Canada seeks fifth foreign minister in 2-1/2 years

Thu Sep 4, 2008 6:33pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Foreign Minister David Emerson said on Wednesday he would not run in an election expected to be called on Sunday, leaving Canada to find its fifth foreign minister in a little over two and a half years.

Emerson, who had been in the job for just over two months, did not give a reason for deciding not to run again in the election, expected to be held October 14. Friends say he is fed up with commuting more than 3,500 km (2,200 miles) between Ottawa and his Vancouver constituency on the Pacific Coast, where he has a young family.

Experts say the rapid turnover in the foreign ministry shows how marginalized the institution has become, with more and more important policy decisions coming from the office of the prime minister.

"Foreign ministers here tend to be more subordinate to the prime minister than in other countries," one senior diplomat told Reuters. "They are more of a political pawn."

Ironically, Emerson was the one of the stronger people to occupy the post in recent times. He took over in June from Maxime Bernier, who resigned after admitting he had left classified documents in the apartment of an ex-girlfriend.

Although Bernier had no foreign policy experience when he was appointed in August 2007, he came from the French-speaking province of Quebec, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper hoped to build a stronger profile for the Conservative government.

"Emerson's appointment was ... an explicit recognition that there was a problem with not having proper adult supervision in that office," said Fen Hampson, a professor in international affairs at Ottawa's Carleton University.

"It's a great loss because in a very short period of time he brought skill, statesmanship and some real gravitas to what is a very important portfolio," Hampson told Reuters.   Continued...