On Stephane Dion

What’s going on with Stéphane Dion?

Is he chopping logic on China, or is he contradicting Trudeau?

Tasha Kheiriddin IPOLITICS September 26 2016

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was turning heads at the United Nations last week. His chief diplomat, Stéphane Dion, gets mostly eye-rolls these days.

Late last week, the foreign affairs minister appeared to directly contradict the prime minister on the state of discussions with China on a possible extradition treaty that would see Chinese fugitives returned to the mainland — and to China’s highly politicized justice system.

A day after Trudeau stood beside visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and defended the decision to pursue talks, Dion snapped at a Globe and Mail reporter who had called for comment on the story: “Your paper should check the facts. There is no negotiation. To write like pretending it is, it is wrong. Stop that please.”

Retired diplomat Gar Pardy described the exchange in one word: “Bewildering.”

“I doubt ‘negotiations’ in the narrow sense of the word are on,” he told me. “It’s more like the two governments agreed to sit down and discuss (the parameters). But why we have this confusion doesn’t make any sense.”

Pardy wonders if language is the issue — specifically the word “negotiations”.

“Language is a bit of a problem for Dion … There’s no reason why he needs to speak in English — he can say what he wants to say in French — but I was surprised at the snappiness to the Globe and Mail. I have not seen something like this ever before.

“If you can’t get your act together on something, then you kind of wonder what else is going on.”

Other observers are a bit more charitable. Retired diplomat Colin Robertson, now a senior strategic advisor for McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP, suggested that Dion’s comments may be a natural side effect of Trudeau’s commitment to a more cabinet-driven approach to government.

“Mr. Trudeau has sought to restore cabinet government and this will mean ministers take the lead in their portfolios. This is always complicated in foreign affairs where there is inevitable overlap between prime ministers and foreign ministers.”

open quote 761b1bThis is a diplomatic dance of the highest order. The last thing anyone needs is a minister who keeps stepping on his partner’s toes.

Robertson went on to add that the episode might actually have a silver lining for Canada: “In dealing with the Chinese, who are often opaque, a bit of ambiguity on our part may not be a bad thing in advancing Canadian interests, especially when the game is long, as it usually is with the Chinese.”

But this isn’t the first time Dion has undermined the official government line as foreign affairs minister. When the Trudeau government decided to stick with a controversial arms deal with Saudi Arabia negotiated by the Stephen Harper government, both Dion and the PM said that the deal was done and Canada had no choice but to follow through. “We have said during the campaign — the prime minister has been very clear — that we will not cancel this contract or contracts that have been done under the previous government in general,” Dion told the CBC’s Power and Politics in January 2016.

As it turned out, this assertion was false: The deal had not been finalized, because doing so required the signing of export permits — by none other than the foreign minister. Months later, Dion quietly OK’d these in April 2016 — without Trudeau’s input. Dion saw nothing wrong with this: “It’s not a cabinet decision. It’s a minister’s decision,” he said during an editorial board meeting with The Globe and Mail.

In defence of that choice, Dion cited the example of Sweden, which had reneged on a military contract with the Saudi regime over human rights concerns. “Sweden did a bit the same about a contract and the reaction has been very harsh. Saudi Arabia reacted in a way that cut many things … They cancelled a contract and the reaction has been very harsh.”

That wasn’t entirely accurate, either. When contacted by the Globe, a spokeswoman for the Swedish Foreign Ministry insisted that “we have not experienced any economic effects due to the issue that you mention and our bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia are good.” While it is true that Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador and temporarily suspended business visas for Swedes after the incident, the paper reported that the two countries began normalizing relations just a few weeks later, and that there were no lasting consequences “other than a decline in military trade.”

The minister of foreign affairs is Canada’s chief diplomat. The job requires both the careful use of language and the maintenance of a unified front with the prime minister. Projecting an image of organization and strength is critical, especially on such a sensitive issue as the negotiation of an extradition treaty with China.

“An extradition treaty a fairly complex affair,” Pardy said. “It’s all based on issues of dual criminality — the Chinese cannot ask to extradite persons for a crime that is not a crime in Canada, and vice versa.”

In other words, this is a diplomatic dance of the highest order. The last thing anyone needs is a minister who keeps stepping on his partner’s toes. Dion needs to rein in his pedantic impulse to be uber-correct, and get better in sync with the PMO. If not, Trudeau would be wise to assign him a different dance card in the next cabinet shuffle.

Comments Off on On Stephane Dion

China Trade Talks


In trade talks with China, Canada must have a negotiating position

COLIN ROBERTSON The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Aug. 03, 2016

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s official visit to China a month away, Canadian policy toward the Middle Kingdom is under review. Closer relations will serve Canadian interests, mindful that when dealing with China, the game is long and often tortuous.

The Chinese want a free-trade deal and their objectives are clear: improved access to our energy and agri-food resources and a more relaxed regime for Chinese investment, especially state-owned enterprises.

But what are our objectives?

Recent studies – notably those by Wendy Dobson and Paul Evans, and Laura Dawson and Dan Ciuriak – point out the potential benefits of a free-trade agreement (FTA), and the Canadian business community has been mostly encouraging.

But now we need negotiating positions.

The Harper government’s complementarities studies are now four years old and there is little evidence the Track II dialogue around a maritime energy corridor made any progress. The Trudeau government ruminates about joining the China-inspired Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank but shouldn’t this fit into our larger strategy?

A good starting position should be the recently negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership and the standards it sets for investment, intellectual property and services, as well as environment and labour.

Launching an FTA with China will startle American policymakers who take for granted the Canadian energy that underwrites their “energy independence.” Getting more of our oil and gas to Pacific tidewater will get us a better price as well as leverage in dealing with resurgent American protectionism.

Talks with China should encourage Japan to resume the nascent Canada-Japan economic partnership negotiations, set aside in favour of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is now at risk of becoming a victim to U.S. protectionism.

The Chinese are tough negotiators. As a rising great power they confidently believe they hold the upper hand. They are skilled in playing off Western impatience. For China a tentative “deal” is often just the starting point for serious negotiations.

The Chinese are also masters at “hardball.” The recent public dressing-down of a Canadian journalist, by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, for her “prejudice” and “arrogance,” is right out of the Chinese playbook on forcing “foreign devils” to kowtow to them. During his 2009 visit to Beijing, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had to endure the public scolding of Premier Wen Jiabao for taking too long to visit China.

Recent Chinese behaviour – that of their Foreign Minister as well as their rejection of the recent international tribunal ruling on the South China Sea – deserves a response.

Prime Minister Trudeau can underline his credentials as a G7/20 leader by speaking before a Chinese audience to the responsibilities of all nations, including China, to the rules, norms and institutions of the liberal international order. Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, blindsided by Wang Yi in Ottawa, should speak to Chinese students about human rights, press freedom and the rule of law.

Tougher, necessary and behind-closed-doors conversations should also be held around ongoing Chinese cyberespionage and cybertheft aimed at our institutions and on efforts to influence our elected officials. There should be a discussion of Hong Kong as well as the consular case of Kevin Garratt, the Canadian missionary indicted by China for espionage.

Much easier will be the discussions around enhancing our people-to-people ties.

The Harper government achieved “approved destination status” for Chinese travellers. They are now our third-largest tourist source. There are more than 100,000 Chinese students in Canada. Representing one-third of our foreign students, they inject over $2-billion annually into our economy. Recent Chinese immigration has also increased their numbers to over 500,000, the second-largest foreign-born group in Canada. These ever-expanding family ties are an advantage, especially given the overseas Chinese business networks.

Pierre Trudeau once remarked that “Canada has a ringside seat on the Pacific.” But our engagement has been episodic and lacking in sustained strategic direction. We were late, often reluctant, participants in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Our investment in regional security is minimal. The people flow requires more effective marketing. It’s time to get into the ring, and China is the place to start.

In negotiating with China the Trudeau government needs to be disciplined, focused and patient. Nor should we ever forget that as negotiators the Chinese are more dragon than panda.

More Related to this Story

HODGSON and GOLDFARB Canada’s new thinking must focus on technology, talent and trade

Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland takes slow approach to China

B.C.’s foreign-buyer tax could help China fight corruption: ex-envoy

Comments Off on China Trade Talks

Public Diplomacy and Canada’s Foreign Service

Diplomats feel as though they are emerging from a decade of darkness

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Jun. 07, 201

Canada’s top diplomats are in Ottawa this week for a pep talk about the country’s place in the world and what they can do to advance our interests and values.

Once the best in the world, Canada’s foreign service endured a difficult decade of cuts and contempt under a Harper government that perceived it as whiny, leaky, barely competent and untrustworthy.

With its renewed emphasis on economic diplomacy, the Harper government told diplomats to “take off your tweed jacket, buy a business suit and land us a deal.” The objective was sound, but the tone was insulting.

Mr. Harper’s government also oversaw the sale of official residences, some of them given to our country as reparations for Canadian sacrifice and valour during the Second World War. These historic and iconic residences were the best platforms to promote our trade and diplomatic objectives. It was all lost on the Harperites, however, who perceived them as grand living.

In short, the relationship between the foreign service and the Harper government was one of mutual contempt.

Now, with that decade of darkness behind us, we need a compendium of best practices – our own and those of other nations’ – to encourage traditionalists to think out-of-the-box. Canada’s diplomats need to change their mindset from that of compliance in just carrying out government orders to one of policy innovation and public diplomacy.

One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first initiatives was to write to every head of mission, abolishing the strict controls imposed by the Harper government. Mr. Trudeau said he would rely on our diplomats’ “judgment, insights, discretion, and work ethic.” He underlined their critical role in advancing a new era of Canadian international engagement “through direct contact, the media, and social media.”

Given his rapid immersion in international summitry, it was a smart move on the part of Mr. Trudeau and it has paid off.

Mr. Trudeau’s personal grasp of the zeitgeist accounts for much of his subsequent success on the multilateral circuit – G20, Commonwealth, APEC, Paris climate change conference, Davos, UN, G8 – and during his recent bilateral meetings in Tokyo and Washington. But having our diplomats enthusiastically advance, deliver and then follow up is critical in the continuing demonstration that “Canada is back.”

Canadian re-engagement will hinge on the embrace of public diplomacy. It will oblige our diplomatic missions to fully utilize the sophisticated 500-plus social media channels they operate in over 20 languages. In Tunisia, for example, our embassy flew the LGBT flag (a first for any embassy in the Arab world) and used its French and English Facebook pages to promote the end of the criminalization of homosexuality.

The heads of missions should leave their meetings this week with a clear idea of their role and what they are expected to deliver. Delivering on the commitments in the mandate letters is the Trudeau government’s self-imposed barometer for success. Key questions that need to be answered include:

How do we protect our interests against rising nativism and protectionism, not just the “Trumpism” in the U.S., but elsewhere, too?
What are the specific measures Canada should take to become an international leader in combatting climate change?
What is “peaceful pluralism” and how do we advance respect for diversity and human rights?
What are we doing to showcase Canadian culture abroad?
What is the game plan for each European mission to ensure CETA (Canada-EU trade agreement) implementation and then how do they expand development of trade and investment?
What is the Plan B if the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership fails?
How can we better attract investment and talented immigrants, and encourage foreign students to study in Canada?
What is our China strategy?

In a globalized world, power comes from connectedness and the ability to quickly mobilize coalitions to implement, support or protest. Traditional hierarchies matter less; we need new networks, enabled by technology, that include entrepreneurs, women and civil society organizations.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland and Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau will need to make it clear that there is a high tolerance for risk and experimentation. Letting our envoys be creative may have diplomatic repercussions; our diplomats need to know that these ministers have their back and that they will adequately fund public diplomacy.

This week’s meeting of our 130 heads of mission coincides with the annual Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers awards, celebrating their roles as consuls, trade commissioners, visa officers, cultural envoys, negotiators, and analysts. Their stories, captured in the foreign service’s publication, bout de papier, are moving tributes to their quiet professionalism on behalf of Canadians.

Diplomacy, the second oldest profession, is enjoying a comeback in the face of a shifting international order. Like the oldest profession, diplomacy also needs to learn new tricks. And, like the oldest profession, diplomacy is still as much art as craft.

Comments Off on Public Diplomacy and Canada’s Foreign Service

Canada China Relations and Press Freedom

une 5, 2016 11:09 am

Chinese may not care Canadians offended by minister’s outburst: ex-diplomat

Former diplomat Colin Robertson and Senator Jim Munson join Tom Clark for a discussion on the visit to Canada of China’s foreign minister, and his tirade against a journalist.

China’s foreign minister made headlines in Ottawa this week for all the wrong reasons when he took exception to a question posed by a journalist. But experts say it’s unlikely the Chinese care about the bad press.

“They’ll have to deal with damage control,” former diplomat Colin Robertson told the West Block’s Tom Clark.

“But I’m not sure that they care. There are a number of things that take place that they feel they’re getting bad press (on) from the western media.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion stood next to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, seemingly stunned into silence, as the Chinese politician ripped into a journalist from news website iPolitics. Wang called the question on the jailing of a Canadian, Kevin Garratt, “irresponsible.” The question had not, in fact, even been directed at Wang.

 WATCH: China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs blasts Canadian journalist

Current senator and former journalist Jim Munson said he was deeply offended by Wang’s outburst on Canadian soil.

“It was very upsetting,” Munson said.

“He couldn’t have picked a worse time, and particularly for me because I’m quite emotional about this issue, having seen children and adults killed in Tiananmen [Square]. There was a massacre in Tiananmen. And to say this on our territory and to say this about a journalist, my goodness, it hit home again to me what is wrong in China.”

READ MORE: Trudeau says Canada expressed ‘dissatisfaction’ with China for berating reporter

Both Munson and Robertson said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau now has a responsibility to address themes of press freedom, the consular immunity of Canadians in China and human rights on his next visit to the country.

“Certainly the first public speech that we make over there would probably have to touch on all those three themes,” said Robertson. “Because you do not want to look like you’re going in to deal with the Chinese on the back foot or from a period of weakness.”

— Watch the full panel discussion above.

Episode 37, Season 5
Sunday, June 5, 2016

Host: Tom Clark

Guests: Jim Munson, Colin Robertson

Location: Ottawa

Tom Clark: On this Sunday, China’s foreign minister lashes out at a Canadian journalist for asking about human rights. Well, we’ve got a few more questions.

Tom Clark: Well, in Ottawa last week, China’s foreign minister lashed out at a Canadian journalist for having the temerity to ask about human rights in China. And it happened right in front of Canada’s Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion who remained silent throughout. Take a listen to what happened:

Voice of Interpreter speaking for Wang Yi: I have to say that your question is full of prejudice and against China and arrogance where I don’t know where that come[s] from. And this is totally unacceptable.

Tom Clark: Well joining me now is senator and former journalist Jim Munson and former diplomat Colin Robertson. Welcome to you both. You know what’s ironic about this in some sense is this whole thing comes on the 27th anniversary of the slaughter in Tiananmen Square. You were there Jim, I was there. The Chinese then didn’t apologize, haven’t apologized since, and it seems to me that they’re not about to apologize now for what they’ve said in Canada. What’s your take on that it Jim?

Jim Munson: Tom, look Tiananmen never happened as far as the Chinese government is concerned, as far as this foreign minister is concerned. Talk about timing with Mr. Wang Yi in what he said earlier this week. It was very upsetting. He couldn’t have picked a worse time, and particularly for me because I’m quite emotional about this issue, having seen children and adults killed in Tiananmen. There was a massacre in Tiananmen. And to say this is on our territory and to say this about a journalist, my goodness, it hit home again to me what is wrong in China. And it hasn’t gotten any better, I think, in terms of censorship. In terms of an iron-fisted rule of government, it’s gotten even worse.

Tom Clark: Well I can back you up on what happened in Tiananmen Square, both you and I were there. But Colin, from a diplomatic point of view, does this even enter into a sphere of a diplomatic faux pas or is this just something that we have to put up with when it comes to China?

Colin Robertson: Oh, I think a faux pas. Because it’s going to make it more difficult for the government which is anxious to have some kind of a free trade arrangement with China and we do want to sell more to China to be able to frame this in a way that we don’t look as a supplicant. That’s one of the challenges is that we don’t want to look like we’re trying to give up more. And so that’s why the Chinese, from their perspective, this was what I call in baseball terms, an unforced error. This was unnecessary because they too want to have a good relationship with the new Trudeau government. They’ve made a big deal about Mr. Trudeau and they’ve linked it back to when his father was there with Zhou Enlai. They would like to have this go along seamlessly, so this was unforced error. But I do think that in terms of their attitude towards western media, this was entirely reflective, not just of foreign minister, but at the same time that he was in town we had vice-chair from the (inaudible) in and he said similar kinds of things about the media and irresponsible reporting and highly prejudiced.

Tom Clark: And that was behind closed doors that you heard that.

Jim Munson: And aren’t diplomats supposed to use diplomatic language? I mean I’ve been inside the room with a prime minister when these kinds of things go on in human rights in China with prime ministers and with the president and the prime minister of China. I thought he would at least use diplomatic language. You know he could have come into town, left. Nobody knew he was here and yes, laid the groundwork for an economic free trade agreement. But that did not happen.

Colin Robertson: That’s why I say, Jimmy, unforced because the question wasn’t even to him, so unnecessary to do so. And now they’ll have to deal with damage control. But I’m not sure that they care. There are a number of things that take place that they feel they’re getting a bad press from the western media both on human rights and on cyber. I think there’s certainly much more on cyber which they have to be accountable for that we have to hold them accountable.

Tom Clark: I just want to jump in here for a second just to bolster your credentials. Of course Colin, you served time in China in Hong Kong representing Canada.

Colin Robertson: Yes, I was there through Tiananmen Square in Hong Kong and people coming out.

Tom Clark: Listen, part of the story now becomes how did the Canadian government react to this? I mean here we had somebody who, in my analogy, walked into our living room and defecated on our carpet. And we saw that Stéphane Dion, the Canadian foreign minister, stood their stone-faced, didn’t reply, didn’t say anything at all. But I want you to take a listen. On Friday, Stéphane Dion had a conference call and somebody asked him about this incident. And just listen for a second as to what he said:

Stéphane Dion: “I consider Madam Connolly as a professional with a thick skin and she does not need me to go to her rescue.”

Tom Clark: Need me to go to her rescue. It seems to me that he completely missed the point. This was not about defending a journalist. Surely this is a question of defending some basic values. He was a guest in this country and yet the government has remained almost mum on it. Is that acceptable, Jim?

Jim Munson: Not acceptable. I thought that Mr. Dion from the get-go could have stepped into that at a moment, maybe used some humour at that time and just talked about this is Canada, Mr. Foreign Minister. I’ll answer the question for you. We’ll have lots of time to talk about these things. And foreign ministers do have a responsibility to protect the press. Very briefly, after Tiananmen, I was thrown in the Forbidden City jail covering the anniversary of Tiananmen and still living in Beijing. Well there was a former minister, Barbara McDougall who worked in the Mulroney government, who was given a call to get me out of that jail. I mean Canadians are Canadians are Canadians. This happened on our soil. I mean we can be outraged and upset, but I think that Mr. Dion could have used humour, better language to get out of that situation.

Tom Clark: Colin, let me turn this around a little bit, do we have the capacity when you look at the power imbalance between Canada and China. Do we actually have the power or the capacity to say no to China?

Colin Robertson: Well to say no to what?

Tom Clark: Well say no in the sense of if the Chinese say this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to come in, I’m going to say these things, I’m going to demand that I meet with your prime minister and you’re going to step up to the plate on trade deals. Do we have to take it in other words?

Colin Robertson: I think that we want a positive relationship with China. It will serve our long-term interest for us to have a much improved relationship than what we had. I think the prime minister gets that entirely, so he is reaching to the Chinese leadership that as Senator Munson says that it was a missed opportunity by our foreign minister at that point. But with that done, he moved forward. I think the prime minister has responded and said look we stand up for journalistic freedom. This is an opportunity for him but it does make it harder for the government now to move forward because you’ve seen the Opposition criticism that where the Conservative Party’s coming from in particular and with the relationship with China which was always a bit schizophrenic. But this was an opportunity to stand up on both consular immunity of Canadians, Mr. Garratt, as well as human rights and journalist freedoms. So I think that’s something that you’ve seen echoed now by Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Dion in their subsequent comments. And certainly the first public speech that we make over there would probably have to touch on all those three themes for this very reason because you do not want to look like you’re going in to deal with the Chinese on the back foot or from a period of weakness.

Tom Clark: In the minute we’ve got left, that’s a really interesting point. Do we, when Justin Trudeau goes to China in the fall, does he have to say something on Chinese soil that addresses this whole question of a free press?

Jim Munson: He better do that. He must do that. Mr. Trudeau has an opportunity to be straightforward and talk directly to the Chinese people. We’ve had that about 10 years ago when Mitchell Sharp, our former foreign minister, went to speak at a university in Shanghai to students. Under a previous regime, it’s not that long ago, they didn’t seem to be that fearful of Canada’s voice. You know it’s not a big voice in China but it’s an important voice in China. So absolutely, Mr. Trudeau has to speak in a strong language. What are the Chinese leaderships scared of? Because I mean everything that is said in China is censored anyway, but at least it would give our country a good feeling that our prime minister can speak out, not just for journalists, but for free speech.

Colin Robertson: And consistent with how other prime ministers have done so and foreign leaders. So yes, I think Mr. Trudeau will have to and will do so.

Tom Clark: I want to thank you both for this insight from two people who really know China extremely well. Collin Robertson and Senator Munson, thank you very much for being here. I appreciate it.



Comments Off on Canada China Relations and Press Freedom

Arms Sales


Three lessons to draw from the Saudi arms deal controversy

The Globe and Mail, Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

All arms sales are controversial, but when the buyer is a country with a human-rights record like Saudi Arabia’s and the deal is worth billions, the public scrutiny rightfully reaches a new level.

Such is the case for the Trudeau government, where critics have openly questioned the morality of Canada’s $15-billion deal to sell light armoured vehicles, known as LAVs, to Saudi Arabia.

The respective handling of the deal by the Harper and Trudeau governments illustrates their differences in governing style – and sheds considerable light on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s reintroduction of ministerial accountability in government.

While Mr. Trudeau has fielded questions publicly, the file clearly belongs to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion. In contrast, during the 2015 federal election, Stephen Harper characterized the deal as a sale of “transport vehicles” and the file was handled largely through his office.

When it comes to global arms sales, Canada is not a big player. That status goes to the United States, Russia, Germany, China and France. These countries accounted for most of the estimated $400-billion (U.S) in global arms sales in 2014. In terms of company sales, the leaders are U.S.-based Lockheed-Martin and Boeing. Both companies supply and source from Canada, underlining the deeply integrated supply chain nature of Canada’s defence industries.

Canada sold just more than $12.5-billion (U.S.) in arms worldwide since 1950. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, after the United States, our next biggest customers are, in U.S. dollars: Saudi Arabia ($740-million); Botswana ($555-million); Turkey ($482-million); Belgium ($386-million) and Australia ($332-million).

But the $15-billion deal with Saudi Arabia represents Canada’s biggest arms sale ever – and it is the Trudeau government’s first real brush with a foreign-policy controversy.

The bumpy ride has left a few bruises, but there are also some cogent lessons to draw from the controversy.

First, include an examination of arms-sales policies in the current defence review. These policies need to be scrutinized to restore public confidence.

Second, move on the promised signature of the UN Arms Trade Treaty. This will oblige regular arms-sale reporting. The last of the three Harper government reviews covered the years 2012-13.

Third, publish the human-rights reviews of all countries Canada is currently selling arms to. The U.S. State Department uses their reports to encourage better global governance. We should do the same.

Democracies around the world have developed elaborate procedures for arms sales including restrictions on the transfer of technology and re-sales, as well as considerations around the human-rights record of the buying nation. Saudi Arabia is regularly ranked among the worst of the worst in terms of human rights by Freedom House.

Canada first instituted arms-sales permit policies during the Spanish Civil War. The last major review of this policy took place in 1986 during the Mulroney government. It instituted a country control list and regular reporting on arms sales. In 1997, The Chrétien government reinforced the permit process by requiring a “rigorous analysis” of security and human-rights criteria.

In a statement justifying the Saudi deal, Mr. Dion describes Riyadh as a “strategic partner” and says Canadian credibility is at stake. So are the jobs of 70,000 Canadians, including veterans, employed in our arms industry. The better levers to mitigate human rights in Saudi Arabia, argues Mr. Dion, include the experience of the 16,000 Saudi students in Canadian universities.

The Saudi deal is an early illustration of what Mr. Dion calls “responsible conviction,” the principle that will guide his foreign-affairs stewardship. The awkwardly wonky phrase, drawing from German sociologist Max Weber, is authentically Dion. In terms of applied foreign-policy direction, Mr. Dion says this includes action on climate change; clemency on capital punishment; and advocacy for human rights, including sexual and reproductive health rights.

The Saudi deal reflects the pragmatism of responsible conviction. We would like to live in a world without weapons, argues Mr. Dion, but we do not. The sale of these armoured vehicles means jobs for Canadians and, for Mr. Dion, that’s responsible decision-making.

It’s also a useful reminder that, in foreign policy, the choices are not black and white, but shades of grey.

Comments Off on Arms Sales

Staffing the Foreign Minister’s Office

The people behind foreign policy: A look inside the foreign minister’s office
Former diplomat says ‘first-rate people’ are working for Stéphane Dion.

Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion walks down to the House of Commons chamber with his press secretary, Chantal Gagnon, on budget day, March 22. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright


PUBLISHED : Wednesday, April 27, 2016 12:00 AM

Political staffers, no matter their ambition, don’t always get a chance to shape events outside the walls of Parliament.

In the case of those hand-picked to work for Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent, Que.) that’s exactly what they’ve been hired to do. A new government invariably wants to project a new image of Canada to the world. Not just anyone can—or should—be trusted to paint that picture.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, personally knows a few of the people working in Mr. Dion’s office, including Christopher Berzins, director of policy, and Jocelyn Coulon, senior policy adviser.

Mr. Robertson said he’s impressed with how the new Liberal government has been hiring “first-rate people.”

“They’ve recruited people based on subject matter expertise and ability to get on,” he said. Getting along is important when you’re working with an administration that touts government by cabinet, he said. Inter-departmental relations are important, but so are a ministerial office’s relationships with civil servants—the people actually implementing the policies government decides on.

“One thing this government, I think, does want to do differently is I think they want to work well with the civil service,” Mr. Robertson said. The ministerial mandate letters handed out by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted ministers—including Mr. Dion—should engage in “meaningful engagement” with public servants, something they accused the previous Conservative government of doing poorly.

Mr. Dion was named a cabinet minister right off the bat when he became an MP in 1996, serving as intergovernmental affairs minister under Jean Chrétien and later as environment minister under Paul Martin, before his stint as Liberal Party leader from 2006 to 2008. Ergo: he is no stranger to staffing offices on the Hill. He seems to be hiring from a more pragmatic standpoint, Mr. Robertson said, something that could be attributed to his previous academic background.

“The people I have met have been hired probably less for their political conviction than for their policy smarts. Which I think is a good thing. In that sense I think this will be a much less ideological government than the last one.”

Take Julian Ovens, for instance, Mr. Dion’s chief of staff.

Mr. Ovens comes from a mining background, having spent 14 years in the industry. He worked for Canadian mining company Alcan before moving to BHP Billiton, where he stayed until November 2015 before moving into the minister’s office, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Mr. Robertson said that experience is relevant for the business side of foreign affairs. “I think that probably gives him a highly practical sense of ultimately one of the goals of foreign policy, which is to protect Canadians and advance the national interest. You advance the national interest by generating opportunities for us to do business,” he said.

Canadian mining and international business go hand in hand, of course. Mr. Ovens previously told The Hill Times that he had travelled to more than 60 countries in his life. His work in the mining industry took him abroad to Paris, London, and Singapore, as well as all over Canada.

Mr. Dion has also recruited several serious academics to work with him in advancing Canada’s international agenda.

Pascale Massot, for instance, is a policy adviser who recently completed her PhD at the University of British Columbia in comparative politics and international relations, with a focus on political economy and Chinese politics. Her supervisor, Yves Tiberghien, had nothing but glowing things to say about her, raving that she was “really the complete deal.” He said she’s a “very thoughtful, deep thinker,” good at rationally assessing situations and “very savvy in terms of human relations, social issues, and policy issues.”

Mr. Tiberghien said he’s not surprised in the slightest that she was recruited by the minister’s office because she really has the eye and the interest for policy.

“Pascale is not at all your typical academic,” he said.

Mr. Robertson said as much about Mr. Dion himself. “I remember briefing him and he was extremely rigorous. He came in looking like a bit of a student, he had his backpack on and the rest, but when we sat down it was like doing the defence of your thesis.”

Jocelyn Coulon, Dion’s senior policy adviser, was recruited with a specific emphasis on peace operations—“which is of course one of the things that the new government wants Canada to get back involved in,” Mr. Robertson said. Mr. Coulon also served on Mr. Trudeau’s International Council of Advisors, set up in December 2014 ahead of last year’s federal election campaign.

Mr. Coulon was in the media recently for penning an op-ed in La Presse about the government’s controversial arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

“Let’s not be naive. The Saudi and Iranian regimes are two dictatorships—the first decapitates women accused of murder and the other stones them for adultery,” he wrote in a column published Jan. 10.

Six weeks after that, Mr. Coulon was hired to the department. Despite Mr. Coulon’s previously-stated opinions, it wasn’t long after that that Mr. Dion took essential steps in finalizing the deal.

In April, Mr. Dion signed permits allowing $15 billion in light armoured vehicles to be exported to Saudi Arabia. Though the contract itself was signed by the previous government, Mr. Dion’s office came under criticism for implying there was no turning back—and for only releasing the export permits publicly when a lawsuit required the department to do so.

Mr. Robertson said, “Anybody who joins government knows that, ultimately, government is about compromise. And if you’re that uncomfortable, then you resign or you don’t take the job.”

Other policy advisers in Mr. Dion’s office include Jean Boutet, who was with Mr. Dion when he was environment minister. After the 2006 election bumped the Liberals into opposition status, Mr. Boutet worked at the environment department before returning to Mr. Dion’s office.

Joseph Pickerill is Mr. Dion’s director of communications. Most recently, he worked as communications director for the Centre for International Governance Innovation. He was only there for about three months before being approached by the minister’s office. Tammy Bender worked under him at CIGI, and said he was an admirable leader and an “extremely effective communicator.” He was incredibly well-liked there and they were sad to see him go, she said.

Dahlia Stein is Mr. Dion’s director of operations and also comes from an academic background. From Calgary, Alta., she used to work as a senior policy adviser for Health Canada. According to her Facebook profile, she studied the economics of climate change at the University of Cambridge.

Rounding out the top staffers in the office, Jamie Innes is Mr. Dion’s director of parliamentary affairs, and is the only one in the office with a strictly political background, having made his way up through the Liberal Party of Canada.

Chantal Gagnon serves as Mr. Dion’s press secretary.

Mr. Robertson told The Hill Times that Global Affairs Canada has approached him for advice on staffers who might have good expertise on both the Americas and the Middle East, as they are still looking.

The Hill Times
Canada welcomes new top diplomats; Dion hiring

Governor General David Johnston receives a letter of credence from High Commissioner Clarissa Sabita Riehl of Guyana. Rideau Hall photograph by Vincent Carbonneau


PUBLISHED : Wednesday, May 4, 2016 12:00 AM

Canada welcomed three new heads of mission on April 26 when they formally presented their letters of credence to Governor General David Johnston.

Clarissa Sabita Riehl, the new high commissioner for the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, succeeded Harry Narine Nawbatt.

Ms. Riehl was the one of the first female military officers in Guyana when she joined in 1966, the same year Guyana achieved independence. She eventually entered the political world in 1992, when she was became a member of the People’s National Congress, and also served as deputy speaker for 14 years.

The other two heads of mission are posted in the United States, but will serve Canada from there. Hassana Alidou will be the new ambassador of the Republic of Niger. She presented her credentials to U.S. President Barack Obama on Feb. 23. Her background is in education, with a specific emphasis on educating African children in their native language rather than colonial English or French.

The third head of mission, Elisenda Vives Balmaῆa, is the new ambassador of Andorra. She holds six degrees, including two postgraduate degrees in law and comparative politics and a PhD in history and a master’s in gender differences. She speaks four languages: Catalan, Spanish, English and French. Previously, she was posted to UNESCO as the president of the Andorran National Commission and as the permanent representative of Andorra to the United Nations. She is posted to New York, N.Y.
Dion looking for new policy adviser

Minister Stéphane Dion’s office is apparently looking for a new policy adviser.

Former Canadian diplomat and current Global Affairs Institute fellow Colin Robertson told The Hill Times that he was approached by director of policy Christopher Berzins about possible suggestions for people who might be knowledgeable about the Middle East and/or the Americas.

“Because we have extensive networks through our fellows, and they’re looking for someone with specific research skills, so that’s why…They just asked if I knew anybody,” he said.

He said he thinks they’re looking for “various positions,” and that the areas they inquired about included Latin America and the Middle East.

He said he just spoke to the policy director as recently as two weeks ago.

Joseph Pickerill, Mr. Dion’s communications director, said in an email, “All I can say at this point is that we’re always looking for good people to cover policy in both geographic and thematic areas but we do not elaborate further on human resource decisions.”

Currently, the office has two policy advisers in addition to three senior positions. Julian Ovens, the minister’s chief of staff, has extensive experience working in the mining industry. Christopher Berzins, director of policy, is well-versed in Europe and the United States, having spent the past two and a half years at the Canadian embassy in Washington, and was the deputy director for North and South Europe at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, which has since been renamed Global Affairs Canada.

Jocelyn Coulon is the senior policy adviser, and according to Mr. Robertson, was brought on for his expertise in peacekeeping. He is a former journalist and was on the board of governors for the International Development Research Centre, and has written several books on peacekeeping.

The remaining two policy advisers have expertise in China and the environment. Pascale Massot has a PhD specializing in the political economy of China, and Jean Boutet worked in the public service at the environment department.

Carlo Dade, director for the Canada West Foundation’s Centre for Trade and Investment Policy, said if Dion’s office was looking, Mr. Robertson is who they should go to.

“Colin’s an old hand. He’s kind of the dean on North American issues, foreign policy issues…He’s more of an insider,” he said.

Asked whether or not six months into its mandate was a long time for Mr. Dion’s office to still be looking for policy advisers, Mr. Dade said he “wouldn’t read too much into it.”

He said that while the Conservatives may have had trouble finding self-identified Conservative experts in foreign policy, he’s “not too worried that [the Liberals] haven’t had access to people who have some background.”

However, he said that when it comes to policy on Latin America, he could see the Liberals having trouble finding someone who is moderate enough.

“A lot of the Latin Amerincanists are left of centre, to be blunt about it,” he told The Hill Times. “This government is centrist. I don’t think they’re going to want someone who’s said that NAFTA’s been terrible and that trade agreements are terrible,” he said.

This future policy adviser, whether it’s one person or more, has potential to shape Canada’s foreign policy in these regions.

“Trudeau appears to be letting his ministers have free rein,” Mr. Dade said. “So this person could actually have some influence rather than just executing.”

A former adviser to multiple Conservative ministers, who spoke under the condition of anonymity due to his current political position, said that political staff can develop the ability to influence what a minister might decide to do because they “know where the minister’s head is.”

While a junior policy adviser might not have that much influence, having the minister’s trust can mean you develop some influence, he said.

He also said that when it comes to the different file assignments, “you don’t always have to have a neat, cookie-cutter approach to ‘this is what this person is doing.’ That works in the civil service, but in the political world, it’s more fluid than that.”

If Dion is looking for one person to fill both files, it’s likely because all the other files have already been spoken for, said Dade. That specific combination of regions would be hard to find in one person in academia, though would be more common in someone with a background in the foreign service, he said.

“Stéphane Dion kind of knows his way around internationally, and he has some very strong opinions. So it will be interesting,” Mr. Dade said.

Comments Off on Staffing the Foreign Minister’s Office

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.’
Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 6.07.56 PM

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.

Comments Off on New Trudeau Cabinet