have this event. And I know it's not the way that everybody would have liked, and I do just want to first of all, say I'm glad you're feeling well enough to of course to be here, and we wish you pretty speedy recovery. But I also just want to acknowledge those who are tuning in today who, you know, had originally hoped to be there in person, and just say we appreciate your understanding—yet again, another pandemic pivot. And we, you know, are glad to be able to be having this conversation today. We already have some questions coming in from our audience. And before I get to those, I wanted to just ask you a couple of questions. You referenced, you know, as somebody who studied political science back in the day, you referenced a number of terms throughout your remarks that I think many of those of us from that persuasion will be familiar with, hard power, soft power, of course talking about Lester B Pearson and the peacekeeping tradition, and I think, you know, for years, there's been this debate about is Canada middle power? What does it mean to be a middle power? And sort of where we can actually impact, or have influence on international governance, let alone geopolitics. I'm wondering if you wanted to maybe just speak a little bit more, though about, from your perspective, now having been in your role for a couple of years, where do you really see Canadians being able to have an impact when we're talking about, for example, international governance, and those kinds of structures? I was noted when you talked about the fact that we are one of the most international countries, does that give us sort of a different perspective that we bring to the table? Just, you know, I'd love to hear a little bit more about your thoughts on that.

The Hon. Bob Rae
Well, thanks. I mean, yeah, I do feel the last part, yes I do. I really do believe that our identity, as it evolves, makes us more international inevitably. I think the phrase middle power may be a little outdated in some ways, but I think we're a country of significance. But how significant we are is really up to us to decide. I mean, we've been admitted into most of the clubs of the world, right? We're a member of the Commonwealth, we're a member of the G7, we're a member of the G20, our Prime Minister, as I speak today, is at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, we're involved deeply in the Indo Pacific, historically, we've been very involved in Africa from the beginning of decolonization, we've been involved in peacekeeping missions historically, around the world. We're a big supporter of the UN, we're one of the 10 largest donors to the United Nations, and we have an influence here at the UN, we're taken seriously. If we have something to say, and we have something to contribute, if we have something to add, we can have an influence, it's really up to us to what extent do we say, “well, we don't really want to do that,” or to what extent we say, “yes, we want to play a role.” Obviously, I'm one of those people who thinks we should play more of a role, because I don't think there should be cheap seats at the table. If we're in NATO, which we are, we have to contribute to NATO in a way that understands the challenges that NATO is currently experiencing, because our security depends on it. If we're in NORAD with the United States, same story.

When it comes to the developing world, we need to understand are we serious? Mr. Pearson was the author of his report, which came out of the World Bank report, which came out after he retired as Prime Minister; it was a landmark report. We have never met the standard of giving that he said was what was going to be necessary. And that's just where we are at the moment. Can that change? Yes. Can we get there overnight? No, I'm not talking about suddenly spending tens of billions that we didn't spend before, but I am talking about understanding that we're going to have to start to keep going on the path that we're on. And the government has agreed to do that. The government has committed to spending more in each budget; and I know that's going to continue. But we need to understand that it's important. So, it's really to what extent do we want to play a role? Because if we want to play a role, we can. The invitation for us to do so is there, the doors are open. It's just whether we as Canadians are willing to step up.


Kelly Jackson
One of the themes of some of the questions that are coming in is around the Security Council and the permanent member veto. And I know you've been on record in the last few months, talking about that particular characteristic of the way that the UN system is currently structured, as an anachronistic and undemocratic. And so, I think there are some questions that people want to you to speak to, maybe a little bit more around, sort of, you know, is it undermining the relevance of the UN or its ability to act, that permanent veto structure? And does Canada—you mentioned, you know, when we speak at the UN, you know, people are paying attention and they're taking us seriously, but do we really have an ability to make an impact there, if we're talking about any kind of change to those kinds of governance structures?

The Hon. Bob Rae
Well, I mean, I have been a major critic of the Security Council and a major critic of the veto, and I remain so. I think the veto is, as you describe it, and as I've described it in speeches at the UN, it is anti-democratic and it is anachronistic. However, unless the five permanent members of the UN agree to give it up, it's going to be there. So, for me, that sort of says, well, the Security Council is not going to be the centre of attention for—I don't spend a lot of time worrying about bodies where other countries have vetoes, particularly where those countries are called Russia and China. I am quite happy to be spending my time working on peacebuilding, working on initiatives that we can join in, in terms of financing for development, which we've been doing, a number of really practical ways we can make a difference. And frankly, using the UN as a critical forum, for us to be able to speak out and define the issues as clearly as we can. And I've tried to do that. I mean, I've taken that on as part of my job on my speeches that I give, and even on my Twitter account—which, from time to time gets criticized—but it's very important for us to engage in public diplomacy. But the credibility of our public diplomacy and our private diplomacy depends a whole lot on this question that I continue to pose to governments, and pose to Canadians is, how far do you want to get engaged? How far are you serious about this? And I think that we have to decide that question. Until I'm told otherwise, we're serious, we're going to be more engaged, we want to do more, and I think that's what the Prime Minister wants to do, and that's what I want to do.

The UN is not the only place this can be done. The UN is one critical place for it to be done, but the UN is like an iceberg. What you see is the Security Council, and vetoes, and, you know, blaming all of what things are one kind or another, or one country or another—a lot of rhetoric. But underneath, the stuff that's really going on at the UN, is providing humanitarian assistance, dealing with the refugee crisis, which is growing, and becoming exponentially more difficult, and more real—I wrote about that last week, in The Globe and Mail. I think these are all examples where the UN is—there’s an inevitability about the UN. The UN is one place where everybody is a member. You might not like that, but that's who was there. All the warts, and all the failings, and all the corruption, and silliness of the world, and all the aggression and nastiness is at the United Nations; that's where it is. So, we have a choice. Do we run away from it? Do we say, “well, we don't like that, so we're not gonna go?” Or do we engage? And we have, I think, rightly taken the route, the path, of engagement. And I'm happy to do that. I think that's where we should be.

Kelly Jackson
A lot of the questions that we've had come in from the audience is picking up on your comment, or description and clarification around the use of war of aggression as an important term, of what we're talking about the current invasion of Ukraine. And one of the questions from the audience is, you know, how did the aggressions of the respective UN members on their own fellow citizens or minorities, you know, how is that handled? And how does that impact Canada, when we talk about Canada being, again, engaged in so many critical discussions at the various tables within the UN context?

The Hon. Bob Rae
Well, I start from the premise that human dignity is a universal. It's not a Western value, or an Eastern value, or any other kind of value. And the dignity of the person is what leads to all of our concepts of human rights. It's the foundational principle, a value principle. Before, we had sort of the rule of law, as it was enumerated. We had a variety of religions growing up in civilizations before, you know, long before the birth of Christ, we had civilizations that articulated the importance of dignity, the importance of love, the importance of solidarity—these are not western values, these are universal values; you can find it in Buddhism, you can find it in Hinduism, you can find it in Confucianism, you can find it in Islam, you can find it everywhere. So, I reject totally, the notion somehow that these are not universal values. They have also become part of the of the world of international law, of what we call international rights and humanitarian law. because we've concluded that the nation-state is not exclusive; sovereignty is not an absolute. There are many countries that come into the UN saying, the foundational principle of the United Nations is the sovereignty of all countries, and the principle of non-interference; actually, that's not true. The sovereignty of nations is not absolute, and interference is allowed for, when it imperils human rights and human security.

Where we are weak, and this is, again, the weakness of our lives, is how and when do we intervene? And, we have to admit that some interventions have been catastrophic. I think intervention in Iraq was unfounded, and a terrible, terrible mistake by the coalition—that Canada was not a part of—that invaded Iraq, and thought that that would create an immediate vindication, the establishment of a democratic rule in Iraq, and that everything would be fine. Well, we've seen what's happened; hundreds of thousands, millions of people killed, and a huge internal conflict, and enormous instability, and extremism exported to all sorts of other places. So, intervention is not an easy thing, but the principle that we pay attention, and we focus on where there is injustice, and real mistreatment of individuals, is absolutely a foundational principle of the UN, and it's a foundational principle of Canadian foreign policy. We can no more turn away from it than we could turn away from anything else, because the rule of law, and the dignity of the person is a foundational principle of our country. How can our foreign policy not respect that?

Kelly Jackson
The theme, I think, is very clear through your remarks, and even just the few questions and answers we've sort of had a chance to exchange here around the will to act, and so much of it coming down to, you know, how much do you want to be engaged, and putting the action behind the words, I was struck by the fact that a lot of the recent coverage of some of your remarks and speeches, often has a reference to you holding a miniature version of the Charter, and I just wondered if you wanted to talk a little bit about that symbolism? Because, you know, I'm wondering if part of that is reminding people, you know, it's here, we can use it, we can put it into action.

The Hon. Bob Rae
When my father died, we were going through his papers, and I discovered several copies of this little version of the Charter, which I've kept, and it's become a kind of little portable Bible for me. And it's allowed me to, sometimes when people will say, “it's in the Charter,” and I say, “where? Like, tell me exactly where you think it is.” I do this—it drives them crazy when I do it, because it's not there—but I also do it, in a way, to remind people that there are some things in the Charter about human rights, about the importance of global solidarity, about the importance of building prosperity, and social justice; it's all in the Charter. It was thought of in 1945. Now, what was thought of in 1945, was, as I've described, not perfect, but I think it's important for us to keep on thinking of ourselves as a rule of law country. But in addition to that, if you want to be a real rule of law country, you have to be able to figure out how you're going to make sure that the rule of law actually happens. And there, I think, we have to admit the challenge. The architecture is imperfect—because we've seen how imperfect the Security Council is—but the biggest imperfection in the structure is this question of how we actually make the Charter real, how we how we deal with the problem of enforcement? And that is the critical problem.

But in addition to the veto that's in the Charter, in the Security Council, 1945 also created another kind of veto, that we don't talk about very much, but we started to talk about it in the context of Ukraine. And that's what I call the nuclear veto. Because one of the preoccupations that people have now, with the Ukrainian crisis is, “well, what happens if the Russians decide that we become co-belligerents; we've decided to engage too much?” And then there's a response from the Russians that takes the form, either of broadening the conflict geographically, or deepening the conflict by using weapons of mass destruction, like nuclear weapons. That's that is—that's not a fictitious, kind of that's not a made-up thing. But we also have to understand, that if we were to give in to all these vetoes, we'd be giving into tyranny. And we do have to understand that Russia right now is a tyranny. I think for a long time, we felt “well, it's not Soviet communism, so maybe it's not so bad; it's not Stalin.” And it's, you know, Mr. Putin has really ripped off the mask, and he's unveiled what he is. He's a tyrant, and his country is a tyranny, which is a tragedy for the Russian people. But it's an even greater tragedy for his neighbours, particularly now, Ukraine. And I don't like to get into tyranny. So, I think we have to figure out ways to continue to resist the tyranny and to overcome it, frankly.

Kelly Jackson
I think we probably have time for one more audience question, and I may just take us a little bit into the conversation around climate change—of course, you talked about that in your remarks. But the question is any, you know, just looking for you to give some thoughts on the potential impacts of the global transition to low-carbon energy, in terms of the Russian and Canadian economies, and how that may affect their places in the world?

The Hon. Bob Rae
Well, I think it's, I mean, I think we have to understand for Canada, that it is a serious issue. And I don't think it's, it's an easy snapping of the fingers to get us to carbon-free, or carbon neutral—and carbon neutral doesn't mean carbon-free. And I think Canada needs to be very candid with itself, and with the world, about how we see this as a transition, in which, as a as a fossil fuel-wealthy economy, we're gonna make a transition. We're gonna have to do it in a way that's sustainable, but has to be sustainable economically, as well as sustainable ecologically. And that's a real challenge; that's not easy. The Russians have, you know, haven't signed and haven't really gotten involved in any of the international effort on this. They've just rejected it, as they do reject, you know, gender equality, and, you know, human rights, and everything else, so we don't take them as a source. But we need to understand that we're living in a world where this transition—and the Ukrainian conflict demonstrates it—and consequences, we thought it was going to be just a gradual, you know, kind of painless decline, or change, in which our emissions would come down gradually. Not so much. It's a bumpy ride, and it's a difficult thing to do, but it is necessary for us to do it. And I guess I'll make this the last point. There is a view out there that says, Canada doesn't have to be—Canada could be more like Russia on this front. Canada could be just saying, “not so fast, we'll do it in our own time; we're not going to really get involved in these treaties, negotiations, whatever.” And I think that's a mistake, because one of the problems we have as a country, is that if we can't succeed in meeting our standards, and meeting what we're expected to do, we're going to end up in real trouble. And that trouble will be that we will not have any credibility globally with anybody else. There is a kind of principle that says, if you want to go to China and say, “let's make some changes here"—because we're gonna have to engage in climate change diplomacy with China, whether we like it or not—they’re gonna look at us and say, “whoa, you're giving me lessons on how to do this?” Now, we're doing better than China; China's doing very badly at the moment and is going to be doing even worse after this current conflict, but we need to understand that we've got a stake in this as a country, and that stake is to be on the side of the long-term future of the planet. But the name of the political game, and everything else is, you've got to do that without creating havoc and chaos in your economy, because if you do that, everybody will be very short-term in their political lives. So, I think we've got to wake up to that reality.

Kelly Jackson
Thank you so much for spending time with us today—and again, especially when you're still under the weather, to some extent—and just first of all, providing some thoughts on some of these major issues, and how they intersect, and how they are affecting and impacting us, but I think also inspiring many people to take that hard look individually, and collectively and say, “do we have the will to act; can we act when we work together?” That's how innovation happens, that's how we make progress, and that's how we can make things better. So, I appreciate, as well, there's some optimism and positivity that is the undercurrent, in many ways, to this conversation, when we talk about what Canada can do, and I think there is much we can do. With that, I'd like to welcome Dr. Rhonda Lenton, who is the President and Vice-Chancellor of York University. Rhonda Lenton is going to provide some remarks to say thank you to Ambassador Rae. Rhonda, over to you.

Dr. Rhonda Lenton, President & Vice-Chancellor, York University
I want to thank, first of all, the Honourable Bob Rae, for the insightful recommendations put forward regarding the collective actions that must be taken to address United Nations sustainable development goals, and our shared responsibility for building more just equitable and healthier societies. The keynote address reminds me of a quote from former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, who said that “saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth; these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security, and women's empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.”

I'm really grateful to everyone here today, for your willingness to engage in the types of cross-cultural exchanges, interdisciplinary collaboration, and social and political activism, to address the convergence of unprecedented trials, including political polarization, poverty and inequality, climate change, and global health crises. At York University, the desire to build a more sustainable future underscores everything we do, which is why our own University Academic Plan includes a challenge, to enhance our impact on the United Nations SDG’s, to our programs, our teaching and learning, research and innovation activities, and community engagement. As the urgency of the pandemic against a shift towards securing Canada's social, economic, and environmental future, institutions of higher education, governments of all levels, community organizations, the private sector, we are all needed more than ever, to provide the leadership and guiding the kinds of transformative action that maximizes our collective impact, and advances the peace and prosperity the local and global communities we serve. As Ambassador Rae started his remarks today, “what we desire for ourselves, we must wish for all.” I want to thank the Honourable Bob Rae once again, the Empire Club for hosting today's event, and everyone here today, who shares in the commitment to build a safer, and more inclusive, and more sustainable future, for Canada and the world. Thank you so much. Merci. Miigwetch. Back to you, Kelly.

Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thank you, Dr. Lenton, and thank you to York University, and all of our sponsors for their support. Thank you, Ambassador Rae, for spending time with us today, and everybody who has tuned in to watch live, and those who will be watching on-demand later. As a club of record, all Empire Club of Canada events are available to watch and listen to on-demand on our website. If you would like to see some of the other times that Ambassador Rae, in other roles, addressed the Club, you can check it out by going through the digital archives. The recording of this event will be available shortly, and everybody who is registered will receive an email with the link. Thank you again for joining us today. I wish you a great afternoon. Stay safe and take care.

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The World We're In: The Impact of Conflict, Energy, and Climate Change on Canada

9 June, 2022 The World We're In: The Impact of Conflict, Energy, and Climate Change on Canada