OTTAWA (Reuters) - Stephane Dion, named Canada’s new Liberal foreign minister on Wednesday, is a former party leader and political heavyweight tasked with repairing foreign ties that frayed under the outgoing Conservatives.
Under former prime minister Stephen Harper, Canada shunned its traditional focus on multilateral diplomacy and took a more muscular tone. Some diplomats from traditional allies such as the European Union and the United States had privately complained about this approach.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who ousted Harper’s government by winning an Oct. 19 election, had promised the world that Canada would be back after almost a decade of Conservative rule.
Dion, 60, gained international experience when he served as environment minister in a former Liberal government, chairing a United Nations conference on climate change in Montreal in 2005.
Among the immediate challenges are Trudeau’s promise to end a combat mission against Islamic State militants despite pressure from Washington to stay involved in the region.
Dion will also be involved in improving overall relations with the United States. Harper irritated Washington by pressuring U.S. authorities approve TransCanada Corp’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Trudeau also backs the project.
Dion’s green credentials served him less well after he was elected Liberal leader in late 2006, when the party was in opposition. He went into an October 2008 election vowing to impose a carbon tax and stuck to his plans despite a rapidly spreading economic crisis.
The party lost badly to the Conservatives and Dion resigned shortly afterwards, although he stayed on as a legislator from a constituency in Montreal, in his home province of Quebec.
Dion, a university professor, first came to political prominence in the mid-1990s with a series of attacks on those pressing for Quebec independence. He was named to cabinet in 1996 and pushed through legislation making it harder for provinces to break away from the rest of Canada.
Editing by Alan Crosby