Mel Cappe is a professor in the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto
Some people allege it is unfortunate that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made some "political" appointments to ambassadorial postings. I do not.
The government should appoint the best person for the job of representing Canada to the world. (Full disclosure: Jean Chrétien appointed me as high commissioner to the U.K. in 2002.) It is the greatest honour to represent your country abroad.
Sometimes that best person will be a career diplomat, sometimes a career public servant and sometimes it will be someone the PM knows and trusts personally; and the person may have raised money for the party, or may have run his campaign. But the person knows politics.
In the list announced on Tuesday there were career diplomats with specialized expertise, such as trade specialist Ian Burney; career public servants such as Janice Charette who was most recently clerk of the Privy Council; career specialists in development such Heather Cameron; and others who have some useful business experience, such as Phyllis Yaffe with a deep background in cultural industries. While the emphasis in the New York consul-general job, Ms. Yaffe's new position, is finance and Wall Street, culture and entertainment are growing industries in Canada. And New York counts.
Deborah Lyons is a pro with a diverse background. She will represent Canada to Israel with the subtlety that such a difficult job requires. Her time in Washington and Afghanistan will serve her well. Patrick Parisot was in the Prime Minister's Office under Mr. Chrétien and may be close to Mr. Trudeau, but he has experience as a diplomat in Chile and Portugal. He knows politics. This is an asset representing us to Cuba. Ms. Lyons and Mr. Parisot will do well as heads of mission.
When I was appointed to London after 26 years in the public service – having been appointed to the ranks of deputy minister by Brian Mulroney, and served Mr. Chrétien as clerk of the Privy Council – I was viewed by many in the foreign ministry as a "political" appointment. I was not.
After several years watching appointments, I realized that political appointees do these jobs differently. Each person brings different strengths and skills to the job.
David MacNaughton and Gary Doer before him have a strength as Canadian ambassador to Washington that most other ambassadors do not. They are seen as well-connected and understand politics. When they speak to American political or business leaders they know they speak with the PM's voice. That is remarkably valuable in doing the job.
When I met political, cultural and business leaders in the U.K. and they heard I had been secretary to cabinet, they took me more seriously (more than I deserved to be taken). When we want to be taken seriously at the UN, or in Washington, London and Paris, then the person representing Canada may best be a career diplomat schooled in the intricacies of diplomacy, or a career public servant knowledgeable and experienced in the key issues of the portfolio, or a "political" appointee who has access to the prime minister. It depends.
However, there can be too many political appointees. To run a career foreign service we need to have senior offices available for the careerists to aspire to. However, that there are political appointees is not a bad thing.
The appointments announced Tuesday should be judged on the quality of the people and not on whether they helped to get the Prime Minister elected. Every prime minister has appointed former ministers, party apparatchiks, and business people, career public servants as well as career diplomats to the rank of ambassador or high commissioner. They should be judged on their talents, what they bring to the job and ultimately on what they accomplish.
I like to think that because I had been a senior public servant with access, I added value to representing Canada that was more than many others could do. My predecessors each brought different strengths to the job and did it differently, not better or worse.
All those ambassadors and high commissioners announced on Tuesday will do their best to represent Canada well. Many of them will do a very good job and accomplish great things. We should wish them all well.