Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has decided to appoint his fifth foreign minister, which is a travesty.
My colleagues Bill Curry, Marieke Walsh and Steven Chase report that Marc Garneau was removed from his post after less than a year in office. The serial rotation of foreign ministers is nothing new. But five in six years? It’s just ridiculous.
Mr. Garneau – who succeeded François-Philippe Champagne, Chrystia Freeland and Stéphane Dion – was one of the most competent ministers in the Liberal cabinet. But he had a reputation for resisting the dictates of officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, which greatly limited his career in that government. And as a 72-year-old white man, Mr. Garneau contributed nothing to the diversity quotient on the Liberal bench.
Trudeau plans major cabinet overhaul, while shaking his team of senior advisers
It is also true that being Minister of Foreign Affairs, or Minister of Fisheries, or Minister of Natural Resources, or just about any other minister, doesn’t mean much anymore. The age of ministers ended years ago. Jean Chrétien was the last prime minister to authorize and expect his ministers to run their ministries.
His successors had one or two cabinet colleagues they trusted and respected: Jim Flaherty, in the case of Stephen Harper; Ms. Freeland and Dominic LeBlanc, at Mr. Trudeau’s. The finance minister continues to have power, and one or two other ministers may have enough clout to more or less run their departments. The others are kept on a very short leash. Everything you need to know about the new cabinet came a month ago when Mr Trudeau announced Ms Freeland would remain as finance minister and deputy prime minister – details on the rest of the cabinet will follow.
But while true cabinet government is unlikely to return, a ministry other than finance needs a truly powerful minister, able to reform the ministry itself, chart a political course, and convince the Prime Minister to accept this path. This ministry is Foreign Affairs.
Western consensus fails. The Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party threatens American democracy. China is becoming more belligerent, while Russia does more mischief. Hungary and Poland contest the European Union’s weak efforts to punish their withdrawal from democracy. Freedom has been on the decline around the world for 15 consecutive years, according to Freedom House, an NGO that monitors democratic governments around the world. And even as countries make new commitments to reduce carbon emissions ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, emissions continue to rise.
Canada’s response to a world in which the jungle grows back to borrow from Robert Kagan has been timid, despite Mr. Trudeau’s declaration when he became Prime Minister that “Canada is back.” There were successes in the first term: airlifting Syrian refugees, ratifying European and Pacific trade agreements, protecting NAFTA against Mr. Trump. But the second term was hijacked by the Meng Wanzhou / Two Michaels affair. And six years later, the failures – winning a seat on the Security Council, renewing peacekeeping, deepening ties with India, establishing a cohesive approach with China – outnumber the successes.
“Trudeau and his team aspire to be reformists on a large scale,” writes Mr. Chrétien in his new book. But “their lack of experience to succeed in the sense that the objective is more and more apparent”.
The United States, Great Britain and Australia signed a new defense pact without Canada’s participation. The Americans are calling for a costly NORAD renewal, but Canada does not have the money. (Defense policy is as inconsistent as foreign policy.)
The best way to forge an answer to all of this would be to appoint a powerful Minister of Foreign Affairs: someone with extensive experience to fundamentally overhaul the department, to thoroughly review and reform Canadian foreign policy, and then to implement. this policy, with the full support of the Prime Minister.
A few names come to mind: former Ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton; former Governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, Mark Carney; former McKinsey CEO and current Chinese Ambassador Dominic Barton; within Cabinet, Mr. LeBlanc. They are the kind of people who could convince others at home and abroad that when they speak, the Prime Minister is speaking too.
This is what the country’s foreign policy needs. Instead, we’ll probably have the same thing under the next foreign minister, whoever he is, as if everyone cares.
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