The Trudeau government rewrote plans to make Stephane Dion ambassador to both the European Union and Germany after the EU raised concerns over whether one person could effectively juggle a "super ambassador" role to two capitals.
On Monday, the former Liberal cabinet minister was officially announced as Canada's next ambassador to Germany but his proposed role as ambassador to the EU was jettisoned, and he was instead presented to Canadians as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's "special envoy to the European Union and Europe."
Mr. Dion was shuffled out of his post as foreign affairs minister in January to make way for successor Chrystia Freeland. In late January, the government announced it hoped to appoint him as ambassador both to Germany and the European Union.
Asked to explain Mr. Dion's revised role as envoy, rather than ambassador, to the European Union, PMO spokeswoman Andrée-Lyne Hallé said this change was made "after extensive consultations both internally and with our European partners."
She said the Trudeau government had "concluded that this unique arrangement best equips Canada to achieve our objectives" on the European continent.
A source in the European diplomatic community in Canada said Brussels, capital of the 28-country European Union, had registered concern about whether a single person could effectively serve as chief envoy to both the EU and Germany.
The source said Brussels was concerned that a dual ambassador might not to be able to pay sufficient attention to both Canada-Germany and Canadian-EU interests, and that a daily commute between Berlin and Brussels – it's a 650-kilometre flight – might be too taxing.
Mr. Dion appeared before the House of Commons foreign affairs committee in Ottawa Tuesday morning. Asked if he requested the super ambassador role from the Prime Minister, Mr. Dion said he never asked for any specific job.
"I never made any condition to a prime minister. You don't ask anything to a prime minister. You listen to what he wants you to do," Mr. Dion said.
"He said the same thing publicly to me, that under the new circumstances in which we are and where Europe is, he felt the need to strengthen our ability to address these challenges through a new diplomatic resource and he asked me to be that."
Mr. Dion said he is confident he will be able to feasibly split his time between Berlin and Brussels, adding that he is in good health and has a lot of capacity for hard work.
The ambassador-designate took weeks to decide whether he was going to accept his new ambassadorial role after he was shuffled out of cabinet. He said he took that time to consult with his wife and to closely consider another offer at the University of Montreal.
The job of representing Canada to the EU appears poised to grow bigger in the coming years after Ottawa and Brussels inked a trade pact earlier this year.
The Canada-EU deal will eliminate duties on tens of thousands of products – covering more than 95 per cent of everything Canada sells to Europe – and dismantle many non-tariff barriers to commerce.
It will give Canada's auto assemblers and beef and pork producers significant access to EU markets.
Mr. Dion replaces Marie Gervais-Vidricaire as Canada's ambassador to Germany. She was appointed to that job in 2013 and has a long history as a Canadian diplomat.
Canada's current ambassador to the European Union is Daniel J. Costello. An academic and former Liberal government staffer under prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, he joined the Department of Foreign Affairs (now Global Affairs Canada) in 2005.
In recent months, there had been speculation in the media that Mr. Dion and Mr. Costello might both serve as ambassador to the EU – and that Mr. Costello might serve as Mr. Dion's deputy.
The Prime Minister's Office said Canada "will continue to be represented by our existing mission to the EU and ambassador to the EU in Brussels."
Mr. Trudeau's office said, as special envoy, Mr. Dion will "play a special role in advancing Canada's interests throughout Europe, ensuring coherence across the activities of Canadian diplomatic missions and providing strategic guidance to the Prime Minister."
Mr. Dion is a former leader of the Liberal Party now led by Mr. Trudeau.