Former foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion has accepted a diplomatic posting as Canada’s ambassador to Germany and the European Union, vowing to fight for European unity.
Mr. Dion was known to be unhappy to have been dropped from cabinet in the recent shuffle and had considered taking up a teaching position at the University of Montreal “under very attractive conditions.”
However, Mr. Dion told the House of Commons in a farewell address Tuesday that the call of public service as Canada’s senior diplomat in Europe drew him back.
“I don’t have to explain to anyone here how much of an adrenalin rush we all get from taking action or just how irresistible the call to public service [is], especially when that call comes from your Prime Minister,” he said.
Mr. Dion, a former Liberal Party leader who also earned accolades for the passage of the Clarity Act in 2000 that requires more than 50-per-cent plurality in a Quebec secessionist vote, said the new ambassador’s posting will give him an opportunity to fight for the open and inclusive society that has been core to his beliefs.
Without mentioning President Donald Trump by name, Mr. Dion alluded to U.S. protectionist policies that could harm the economies of Canada and Mexico – a threat that Europe is also experiencing with the rise of right-wing nationalist parties and Great Britain’s plans to leave the European Union.
“In its own way, the European continent is facing the same challenges as us, ensuring that openness and inclusion triumphs over exclusion and xenophobia, ensuring a path to inclusive growth and demonstrating that free trade can be combined with workers’ rights and respect for the environment,” he said. “At this critical time, I will do my part to strengthen Canada’s relationship with Europe. It will be an honour to join the Canadian diplomatic work force.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Mr. Dion a “great Canadian,” praising him for his role in fighting Quebec separatism as a senior minister during the years of the Chrétien government and for his strong stand on the environment.
“He has always fought for a better Canada. A greener Canada, a Canada that is more united, a Canada that is strong,” Mr. Trudeau said. “I have learned from his strength, his wisdom and his compassion and his bedrock anchoring in Canadian values.”
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said her party was often at odds with Mr. Dion, especially when he was Liberal leader and espoused a carbon tax, but she nonetheless lauded him for being man of passion and high principle.
“He has played pretty much every role that our Parliament has offered,” Ms. Ambrose said. “Perhaps most admired of all was his determined advocacy for the very unity of our country through a turbulent moment in our history, which helped to ensure we remain a strong and enduring nation.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair also bade farewell to Mr. Dion, applauding his commitment to public service and his contribution to Canadian unity.
Mr. Trudeau also paid homage to former immigration minister John McCallum, who is leaving politics to become Canada’s envoy to China. He called Mr. McCallum one of the hardest working people he’s ever known.
“He helped to fulfill one of the government’s most important promises. To bring home more than 40,000 new Canadians from Syria,” he said.
In his farewell address, Mr. McCallum said the two greatest moments of his 16 years in Parliament were nominating Nelson Mandela for honorary citizenship in 2001 and taking on the job of resettling Syrian refugees in Canada.
“At a time when so many countries around the world are closing their doors to refugees, ordinary Canadians across this land came out and welcomed our newcomers with open hearts and that’s what makes me very proud to be a Canadian,” Mr. McCallum said.
“He is a man of strong principles who has always served the public first and foremost,” Mr. Mulcair said of Mr. McCallum. “His tenacity is widely appreciated and his fluent bilingualism and willingness to reach across party lines to work together is respected by all members of this House.”