A Foreign Policy Review?

Canada, we need to talk about our place in the world

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail

The new Trudeau government’s international agenda is already crowded: planning for the Paris climate talks, processing 25,000 Syrian refugees, shifting our Iraq commitment from CF-18s to trainers and humanitarian help. Then there is the promised defence review, revamp of security legislation and examination of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There’s a lot on the plate.

A review of Canada’s international policies is no easy assignment. Lester Pearson, our greatest diplomat, thought it was better to do foreign policy than review it because events beyond our control make grand plans irrelevant.

Foreign policy reviews come in three broad types.

Most are internal affairs, conducted by the civil service for cabinet consideration. Pierre Trudeau’s Foreign Policy for Canadians (1970) and the subsequent Canada-U.S. Relations: Options for the Future (1972) took this approach. So did Paul Martin’s much rewritten A Role of Pride and Influence (2005).

Then there are the more focused reviews, again conducted internally, as with Stephen Harper’s Global Commerce Strategy (2008) and Canada First Defence Strategy (2008).

There were other efforts by other governments that came to naught – dying from either bureaucratic nibbling, political indecision or the sense that events had passed them by.

Given the mixed record of reviews, Mr. Pearson’s skepticism may be right. But Mr. Pearson also recognized the dangers of complacency and acknowledged that foreign policy is too often reactive, rather than creative.

In terms of efficiency of process, broad public outreach and ultimate implementation, the most successful review was Jean Chrétien’s Canada in the World (1995).

The Chrétien exercise owed much to the work of two special joint parliamentary committees, looking at defence and foreign policy. They conducted national hearings and commissioned studies, including a still valuable essay by John Ralston Saul on culture and foreign policy.

The new Trudeau government could look to the Chrétien model with its emphasis on parliamentary involvement. Cross-Canada parliamentary hearings can be complemented through public dialogue, applying the Trudeau government’s apt facility with social media like Google Hangout.

It would benefit both parliamentarians and the public service if departmental staff were assigned to help the committee. Give the committee a sufficient budget to commission studies and for international travel. And have the committee report before the end of 2016 so that its recommendations can be acted on during this Parliament.

Deepening parliamentarians’ knowledge of international relations will help them and enhance the various interparliamentary committees and country friendship associations.

As our diplomat-in-chief, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in the midst of a whirlwind tour of summits. These well-tweeted travels inform but do not give depth or context. Mr. Trudeau should revive the practice of prime ministers, from Louis St. Laurent through Pierre Trudeau, of reporting to Parliament on major travels abroad.

A global policy review should focus on three questions:

  • Where do we want to play a role in the world and why?
  • What do we want to achieve?
  • How much will we spend?

Our international interests are vital. Trade generates 60 per cent of our GDP. Immigration and refugee resettlement provides us with new talent and new ideas.

Our sovereignty and well-being depends on the international rules-based system – the UN, the World Bank, IMF and WTO – and our NATO collective security alliance. Their value endures, but reforms are necessary.

Relations with China and Russia deserve particular focus. China wants and deserves more clout. Russia wants more respect. Both have the capacity to cause disruption, as we witness in Ukraine and the South China Sea.

It is in everyone’s interest to have rising powers integrate into the international system. Accommodations must be made. But with accommodation must go recognition by China and Russia of their responsibilities to established norms and the rule of law.

A review of Canada’s global policies is no easy assignment. Where can we find our niche and lead? Can we be deliberate and focused?

With growing public apprehension that times are out of joint and concern about the future, we need a national dialogue on Canada’s place and priorities in the world. Achieving greater understanding, if not consensus, on our global objectives will also help define the Canadian brand in the 21st century.

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Trudeau and International Summits

CBC Power and Politics host Rosie Barton interviews CIGI Director Fen Hampson and CGAI VP Colin Robertson on PM Trudeau’s upcoming summitry

Find at 1 hour and 15 minute mark


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On CBC The National on Trudeau’s international series of summits interview with Catherine Cullen


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Justin Trudeau’s travelling, week-long world leader seminar: Chris Hall

Bilateral meetings already set up with Obama, China’s Xi

By Chris Hall, CBC News Posted: Nov 13, 2015 5:00 AM ETLast Updated: Nov 13, 2015 9:29 AM ET

Off to see the world. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads out today for a week-long stretch of international summiting, beginning Saturday in Turkey and finishing up next week in Manila.

Off to see the world. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads out today for a week-long stretch of international summiting, beginning Saturday in Turkey and finishing up next week in Manila. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)


Trudeau on refugees and Premiers meeting 1:57

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He’s still flying high at home. And now Justin Trudeau takes off on his first foreign trip, a week-long journey to attend economic summits in Turkey and the Philippines that will bring him face-to-face with leaders of some of the most powerful countries in the world, each of them intent on gauging — and engaging with — the new prime minister.

For many of those leaders, Trudeau is the first Canadian prime minister not named Stephen Harper they’ll be dealing with on the world stage.

U.S. President Barack Obama has already lined up a formal bilateral meeting with Trudeau late in the week when the two are at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Summit in Manila.

Others are also setting up chats at the G20 meeting in Turkey this weekend. That list now includes China’s Xi Jinping, Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto and Italy’s Matteo Renzi, who, for what it’s worth, is three years younger than Trudeau.

What this all suggests is that beyond the grip and grin and the “family photos” that characterize these summits, there’s a strong interest in measuring the new Canadian leader through a more substantive discussion of the issues.

And Trudeau knows it, telling reporters on Thursday he intends to put the same issues before these world leaders that he put in front of Canadians.

“I’ll be talking about the fact that in order to create more global growth … that we need to be investing in our countries’ futures, we need to be investing in the kinds of opportunities that allow us to grow and continue to flourish as nations.”

The ISIS threat

But the global economy is not the only issue Trudeau will have to confront. The war in Syria, climate change and the new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal will all be discussed.

Turkey, the host of the G20 gathering, is trying to cope with the influx of an estimated two million refugees who are fleeing the violence in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan added the conflict to the summit’s normal agenda of global economic issues, insisting the world needs to do more to respond to both the refugees crisis, while expressing concern over the coalition’s efforts to contain the ISIS threat.

Turkey believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has to be removed from office before any lasting peace can be brokered. But Erdogan’s new government is also worried that international efforts to arm and train Kurdish fighters — Canada is involved in the training — in the war against ISIS poses a threat to Turkey’s own internal security.

It’s a delicate balance for any political leader, let alone a Canadian PM whose government only took power last week.

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Not always the closest of international partners, former prime minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama were nonetheless thrown together for much of the last decade. Obama’s tour of duty is almost over as well. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Trudeau’s already signalled that Canada intends to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, and that his government will end Canada’s participation in the air strikes against ISIS targets.

“I made it very clear during the election campaign that it is Canada’s intention to withdraw from the bombing mission, but to do so in a way that is responsible and in coordination with our allies, to continue to demonstrate that Canada is committed to the fight against ISIS as a member of the coalition in the fight against ISIS,” he told reporters on Thursday.

He added the government would have more to say about that role in the weeks ahead.

China tricky

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson says that first pledge to help resettle refugees will be well-received. And he believes Trudeau’s decision to withdraw from the air mission in Iraq is a bigger media story than a real point of contention with the the U.S. because the Americans recognize the Canadian military’s expertise at training and in helping anti-ISIS forces identify legitimate bombing targets.

“As long as we are staying involved and helping with training — that’s a more important contribution,” Robertson says.

He also suggests that the bilateral meeting with Obama provides a chance for the two leaders to talk about climate change, North American energy security and the Pacific Rim trade deal.

“Obama is very much looking at legacy,” Robertson says. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is part of that. So is climate change. So he and Trudeau will have a lot to talk about.”

China isn’t part of the Trans-Pacific deal, and David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, says that makes the face-to-face discussions with Xi delicate.


China’s President Xi Jinping is hoping to have a one-on-one with Trudeau at the G20 in Turkey this weekend. They are two leaders who could share the world stage for a while. (Jason Lee/Associated Press)

His advice: “Don’t over-commit. Pick your issues, and they should be largely economic.”

The latter part is important. China is locked in a dispute with the U.S. and many of its Asian neighbours over its territorial claims in the South China Sea — claims based in part on the creation of man-made islands in a busy international shipping area.

Mulroney, who is now president of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, says that, under Stephen Harper, Canada skipped many ministerial-level meetings with APEC members, sending diplomats instead.

“You can’t just say ‘Canada’s back’ to the other leaders. Well, we can say it, but it doesn’t mean anything if Trudeau doesn’t deliver. He has to re-engage with Asia.”

Mulroney says that means building relationships, establishing the bonds and trust so you can at some point raise what he calls the difficult issues such as security and human rights.

“Justin Trudeau needs to demonstrate that he has strong negotiating skills as well as the personal qualities that attracted and excited Canadians in the last election.”

That demonstration begins this week.

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Resetting Canada’s North American relationships

Why we need to reset our relationship with the U.S.

Three events last week set the stage for redefining the relationship.

First, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau re-established cabinet government. New ministers lead newly reminted departments with a very different approach to policies, notably on climate change.

Second, President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada’s Keystone XL permit application ending, for now, a seven-year odyssey that dominated and chilled relations between the Harper government and the Obama administration.

Third, coincident with the release of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, China pipped Canada to become the United States’ largest trading partner.

These events set the stage for a strategic re-examination and reset of our continental relationships.

Looking to the Paris climate change conference at the end of the month and building on work already done by our energy ministers, we should find points of convergence with Mexico and the U.S. Why not a North American statement on trilateral climate policy co-operation?

On Keystone, Mr. Trudeau expressed “disappointment” but astutely observed that the U.S. relationship is “bigger than any one project”. He has acknowledged that the most important relationship for any prime minister is that with the U.S. President. Now he needs to act on it. The challenge is to find the leverage points, as Brian Mulroney did with Ronald Reagan on free trade and with George Bush on acid rain.

Start by having his principal secretary meet with the White House chief of staff. The relationship between chiefs of staff, as former Clinton chief-of-staff Leon Panetta once observed, is underutilized. Let them identify the opportunities and risks, convergences and divergences, recognizing that differences are normal but should never become personal.

For Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama, Keystone became personal. We should have recognized that for Mr. Obama, the environment is religion. He sees climate change as critical to his leadership and legacy. As he put it, “approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

There are ironies aplenty on Keystone. The U.S. has built the equivalent of 10 Keystone pipelines since 2010. More Canadian oil than ever goes south. We outpace OPEC with volumes over 50 per cent more than when the original pipeline permit was filed in 2008. A record 493,146 carloads travelled by train in 2014 despite the U.S. State Department acknowledgment that pipe is safer and its carbon footprint smaller. A higher percentage of Americans than Canadians favour the pipeline.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi got it right when he said “that one pipe, nearly a metre wide, is being asked to bear all the sins of the carbon economy.”

Rather than getting mad we need to be smarter in managing what will always be an asymmetrical relationship. It means that we must take the initiative, especially on economic issues.

For too long we hid behind the conceit that being the U.S. top trading partner gave us special privileges. It didn’t work. Now China occupies top spot and, eventually, Mexico will pass us.

The reality is that we account for just 15.5 per cent of U.S. trade while the U.S. accounts for 75 per cent of our trade. But with over 60 per cent of our GDP dependent on trade, the U.S. is our preponderant market and the easiest market for Canadian business to gain export confidence.

We need to up our game.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s first ask of President Obama should be to reinvigorate better border access for goods and people and accelerate regulatory co-operation. The Canada-U.S. cabinet committee should be renamed North America and focus on a continental competitiveness strategy. Canada is to host the next North American Leaders summit – to better prepare, delay this until the spring.

Given the critical role of states and provinces for trade and infrastructure, the next first ministers’ conference should focus on trade and getting our goods to market – continental, trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific.

With everything we produce, when we only have one market we are price-takers, so finding new markets is vital.

Take softwood lumber. Like Halloween’s Freddy Krueger, it threatens again with the U.S. termination of the 2006 agreement. We have a year to work out a new deal. Appointing special envoys to find resolution, as we once did with fisheries and acid rain, would make sense.

Closer collaboration with Mexico is essential.

Despite U.S. perfidy, working together during the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations improved our auto deal. Staying united around retaliatory sanctions is the only way to persuade the U.S. Congress to pass remedial country-of-origin labelling legislation.

Pierre Trudeau once described living next to the United States “like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly or temperate the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” As Justin Trudeau is now learning, managing the twitches and grunts is what defines a successful relationship with the U.S.

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Trudeau and Foreign Policy

Trudeau’s first month as PM includes four major international meetings

Justin TrudeauJustin Trudeau walks to a news conference from Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 20, 2015. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Michelle Zilio, CTV Question Period


Published Sunday, November 8, 2015 5:26PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, November 8, 2015 8:49PM EST

As Justin Trudeau heads into his first full week as prime minister, he is also preparing for the busiest month on the international leaders’ agenda.

Despite his busy domestic schedule guiding a new government, Trudeau confirmed last week he will attend four major international summits over the next month.

That means some of Trudeau’s initial tests as prime minister will take place on the global stage.

Speaking to CTV’s Question Period, former Canadian diplomat and Vice-President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute Colin Robertson had some advice for Trudeau as he heads into the series of summits.

“In global affairs, it’s not the quick step, it’s the long term. So it’s not the first 100 days, it’s going to be the first 1,000 days,” said Roberson. “My advice to the prime minister at these big four events that are coming up would be to look, to listen and to learn.”

Here’s a breakdown of Trudeau’s upcoming international agenda.

1. G20 Leaders Summit 

Trudeau will make his global debut as prime minister in Antalya, Turkey for the annual G20 meeting on Nov. 15 and 16, where the conflict in Syria and the fight against ISIS are expected to be on the agenda.

The Liberal government says it will pull Canada out of the combat portion of the U.S.-led mission against ISIS, but it’s not clear exactly when that will happen.

Speaking to CTV’s Question Period, former Liberal foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy said Trudeau should be prepared to present some substantial ideas in Turkey.

“I would hope that he might go the G20 with some real initiatives around the (Syrian) refugee issue, around working in Syria,” said Axworthy. “I think there’s lots of good news that can be put forward in terms of upgrading and mobilizing on the humanitarian front (in the fight against ISIS).”

2. APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting

Trudeau will then head to Manila, Philippines for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economic leaders’ meeting, scheduled for Nov. 18 and 19.

All 21 APEC members will be there, including the dozen who recently signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Canada is part of. Trudeau has said his Liberals are “pro trade,” but are committed to debating the massive trade agreement in Parliament.

3. Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

Trudeau will also attend the Commonwealth leaders’ gathering, to be held in Malta on Nov. 27 to 29. This meeting of the heads of government from the 53 Commonwealth nations is held once every two years.

4. United Nations Climate Change Conference

Trudeau will wrap up his busy month at the highly anticipated UN climate change summit in Paris, where world leaders will try to negotiate a global climate change agreement.

Trudeau has promised a new era of accountability and action on climate change. He also invited the premiers and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to join him in Paris, and committed to hold a first ministers’ meeting to work on a Canadian framework to deal with climate change within 90 days of the UN gathering.

Canada’s new environment minister, Catherine McKenna, is attending climate change pre-talks in Paris to start laying the groundwork for the Liberals’ strategy on climate change.

“Canada agrees the science is indisputable, and we recognize the need for urgent/greater action that is grounded in robust science,” McKenna tweeted on Sunday.

The summit is scheduled to take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11. And smack dab in the middle of that meeting, Canada’s Parliament will resume on Dec. 3.

Pushing the foreign agenda at home first

Trudeau got a kick-start on the foreign policy front last week, visiting the newly renamed Global Affairs Canada — formerly known as the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development – in Ottawa, where he rallied hundreds of public servants.

“I’m truly touched by the enthusiasm, by the support, because we’re going to have an awful lot of really hard work to do in the coming months, in the coming years, and we’re going to need every single one of you to give us — as you always do — you’re absolute best,” Trudeau said to the crowd.

His surprise visit to the Global Affairs Canada headquarters came one day after he wrote a letter to Canadian ambassadors and high commissioners, saying he and his Liberal cabinet will rely on their judgment and insight to advance Canada’s foreign policy goals.

Andrew Cooper, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa, says that Trudeau’s change in approach has already been on display.

“It radiates out, and you see the sense of openness and … the public diplomacy – the sense of building connections,” Cooper said.

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Trudeau’s International summits and Foreign Service

Question Period hosted by Bob Fife with Hon. Lloyd Axworthy and Eddie Glodenberg on Trudeau’s summitry and the Foreign Service





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On Empowering the Foreign Service to do Public Diplomacy

Interview with CTV host Amanda Blitz on Prime Miniser Trudeau’s letter to Canadian heads of mission to do public diplomacy  http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=744889

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Easing control over Canada’s foreign envoys ‘very sensible’: former diplomat

Michael Shulman, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, November 7, 2015 3:16PM EST

A former Canadian diplomat says a letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent to senior diplomats earlier this week reaffirms the country’s trust in its officials and shows a marked departure from the Harper government, which missed “a lot of opportunities” on the international stage.

Trudeau sent the letter Wednesday to the ambassadors and high commissioners of Canada’s foreign missions, telling them a “new era” had begun for Canada’s international relations, in which they will play a vital role.

In particular, Trudeau said he and his cabinet will rely on the diplomats’ assessments and first-hand knowledge to advance Canada’s foreign policy agenda.

Speaking to CTV News Channel on Saturday, former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson called Trudeau’s approach “very sensible.”

“If the government is to achieve what is going to be an ambition foreign policy agenda, you need the people who will deliver it on your side,” said Robertston.

“And so sending this letter to our ambassadors and high commissioners — and essentially giving them freedom to do public diplomacy like the rest of the world — is very positive sign.”

Trudeau’s handling of the nation’s senior diplomats stands in opposition to the approach taken during Stephen’s Harper leadership. Harper’s Conservative government applied a policy of strict message control during his nearly 10-year tenure.

Robertson said that foreign policy was “tightly controlled from the centre” and officials would have to fill out forms called “message approval” that would be sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs, and eventually passed onto the Prime Minister’s Office for final authorization.

The government also vetted the speeches, had the final say on meetings, and crafted detailed talking points for events taking place abroad.

Robertson said this policy of tight, centralized message control caused Canada’s reputation to take a hit on the international stage.

“There were a lot of opportunities missed simply missed because of the time delay in which it took to get approval for high commissioners and ambassadors to speak,” he said.

“You can do it in Canada where you’re the one source of news, but when you’re abroad — where Canada is often striving to get some attention — if an opportunity comes and you don’t take it, it doesn’t come again.”

While Trudeau’s letter did not specifically mention putting an end to Harper’s policies, it did acknowledge that the senior envoys will be on the “frontlines of our diplomatic efforts.”

It also stated envoys will have “a government that believes in you and will support you in your work around the world.”

Trudeau further outlined a potentially expanded landscape for Canadian diplomacy.

“I expect that you will be engaged energetically in public diplomacy with other diplomats, host government officials, civil society, and the media — in all manner of ways — through direct contact, the media, and social media,” he wrote.

Robertson said this could mean that officials will be encouraged to incorporate greater “experimentation” in the way that Canada diplomacy is undertaken.

“If you’re going to have an aggressive foreign policy, particularly in a multilateral area, using all the tools that are now available makes a lot of sense,” he said.

“And then trusting the judgement of our senior officers to use these tools appropriately — mistakes will be made and they’ll have to be some tolerance for error. But far better to get out there and experiment to deliver the Canadian message than to sit sequestered at home.”

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On Keystone XL

Liberals back Keystone XL pipeline, Stephane Dion says

Washington has spent more than seven years deciding whether to approve the northern leg of the $8 billion pipeline, which would take oil from Alberta’s crude-rich tar sands to U.S. refineries.

U.S. President Barack Obama, under pressure from environmentalists, is widely expected to veto the proposed pipeline before he leaves office in early 2017.

The United States formally denied a request on Wednesday to pause the review of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, seen by many as an attempt to postpone the decision until after the presidential election in November 2016.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has said she opposes the pipeline while many Republican candidates support the project for making America less reliant on the Middle East.

The Liberals back Keystone XL but have made it clear they will not adopt the same tack as Canada’s outgoing Conservatives, who irritated the U.S. administration by constantly pressuring it to approve the pipeline.

“Our position is that it is up to the Americans to see what they can do but we support this project and we hope that it will work well,” Dion told reporters.

Asked about the strain Keystone had imposed on ties with the United States, by far Canada’s most important partner, he replied: “We don’t want it to be an irritant … we understand the Americans have to look at this very closely.”

U.S. officials made little secret of their unhappiness with the Conservatives’ blunt tactics and lectures.

New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says relations with the United States are far broader than just one project and did not raise the pipeline with Obama when the two men talked last month for the first time.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who had several postings in the United States, said the Liberal government would be best advised to put Keystone to one side.

“They (the Americans) are desperate to try and get this relationship back on an even keel,” said Robertson, vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

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New Trudeau Cabinet

CTV News Channel: Dion minister of foreign affairs

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson says Stephane Dion ‘has a well-developed sense about what the world is about.’
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Trudeau’s foreign cabinet picks signal climate and trade priorities

By choosing Stéphane Dion as Foreign Minister, the new Prime Minister sends three messages. First, as a veteran of the Chrétien era and as a Quebecker, Mr. Dion’s appointment signals a return to a more pacific strain in Canadian foreign policy and a reluctance to become involved in foreign military entanglements. Mr. Dion will, with conviction, withdraw Canadian forces from the fight against the Islamic State. Future American presidents should expect a skeptical response when asking whether Canada is ready to join in the next military venture.Globe and Mail Update Nov. 04 2015, 1:23 PM EST

Video: Maryam Monsef: Minister of Democratic Institutions and Canada’s first Afghan-born MP

Unless, of course, that venture has been approved by the United Nations Security Council. Supporting the UN will once again be a priority of Canadian foreign policy, along with other multilateral forums such as the Commonwealth and la Francophonie. As well, expect a gradual rebalancing over time between the equal right of Israel to a secure existence and the Palestinian people to their own state.

Above all, combatting climate change is now a top foreign as well as domestic priority. In Paris next month, Mr. Dion will negotiate Canada’s renewed commitment to combat global warming. He, not Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, will head the cabinet committee on climate change. Fighting global warming has gone from last priority to first, as the federal government transitions from Conservative to Liberal.

Colin Robertson, a former diplomatic and current foreign-affairs analyst, observes that Canadian foreign policy has always balanced national interest with constructive internationalism. Under Mr. Harper, national interest held sway. “Stéphane Dion represents constructive internationalism,” said Mr. Robertson: a broad commitment to multilateral engagement, foreign aid (though little is known about the Minister of International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau) and collective security.

But Canada’s stance won’t be entirely Pearsonian—far from it. Mr. Trudeau has signalled in the past his strong support for the new government in Ukraine, a position strongly buttressed by Chrystia Freeland, the new Minister of International Trade, whose background is partly Ukrainian. Canada under the Liberals will remain firmly committed to confronting Russian aggression and defending NATO’s eastern flank, a key priority under Stephen Harper.

(And by the way, Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan has four tours of duty under his belt as a member of the Canadian Forces – three in Afghanistan and one in Bosnia – and will hardly be an isolationist voice in cabinet.)

Ms. Freeland can also be expected to aggressively pursue and expand upon the trade priorities of the Harper government. Her first order of business will be to ratify the trade agreements the Conservatives negotiated with the European Union and the 11 nations of the Trans Pacific Partnership. She will seek to improve trade relations with China, while also pursuing other Asian and Pacific opportunities.

“He’s picked a very high-profile trade minister, who is articulate, savvy, with an international reputation,” observes Fen Hampson, director of the Global Security and Politics program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Many diplomats privately complained that, under the Conservatives, trade issues overwhelmed foreign policy. They hoped that with the Liberals back in charge trade would be returned to the back burner, Mr. Hampson observed. But by combining the veteran Mr. Dion with the aggressive newcomer Mr. Freeland, Mr. Trudeau is choosing not to choose between the Chrétien and Harper legacies.

“I think it’s going to be a bit of both,” said Mr. Hampson. “It’s going to be salt and pepper.”

Along with substance, expect also a change of style, an urbane cosmopolitanism that had gone missing in the Harper years and that will emphatically be back under this new team. Everyone who is anyone will be visiting Ottawa for an earnest discussion with (or lecture from) Mr. Dion, a scintillating debate with Ms. Freeland, and a quiet but elegant dinner with Mr. Trudeau.

If style matters as much as substance in foreign affairs, then that could be the biggest change of all.

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Mexican Ambassador Francisco Suarez departs

Mexican ambassador says adiós Francisco Suárez set to retire, but don’t expect him to keep quiet.

Embassy Photo: Kristen Shane
Mexican Ambassador Francisco Suárez.

Kristen Shane
Published: Wednesday, 12/02/2015 12:00 am EST

Mexican Ambassador Francisco Suárez is about to say adiós to Canada after a whirlwind two and a half years. But he has a tinge of regret about the timing.

“Everybody’s saying, ‘You’re leaving when we’re starting to have the best moment in [the] Canada-Mexico relationship,’” said the ambassador in an interview last week. “Where all the stars are well aligned into a nice constellation.”

Under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, Mexico-Canada ties chilled. The Mexicans were miffed when Canada imposed a visa on their citizens in 2009 amid a growing number of refugee claims, so much so that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto nixed a planned visit to Canada and Mr. Suárez was famously quoted saying his country was “really mad” at the Harper government. Mr. Harper similarly kicked down the road a North American Leaders’ Summit planned for February.

But the Mexicans have been buoyed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new majority government. Mr. Trudeau has committed to soon lifting the visa on Mexican citizens travelling to Canada and he’s promising renewed focus on Canada-United States-Mexico ties. Mr. Suárez said he expected the so-called Three Amigos summit to take place in Canada next year, possibly in the spring though a date is undecided.

The Mexican Embassy helped facilitate a midnight phone call from Mexico’s president to Mr. Trudeau on election night, and the two then met at the recent G20 meeting in Turkey and APEC summit in Manila (where social media users had them competing for the title of #APEChottie).

“So it started with a splash, huh?” said the always-quotable former politician, who was appointed to be ambassador by President Peña Nieto, who shares the same party colours. Before coming to Canada, he headed a party think tank, served twice as a federal congressmen and was his country’s ambassador to the OECD.

Mr. Suárez, 72, is set to leave Ottawa on Dec. 5 and retire after “45 years of uninterrupted public service.”

While in Canada, he had a couple sons in the country, one working for Scotiabank in Toronto and another attending Ashbury College in Ottawa. Both have since gone back to Mexico along with two of his grandchildren who were born in Canada.

He expects in early January to give his last report on Mexico-Canada ties to headquarters at a meeting of Mexican ambassadors and then finish his duties.

Though that doesn’t mean he’ll keep quiet. The tall, jovial ambassador hopes to restart a biweekly opinion column he used to write for the newspaper El Universal, finish his memoirs (“notes of my public life” in his words, because “I like to be low-key”) and lecture at conferences and schools.

Though the visas got all the media attention, Mr. Suárez is fond of noting that Canada-Mexico ties are about more than just one issue. The two have worked together notably on energy, infrastructure and trade. On the latter, they joined forces to fight United States food labelling rules and again to get a better deal for their auto industries from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Helping to push Mexico-Canada and North American ties, the ambassador credits several “trilateralist crusaders,” including former Canadian Council of Chief Executives head Thomas d’Aquino and the group’s current president John Manley and top staffer Eric Miller, former diplomat Colin Robertson, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters chief Jayson Myers and Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, among others.

His successor is expected to be Mexican Ambassador to France Agustín García-López, though as of last week he still needed to be confirmed by the Mexican Senate. Mr. Suárez worked with him at the OECD.

One piece of advice to Mr. García-López and his wife, besides the normal “get out of Ottawa” refrain: “don’t stop the zumba!”

Every Thursday at 9 a.m., the current ambassador’s wife, Diana Mogollon de Suárez, hosted more than a dozen other wives of ambassadors for zumba class (a kind of aerobics) in the basement of the couple’s residence, taught by a professional teacher. It’s been a great networking opportunity and a chance to get to know others in the diplomatic corps, he noted.

An economic specialist, the ambassador jokingly modified a quote from the famed father of economics Adam Smith: “whenever we have more than five zumba ladies gathering, they always meet to conspire against their husbands.”

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