Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a whirlwind international tour ahead of him this month, one during which he says he intends to show the world that "Canada is back." He will do so with a pair of recognizable faces at his side whose presence will send signals of their own to the global community.
Stéphane Dion might not be a famous man outside Canada's borders, but foreign leaders will know that he – as a former Liberal leader and the man who lured Mr. Trudeau to follow his father's footsteps into federal politics seven years ago – has the trust of the Prime Minister. His presence as the Minister of Foreign Affairs suggests how seriously Mr. Trudeau intends to take Canada's role on the international stage, after nine years of disengagement (mixed with sharp thrusts that seemed to designed to achieve domestic political objectives) while Stephen Harper's Conservatives held power in Ottawa.
As a former environment minister, and a man who staked his own chance to become prime minister on trying to persuade Canadians of the need to take action against global warming, Mr. Dion's hire is also a strong signal that Canada intends to once more be an active participant in negotiations toward a global pact to fight climate change.
At Mr. Trudeau's other shoulder during a quartet of major international summits this month – the G20 in Turkey, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in the Philippines, a Commonwealth gathering in Malta, and a climate change summit in Paris – will be his new Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland, an accomplished financial journalist and author.
A former deputy editor of The Globe and Mail (and before that a Moscow correspondent for Britain's Financial Times), Ms. Freeland is also famous as one of 13 Canadians targeted for sanctions by the Russian government in the dispute over the future of Ukraine. She is surely the first Trade Minister to take office while barred from the territory of a major world power.
Hinting at the wider influence she will hold, Ms. Freeland will also head a cabinet committee dealing with Canada's relationship with the United States. She was to Mr. Trudeau's immediate right as he gave his first speech as Prime Minister, with Mr. Dion next in line.
If Mr. Dion's hiring will be welcomed by those hoping to see Canada return to the table at some of the multilateral institutions scorned by the Harper government, Ms. Freeland's will calm some of those worried that Mr. Trudeau will try too hard to make Canada everybody's friend again, and perhaps abandon the Conservatives' strong support for Ukraine.
Of the four big international meetings on the calendar for Mr. Trudeau, the G20 meeting that opens on Nov. 15 in Antalya is the most sensitive, because it will be there that Canada's new government will be pressed to explain its decision to withdraw its fighter jets from the aerial campaign against the Islamic State. Mr. Trudeau (or John McCallum, his new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship) will also need to provide details of how the Liberals intend to deliver on their promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015.
The new Prime Minister will also bump into Russian President Vladimir Putin in Turkey, with many watching to see how Mr. Trudeau does or doesn't follow up Mr. Harper's mid-handshake suggestion that the Russian leader needed to "get out of Ukraine."
But it is the climate-change summit that opens on Nov. 30 in Paris where a shift in Canadian policy could have the greatest impact. As recently as this summer, Canada and Australia (and, to a lesser extent, Japan and Russia) were being called out as the bad boys of the climate-change negotiations, the countries dragging their feet in negotiations and keeping the rest of the planet from signing up to a truly ambitious target to curb carbon emissions.
While the climate-change deal will be decided by negotiations among big players such as the United States, China, the European Union and India, Canada's position – as a top-10 emitter, and one of the worst offenders in terms of carbon-dioxide emissions per capita – is important enough that the U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine ran a (somewhat hyperbolic) article during the campaign headlined, "How Canada's election will decide the fate of the world."
The premise was that Mr. Harper's government, by equating action to fight climate change with job losses in the natural-resources sector, had provided cover to those arguing for inaction on the file. The Conservative government made clear its disdain for the last global pact to try to tackle global warming when it withdrew from the Kyoto Accord four years ago.
While the previous Liberal governments are also guilty of not doing much toward achieving the Kyoto targets, Mr. Dion fought and lost an election on the idea of carbon taxes – an idea that might prove to have been ahead of its time. Oh, and he has a dog named Kyoto.
His appointment as Foreign Minister doesn't mean the Paris meetings are bound to succeed. Canada's position remains unclear, with Mr. Trudeau having promised so far only to consult the provincial premiers about what Canada's position should be.
Asked about the file at his first press conference as Prime Minister on Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau remained deliberately vague. "Canada is going to be a strong and positive actor on climate change, including in Paris," he said.
But that might be enough to win applause from those trying to hammer out the climate-change targets. In some cases, Canada being "back" will just mean Canada getting out of the way.