In The Media

New book reveals Trudeau’s frosty relationship with Stephane Dion

by Marie-Danielle Smith (feat. Jocelyn Coulon)

National Post
April 10, 2018

OTTAWA — A book lambasting Justin Trudeau’s approach to foreign policy and exposing his frosty relationship with Stéphane Dion has been making waves in Quebec.

Author Jocelyn Coulon, a prominent figure in Canada’s international affairs community, was an adviser to Dion when he served as Trudeau’s foreign minister.

His French-language book, titled “Un selfie avec Justin Trudeau,” has attracted significant attention in Quebec media over the past few days. It landed Coulon on popular talk show Tout le monde en parle (“everybody’s talking about it”) on Sunday, which draws more than a million viewers every week.

The Post’s Marie-Danielle Smith has compiled the most interesting tidbit

Trudeau and Dion didn’t get along, or even talk to each other

The frosty relationship between Dion and Trudeau — “glacial,” as Coulon puts it — goes way back.

Quoting from Trudeau’s own autobiography, Coulon theorizes that in 2006, then-leader Dion’s chilly reception to Trudeau’s political candidacy left wounds that would never heal. Dion rebuffed Trudeau’s first attempt at securing a nomination in the Montreal riding of Outremont. Then he stood in the way again with a second attempt in Papineau — but this time Trudeau succeeded, ultimately getting elected.

The two would never be close. And in the early days of the Trudeau government, the rumour about town, Coulon says, was that Dion’s convictions and combative style led to much sparring around the cabinet table, bringing some of the other ministers — described by Coulon as Trudeau acolytes — to tears.

The only private meeting Trudeau had with Dion was when he fired him

The not-so-friendly relationship resulted in a highly unusual situation: the prime minister never privately spoke with his first foreign minister about the direction of the country, Coulon writes, and even seemed to consider it a symbolic appointment.

All of Dion’s attempts to schedule a rendez-vous with Trudeau failed. There were multiple rifts between Dion and other officials on the wording of speeches. During one of the only conversations that Coulon recalls Dion and Trudeau having — on a government jet, with others present — Trudeau is described as “irritated” by Dion’s strong opinions on foreign policy, and in particular his insistence on rapprochement with Russia.

The only private meeting they had, on Jan. 6, 2017, lasted five minutes. Coulon reconstructs the scene. Trudeau offered Dion, who had worried for weeks that he would be ousted, dual ambassadorship to Germany and the European Union — a “stupid idea,” Coulon writes, which raised immediate backlash. (Eventually the EU position would be minimized to a “special adviser” role.) When Dion asked why he was being sidelined, Trudeau said he needed “change.”

After that encounter, Dion sent away his driver and hopped on a bus back to Montreal. Upon hearing this news, his mentor, former PM Jean Chrétien, was “furious.” But he didn’t succeed in changing Trudeau’s mind.

In his TV appearance Sunday, Coulon downplayed a question about other concerns around Dion — his less-than-perfect English, for example — and said that Trudeau’s reasons for the dismissal were “totally absurd.”

Trudeau and his inner circle don’t seem to care about foreign policy

Coulon describes Trudeau as a man “incurious about the affairs of the world,” and a leader more influenced by surveys and media than by the advice of his ambassadors and diplomats.

Trudeau leaned heavily on his first foreign policy adviser, the University of Ottawa’s Roland Paris, Coulon writes. But when Paris didn’t seem to fit in with his inner circle, he was shuffled out within a year.

That crowd of insiders, by Coulon’s estimation, care “not at all” about questions of international policy.

A UN Security Council seat is going to take a lot of work

Coulon sat in meetings with Dion and about 30 foreign ministers as Canada began its campaign, early on in the Trudeau government, to seek a temporary United Nations Security Council seat in 2020-21. A solid half of the ministers offered a positive response to the Canadian attempt, he writes. But there were also “a lot of negative and indecisive responses.”

The previous Conservative government, under Stephen Harper, lost Canada a seat on the council for the first time. When he was elected, Trudeau promised to do things differently enough that this wouldn’t happen again. But the Trudeau government has shown more continuity than rupture, Coulon opines, with its predecessor.

“Every day that passes reveals the decreasing weight of Canada in the world,” he writes in the book’s conclusion. ” It is not by repeating slogans on the benefits of the status quo and by staying passive in front of the world that Canada will make itself essential.”

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