rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Trudeau government makes dubious appointments to Washington and the UN

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: flickr/ mathrong

rabble is expanding our Parliamentary Bureau and we need your help! Support us on Patreon today!

Keep Karl on Parl

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


Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.