Way back, almost a year ago, I said I was perplexed by the appointment of Harjit Sajjan as Minister of National Defence given that the Liberals had promised to implement the report on military transformation prepared, for Prime Minister Harper’s government, by then Lieutenant General and now Liberal MP Andrew Leslie. Many people had expected Andrew Leslie a highly regarded, well educated, articulate, very senior career military officer who had been touted as a possible defence chief to become the defence minister, but, instead, a middle ranked military reservist, a police officer was chosen and the Leslie report and defence transformation and Andrew Leslie himself were forgotten ~ he was assigned the post of Liberal caucus whip.
Now, the Globe and Mail reports that “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will name retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie to the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations in an effort to forge closer ties with former military commanders that are playing leading roles in president-elect Donald Trump’s administration … [and] … A senior official told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Trudeau is also reassigning some of his most trusted advisers to key positions on U.S. affairs as Ottawa prepares for Friday’s inauguration of Mr. Trump, who campaigned on an America-first trade policy and appears intent on jostling the pillars of postwar U.S. foreign policy … [and, further] … Mr. Trudeau will also appoint Mr. Leslie as parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with special responsibilities for Canada-U.S. relations. The former Canadian Army commander had been chief government whip after he was elected to Parliament in 2015.”
“It’s rare,” the Globe and Mail notes, “for a parliamentary secretary to serve on a cabinet committee, a move designed to give Mr. Leslie prestige and entree to the incoming Trump team that includes rich corporate executives and former generals in senior positions of power … [and] … Mr. Leslie, now a Liberal MP, is on good terms with Mr. Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn, a former Army lieutenant-general, and retired Marine general James Mattis, the nominee for U.S. secretary of defence. Mr. Leslie has much in common with both generals, having served in Afghanistan. Later as army commander, Mr. Leslie was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit – Degree of Commander by President George W. Bush in 2006 for his efforts to work closely with the American military.“
So, Team Trudeau needs Andrew Leslie because he’s the only guy around with the appropriate mix of experience, knowledge, prestige and connections to deal, face-to-face, with e.g. Defense Secretary designate James Mattis and National Security Adviser designate Michael Flynn, but there is no room for him at the cabinet table … on a cabinet committee, but not at the table.
Caveat lector: I know Andrew Leslie … not well, but enough to say that he is not a fool, he’s not a drunkard he doesn’t have any radical, far right wing ideas, etc. What he is, on the other hand, is a fifty-something white male and a scion of an old, established Liberal family: his grandfather, General Andrew McNaughton was, briefly, Mackenzie King’s defence minister back in the 1940s. It would appear that, even after Minister Dion and McCallum were forced out (or reassigned) there is no room for another smart, fifty-something white male at the Trudeau cabinet table.
“It is,” the Globe and Mail story goes on to say, “all part of a major effort to build credibility and a trusting relationship with the Trump administration to protect Canada’s economy from expected protectionist measures, including a possible border tax … [and] … “We have drawn the conclusion that the two kinds of people these guys rely on is billionaires and generals. We want to put him in a position where he can have good relationships in an official capacity,” a senior official said. “He [Andrew Leslie] knows all these [military] guys.”” So, Andrew Leslie is being used rather as another token ~ we have, heaven knows, enough tokens inside the cabinet, it’s just that Leslie is a slightly different “token:” a mature, experienced, “Military guy” who can speak, credibly, to people like Flynn and Mattis.