Michael Kergin, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's senior foreign policy adviser and Canada's former ambassador to Cuba, was named ambassador to the United States yesterday in a major diplomatic shuffle.
The list of 16 appointments is unusual in that it does not include any Liberal politicians, a fact that is likely to dampen any speculation that Mr. Chrétien will retire soon. Patronage appointments to diplomatic positions have sometimes been a precursor to a prime ministerial retirement.
Mr. Kergin, a former head of the security intelligence branch at the Department of Foreign Affairs, will arrive in Washington at a crucial time for Canada in its relations with the United States and Cuba.
Canada will be host of an Organization of American States summit meeting next year, a gathering that is almost certain to see a major push by Latin American governments to re-integrate Cuba into the OAS.
Canada has maintained normal diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba despite Washington's long-standing effort to isolate the regime of President Fidel Castro and to press Canadian subsidiaries of U.S. firms to abide by the U.S. trade embargo.
Mr. Kergin knows several of the younger generation of Cuban politicians who may emerge as senior leaders in a post-Castro government.
Mr. Kergin's views on Cuban politics have already been sought by U.S. officials as Washington contemplates normalizing relations with Cuba, diplomatic sources say.
An Oxford-educated career diplomat, Mr. Kergin was ambassador to Cuba from 1986 to 1989. He has been Mr. Chrétien's foreign policy adviser for two years and accompanied the Prime Minister on a recent tour of the Middle East, a visit marred by several political miscues.
Mr. Kergin will replace the Prime Minister's nephew, Raymond Chrétien, who is going to Paris. Mr. Chrétien prematurely and inadvertently leaked that part of the shuffle last Friday when journalists overheard him telling a group of business people in France his nephew would soon become ambassador to Paris. Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy rushed out a news release confirming the appointment.
Yesterday's list of 16 appointments includes several other senior diplomats, including UN Ambassador Robert Fowler. But only four are women, despite Mr. Axworthy's stated concerns that not enough women are reaching the senior ranks in the foreign service.
Mr. Fowler will go from the United Nations, where he spearheaded Canada's successful effort to get a two-year term on the powerful Security Council, to Italy.
The other appointments are: Jeremy Kinsman, high commissioner to the United Kingdom; Paul Heinbecker, ambassador to United Nations; Roderick Bell, ambassador to Jordan; Marie Bernard-Meunier, ambassador to Germany; Keith Christie, ambassador to Mexico; Mackenzie Clugston, consul-general in Osaka, Japan; Alain Dudoit, ambassador to Spain; Paul Durand, ambassador to Chile; Raphaël Girard, ambassador to Romania with concurrent accreditation to Bulgaria; Jean-Pierre Juneau, ambassador to Brazil; Wilfrid Licari, ambassador to the Vatican; Jean McCloskey, high commissioner to Malaysia; Judith St. George, consul-general in Ho Chi Minh City; and Doreen Steidle, high commissioner to the Republic of Singapore.