During his decade in office, Jean Chrétien moved from being a prime minister with a limited foreign policy agenda to a leader whose foreign policy drove his agenda. This is, in fact, the pattern for modern prime ministers. Early in their term, they name strong ministers of foreign affairs and give them some room; at the end of their careers, they name newcomers as they take charge of many of the files. Pierre Trudeau began deeply skeptical of the Department of External Affairs, and named Mitchell Sharp as his first secretary of state for external affairs. He ended with a world-wide peace tour, and Mark MacGuigan and Allan MacEachen as minister. Brian Mulroney named Joe Clark at the beginning and Barbara McDougall at the end, getting deeply involved in the anti-apartheid fight, Haiti and Canada-US relations.

Although he was once, very briefly, foreign minister himself, Jean Chrétien seemed potentially so domestic a prime minister that the Conservatives initially ran an attack ad questioning how Canadians would feel having him represent them abroad. His early appointments were strong ministers, whose foreign policy priorities could be expressed on a bumper sticker. André Ouellet’s would read ”œTrade trumps aid " and Quebec trumps both.” Lloyd Axworthy’s would be ”œSoft Power.” John Manley’s would say ”œThe Americans are our best friends.” Bill Graham, a rookie in cabinet, would have had an all-embracing " but unfocussed " ”œWe are the World.”

In his last year as prime minister, Chrétien became deeply absorbed in international affairs, driving the Africa agenda at the G-8 meeting in Kananaskis and making the decision that would, in some ways, define the latter part of his prime ministership: keeping Canada out of the war in Iraq. During that period, he appointed Foreign Affairs committee chair Bill Graham, to his first post in cabinet, a sign that he, like his predecessors, would dominate foreign policy in his final months in office.

In the trajectory of his decade in office, Chrétien’s foreign policy was, in large part, shaped by two imperatives: trade and national unity. Then, as he became more senior and more confident, he was more outwardlooking in his approach.

When Jean Chrétien fought the election campaign of 1993, one of his major themes was that he was not Brian Mulroney. What he implied by that, in foreign policy terms, was that he would change both Canada’s relationship with the United States, and alter the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Partly as a result of what Chrétien said during the election campaign, there was a widespread belief in Washington among the small group of those who follow Canadian politics that, as prime minister, he would name Lloyd Axworthy as his foreign minister, something that was foreseen with considerable pessimism by the community of Canada-watchers.

But Chrétien took a number of cautious steps in his first months. During the election campaign, the United States sent a quiet warning to Chrétien not to use the word ”œrenegotiate” when he talked about NAFTA. President Bill Clinton’s ambassador, James Blanchard, traveled to Quebec City to deliver the message to Jean Pelletier, who had been Chrétien’s chief of staff as opposition leader, and would become the prime minister’s chief of staff after the election. ”œYour new government will have the life-and-death power to kill NAFTA in an instant. And you can kill it without anyone ever knowing you killed it,” Blanchard told Pelletier. ”œYou can kill NAFTA if, the day after the election, Jean Chrétien says that he’s hoping to renegotiate it. If he says that, it’s dead, because Congress will say they are not going to vote on it until they see the new deal and they’ll walk away from it.”

Pelletier assured Blanchard that Chrétien was a free-trader and that he did not want to kill NAFTA. But there was substantial unease in Clinton’s White House when Chrétien was elected, as many White House advisers were convinced that the new government was determined to insist on renegotiating NAFTA. Clinton’s special trade representative, Mickey Kantor, got on the phone to negotiate with Chrétien’s trusted adviser, Eddie Goldenberg. A series of late-night discussions ensued. What emerged was a compromise: there was a side note confirming that water was not part of the original Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Canada retained the cultural exemption negotiated in the FTA, and the US retained its right to retaliate. With those agreements, at best defensive and primarily symbolic, Chrétien ratified the NAFTA, reinforcing Brian Mulroney’s most significant achievement that had been fought every inch of the way by the Liberal Party only five years before.

It was a significant indicator of Chrétien’s foreign policy priorities. These had been illustrated during his first meeting with Clinton at the AsiaPacific Economic Co-operation Summit in Seattle in mid-November, just two weeks after Chrétien’s government was sworn in on November 4, 1993. ”œAfter the opening formalities, someone mentioned trade, and Chrétien took off like a hyped-up boxer at the sound of the bell,” Blanchard wrote in his memoir, Behind the Embassy Door: Canada, Clinton and Quebec. ”œAnimated, hyper-nervous, talking a mile a minute in his convoluted English, he went on and on about energy policy and water rights and trade matters while Clinton looked dazed.” When Clinton asked Chrétien about Bosnia and Haiti, both files in which Mulroney had been deeply engaged, Chrétien was equally nonplussed. That snapshot set the tone for the beginning of Chrétien’s mandate: trade would trump diplomacy.

Chrétien’s first act had been to name Ouellet to External Affairs and to change the name to Foreign Affairs and International Trade. This was followed by an innovation that Chrétien was particularly proud of: Team Canada missions that put all of Canada’s premiers and as many business leaders as wanted to go on a trade mission. ”œTo an unprecedented degree, Chrétien put his personal enterprise into helping Canadian firms sell their goods and services abroad,” observed trade negotiator Gordon Ritchie, who called the Team Canada program ”œthe centrepiece…which he personally led with impressive success.”

While Ouellet’s appointment was recognition of his seniority, it also served a particular political imperative. The Bloc Québécois chief, Lucien Bouchard, was the leader of the opposition and, as a former ambassador to Paris and a sovereignist eager to show his expertise on international affairs, he could be expected to target the lead-off question on foreign policy in the daily House of Commons Question Periods. Ouellet could respond in French with political skill and nuance; Axworthy could not.

Other than an abiding interest in the 1994 crisis in Haiti " there were thousands of Haitians in Montreal, many of them living in his riding " Ouellet made little impact on Canadian foreign policy, although he presided over a number of significant decisions. The first was the decision to marry trade and foreign affairs, a change that reflected the new emphasis on trade over diplomacy. The second was the 1994 foreign policy review which, after a series of public hearings, produced a three-pillar model for Canadian diplomacy: ”œthe promotion of prosperity and employment,” ”œthe protection of our security, within a global environment,” and ”œthe projection of Canadian values and culture.” It was, as Stephen Clarkson observed in Uncle Sam and Us, ”œa process more significant than its product…genuflecting before the familiar trinity of peace, prosperity and national unity.”

Since 1967, a significant aspect of Canada’s foreign policy has been driven by the desire to limit the impact of the Quebec independence movement in foreign capitals, and to counter what Ottawa saw as hostile intentions by France towards Canada in its flirtation with the Quebec government and the independence movement.

Relations with France got off on the wrong foot. During a visit by Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau to Paris in 1995, Canada’s ambassador to France, former Conservative cabinet minister Benoît Bouchard, set off a minor diplomatic row when he called the president of the French National Assembly, Philippe Séguin, who was sympathetic to the cause of Quebec independence, ”œa loose cannon.” Chrétien himself did not improve relations when he tossed aside the proindependentiste comments of Paris mayor and presidential candidate, Jacques Chirac, suggesting that he had as much chance of becoming president as Parizeau did of winning the referendum.

However, once Chirac became president, Chrétien did not have the luxury of a lingering quarrel. His chief of staff, Jean Pelletier, had become a close friend of Chirac when the two men were mayors, and he set to work reconciling the two men. It was sufficiently successful that, two years after the referendum, Chirac responded to Chrétien’s request that he delay the issuing of a stamp commemorating the 30th anniversary of President Charles de Gaulle’s ”œVive le Québec libre” speech. Chirac also called Quebec independence ”œtotally buried in Quebec.”

There was a similar adjustment in Chrétien’s relationship with Washington. After the awkward beginning, Chrétien responded by appointing his nephew, Raymond Chrétien, as Canada’s ambassador to Washington. An experienced career diplomat who had previously been ambassador to Zaire, Mexico and Belgium, he had the advantage of an intimate relationship with the prime minister, which was immediately understood and appreciated in Washington.

Chrétien had campaigned on the theme that he would keep his distance from Washington, which resulted in an odd paradox. He and Clinton hit it off sufficiently that Chrétien would fly to Washington to play golf with Clinton. But, ever mindful of his criticisms of Mulroney’s friendship with President George H. W. Bush, the prime minister would sneak into town without letting anyone know of the trip. Perhaps to compensate, Chrétien would periodically take opportunities to underline how different Canada was from the United States. On a visit to Washington, he talked about ”œour cherished health care system” and his introduction of ”œone of the toughest gun-control laws in the Western World.”

The Canada-US relationship was a productive one. During the 1995 Quebec referendum, Clinton gave a clear indication that the US, while remaining uninvolved, preferred a united Canada. In 1999, he made a powerful speech at Mont Tremblant in favour of federalism. Chrétien responded, after Clinton’s second term was complete, with warm praise for Clinton as ”œa friend and a statesman of the first rank.” That firm president-prime minister relationship ended, first with the election of George W. Bush, and then with September 11 and the war in Iraq.

Joseph Nye of Harvard University coined the term ”œsoft power” in 1990, defining it first as ”œthe complex machinery of interdependence” and later as ”œco-opting people rather than coercing them.” It became one of his themes, and was adopted by Lloyd Axworthy as a shorthand for what became the defining theme of his tenure in foreign affairs: human security.

When he succeeded Ouellet in January 1996, Lloyd Axworthy became actively involved in making this the focal point of his foreign policy. Human security is defined in contrast with national security, concentrating on threats to human and communal safety rather than the defence of borders. It was embraced by Axworthy as an overarching concept that included the ban on anti-personnel mines, the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the protection of refugees, women and children in conflict, small arms control, and efforts to stop human trafficking. One of his last acts as foreign minister was to host a conference on children in conflict.

In a number of ways, he was successful, launching the treaty process which resulted in the signing of the landmine treaty, and lobbying effectively for the creation of the International Criminal Court. But his use of soft power had its limitations. Despite his misgivings, he was at the centre of the decision-making that led Canada to participate in the military intervention in Kosovo. Axworthy describes how he and Chrétien reached a compromise on China: ”œThe prime minister took a special interest in establishing good ties with the Chinese regime, for he saw China as a major opportunity to advance our trade interests. I, on the other hand, wanted to push on human rights issues,” he wrote. ”œEventually, we agreed on a policy of direct bilateral engagement. I was given the goahead to travel to China, initiate a human rights dialogue and provide legal assistance and training.”

It was a deal that held. Chrétien functioned as the political realist, but gave Axworthy the space to operate as an idealist.

John Manley, Axworthy’s successor, made it clear from the outset that his major priority was to manage the Canada-US relationship. As he put it, soon after he was named to the job, ”œIt’s sort of self-evident that the United States is our key bilateral relationship, not by a small margin but by an enormous margin. Managing that relationship has to be at the top of the list.”

That relationship was altered with the election of George W. Bush, only two weeks after Manley was sworn in October 2000. One of the problems, at least on the surface, came from the fact that Ambassador Raymond Chrétien was widely believed to have said that Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore would be better for Canada as president than the Republican Bush. While this might well have been the case, it is not what he said. In an address in Ottawa in May 2000, Chrétien observed that then-governor Bush was a Texan, instinctively looked towards the south and Mexico, and did not know Canada well. As a result, he said, the embassy would have more work in making the new White House aware of Canada if Bush won, while Gore was already familiar with Canada. This was interpreted by one reporter (and by Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark) as an endorsement, by Jean Chrétien’s nephew and Canada’s ambassador to Washington, of Al Gore. (Others saw it as a sufficiently self-evident observation about the two presidential candidates that they did not report the comment.) However, apocryphal or not, the suggestion that Chrétien had endorsed Gore became a central building block in the argument, developed and reiterated by the National Post, that the Chrétiens had offended the Bush Administration even before it was elected.

The strength of Manley’s belief in a strong relationship with the United States emerged most vividly after September 11, 2001, and the speed and forthrightness with which he responded was striking. ”œIf we weren’t committed to our best friend and ally, just what would we be committed to?” he asked. And in a memorable interview with Paul Wells, then with the National Post, Manley said that Canada faced ”œglaring inadequacy” in intelligence gathering, defence and foreign aid capability, and blamed successive federal governments for failing to convince Canadians that spending in those areas was essential. ”œYou can’t just sit at the G8 table, and then, when the bill comes, go to the washroom,” Manley said. ”œIf you want to play a role in the world, even as a small member of the G8, there’s a cost to doing that.” Manley was given responsibility for security, a responsibility he kept after his brief stint in Foreign Affairs, and succeeded in getting $7 billion for internal security, the equivalent of half of Canada’s defence budget.

In fact, Canada moved remarkably quickly to legislate on security matters following the terrorist attacks of September 11. On October 15, 2001, a 170-page anti-terrorism bill was introduced in the House of Commons, proposing amendments to sixteen pieces of legislation. However, as Joel Sokolsky of the Royal Military College pointed out at a 2004 conference organized by the IRPP, this has not given Canada much respite from US complaints that we do not spend enough on defence. ”œSince 9/11, we have spent a greater proportion on domestic security as compared to Defence than the United States has,” he said. ”œWe don’t get any credit for spending at home. You only get credit for what you do overseas.” On Manley’s watch, Canada developed a Smart Border Declaration, and sent troops to Afghanistan. However, he did not remain at Foreign Affairs long enough to make a permanent mark.

Bill Graham became minister of foreign affairs with a number of disadvantages. He was a newcomer at a time when the prime minister was most active on foreign policy. Major elements of Canada’s relations with the United States had been left with Manley, significantly undermining his authority. His desire for a full foreign policy review had been squelched by the prime minister. And his experience, first as a professor of international law, and then, for seven years, as chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and

International Trade, militated against his having a limited series of priorities. As a result, during the last period of Chrétien’s term in office, he was overshadowed by the prime minister, and it was difficult for him to establish his own identity as foreign minister. Throughout his tenure as minister, Graham tried to express Canada’s traditional attempt to support a balanced position on the question of Israel and the Palestinians, but his refusal to express unequivocal support for Israel’s right to defend itself infuriated many in the Jewish community, and made Graham a target for bitter criticism.

Chrétien was always reluctant to seek attention in the United States, and the terrorist attacks on September 11 did not affect that instinct. Unlike Britain’s Tony Blair, whom Chrétien privately referred to as ”œTory Blair,” Chrétien did not respond well in situations where the public expression of emotion was required. He attended a massive public ceremony of sympathy and solidarity with the US on Parliament Hill in the days after September 11, but delayed traveling to Ground Zero; when he did go, he was accompanied by the other party leaders, as if to insulate himself from any accusation that he was taking political advantage of the tragedy. However, perhaps insensitively, he used an interview to be broadcast on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to say that the West was arrogant in its dealings with the rest of the world, offending some who interpreted this as another slap at the Americans and the Bush Administration.

Canada responded quickly to the request to send troops to Afghanistan, but as the United States increased the pressure for military action against Iraq in the fall of 2002, Chrétien held back, insisting on waiting for the report of United Nations weapons inspectors, and proof of the presence of weapons of mass destruction. ”œA proof is a proof,” he said as he emerged from Cabinet in March 2003. ”œWhat kind of a proof? It’s a proof. A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because it’s proven.” His skepticism proved to be prescient. The prime minister sent out contradictory signals on what Canada would do if there were an invasion of Iraq, and then refused to discipline ministers or MPs who criticized George Bush and the American government, thereby making Graham’s attempts to smooth over relations with the Americans, through his warm relationship with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, much more difficult.

In August 2002, Chrétien announced that he would step down in February 2004. It was widely assumed that his last eighteen months would be a lame duck period in which he would achieve little. But he seemed determined to end his term in office as a more progressive leader than when he began, particularly in the area of foreign policy. Chrétien took even his own officials by surprise when he announced that Canada would double its aid contribution, increasing the aid budget by eight per cent annually, and when he announced that Canada would ratify the Kyoto Accord.

Chrétien used his chairmanship of the 2003 G8 summit in Kananaskis to put Africa on the agenda, and became a strong supporter of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). He used his last year in office to pursue a more activist international agenda, particularly in the area of aid and development. This agenda came as a surprise to many; it was part of the unpredictable quality in a prime minister who presided over a party, a government, and a series of foreign ministers, who included left-wing liberals and conservatives, nationalists and continentalists. The result was an unusual volatility in Canada’s relationship with the United States, as Chrétien moved from a position of private intimacy with Clinton to public dissent with Bush, against a background of everdeepening trade dependence.

When Paul Martin was sworn in as prime minister on December 12, 2003, Bill Graham was one of the only ministers to retain his portfolio. Suddenly, he became a senior minister in a cabinet full of newcomers. While he still had a prime minister who was deeply interested in foreign affairs, he was able to embark on the foreign policy review that Chrétien had limited to a public consultation. Graham’s satisfaction was short-lived; in the cabinet shuffle that followed the June 28, 2004 election, he was shifted to National Defence.

The Speech from the Throne in February 2004 made it clear that, while there would be a change of emphasis and an explicit effort to improve Canada-US relations, many of Chrétien’s initiatives would remain: the increase in aid contributions, and the desire to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. The ambiguity of Chrétien’s policy towards the US ballistic missile defence, which laid the groundwork for Canadian participation while insisting on opposition to the weaponization of space, continued.

While Martin had implied that Canada might have taken a different position on the war in Iraq had he been prime minister, as the US experience turned sour he felt obliged to say that he supported the decision not to have Canada participate in the war.

Jean Chrétien had proved, in foreign affairs as in so many other things, to be shrewd, sometimes unpredictable, and consistently underestimated. When he became prime minister, he seemed uncertain and unsure of himself on the foreign stage, but he became increasingly comfortable. The decisions he made in his last sixteen months in office " committing Canada to double its foreign aid, ratifying the Kyoto Accord, making Africa a central part of the G-8 Agenda in Kananaskis, refusing to have Canada participate in the Iraq War " were sometimes surprising and seemed almost willful. However, unlike many of his Cabinet appointments, those decisions survived the transition to the new Martin government.


Excerpted from Canada Among Nations, 2004: Setting Priorities Straight, edited by David Carment, Fen Osler and Norman Hilmer. Published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, for the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. www.mqup.ca