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Bob Rae accuses Tories of perverting foreign policy

A week after supporting the government on its controversial decision to extend the Afghan mission, Liberal MP Bob Rae ripped into Stephen Harper's foreign policy as simplistic and dangerous.

In a prepared text of his remarks to the Canadian Club of Toronto, Mr. Rae accused the Conservative government of "treating foreign policy like a tool of domestic politics" which leads to decisions being distorted.

In the speech itself, he accused the government of exerting too much control over Canadian diplomats by having their speeches vetted by staffers in Ottawa, what he termed a "captain-control" system.

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"You can't have a 'captain-control' style of diplomacy, you can't have a 'captain-control' style of management, you cant have a 'captain-control' style of engagement," he said.

The speech itself was harsh - and it was not the only one. Two other Liberal MPs, Dominic LeBlanc and Siobhan Coady, were delivering similar messages in Ottawa and Halifax.

This foreign policy manoeuvre comes as the Liberals take heat from the NDP, especially, over their decision to cozy up to the Conservatives on keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan in a non-combat role for three more years. Parliament had originally agreed troops would leave next July.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Mr. Rae have also had to deal with the slings and arrows from their own caucus members, some of whom are concerned they won't be able to sell an extension to their constituents. Mr. Rae addressed that in his remarks Wednesday, accusing his critics of thinking only of narrow partisan politics and not seeing the bigger picture.

"What kind of a party would the Liberal Party be if it walked away from 60 years of international engagement, it's role as a founder of NATO, its role as a founder of the United Nations, the advice and request it received from every major international institution in respect to our participation in Afghanistan?" he asked rhetorically.

Saving his strongest language for the Conservatives, Mr. Rae blasted the Harper government for not stepping up to the plate on international issues such as climate change, ahead of a UN conference on the issue in Cancun.

"We continue to set huge targets for ourselves, reaching out to 2050, and yet nobody's prepared to take the tough decisions today that are actually going to get us there," he said. "If we're going to be able to lead in Cancun, we have to be able to lead at home."

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In his prepared text, he went a step further, asserting that the Tories will "embarrass" Canadians in Cancun as they are sending a "part-time Environment Minister."

Indeed, John Baird was put into the Environment portfolio recently after Jim Prentice stepped down to take a senior position at the CIBC. But Mr. Baird also still serves as Government House Leader.

In an interview after his speech, Mr. Rae said he has encountered raised eyebrows and questions from both political friends and foes about his work with the government. "There is an obligation on those of us in public life to put some issues beyond partisanship and something like that seems to me to be very clear," he said.

"We have people putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan. We have the Secretary-General of the United Nations asking Canada to stay engaged. You have our NATO partners saying please stay engaged. The notion that you can somehow just walk away from that because it might be politically convenient strikes me as very short-sighted."

However, Mr. Rae said his decision to co-operate on the Afghan file has not made him feel constrained in criticizing the government.

"I continue to have profound differences with Mr. Harper, with his government, with his conduct in foreign policy and with the way in which he handles foreign policy issues. I think those differences are there for everyone to see. But the notion that you can't walk and chew gum at the same time strikes me as a little strange."

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About the Authors
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

National news reporter

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Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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