Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly shows precious little understanding of her department

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Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie wakes up during Question Hour on December 7.Adrian Wilde/The Canadian Press

Thanking Dominic Barton, who is stepping down as Canada’s ambassador to China, Secretary of State Melanie Jolie tweeted: “Ambassador Barton will be remembered throughout history as one of Canada’s great diplomats. “

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This year’s External Affairs Minister appears to have little understanding of the people and events that have shaped her department. She also appears to exaggerate Mr. Barton’s role in ending the captivity of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is close to Barton, so Ms Jolie’s tweet may be to an audience of one. Still, it was a remarkable thing to say.

In the 1930s, as Canada began to take control of its foreign relations, Lester Pearson, Hume Wrong and Norman Robertson arrived abroad (as it was then and still must be said) to claim the country’s place in the world. eager for

During World War II, he and Charles Ritchie, George Ignatieff and a few others served as negotiators between Britain and the United States, while also protecting Canada’s interests.

Mr. Wrong and Mr. Robertson developed, and Mr. Pearson sold, a theory that came to be known as “functionalism”, which held that foreign affairs should be focused on matters of particular concern in recognition of his significant contribution to Canada. should concentrate its diplomatic efforts. Warning. This has allowed Canada to play a major role in, among other things, civil aviation (because planes use our airspace to get to places) and global food delivery (because we are a major food exporter).

They also determined that Canada could best claim its influence through international forums and alliances: hence Canada’s leading role in the creation of NATO, our support for the United Nations and helping to end the Suez Crisis of 1956. Mr. Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize for

There have been others in his league as well. During the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, Ambassador Ken Taylor and his staff sheltered six Americans, and helped them escape safely.

In the 1980s, as ambassador to Washington, Alan Gottlieb played a major role in negotiating a free trade agreement between Canada and the United States; They also threw the best parties in town.

Michael Kergin was our US ambassador when the 9/11 planes struck New York and Washington. He helped prevent a severe hardening of the border between Canada and the United States after the attacks.

Although she may not be aware of it, Ms Jolie still has diplomats of the highest caliber working for her today. One of them is Deborah Lyon, who, after serving as ambassador to Israel and Afghanistan, became a UN special envoy to Afghanistan.

Where is Mr. Barton’s place among people like these? The former managing director of consulting firm McKinsey & Co has done everything in his power to secure the release of two Canadians imprisoned as retaliation for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s detention in Vancouver over a US extradition request.

in his book two michaels, writers Mike Blanchfield and Fain Osler Hampson wrote about the weeks Mr Barton spent in Washington last spring trying to persuade the new administration to settle its dispute with Ms. Meng and Huawei so that both Michaels be free.

But President Joe Biden, determined to restore the integrity of the Justice Department, which his predecessor Donald Trump had undermined, took a hands-on approach. “Barton returned to Beijing empty handed and disappointed by the reluctance of the Biden administration,” he wrote.

Justice Department officials and Ms. Meng’s legal team eventually negotiated a deferred prosecution agreement that led to her release and the subsequent release of two Michaels. Mr. Barton and Kirsten Hillman, the first woman to serve as Canada’s ambassador to the United States, attended meetings with US officials in Washington during the talks.

As described by Mr. Blanchfield and Mr. Hampson, Mr. Barton’s contribution was useful, but nothing worthy of the song.

We can debate whether Mr. Barton was too keen on improving commercial relations with China in order to stay on as ambassador given the deteriorating state of Sino-Canadian relations. We can look forward to histories and biographies that will fully reveal what happened during Meng-to’s affair with Michaels.

But nothing to suggest that Mr Barton will go down in history as one of the greatest diplomats of this country, as he will probably be the first to say so.

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