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Hill Dispatches

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Karl Nerenberg has been reporting on federal politics from Parliament Hill for rabble.ca since September, 2011. In his long career, he has won numerous awards as a broadcaster and documentary filmmaker.

Trudeau government makes dubious appointments to Washington and the UN

| January 18, 2016
Photo: flickr/ mathrong

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The newly renamed Department of Global Affairs decided to bury the announcement of two of the government's key diplomatic appointments by making it on a weekend.

This past Saturday, the Department issued a laconic news release saying that Minister Stéphane Dion had named a lobbyist to be the new Ambassador to the United States and the CEO of a big law firm to be Canada's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

David MacNaughton, who is now preparing to move to his new office on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., is the lobbyist.

Most recently he has been Chair and CEO of Toronto-based StrategyCorp. Earlier, he had chaired the New York-based mega-firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

The newly minted ambassador to the U.S. also chaired the federal Liberal campaign in Ontario.

Well-connected insiders, such as the former Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Derek Burney, have told reporters they think MacNaughton is a good choice because he has lots of experience lobbying government officials in the U.S., and because he has a close relationship of trust with Prime Minister Trudeau.

Burney and others of his ilk also favourably mention MacNaughton's wife, Leslie Noble, who worked with the Mike Harris Conservatives in Ontario.

They say Noble's connections to the starboard side of the political world will help in building bridges to the Republican-controlled Congress.

U.S.-style appointments

The other big appointee, Marc-André Blanchard, who will be off soon to UN headquarters at First Avenue and 42nd Street in New York, has headed the major Canadian law firm McCarthy Tétrault for a number of years.

He is a graduate in international relations from the London School of Economics; but aside from having served on Justin Trudeau's transition team, he has no public service, let alone diplomatic, experience.

MacNaughton held senior political staff positions both in Ottawa and at Queen's Park, with the McGuinty government.

Those who work in the federal public service, and most particularly the folks at Global Affairs, are big fans of the new Trudeau government.

But these two appointments will have to rankle a bit.

It is one thing to pass over professional diplomats in favour of former provincial premiers such as Gary Doer and Frank McKenna, or former senior cabinet ministers such as Allan Rock and Michael Wilson. It is quite another to pass over the entire department, with all its experience and know-how, to reward a lobbyist and a corporate lawyer, neither of whom have any significant international experience. 

Had the Trudeau government decided to tap Bob Rae for the UN, as CBC's Peter Mansbridge predicted it would on election night, the professionals in the foreign service could console themselves with the thought that Rae was a provincial premier and his party's foreign affairs critic and has done considerable work internationally. 

The professional foreign service will not likely be similarly consoled by the rather less impressive credentials of MacNaughton and Blanchard.

Although the Washington position has, of late, often gone to an outsider, the current appointment looks to be more in the American tradition than the Canadian.

Since Andrew Jackson's time in the early 19th Century the Americans have had the spoils system. Plum ambassadorships are choice spoils to be rewarded to loyal political partisans.

This is not quite the case in Canada.

The tradition here is that on the rare occasions when governments choose non-foreign service people for big diplomatic jobs it is not because of their political colour or connections.

It is because they would bring special skills and experience to the roles.

The aforementioned former-elected politicians are cases in point. Brian Mulroney's selection of former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis to represent Canada at the U.N. is another.

In due course, the two men the Trudeau government is sending to New York and Washington may do a fine job.

And whatever the newly named diplomats' skills, views or experience, the Minister of Global Affairs will still be Stéphane Dion, and foreign policy will still be developed and elaborated, in large measure, by the professional public service, in Ottawa and in postings around the world.

Still, they will not be popping champagne corks at the Pearson Building on Sussex Drive this week.


Photo: flickr/ mathrong

 

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