Bob Rae: Global coronavirus solution to be top priority in UN ambassador role

Canada’s new United Nations ambassador, Bob Rae, says his focus will be working to craft a globally coordinated effort to limit the fallout from the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Rae, former Ontario NDP premier and interim federal Liberal party leader, was named to the position last month when Canada’s outgoing ambassador stepped aside following the loss of the country’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, and takes on the new role next week.

READ MORE: Bob Rae taking over as Canada’s new United Nations ambassador

In an interview with The West Block guest host Farah Nasser, Rae weighed in on what the role abroad will look like for him.

“This is a global pandemic, which is going to require some global solution. So what we’ve seen so far in a number of countries has been very much focused on each country,” he said.

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“I think what we’re going to need [is] to really increase our efforts to make sure that we find solutions that include everybody.

“That means a vaccine that’s available to everybody. It means making sure that nobody falls way behind because of what’s happened and that we’re creating greater prosperity globally because that’s going to help us grow in Canada as well. So I’d say that’s my number one priority at the moment.”

The posting will see Rae, who last year called U.S. President Donald Trump “unhinged,” head to New York City and take on that mantle as the U.S. lurches towards its presidential election this fall.

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He said he won’t be repeating those sentiments anymore.

“I’ve said a lot of things as a private citizen,” he said.

“I won’t be doing that anymore. The Americans are in the middle of an election campaign. We’ll just have to see what happens in that campaign … we will obviously respect whatever the American public and the American people decide.

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How close are we to developing a coronavirus vaccine?

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The pandemic has infected 17.4 million people worldwide and killed 675,167, according to the tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

In Canada, those numbers stand at 116,081 confirmed cases and 8,933 deaths.

The rapid global spread of cases first identified in China late last year have prompted countries around the world to shut their borders, with many ordering citizens to shelter in place to varying degrees in a bid to limit the spread of the deadly virus.

The Canadian government began rolling out hundreds of billions of dollars in support funding in March — spending that has ballooned to push the federal deficit up to an expected $343 billion.

That includes funding for vaccine research, benefit payments for broad sections of the population, and, among many other things, a now-cancelled plan to give a sole-sourced contract to the controversial WE Charity to administer a student grant program initially budgeted at $912 million.

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The recent release of the funding agreement revealed the actual amount would be roughly half that.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly pushed back at questions on whether his government is rushing programs out too fast by insisting speed is what matters most. But it’s the apparent failure to fully account for how his family’s close ties with the group would look to voters that has landed the government in hot water over recent weeks in the WE Charity scandal.

Trudeau’s mother and brother have both been paid by the group to attend fundraising events and have spoken at WE Day events repeatedly. His wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, has also done unpaid work for the group but has her travel expenses reimbursed.

Despite that, Trudeau has admitted he did not recuse himself from cabinet discussions on the public service’s proposal to allow the charity to run the student grant program.

Trudeau told the House of Commons finance committee studying the matter last week that he initially slowed down the cabinet approval process for the deal because he knew there would be “increased scrutiny” given his family’s ties.

Two weeks later, though, cabinet approved the proposal and Trudeau told the committee he didn’t think at the time that he needed to recuse himself because the ethics commissioner had said it was okay for his wife to have her travel expenses reimbursed by the group.

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The prime minister was questioned by all Opposition members at the finance committee meeting last week, with many of the questions focusing on why he didn’t step aside if he realized the deal could give the perception of a conflict of interest.

They also focused on whether the fact he is now facing his third ethics investigation suggests he has a blind spot when it comes to evaluating potential conflicts of interest.

“Does the prime minister have an ethical blind spot?” Nasser asked Rae.

“No, I don’t think so. Not at all. I think he’s a very honest person. I think he’s somebody who exercises good judgment. I think he’s somebody who cares a lot about people,” he replied.

“I don’t see this as speaking to Mr. Trudeau’s ethics or his frankly or his judgment. I think it speaks to a government that was making decisions very quickly and making them under very difficult circumstances.”

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