Gary Doer's appointment as ambassador in Washington is inspired. A pragmatic politician, an ambitious policy thinker and a charismatic presence, Mr. Doer has the skills needed to represent Canada's national interest.
Mr. Doer's reputation as a cautious, middle-of-the-road administrator made him the New Democrat that Canadian elites could learn to love. But there was much more to his three consecutive majority terms than triangulation. His impressive record of innovation made him a national leader, and one who did not hew to a specific ideological agenda.
His government's achievements were many and wide-ranging: from 10 consecutive balanced budgets to the country's first full-time emergency mental-health unit, to tax credits and tuition freezes that kept university education affordable. Though Manitoba has yet to harmonize its sales taxes, Mr. Doer did cut small-business income taxes, and they will be eliminated entirely by 2010.
Mr. Doer's energy and environmental policy record is especially germane to his new position. He has been a consistent advocate for an east-west energy grid in Canada. He advocated further hydroelectric development, striking deals with First Nations to give them equity stakes in new dam projects.
He had the good sense to take his ideas and ebullience south of the border. His embrace of the Midwestern regional greenhouse-gas reduction accord and his co-operation with Arnold Schwarzenegger on environmental issues gave his province good headlines while helping to establish it as a centre for renewable energy.
In intergovernmental relations, Mr. Doer helped convince his colleagues of the merits of a Council of the Federation, and worked on such pan-Canadian initiatives as the Kelowna Accord, building relationships of trust with Jean Charest, Dalton McGuinty, Gordon Campbell and successive prime ministers. The political scientist Paul Thomas described the approach as "leading from the middle."
His record was not without blemish. The Winnipeg Free Press noted that he failed to wean his province off equalization payments, which last year made up over 20 per cent of provincial revenue. The collapse of the labour-sponsored Crocus Investment Fund meant millions in losses for investors, and Mr. Doer did not take responsibility, though he had been warned of problems at the fund years earlier.
But Mr. Doer will be a great advocate. It is good that Stephen Harper has looked beyond political affiliation for this position, perhaps the most significant external-affairs role in the entire government. Mr. Doer will be following Michael Wilson and Frank McKenna - a Conservative and a Liberal who each helped enhance Canada's profile in Washington, where the competition for attention is fierce. Issues such as the Buy American policy, international environment treaty-making, and continental security will soon land on his desk. But with vast political experience, existing relationships and a capacity to nudge players more powerful than himself to conclusions that benefit those he represents, he is ready for the task.