Canada's foreign service got a surprise pat on the back Monday night from former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
Speaking at an event that commemorated the Open Skies Conference of 1990, and the role it — and his government — ultimately and unexpectedly played in the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mulroney took a break from his speaking notes to encourage his successors to use the department's expertise.
"I say parenthetically, to any government elected in Canada, that if you don't take full advantage of the brilliance and the innovation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and (International) Trade, you're making a mistake," he told his audience.
"All of the major initiatives associated with my government, including the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, to joining the Organization of American States, to the fight against apartheid and you name it, came from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade."
Reached in his office in Montreal Tuesday, he said every prime minister does the job his or her own way.Again, like Lucien Bouchard's remarks, here's one that makes an impact in its message about the Harper foreign affairs style, yet the tire marks are faint due to his explanation.
"It was just a statement of fact," Mulroney said.
"I was simply basing it on my own experience that the common denominator in the following not-insignificant accomplishments for a government — the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canada-U.S. Acid Rain Treaty, the fight against apartheid for (Nelson) Mandela, the first Gulf War — all involved Foreign Affairs and a lot of the expert talent available in the department . . . I was simply pointing out to anybody that they should be involved. And I was talking about an incident — namely Open Skies — that involved a lot of work by Foreign Affairs."
Mulroney said each government chooses its own path, and then "after they leave, people don't hesitate to judge you.
"I'm simply saying that with almost 200 countries at the UN, and all of them seeking access to the leaders and a definition of roles for themselves internationally, nothing is guaranteed. If Canada wants to continue to play a major role, then it has to use the talent available to it and a lot of that is in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, as I have learned."
What else is one to think but that Mulroney is not impressed with the Harper foreign affairs approach, led from the PMO. Why on earth would he be talking, contemporaneously away from his notes, about some hypothetical government ignoring foreign affairs expertise. Of course it's about Harper and his dysfunctional relationship with the Foreign Affairs department. With the G8/G20 approaching now too, and the Harper government floundering from one goal (dirty bombs, maternal health, Afghanistan) to another in advance, it's reasonable to read into Mulroney's criticism. There's a message there about valuing objective expertise and by implication, leaving aside the politics that is so heavily influencing this government's foreign affairs choices. E.g., see earlier post on Khadr, it's the domestic political considerations of the Harper Conservatives driving the decision-making there. If Foreign Affairs were to lead, what would they choose?
A welcome jab from Mulroney, yet the present crop is unlikely to take the hint.