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Francois-Philippe Champagne is sworn-in as Canada's Minister of International Trade during a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan. 10, 2017. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Francois-Philippe Champagne is sworn-in as Canada's Minister of International Trade during a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan. 10, 2017. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Rookie Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne has clear political ambitions Add to ...

François-Philippe Champagne was an international lawyer at a large multinational in Zurich when he laid out his professional ambitions a decade ago.

“My objective has always been to work abroad to gain experience, and then come back to Canada to launch a political career,” Mr. Champagne said in a 2007 interview with a Quebec publication.

Asked if he had any leadership aspirations in the Liberal Party of Canada, Mr. Champagne answered: “I have a career plan, and I always aim for the top.”

Appointed Canada’s minister of international trade on Tuesday, the feisty rookie Liberal MP for St-Maurice-Champlain (a riding once held by Jean Chrétien) is starting to meet his political goals now that he has a seat at the cabinet table.

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The 46-year-old who grew up in Shawinigan, Que., has been given the job of promoting Canada as a beacon for free trade in an increasingly protectionist world and selling Canada as an attractive destination for foreign capital.

Faced with the likely collapse of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mr. Champagne will oversee discussions on a Canada-China free-trade deal that could become a hot election issue in 2019. He will also oversee the implementation of the Canada-EU trade deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, and potentially launch trade talks with Japan.

He will have big shoes to fill as he takes over from Chrystia Freeland, the new minister of foreign affairs who, after an international career as a reporter, brought an enviable network of contacts to the portfolio.

Still, Mr. Champagne inherits a diminished portfolio given that Ms. Freeland retains the lead on Canada-U.S. trade relations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Mr. Champagne will have plenty of work given that “Canada is one of the few countries these days that seems to be very much pro-trade.”

After his appointment, Mr. Champagne told reporters that “the planet is a big place.”

“There is a lot of work to do to develop all of the other trade relations that we need to bring economic growth in the country,” he said.

After obtaining law degrees in the 1990s at the University of Montreal and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Champagne went on to work for large multinationals in Switzerland in 1999 (ABB Group) and England in 2008 (AMEC).

Speaking to The Globe and Mail in 2009, Mr. Champagne described what it took to become a “young global leader,” a title bestowed upon him by the World Economic Forum.

“You need the basic set of skills, a lot of ambition and a tremendous amount of luck. That has been the story of my life,” he said.

“I have had a certain amount of success in the private world but I feel the need to give back. I know it sounds a bit old-fashioned but I still believe in service to the country and giving back, and that’s what I intend to do one day,” Mr. Champagne added.

After coming back home as promised, Mr. Champagne started campaigning in St-Maurice-Champlain in 2013 – more than two years before the 2015 election. The riding is located between Montreal and Quebec City on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, and it had gone to the Bloc Québécois and then the NDP after Mr. Chrétien’s departure. Mr. Champagne worked the riding for months, eventually claiming it back for the Liberals with more than 40 per cent of the vote.

Mr. Champagne’s first job in government was as parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau. He quickly made a name for himself in the House as a staunch defender of the Liberal economic agenda, repeating party’s lines with vigorous movements of his hands in the face of opposition attacks.

Mr. Champagne will now be expected to bring a stronger voice from Quebec to the federal cabinet, especially on economic issues. The Trudeau Liberals remain popular in the province, but they are facing heat for stalling on key files, especially the calls for $1-billion in financial aide to struggling aerospace manufacturer Bombardier Inc.

Mr. Champagne said Quebec “needs a strong voice” in the federal government, but he added he is also counting on the 39 other MPs from the province to ensure that provincial files are dealt with efficiently in Ottawa.

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