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Who will be Trudeau’s Foreign Minister?

With major global events just around the corner, here are 10 prime candidates to represent Canada abroad.

By: /
22 October, 2015
REUTERS/Blair Gable

At an Ottawa rally Oct. 20 — the day after the Liberal Party won a majority government — Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau had a message for Canada’s allies around the world. “Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years,” he told a cheering crowd. “Well, I have a simple message for you. On behalf of 35 million Canadians, we’re back.” 

In order to rebuild Canada’s stature in the eyes of the world, Trudeau will need to appoint a Minster of Foreign Affairs up for the task. 

Historically, Canadian Secretaries of State for External Affairs and Foreign Affairs Ministers have been able to achieve great things — Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Prize for his part in diffusing the 1956 Suez crisis, Flora MacDonald played a key role in the hiding of six Americans in the Canadian Embassy in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, and Lloyd Axworthy brought about the Ottawa Treaty in the late 1990s, banning the use of land mines around the world. Even John Baird, who resigned earlier this year, left a sometimes-criticized but marked legacy on Canada’s foreign policy under the Harper government. 

Canada’s next Foreign Minister will have to hit the ground running — the G20 meets mid-November in Turkey, followed by a summit of leaders from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group, as well as a Commonwealth summit in Malta. Topping it all off will be COP21, the Paris conference on climate change, at the end of November.

Thrown into the mix is the Liberal leader’s promise of a 50-50 gender split in the cabinet, which he will name on Nov. 4.  Any woman chosen would be the first female Foreign Minister since Barbara McDougall in the early 1990s.

So, who will be Canada’s next Foreign Minister? Here are 10 possibilities:

1. Marc Garneau, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount, Que.

Thought by many to be the frontrunner for the position, Marc Garneau most recently served as the Liberal critic for foreign affairs, as well as co-chair of the party’s International Affairs Council of Advisors. Garneau was the first Canadian astronaut in space, and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2003, in recognition of his extensive work with Canada’s space program. In a passionate response to a National Post column claiming Canada under Justin Trudeau would be “isolationist,” Garneau described the Liberals’ foreign policy position as “the opposite of isolationism. It’s active engagement designed intelligently to be the most effective it can be.”

2. Chrystia Freeland, University-Rosedale, Ont.

Chrystia Freeland, most recently the Liberal critic for international trade, was elected as an MP in 2013. Prior to entering federal politics, Freeland worked as an international journalist, holding positions at the Financial Times, the Washington Post, The Economist, The Globe and Mail, and Thomson Reuters, reporting from the UK, Eastern Europe and Russia. Freeland speaks Ukrainian, Italian, Russian and French. While well versed in international affairs, she is one of 13 Canadian politicians banned by Russian President Vladimir Putin from travelling to Russia, which might hinder any sort of Canadian-Russian rapprochement. 

3. Sven Spengemann, Mississauga-Lakeshore, Ont.

Sven Spengemann was born in Berlin, and moved to Canada with his family at the age of 14. Former U.S. State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter supervised his doctoral work at Harvard Law, where his academic projects earned him a Canada-US Fulbright Scholarship. Spengemann spent seven years in Iraq working as a United Nations official, and now teaches Middle East politics and professional development at York University’s Glendon School of Public and International Affairs. Earlier this year, Spengemann penned a piece critical of the “Harper administration’s policy of progressive international disengagement.”

4. Peter Fragiskatos, London North Centre, Ont.

Peter Fragiskatos is a political scientist at King’s University College in London, Ont., and holds a PhD in International Relations from Cambridge University. When asked if he hopes to play a role in shaping Canada’s foreign policy, Fragiskatos told the London Free Press: “Of course international affairs is a strong passion of mine and I want to be a strong voice when it comes to Canada’s role in the world, but I am more concerned with being London North Centre’s voice in Ottawa and helping this community move forward.”

5. Kirsty Duncan, Etobicoke North, Ont.

Last year, while looking ahead to the campaign season, Justin Trudeau enlisted a group of 14 international affairs advisors to help shore up his foreign policy cred. This group included Kirsty Duncan, MP, professor and medical geographer. She has published a book about her 1998 expedition to uncover the roots of the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, and has served on the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Duncan also served as Liberal critic for consular affairs, international development, status of women and amateur sport.

6. Catherine McKenna, Ottawa Centre, Ont.

Catherine McKenna will be Ottawa Centre’s first Liberal MP in 11 years, after an improbable win against NDP critic for foreign affairs Paul Dewar. She was also part of Trudeau’s group of international affairs advisors. McKenna is a competition and international trade lawyer, practicing in both Ottawa and in Jakarta, Indonesia, and a former legal advisor and negotiator for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor. She also lectures at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and is a board member at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. 

7. Arif Virani, Parkdale-High Park, Ont.

Arif Virani came to Canada as a Ugandan Asian refugee in 1972, his family forced to flee after the president of Uganda ordered the expulsion of the country’s Asian minority. Virani most recently worked as counsel in the Constitutional Law Branch of the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario. Overseas, he has conducted international human rights research on caste discrimination in Northern India, and spent a year as an assistant trial attorney prosecuting genocide at the United Nation’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. If chosen, Virani would be the first Foreign Minister from a visible minority. 

8. Anita Vandenbeld, Ottawa West-Nepean, Ont.

Anita Vandenbeld has an impressive international resumé, having worked in over 20 countries. Previous positions include Senior Parliamentary Advisor with the United Nations Development Programme Bangladesh and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission in Kosovo, and Country Director for the National Democratic Institute in Congo. In 2008, Vandenbeld received the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal in recognition of her work in Kosovo — an award very much in line with Justin Trudeau’s stated goal of an increased humanitarian role for Canada in the world.

9. Geoff Regan, Halifax West, NS

After Atlantic Canada uniformly went red this election, Trudeau will most likely need to appoint a senior minister from the region. First elected as MP for Halifax West in 1993, Geoff Regan is an old hand in the Liberal Party, sitting on the Global Affairs committee while serving as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans from 2003-2006. In February 2004, Regan was appointed to act as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada in matters related to Maher Arar, who was tortured in a Syrian jail. Most recently, Regan held the position of Liberal critic for natural resources. 

10. Denis Paradis, Brome-Missisquoi, Que.

Denis Paradis was first elected in 1995, and in his 11 years as an MP he served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, the Minister for La Francophonie and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was also Secretary of State for Latin America, Africa and La Francophonie, Minister of State for Financial Institutions and sat on several parliamentary committees. Paradis is a Commandeur of the Order of La Pléiade, which recognizes distinguished service of the ideals of La Francophonie. One of the stated goals on Paradis’ election website is to promote the creation of an International Leadership Institute in Brome-Missisquoi. 

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Journalism in Canada has suffered a devastating decline over the last two decades. Dozens of newspapers and outlets have shuttered. Remaining newsrooms are smaller. Nowhere is this erosion more acute than in the coverage of foreign policy and international news. It’s expensive, and Canadians, oceans away from most international upheavals, pay the outside world comparatively little attention.

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