National Column: Trudeau can reset Canada’s global image

by Tim Harper

The world awaits Justin Trudeau.

Specifically, there is a seat waiting for him at summits looming in coming weeks, a G20 gathering in Turkey, an APEC summit in the Philippines, a Commonwealth meeting in Malta and an international summit on climate change in Paris.

Two things will become apparent as the new prime minister-designate hits the road.

First, our image on the world stage is about to go from vanilla to pistachio.

Interest in Trudeau worldwide, some of it substantive, some of it remarkably shallow, stems from his name, his good looks, his relative youth and the historic comeback by his party.

We might recoil at international analysis that reduces our prime minister to beefcake, but it will spark interest in his arrival at these summits and, with that interest, will be renewed attention to this country.

Second, we are about to drop the bellicosity that marked the Stephen Harper years and engage in some old-fashioned diplomacy.

Foreign policy under Trudeau will, like much of the 78-day campaign, hinge on tone. The Liberal platform was light on foreign policy, but Trudeau’s performance at the only foreign policy debate during the campaign helped create his late-campaign momentum.

The Harper Conservatives were often accused of shouting from the rooftops without putting in the requisite diplomatic work that needs to be done by a country this size.

Except for one moment of campaign bravado, when Trudeau said he, too, would tell Russia’s Vladimir Putin to his face that he was a “bully,” the Trudeau tone will be much more understated than the tough-talking Harper.

But, initially at least, Trudeau will get more face time with other leaders and more media attention than any anti-Putin diatribe by his predecessor.

The curiosity factor will serve Trudeau well and his energy and relative youth will transform our image abroad.

Trudeau’s victory should energize a demoralized foreign service that has long felt neutered by Harper. Trudeau can free them to do what they do best and put his own stamp on the face of Canada abroad.

In Washington, ambassador Gary Doer is expected to offer his resignation and it will be accepted.

If Trudeau wants to send a signal to the foreign service that it is respected, he will appoint one of its own to the post. The name of Peter Boehm, a former envoy to Germany and political officer in Washington, is being floated.

Two former Harper cabinet ministers can also be reasonably expected to be on the way out: Lawrence Cannon, our ambassador in Paris, and Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who heads our UNESCO mission. Both were rewarded after being rejected by voters. Plus, in London, former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell is a Harper political appointee and in Jordan, Harper made the highly controversial choice of Bruno Saccomani, the former head of his security detail.

Trudeau and, more notably, his surrogate campaigner Jean ChrÈtien, accused Harper of “turning his back” on the United Nations.

If he is serious about re-engaging at the UN, he should, as rumoured, appoint Bob Rae as our representative – if Rae wants the job.

Our relationship with Washington should yield the biggest change. During the campaign, when Trudeau slammed Harper over his relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama, Harper countered by saying the real hit to Ottawa-Washington relations would come when Trudeau tells the president he is withdrawing from anti-Islamic State airstrikes.

Trudeau did just that the day after his victory.

It came as no surprise to Obama and Trudeau emphasized there were other contributions Canada can make within the anti-ISIS coalition. The withdrawal need not be his first priority, either.

Paul Frazer, a Washington consultant and former Canadian diplomat, says a lot of the sting from change is removed by the manner in which decisions are made and the tone of the statements that are made.

This was done much more diplomatically than ChrÈtien’s decision to stay out of George W. Bush’s Iraq coalition, a decision announced in the Commons without a courtesy call to the White House.

“In this case, nobody’s hair has been set on fire. No crockery was broken,” Frazer said.

Trudeau has also stressed that relations with Washington go much deeper than the question of the Keystone XL pipeline. Obama would help Trudeau if he decided on the project – yay or nay – during Trudeau’s’ “honeymoon” period, to get the issue off the table.

Again, this comes back to tone.

Trudeau may support Keystone, but he will not cheerlead, he will respect a U.S. domestic decision.

In Washington, that will change the channel from his good looks to his good judgment.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1

Copyright 2015 – Torstar Syndication Services

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