The empty chair of Paris

by time news

(Ottawa) The contrast is stark. It provokes the anger of several career diplomats. International relations experts are also perplexed.

Posted at 6:00 a.m.

In the spring of 2021, the Trudeau government rushed to appoint a new high commissioner in London following the departure of Janice Charette, who returned home after a term of nearly five years to take over the duties of clerk on an interim basis. of the Privy Council, reporting to Ian Shugart who is on sick leave.

The Prime Minister then set his sights on his former Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale, defeated in the 2019 federal election. Mr. Goodale is a veteran of federal politics, having also served as Minister of Finance in the former government of Paul Martin and Minister of Natural Resources and Public Works in the former government of Jean Chrétien.

In all, the post of high commissioner in London was vacant for six weeks.


Isabelle Hudon, President of the Business Development Bank of Canada and former Canadian Ambassador to Paris

In contrast, the post of Canadian Ambassador to Paris has been essentially vacant since last spring. Justin Trudeau announced at the end of April 2021 that he was entrusting new duties to Ambassador Isabelle Hudon, who had been in office since 2017, by appointing her as President of the Business Development Bank of Canada. If Mme Hudon officially returned to the country in July, she started packing long before.

“Neither acceptable nor normal”

Result: the chair of the ambassador in the French capital is still unoccupied almost 10 months later. “It’s neither acceptable nor normal. I imagine that the Prime Minister is not fond of the candidates proposed by the bureaucracy among career diplomats and that he is looking for someone more distinguished, like Isabelle Hudon and Dominic Barton. It is his right. But to leave the post vacant for so long is still a little insulting to our French friends,” said The Press a career diplomat posted overseas who requested anonymity to avoid reprisals from his employer.

Behind the scenes, it is still unclear when the Trudeau government will make this important diplomatic appointment.

This position has been occupied by major diplomats such as Jacques Roy, Raymond Chrétien, Claude Laverdure and Marc Lortie, among others, or former ministers such as Benoit Bouchard or Lawrence Cannon. (Lucien Bouchard was also ambassador to Paris from 1985 to 1988, but that was before he entered federal politics.)


Diplomat Raymond Chrétien in 2001, when he was Canada’s Ambassador to France

Initially, the Prime Minister had a plan in mind, which would be carried out after the formation of his cabinet on October 26: to appoint his former Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau after having dismissed him from the Cabinet. The problem is that Justin Trudeau had not seen fit to ask Mr. Garneau about his interest in such a career change. Mr. Garneau politely declined the offer, preferring to finish his term as Liberal MP for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Wesmount.

In the entourage of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, sources had hinted that an appointment would be confirmed early in the new year. But no announcements appear on the radar at the moment, say sources within the Ministry.

Lots of eggs in the UK basket

Canada finds itself without a head of mission in Paris at the very moment when the electoral cycle in France is well under way. The presidential election will take place in April. There is certainly an impressive team at the embassy led by Chargé d’Affaires Amy Baker. But nothing replaces the stature and leadership of an ambassador, especially in the eyes of the French authorities. In Ottawa, the French embassy did not want to comment on the situation.


Minister Mélanie Joly in Kiev, Tuesday

This week, Minister Joly carried out her most important mission since becoming Canada’s head of diplomacy. She traveled to Kyiv to voice Canada’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. What was the second leg of his diplomatic tour? Paris, where she met the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian. She then headed for Brussels to take stock of the crisis with her counterpart from the European Union Josep Borrell. She didn’t stop in London.

According to former diplomats, this delicate situation is the result of a foreign policy that has become very Anglo-Saxon in Ottawa.

In Europe, the Trudeau government is putting a lot of its eggs in the British basket. Canada has been trying to consolidate its commercial relations with Great Britain since its exit from the European Union.

But it is also the result of a policy based on image and slogans, they add.

“It’s pure Trudeau,” says Ferry de Kerckhove, who spent 38 years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and who has notably been ambassador to Indonesia and deputy head of mission in Moscow.

“It’s so much easier to find a good English Canadian than a good French Canadian!” What do you want me to tell you,’ quips Mr. de Kerckhove.

According to Mr. de Kerckhove, “everything is very centralized at the PMO” (the prime minister’s office), which has the effect of slowing down appointments within the state apparatus.

“We have practically no foreign policy. […] And I can guarantee you that in history, 200 years from now, Mr. Trudeau will not emerge as a great Canadian leader in foreign policy. This title is actually reserved for Brian Mulroney and maybe a little Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in a certain sense, ”he said.

Vacant jobs

Yet Canada and France were staunch allies during the 2003 Iraq war. They fiercely opposed the US offensive, while Britain nicely supported US President George W. mistakenly believing false US claims that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction.

More recently, Canada and France joined forces in another fight, that of the fight against climate change. In December 2015, France publicly praised the efforts of former Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to conclude the Paris agreement.

According to former diplomat Isabelle Roy, who was notably Canada’s ambassador to Algeria and also worked at the Paris embassy when Raymond Chrétien was head of mission, there are many positions that need to be filled in diplomacy. Canadian. When she was appointed ambassador to Algiers in 2015, the position had been vacant for 13 months.

I’m not worried about Paris. There is a huge team of diplomats. But in most of the other positions, we made a lot of cuts during the Harper years and when the position remains vacant, it is very damaging. I find this extremely serious and I have no words strong enough to condemn it.

Former diplomat Isabelle Roy

The fact remains that Canada stands apart by delaying in appointing a new ambassador to Paris. “Of course it’s not good, because it sends a very bad signal to our friends the French. We are the only ones in this case. You will not find any French Embassy where the position is vacant for more than a few weeks. Same for the British. They would never leave such a post empty for months. Unfortunately, we are notorious for doing that,” said Roy.

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