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Rosemary McCarney, president and CEO of Plan Canada

Jason Ransom/Jason Ransom

The Conservative government is appointing the head of development agency Plan Canada as the next ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, securing a place at the international body for a longtime ally on maternal and child health.

Rosemary McCarney, Plan Canada's president and chief executive officer, has worked closely with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the government's efforts to improve maternal and child health in poor countries. Mr. Harper made the issue a central focus for Canada's international development efforts in 2010 and has personally championed the cause at international gatherings.

The appointment is not the first time the Conservative government has looked outside the ranks of Canada's foreign service to choose a new ambassador. Last year, it named lawyer and newspaper columnist Vivian Bercovici as Canada's ambassador to Israel. Ms. Bercovici is a staunch supporter of Israel whose views on the region are closely aligned with the Conservative government's.

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Over the past year, Mr. Harper repeatedly called for the UN to keep the health of mothers and children as a core priority in its global development agenda. Making the UN appointment now means Ms. McCarney will likely remain in a position to advocate for the issue beyond the next federal election.

Ms. McCarney became the head of the Canadian arm of Plan International in 2005. The charitable organization is focused on social justice for children in low-income countries and has placed a particular emphasis in recent years on promoting gender equality and girls' rights.

She is also a member of the steering committee for the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, which receives funding from the government. Last year, Ms. McCarney interviewed Mr. Harper on stage during an international summit on maternal and child health in Toronto.

Ms. McCarney will replace Elissa Golberg, a career foreign service officer who was appointed to the position in 2011, as Canada's ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in Geneva and to the UN Conference on Disarmament.

Ms. Golberg is a former director-general for Canada's stabilization and reconstruction task force, which responds to humanitarian crises, conflicts and natural disasters abroad. She also served as a representative to Kandahar, Afghanistan, from February, 2008, to January, 2009, and was executive director of the Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan.

Canada's mission to the United Nations in Geneva is responsible for relations with a number of major UN offices, including the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the High Commissioner for Refugees and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Prior to taking the helm at Plan Canada, Ms. McCarney co-owned a private consulting company and held a senior position at Nortel Networks Corporation. She was also chief executive officer for Street Kids International, a charitable organization focused on vulnerable youth. She recently published a children's book about Malala Yousafzai, the teenager from Pakistan who shared the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for championing girls' rights to education.

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