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Marc Garneau says Canada’s global reputation is suffering under the Trudeau government

Marc Garneau says Canada’s global reputation is suffering under the Trudeau government

Marc Garneau says Canada’s global reputation is suffering under the Trudeau government

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says Canada has lost its standing in the world under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom he criticizes as an ill-prepared leader who prioritizes politics and makes grand pronouncements without any follow-through.

“I think Justin Trudeau has overestimated Canada’s impact abroad,” Garneau writes in his memoir, A Most Extraordinary Ride: Space, Politics and the Pursuit of a Canadian Dream, scheduled for release in October by Penguin Random House.

While much of the book is a journey back to Garneau’s career before entering politics, in the military and as an astronaut, the last third is devoted to his time as a member of Parliament.

Garneau, now 75, was first elected in 2008 as a Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Westmount-Ville Marie, a riding that later became Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Westmount after boundary changes in 2015.

In 2013, she ran an unsuccessful campaign for the party leadership but eventually dropped out of the race and endorsed Trudeau, who ultimately won a landslide victory.

After the Liberals came to power in 2015, Garneau served in Trudeau’s cabinet for six years, five of them as transport minister. He spent the last nine months as foreign affairs minister, until Trudeau ousted him from the cabinet entirely after the 2021 election.

In his book, Garneau acknowledges that the decision took him by surprise, and that Trudeau never explained it to him.

He makes it clear that he and Trudeau had little in common beyond their “liberal values” and were not close.

Another thing he makes clear: Garneau believes Trudeau has not appreciated the importance of a foreign minister and is not very good at international relations.

“Unfortunately, Canada’s standing in the world has declined, in part because our statements are not always accompanied by a capacity for action or actions that clearly demonstrate that we mean business,” Garneau writes. “We are losing credibility.”

He describes Trudeau’s trips to China in 2016 and 2017, and India in 2018, before his tenure as foreign minister, as “unsuccessful.”

The two trips to China failed to boost free trade negotiations with the country, and Trudeau was criticized at the time for trying to include non-trade issues, including human rights, in talks with the Chinese government, something that did not sit well in Beijing.

The failures of the India trip have been well documented, including the embarrassment of inadvertently offering a reception invitation to a man convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in Canada in 1986.

“We were not properly prepared,” Garneau said of the three foreign visits.

“We didn’t really understand who we were meeting. We thought we could seduce him, but we were surprised when we didn’t. The clear vision of a prime minister like Jean Chrétien, who always knew who he was dealing with and forged pragmatic alliances with world powers, had disappeared.”

Garneau also criticizes Trudeau for delaying the release of new national strategies for dealing with China and expanding Canada’s relationship in the Indo-Pacific region.

The China strategy was largely delayed because Trudeau and his “entourage” were hesitant to publish anything about it while Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were still detained in China, he writes.

“I think it was a mistake, plain and simple.”

He also says he was unable to present a new Indo-Pacific strategy to Cabinet, and that it was not actually published until November 2022, a year after it was ready and a year after Garneau was moved out of the portfolio.

Garneau declined a request for an interview about the book.

Trudeau’s office has not responded to a request for comment on its contents.

The former astronaut is not the first former Trudeau cabinet minister to write a memoir criticizing the prime minister. In 2023, former Finance Minister Bill Morneau published his own memoir, in which he criticized Trudeau for making largely unilateral decisions and putting politics before policy.

Both describe a concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office that has not improved despite Trudeau’s promises to decentralize when he took office in 2015.

Garneau writes that when he was in charge of transportation, Trudeau didn’t seem to have much interest in the dossier. When he moved to foreign affairs, he expected the prime minister to be more interested in seeking his input on the issues.

But, says Garneau, he didn’t.

He writes that Trudeau only called him once for advice, in a meeting with the then ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, in a discussion about the current plight of the two Michaels.

“The Prime Minister’s aloof attitude led me to conclude that he did not consider my advice useful enough to want to hear it directly from me and to trust his staff,” says Garneau.

“I was disappointed, to say the least. The expectation was that communication between him and I would be through the Prime Minister’s office, so I never knew what information, if any, reached him.”

Garneau argues that the Trudeau government is, overall, too reactive and ill-prepared.

“It is not enough to pay attention only when a concern arises, something this administration has made a habit of,” he writes.

Garneau says he found that the fact that Canada had so many different foreign ministers undermined its credibility in office and left the impression that Trudeau and Canada did not value or prioritize the issue.

Garneau was the fourth of five people to lead Canadian foreign policy during Trudeau’s eight-and-a-half years as prime minister.

“Our allies might logically question whether Canada attached sufficient importance to this portfolio, and they did,” Garneau writes.

During each of his introductory calls with his counterparts, he says they told him they expected him to outlast his predecessors, something he describes as “a not-so-subtle message.”

It didn’t happen.

Garneau lasted only nine months, the shortest period of the five.

Chrystia Freeland, the second to be appointed to the post, served for nearly three years, and Mélanie Joly, the current foreign affairs minister, is approaching 33 months in the role.

Stéphane Dion was the first, serving for 18 months, and François-Philippe Champagne, who was the third foreign minister, served for 14 months.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2024.