Interim Liberal leader visits Laurier

Speaking to an audience of both students and locals, Bob Rae, interim leader for the Liberal Party of Canada and former chancellor at Wilfrid Laurier University, took the stage at the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall on Sept. 22 to present a lecture on the history of Wilfrid Laurier as a prime minister and Canada’s place in terms of foreign policy.

The former premier of Ontario recounted the time that Laurier was prime minister from 1896 to 1911, with the last year of his term being the “birth” year of the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada, which later evolved into WLU throughout the 20th century. The talk was part of a series of “centennial” lectures hosted by Laurier that look back at Canada’s politics for the last century.

“Laurier, the prime minister, had a vision of a bigger country, a bigger place, and a bigger world. He had a humanitarian vision that was very powerful that was about liberal values and human values and that stood the test of time,” Rae told The Cord after the lecture. “I think it’s something that has a lot of meaning today.”

The lecture was primarily focused on Laurier as an individual and what contributions he made to the identity of Canada, including his efforts in trying to create a cohesive society between the English and the French.

“Laurier [the prime minister] was dealing, from the very beginning, with the realities of the Canadian experience,” Rae said during his presentation.

“We were pulled from different directions, internally and externally.”

Rae continued, “The first thing you have to remember about foreign policy is that it’s not really foreign. It’s merely an extension of your domestic policy. It’s a reflection of who are you as a country. And that is true as much as it was during Laurier’s time as it is today.”

Rae then went on to explain in more detail some of the issues, both domestic and foreign, that the seventh prime minister of Canada faced. In particular, Rae discussed the implications of the Boer War and Laurier’s political battles with Robert Borden, the Conservative prime minister that succeeded him in 1911.

Citing various examples from more contemporary times, Rae talked about Laurier’s political legacy and influence on various political figures in Canada.

“I had no doubt in my mind, that Mr. Chretien had Laurier in mind when he said ‘no’ to George Bush’s proposal to join the coalition in Iraq,” he added.

While the majority of the talk was non-partisan, Rae did take some time towards to the end of the lecture to criticize some of his political opponents, most notably the Conservative Party of Canada.

“I think for example, when we look at provisions between the Liberals and Conservatives today and as Liberals we need to articulate these differences more in the days ahead,” he continued. “Is that we don’t see the world as a place where, necessarily, issues are going to be resolved by means of military confrontation.”

After many questions were asked from various students and professors, Rae discussed his thoughts on foreign policy with The Cord.

For Rae, Canada’s foreign policy should not only look outward to the countries surrounding the nation, but also inward at its inhabitants, especially as multiculturalism becomes an increasingly large part of Canada’s identity.

“Canada in itself becomes, in a sense, a mini-world. Therefore our success in bringing people together will enable us to do a better job around the world,” he said.

Rae also feels that Canada will, and should, make a substantial impact in world politics in the future.

“What happens in the world has a profound impact on Canada and I don’t think we should feel, because we’re a relatively small country in terms of population, that we can’t really have an impact on the world,” he said.

With his stint as Ontario’s 21st premier from 1990-95, Rae still had messages to send to students about the upcoming provincial election, hoping that involvement continues in an election that directly affects them.

“I think it’s inevitable and natural for students to think about the issues that affect them. Like tuition and education and so on. But it’s also important to think about more broadly,” concluded Rae.

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