With the defeat of Lawrence Cannon, Stephen Harper is about to select his fifth foreign affairs minister in five years. Given the pace and the magnitude of change in the world, there is a need for someone in the role with the experience and independence, that is to say the confidence of Mr. Harper, needed to deliver on his vision of "a Canada that leads … that punches above its weight."
Most of Canada's most important allies have these leaders, such as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Canada too has in its history such people, like Lester B. Pearson, who won a Nobel Prize for helping to defuse the Suez Crisis, and Joe Clark, who led world opposition to apartheid South Africa. They earned for Canada a place of global prominence, while helping to make the world a better place.
Mr. Harper had such a leader in Finance, entrusting Jim Flaherty with the portfolio over the entirety of his first two governments, helping manage the economy during the downturn and gaining prominence in international finance, particularly on returning to global fiscal balance and on leading the effort to oppose a new bank tax.
It is Canada's interest that a similar prominence in foreign affairs be regained. Outside events demand it. In the face of accelerating globalization and shifting economic and demographic realities, a coherent global vision for Canada isn't optional; it's a requirement. Moreover, our military engagement in Afghanistan is winding down and the platform gained from leading the G8 and G20 last year is gone. With the certainty of a four-year mandate, there is ample room to articulate, and then implement, a new agenda.
The new minister will have to articulate that vision, while nurturing Canada's neglected bilateral relationships. Special attention needs to be paid to Latin America, whose drug war is also our problem; to Africa, where Canada's moral force could again be used to bring pressure on rights-abusing regimes in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia; to China, to whom we need to talk about both rights and economic opportunities; and to India, with whom we need to close negotiations on a new nuclear treaty.
The new minister will have to lay out principles regarding the use of military force overseas. Internally, he or she must have the political muscle to get involved in key files - foreign aid; climate change; defence - nominally held by others.
It is a tall order, and it will require a skilled operator - one who can speak, with authority, confidence and clarity, for Canada.