A tale of two cities for de­fi­antly ec­cen­tric Dion

Took him long enough to make up his mind

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Paul Wells Na­tional Af­fairs Paul Wells is a na­tional af­fairs writer with Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

In the end, to­day’s not that dif­fer­ent from the day in 1995 when he moved to Ot­tawa. In the per­ilous hour, Stephane Dion is pack­ing his book bag and march­ing into the fray.

It sure took him long enough to make up his mind. Tues­day marked three weeks to the day since Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau had shuf­fled Dion out of his job as for­eign min­is­ter.

Trudeau’s orig­i­nal goal was to of­fer what he hoped would seem a triple-bar­relled re­sponse to a world grown briny with men­ace. Chrys­tia Free­land as for­eign min­is­ter, with a man­date to tame the Trumpian beast if it can be done. John Mc­Cal­lum to Bei­jing. Dion as am­bas­sador to Ger­many and to the Euro­pean Union si­mul­ta­ne­ously, some­how in Berlin and Brus­sels at once, the world’s first quantum diplo­mat.

Mc­Cal­lum leaped at the chance. Dion told Trudeau he needed a week. He took three to ac­cept. He comes from uni­ver­si­ties. He al­ways did need an ex­ten­sion on as­sign­ments.

Now at last there was a de­ci­sion. Mc­Cal­lum rose first, thanked ev­ery­one, pointed to his wife, Nancy Lim, in the gallery. A stand­ing ova­tion, one of sev­eral, en­sued.

“The Chi­nese have been telling us, ‘We want a David McNaughton of our own,’ ” one of Trudeau’s helpers told me when Mc­Cal­lum’s new as­sign­ment was first made public. McNaughton is Trudeau’s am­bas­sador to Washington. Ev­ery­one knows he has the boss’s con­fi­dence and his ear. Mc­Cal­lum, in the­ory, will, too.

An aca­demic economist be­fore he en­tered pol­i­tics, Mc­Cal­lum told the Com­mons he aims to im­prove trade re­la­tions. “It be­ing 2017, I know that a suc­cess­ful trad­ing re­la­tion­ship must not only pass some economist’s test,” he said.

He leaned on the “it be­ing 2017.” He meant it’s the year af­ter 2016 swept Don­ald Trump into the White House, and Bri­tain, per­haps, out of Europe.

Thus, Mc­Cal­lum said, a trade deal “must also be demon­stra­bly jobcre­at­ing and pros­per­ity-cre­at­ing for hard­work­ing Cana­di­ans. And it is in that spirit that I will be of­fer­ing my ad­vice on trade with China to the gov­ern­ment.”

Now it was Dion’s turn. Handy con­text for his as­sign­ment had been laid out that very morn­ing in an open let­ter to Euro­pean lead­ers from Don­ald Tusk, the for­mi­da­ble Pole who pre­sides over the Euro­pean Coun­cil.

“The chal­lenges cur­rently fac­ing the Euro­pean Union are more danger­ous than ever be­fore in the time since the sig­na­ture of the Treaty of Rome,” 60 years ago, Tusk wrote. He listed the threats. An “as­sertive China, es­pe­cially on the seas.” “Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sive pol­icy to­wards Ukraine and its neigh­bours.” “Wars, ter­ror and an­ar­chy in the Mid­dle East and in Africa, with rad­i­cal Is­lam play­ing a ma­jor role.” And – ap­pear­ing for the first

time on Tusk’s list of woes – “wor­ry­ing dec­la­ra­tions by the new Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

In Ot­tawa, Dion was still in vale­dic­tory mode, savour­ing the mem­ory of a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer that had lasted longer than any­one ex­pected – though not as long as he had hoped.

His speech was a marvel, de­fi­antly ec­cen­tric – I’d know it was Dion if you showed me only a tran­script – de­liv­ered in a French so lit­er­ary it seemed at times to echo Moliere or Ro­stand. Trans­la­tion wrecks it. We’ll do what we can.

He started by evok­ing Sun­day’s mas­sacre. “Mr. Speaker, a son of Que­bec City, proud of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity in my rid­ing, I de­nounce those two scythes of life that are ig­no­rance and hate. I mourn the vic­tims, ex­press my sor­row to the fam­i­lies and loved ones, wish the in­jured a prompt re­cov­ery and con­grat­u­late the po­lice for ar­rest­ing the pre­sumed au­thor of this sense­less mas­sacre.”

He con­tin­ued in this vein. An ode to Canada: “A coun­try as vast as a con­ti­nent, a land of grandiose and sub­lime beauty, en­joy­ing one of the great­est qual­i­ties of life, with two in­ter­na­tional lan­guages, strength­ened by its indige­nous peo­ples who un­der­stand the things that last.” The kid al­ways did swing for the fences.

“Canada rep­re­sents for bil­lions of hu­man be­ings a uni­ver­sal idea of open­ness, tol­er­ance and gen­eros­ity that we must al­ways strive to at­tain.”

There re­main lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges. That’s an un­der­state­ment. Around Ot­tawa, old diplo­matic hands are aghast. “When the chan­cel­lor (of Ger­many) wants to see him, he’ll be in Brus­sels,” a for­mer Cana­dian am­bas­sador told me the other day. “When the pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil wants to see him, he’ll be in Berlin.”

A Euro­pean diplo­mat was del­i­cate. “It’s a very in­ter­est­ing as­sign­ment,” he said. “Some­what spe­cial.”

Ob­vi­ously the PM’s goal was to em­pha­size the im­por­tance Canada puts in Europe, this source said. “It’s a hard job he will have.” Did that sound harsh? Hastily: “And an in­ter­est­ing one.”

Off he goes. On the doors of iden­ti­cal of­fices in Brus­sels and Berlin he can hang a line from Stephen Sond­heim: “Come see me soon in my hide­away. If you can find me I’m here.”


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