I mentioned, a few days ago, that I think that both General Jonathan Vance, the Chief of the Defence Staff, and Vice Admiral Mark Norman, would make excellent representatives for Canada in any number of important international posts. Retired military officers, like Admiral John Anderson, who served as Canada’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels, in the 1990s, and General John de Chastelain who was Canada’s Ambassador to the USA, in Washington, also in the 1990s and later (1997-2011) was Chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, which was responsible for ensuring the decommissioning of arms by paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, and Vice Admiral Paul Maddison who, in just a few days, will retire after being Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy and then, for three years, Canadian High Commissioner to Australia, have demonstrated that senior Canadian military officers can also be skilled diplomats.
Feathers are easily ruffled in the Lester B Pearson building, where Canada’s foreign service is headquartered, when someone other than a career foreign service officer is appointed to represent Canada at the highest levels, and one can understand that diplomats who have devoted their entire working lives to representing Canada abroad believe that they are best qualified to do the job at the ambassador/high commissioner level but, sometimes, that is not the case. For example, over three years ago, I said that appointing his friend and former campaign manager David McNaughton to be Canada’s ambassador to the USA was “a good, smart move” because, I said it was “wise to appoint someone he trusts and someone who the Americans know has easy access to him and reflects his views to the most important diplomatic post in all of the foreign service.” Sometimes appointing a just retired admiral or general also sends a clear message that Canada takes the security concerns of a country or region seriously.
Right now Canada is at loggerheads with China … that may be putting it mildly. Might this not be the right time to send a diplomatic message to China by sending someone other than a friend or colleague of the prime minister or even a seasoned foreign service officer? Might this be an appropriate time to send an admiral or general to do double duty? He (the officers I have in mind do not include any of Canada’s very excellent female admirals and generals) would be a serious person with a reputation for putting Canada first and for standing his ground, even under trying circumstances. he might be noted as having a broad strategic vision and for being close to the USA … to the Pentagon. He might well be Vice Admiral Mark Norman.
Vice Admiral Norman is, as I have said, unlikely to be welcome back in National Defence Headquarters in any meaningful capacity … but he is a distinguished public servant, in the best sense of that word who still has a lot to ‘give’ to his country. We know that he is a tough-minded individual who thrives in adversity … he might be just the right person to be Canada’s man in a very unfriendly Beijing.
Canada also needs to mend fences with India. Canada’s current High Commissioner, Mr Nadir Patel, is a distinguished public servant who has been in place since 2015. He is about due for a new assignment. His replacement should be someone who will be a “fresh face” and also someone who is not too closely associated with the Indo-Canadian community or the current government … General Jonathan Vance, who has been Chief of the Defence Staff since 2015 might fit that bill very neatly, too. General Vance, like Vice Admiral Norman, is at the top of his profession and is well regarded internationally. he would make a fine diplomat, especially in a somewhat ‘sticky’ situation where his personality and stature would be an asset.
Maybe it’s time for the government to do a bit of recycling and reuse some of its toughest and most able people in somewhat different ways.
Oh, and the next Chief of the Defence Staff?
Why not? It’s 2019, after all.