Navigating Global Challenges: Insights from Four Decades of Diplomacy and Investment with Ambassador Bob Rae

In this exclusive interview with Bob Rae, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations in New York, we delve into pressing questions about the role of the United Nations in today’s world. We also talk about the implications of the upcoming US election, and the imperative for wealthy nations like Canada to address the refugee crisis amidst escalating global conflicts. With over a decade of experience navigating the intricate landscape of international relations and capital markets, Ambassador Bob Rae brings a unique perspective to the table. {Read More}

CLC: What have you learned in the last four years about the limits and the potential of the UN as a force in maintaining the global order? 

Ambassador Rae: First of all, it’s been a real learning experience the last four years. My wife and I arrived in the middle of COVID in the summer of 2020, and obviously, COVID affected New York, it affected our personal lives here very much. It was before the vaccines had been developed and so we were all exercising maximum security and maximum care in terms of how we operated. There were very few in-person meetings and there was a lot of Zoom, which in the end is quite isolating from a psychological point of view, so not easy for anybody.

But I think what was clear from the outset here in New York was that COVID was a global event — it was an event that affected everybody, and yet the responses to it were very national. Right away, I think it showed both the challenges facing the UN, because we could pass resolutions or we could say whatever we wanted to say, but the reality is we couldn’t necessarily control what happened in terms of the decisions that our national governments made, or the ability of the global system to respond in a strong way — in a way that reflected the seriousness of the situation for all the countries.

That experience had its parallel in the economic discussions that Canada was very much a part of — how could we more effectively respond to the financial problems which COVID created? In our case in Canada, the case in the United States, governments borrowed a lot of money very quickly because they had the liquidity to do that. They had the ability to run up deficits fast and respond to situations. Many, many governments around the world did not have that flexibility. They don’t have any money in the bank per say. They don’t have the ability to borrow without going on global markets, and global markets were very tough.

That was another thing, a learning lesson for me, that when you come to the UN you’re looking at the whole world. You’re understanding that what you take for granted in your own country may not be true in other countries and so we must deal with all these issues. I would say that the two big lessons that I’ve learned in the last 40 years are, we desperately need strong multilateral institutions because the problems we face — ranging from climate change to conflict, to global health issues and to global financial issues — that these are global issues that require a global response, so we need strong multilateral institutions.

I come at it from a perspective that says the UN is actually not strong enough. It does not have the abilities and all the levers that it needs to be able to make a difference, but it’s been fun to try to find the ways to do that and to create a greater awareness of how much more we have to do. Yes, that’s very much part of my learning experience, and it’s an ongoing one. I’ll be here for another year. I will be taking on the chairmanship of the Presidency of the Economic and Social Council in July. That will last for a year. That will give me more opportunities, I think, to begin to look at these issues and to talk more publicly about the things that we need to work on as we go forward.

What is your biggest concern about the upcoming US election? 

Ambassador Rae: I’m not really supposed to comment on the US election, but my biggest concern about any election is that the world needs the United States to be a strong leader, a leader that listens and that is willing to participate and engage with other countries and to be a very active participant in the work of the world. I think that perspective is incredibly important to us. Canada will work with whoever the American people decide to elect. The world will work with whoever is there, but I think our collective concern is we want an America that will lead, that will also listen and that will be a good solid partner. That’s I think what we’re all looking for.

Amidst growing levels of global conflict, what should wealthy countries like Canada be doing to address the resulting refugee crisis? 

Ambassador Rae: The world is more complicated now for all of us. I think the wealthier countries really need to pay attention to what’s happening around the world. Not because the problems are easy or because there’s a quick response or that it’s only about money. To think that any country can isolate itself from artificial intelligence, from the spread of new technology, from the disruption of conflict and the increase in forced migration is to underestimate the interconnectedness of our global society and the shared responsibility we have towards addressing these complex challenges. People are on the move today more than ever before, driven by a myriad of factors including conflict, climate change, and economic disparities. These issues do not respect national borders; they affect us all, directly, or indirectly. 

It’s a big illusion to think that somehow we’re not affected or impacted by this — or that countries that have these problems are far away and remote from us and we really don’t have to worry about them. I think we have to be mature and thoughtful in our responses to what’s going on around the world and show–that’s the source of our strength, to show our knowledge and our ability to listen and learn and learn how to apply what we do. We all share an obligation to have to deal with that.

CLC: Is there a role for private capital and investment in addressing some of the seemingly intractable problems the world is facing right now?

Ambassador Rae: When you look at the global economy as we do, it contains not only governments and the public sector but also the institutions we have established – such as the UN, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and so on. When you think of the size of the global economy at over $100 trillion, and you think of how much of that is made up of government money and then how much of it is made up of private money you then begin to understand that unless we can mobilize private capital more effectively at the global level, we won’t be able to solve the problem, the challenges that the global economy faces.

There’s this tension between the fiscal and financial obligations, and the stewardship obligations that asset holders have, that pension funds have towards the beneficiaries of the plan, and the need to look more widely and globally at where the opportunities really lie and how we can leverage money. There’s a lot of interesting discussions going on in global financial institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and here at the UN over how we incentivize private capital to invest? Usually that involves looking at the leverage and assurance and security that public governments can provide, while at the same time knowing that we have to look more broadly for infrastructure investment, as an example. Global infrastructure investment will not meet the need unless the private sector is involved.

Having said that, it isn’t just about flipping a switch because private money is private. It belongs to people, and they will not invest somewhere if they think it’s too dangerous or too risky or it’s not going to produce a good result, and governments should not be directing people to say, “You must invest in this,” because it’s not the way the world works. There is this necessary discussion and tension between these two elements that I think are critically important for the kind of assets that are represented in the conference coming up in Boston. I’m really looking forward to talking to people about this because I think you can tell I’m quite excited about it.As Ambassador Rae said, he’s looking forward to speaking more about private capital and investing, and we are thrilled to host him at CLC’s upcoming International Best Practices Forum taking place in Boston this October 16-18.

Interested in learning more about this exciting event and how to attend? Follow us on Linkedin and contact to get on the invite list!