Liberals replace Tory political appointments in major diplomatic shuffle

OTTAWA – The Liberal government’s new ambassador to Japan was lauded Tuesday by a former Conservative trade official as a good choice for helping Canadian exporters crack the world’s third largest economy.

Ian Burney was Canada’s chief negotiator on its free trade agreement with South Korea, a deal which viewed as a breakthrough in Asia.

The bilateral Canada-Japan free trade process is all but dead as Japan has turned its attention to the 12-country Pacific Rim pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But with the ratification of the TPP in doubt — both U.S. presidential candidates are against it, and Canada is holding consultations well into the fall — revitalizing a deal with Japan is now more crucial, said Adam Taylor, a senior aide to former Conservative trade minister Ed Fast.

“If there’s anybody who’s shown they have the skill, patience and temperament and the familiarity with the issues to take a deal that looks like it’s in the ditch and bring it back on track, it would be Ian Burney,” Taylor said.

“I’m a Tory, but if this is a sign where the trade folks will go in the new government, that’s actually good for Canada.”

Burney has a distinguished diplomatic pedigree: his father, Derek, served as Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. under Brian Mulroney and was the head of Stephen Harper’s transition team when it won power in 2006.

Burney’s appointment was one of 26 Tuesday — 13 men, 13 women — that saw the Trudeau Liberals replacing several high-profile political appointments made by the previous Conservative government in a major shuffle of the top ranks of Canada’s foreign service.

Almost all are career public servants, with three of them replacing Harper government appointees in the United Kingdom, Iraq and Israel.

In the United Kingdom, former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell is being replaced by the former clerk of the privy council, Janice Charette. Campbell’s term was set expire last summer but he was given a one-year extension.

In the Middle East, Dion is replacing the heads of two missions whose appointments both drew criticism for being too partisan.

In 2013, former prime minister Stephen Harper appointed the former head of his RCMP security detail, Bruno Saccomani, as the ambassador to Jordan, which includes Iraq, and where Canada has no embassy.

Saccomani spent much of his time in Iraq, as the diplomatic spearhead of Canada’s military engagement in the U.S.-led military coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Prior to his appointment, Saccomani faced criticism for his management style while in charge of the more than 100 Mounties that made up the prime minister’s detail, but he quickly won the respect of many of his new diplomatic employees in the Middle East.

Peter MacDougall, the assistant secretary to the cabinet for foreign and defence policy, where he would have worked on the government’s new mission to combat ISIL, replaces him.

Canada’s ambassador to Israel, Vivian Bercovici, is also gone just two years after her controversial appointment by the Harper government. The Toronto lawyer and former top adviser to the former Ontario finance minister Ernie Eves was seen as a harsh critic of Palestinian leadership.

Bercovici is being replaced by Deborah Lyons, who was previously Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan.

All governments make political appointments to key posts, and the Liberals made two notable ones in January: Both U.S. Ambassador David MacNaughton and UN Ambassador Marc-Andre Blanchard worked for Justin Trudeau during his prime ministerial bid.

On Tuesday, Patrick Parisot, who recently worked for former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, was appointed ambassador to Cuba. Phyllis Yaffe, who held senior entertainment industry posts, was appointed as Consul General to New York. She was a member of the board of directors of the World Wildlife Fund when Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principle secretary, was its president.

But the Liberals left one notable Conservative in place for another year: Lawrence Cannon, an ex-foreign minister, remains at his post in Paris, said Joe Pickerill, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion.

“Minister Dion is proud of each and every one of our heads of mission currently serving in-country and those due to head out in the coming weeks,” Pickerill said.

Reached by email in Paris, Cannon declined an interview but noted: “Indeed, it is a very interesting period to be in France and in Europe generally.”