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article imageCanadian Member of Parliament Bob Rae talks 'exporting democracy' Special

By Andrew Moran     Feb 8, 2011 in Politics
Toronto - Canadian Liberal Member of Parliament Bob Rae discussed his latest book "Exporting Democracy" at the Toronto Reference Library. The former Ontario Premier was interviewed by Toronto Star columnist James Travers.
Since 1978, Bob Rae has been in provincial and federal politics as a New Democratic Party and Liberal member. Rae has served as the Premier of Ontario for five years, a Member of Provincial Parliament for 14 years and a Member of Parliament for seven years on three different occasions.
Rae now operates as the House of Commons Liberal opposition foreign affairs critic and MP of the Toronto Centre. The former Ontario NDP leader has traveled the world and has met numerous foreign heads, including those of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Late last year, Rae published a book titled Exporting Democracy: The Risks and Rewards of Pursuing a Good Idea. The “challenging” read discusses the political system of democracy, how it is more than just fair and free elections and his own experience in witnessing attempts to establish democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.
On Monday, Rae sat down with former Ottawa Citizen Editor-in-Chief and Toronto Star columnist James Travers at the Toronto Reference Library to discuss the book and other political topics, including the state of Canada’s democracy, the present crisis in the Middle East and the apathetic general public.
Egypt and the unrest
The discussion started with the Egyptian political upheaval where he states that we shouldn’t be quick to provide solutions and that we have to understand the domestic issues and the roles of neighboring nations.
Liberal Member of Parliament Bob Rae.
Liberal Member of Parliament Bob Rae.
“There is a powerful desire for democracy and accountability in the Middle East, but there is a concern over stability,” said Rae, who has been an active political figure in several human rights issues. “People need to take a step back and look at the role of other countries and human rights issues.”
Travers went onto ask Rae if the international community, including Canada, can pick and choose who we want democratically elected. Rae responded that the people have to ultimately decide and asked, “What if we pick the wrong guy?”
“Everyone wants free and fair elections,” said the MP of the Toronto Centre. “Democracy isn’t just about elections, but what happens afterwards. What happens to the minorities in Egypt? Are there economic rights?”
Canada’s foreign policy and state of our democracy
Rae then went onto discuss Canada’s foreign policy and said that the Canadian government made the “existential decision” years ago to realize a Jewish state within the Middle East, but ultimately, says Rae, we should be supportive of a Palestinian regime similar to how we support an Israeli regime.
“But [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper tells us to make a choice.”
The Canadian politician talked about the state of Canada’s democracy and how it has become divisive, disengaging among the youth and the challenges the country’s political system is facing at this time.
Rae, who mentioned a couple of times of a possible May federal election, talked about how when he first entered politics, it was easier to talk to the opposition; whether it be NDP or Conservative. He says that he was able to have conversations, go out to dinner and be friends with his opposing colleagues.
Nowadays Cabinet Ministers, says Rae, aren’t capable to even move or speak to anyone without using talking points from somebody else. The current state of politics is all about the talking points, notes Rae.
Liberal Member of Parliament Bob Rae.
Liberal Member of Parliament Bob Rae.
“The political system isn’t working because the public is turned off and not voting,” points out Rae. “We have come through our own set of challenges to create this thing called democracy. What we’re seeing in the world is similar to what we went through. We can’t just offer a country a constitution.”
Bob Rae, U.S. history and his dealing with U.S. officials
On a few occasions, Rae mentioned the likes of American Revolution hero and author of “Common Sense” Thomas Paine, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He mentions that Carter once said that the U.S. supported “many bad guys in South America,” while FDR was told that former Cuban President Batista was a “son of a b**ch” and responded that at least “he is our son of a b**ch.”
During the Iraqi National Assembly, cites Rae, there was a U.S. diplomat that asked why it took so long in order to form a constitution. Rae responded to the gentleman that it took decades for the U.S. to establish appropriate functions of government, such as the constitution, bill of rights, Supreme Court justice and so on.
“Everything happens in time,” said Rae. “If you have no idea of the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni then you’re never going to understand. The world is not born anew. Take a break and look what’s after a revolution.”
Why write the book?
Even though Rae admits that the book is challenging and not an easy read, but he wrote it because he “wanted to try to bring together my own intellectual development and political ideas with practical experience. It’s not an easy read, but it is thoughtful.”
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