OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added some important new players to his diplomatic chessboard Saturday, as he prepared to join a gathering of the rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland this coming week.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion announced the appointment of David MacNaughton, the former co-chair of the Liberal election campaign in Ontario, as the new Canadian ambassador to the United States on Saturday.
MacNaughton's was one of several significant diplomatic appointments, which included lawyer Marc-Andre Blanchard becoming Canada's ambassador to the United Nations in New York.
The NDP and Conservatives criticized the appointments as patronage because both men worked for Trudeau on his recent rise to power.
The two new diplomats will play a major role in advancing Trudeau's foreign policy priorities: engaging with Canada's top ally and friend — the U.S. — and revitalizing Canada's contribution to the world's multilateral forums, the largest one being the UN.
"The United Nations is where the world comes together. Being asked to lead Canada's mission to the United Nations is an immense honour, particularly at a time when Canada has re-committed itself to multilateral diplomacy and to engage more widely on the international scene," Blanchard, the chief executive officer of the law firm McCarthy Tetrault, said in a statement.
The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos is widely viewed as one of the more influential international meetings because it is a nexus of leading political figures and powerful business interests. And that's where Trudeau is headed this coming week.
Important meetings and glitzy after hours parties are a feature of the annual Davos gathering, which the 44-year-old prime minister will be attending for the first time.
Trudeau has already been received as a rock star in the world stage. The New York Times on Saturday perpetuated the frenzy, declaring that Canada is officially "hip," thanks in part to Trudeau.
Journalist Peter Stevenson called the prime minister "muscular, blue-eyed [and] social-media-savvy," and said Trudeau's family is creating a "Canadian Camelot."
In the article, Trudeau is pictured alongside icons like Canadian pop star Justin Bieber and actor Rachel McAdams.
Trudeau has said he doesn't object to the celebrity treatment he receives because he said it draws attention to Canada's serious foreign policy objectives.
MacNaughton will have plenty of serious issues on his plate when he arrives in Washington to take over from former Manitoba NDP premier Gary Doer, whose term has expired.
Canada plans to withdraw its CF-18 fighter jets from the U.S. led coalition fighting Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq, and the U.S. rejected the Keystone XL pipeline which would have transported oilsands oil from Alberta to Texas, with the Americans calling it dirty oil.
MacNaughton is described as an entrepreneur and seasoned public relations specialist on Canada-U.S. issues.
He also served as principal secretary to former Ontario liberal premier Dalton McGuinty. MacNaughton will have to deal with ongoing trade, environmental and defence relationships with the U.S.
MacNaughton said in a statement he was honoured by his appointment, acknowledging his role as co-chair of the federal Liberal election campaign in Ontario.
"The relationship between Canada and the United States is as important today as it has ever been," he said. "I look forward to serving Prime Minister Trudeau, the Government of Canada, and the Canadian people to ensure we expand and deepen our productive and constructive relationship with our closest ally and neighbour."
The NDP and Conservatives criticized the appointments as acts of political patronage.
"I'm very concerned that this could be a return to 'who you know in the PMO' approach," said New Democrat Helene Laverdiere. "Mr. Trudeau promised real change, but for now, this looks a lot like the same old Liberal party."
Conservative deputy foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said Blanchard was also a member of Trudeau's "inner circle," who helped vet his cabinet appointments.
"How does that qualify one for the UN Ambassador's post?" asked Kent. "Justin Trudeau should be up front with Canadians and say if having Liberal ties is the only way to be an ambassador."
However, former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird applauded MacNaughton's appointment, using Twitter to offer, "Congrats to my friend David MacNaughton on his appt as Canada's new Amb to Washington! He'll do a great job!"
Other appointments include Angela Bogdan as consul general of Canada in Sydney, Australia; Marie-Louise Hannan as ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Jakarta, Indonesia; and Susan Harper as consul general in Miami.
By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press