BY Derek Dunn
Photography by Jim Young
When Jean Chrétien told the House of Commons in March 2003 that Canada would not join the coalition forces preparing to invade Iraq, David Pratt remained slumped in his chair as his fellow Liberal MPs rose around him to applaud.
The MP for the Ottawa riding of Nepean-Carleton was a devoted Martinite and, like Paul Martin, a vocal critic of the Chrétien government’s decision to stay out of Iraq. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise later that year when Martin, the new prime minister, named Pratt as his minister of defence. What is less clear is how—after losing his seat last June—Pratt went from being an advocate for war to an advocate for peace as advisor to the secretary general and special ambassador to the Canadian Red Cross.
Pierre Duplessis, secretary general and chief executive officer of the Canadian Red Cross, named Pratt to the humanitarian post in November. “We need people like David Pratt,” he says. “It is the experience he brings, that makes him valuable.”
But Duplessis seems to have done precious little research on Pratt’s experience before hiring him. He says he had limited knowledge of Pratt’s views on Iraq and was unaware that, after the coalition forces illegally invaded Iraq, Pratt continued in his pro-war position.
Duplessis also added that the Red Cross has a strong interest in Sierra Leone, a country Pratt has visited a number of times as Canada’s Special Envoy to Sierra Leone in 1999 and 2001.
However, Pratt’s contributions to Sierra Leone don’t impress some of his former constituents. Des Garvey, founder of the non-governmental organization Nepean Outreach to the World, doubts Pratt’s ability to go from disturbing the peace to keeping it. “People can change, I know that. But in the peace game we don’t need turncoats,” Garvey says.
The former MP’s new role involves persuading governments to sign agreements on conflict prevention, and the control of small arms and light weapons. It’s a different perspective than he held while attending arms shows in Ottawa as a guest of General Dynamics, one of the world’s top military contractors. Although based in Falls Church, Virginia, General Dynamics has a plant in Pratt’s former riding. In 2002, the company made almost $10 billion in sales of nuclear submarines, guided missile destroyers and armoured vehicles.
Pratt doesn’t think there is a contradiction between his pro-war stance and his new pro-peace role. He maintains that his views on political issues are irrelevant now that he is with the Red Cross, a politically neutral organization.
“To some people this may seem a contradiction,” Pratt says. “But … I think you’ll find this new arrangement between myself and the Red Cross is to our mutual benefit.”