In The Media

Trudeau’s picks for security files called ‘breath of fresh air’ — and ‘risky’

by Amanda Connolly (feat. David Perry)

November 4, 2015

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made some surprising choices Wednesday for the key portfolios of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Public Safety.

Trudeau named Harjit Sajjan as minister of National Defence, Stéphane Dion as Foreign Affairs minister and Ralph Goodale to the Public Safety portfolio — moves that several experts say will wave in a “breath of fresh air” and offer a new policy direction for Canada in security and diplomacy files.

Former astronaut Marc Garneau had been seen by many as a front-runner for the Foreign Affairs position, while former lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie and former colonel Karen McCrimmon were among the names touted for the defence file.

But all three men named to the security/diplomacy files are highly respected within their fields and suggest a clear break with the policies of the Stephen Harper government.

Sajjan, MP for Vancouver South, immigrated to Canada from India with his family at the age of five. He had a storied career in the military, earning 13 medals over three deployments to Afghanistan and one to Bosnia.

He also worked with the Vancouver Police for 11 years, which included a stint as a detective in the guns and gangs unit.

Thomas Juneau, a former Middle East strategic analyst for the Department of National Defence, said Sajjan’s appointment was an “interesting choice” — and a risky one for the Trudeau government.

“For two reasons. One, a rookie in such a complicated position is very risky,” he said. “And two, I don’t think that it is a good idea to put a retired military person as minister of national defence.”

Dion was rumoured to be a contender for the Environment file; he served as minister of the Environment from 2004 to 2005, playing a large role in the drafting of the Kyoto Protocol, and also chaired the UN Conference on Climate Change in 2005.

“Dion is a very good choice at FA,” said Juneau. “Strong technocratic voice, pragmatic and extremely well-informed. He will focus on substance and on getting things done, and much less on the rhetoric and the style, as the previous government did too much.”

Dion said during his 2006 Liberal leadership bid that Canada needed to focus on sustainable development to be able to compete globally. His appointment sends a strong signal that environmental responsibility will be a cornerstone of Liberal foreign policy, as will the unmuzzling of foreign diplomats, said former chief of protocol Rick Kohler.

“The foreign policy file has been under a shadow for the past 10 years,” he said, noting Dion’s appointment will signal a “breath of fresh air” for the country’s image on the world stage.

Kohler said the choice of Dion for Foreign Affairs is an “inspired” one, citing his major role in the drafting of the Clarity Act on Quebec separation as a clear indication of “the bold stretch of his creativity”.

Kohler said that during his time as chief of protocol he knew Dion was called on frequently to accompany former Governer General Adrienne Clarkson on foreign visits to speak for the government.

“He was entrusted by the Government of Canada to be the voice of the Government of Canada,” he said. “He’s an all-around thinking Canadian.”

As the new minister for Public Safety, long-time Liberal MP Goodale will be responsible for the government’s planned overhaul of the Conservatives’ security and terrorism legislation, particularly C-51.

Africa scholar Gerald Caplan called Goodale’s appointment a “terrific” choice.

“I think it’s terrific that Goodale is on the security watch,” he said. “I think they will be far more sensitive to the balance that is required between security and liberty.”

In the past, Goodale has served as minister of Finance, of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Public Works, and as deputy party leader.

With his 41 years of experience, Goodale was an early favourite for the deputy PM spot; his appointment to Public Safety file suggests Trudeau recognizes that reshaping Canadian security law and addressing terrorist threats will be a massive task.

“He comes to some critical issues in Public Safety without much baggage,” said Wesley Wark, a national security researcher at the University of Ottawa.

As well, he stressed that Trudeau’s decision to chair the cabinet committee on intelligence and emergency management also shows that he recognizes issues of surveillance and intelligence-gathering are ultimately the prime minister’s responsibility.

Wark says the move “shows a strong signal that he knows he has to engage” on national security, and that Sajjan’s membership on that committee also suggests there will be a sharp shift in focus in the new government’s defence and security priorities.

“It’s the first time we’ll have an intelligence officer in cabinet. He was essentially a spy in Afghanistan,” he said, predicting there will be an increased focus on work done by the Communications Security Establishment as well as on Arctic surveillance.

“I think we’ll see some interesting things from him,” Wark said.

One of the biggest challenges Sajjan, Dion and Goodale will face over the long-term will be improving how their departments work together.

The cross-appointment of Calgary Centre MP Kent Hehr as Minister of Veterans Affairs and as associate minister for National Defence shows the Trudeau government is serious about making sure the siloed approaches attributed to Harper’s government are remedied.

“They made a lot of commitments to improving the lives of veterans,” said Dave Perry, senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “This suggests they’re serious about eliminating the disconnect between those leaving the Forces and entering Veterans Affairs.”

John Packer, director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa, agreed — saying the increasingly interconnected nature of modern security threats requires greater cooperation between all four key ministries.

“I think the idea of team and team spirit seems present, and I hope they realize they have to work together especially on the security files,” he said. “Silos don’t exist anymore.”


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