Monday, September 05, 2005

He'll Always Have Paris

Our elegantly coiffed minister of foreign affairs, Pierre Pettigrew, prefers to spend his days in Paris instead of Ottawa.

While I can't blame him for preferring to spend his winters on the Left Bank instead of Bank Street, others think that it's unseemly for him to spend so much time in the City of Light when duty calls:

On a cobbled street named for one of Toulouse-Lautrec's favourite subjects, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew owns a small apartment that he visits regularly, making the home in the fabled Montmartre district an unofficial outpost of Canada's foreign office.

While Mr. Pettigrew spends time in Paris, some critics charge, he has been absent on important issues requiring visible leadership and instead has left the heavy lifting to cabinet colleagues and his departmental staff.


He was in Paris when the tsunami devastated South Asia last Christmas and, along with a holidaying Prime Minister Paul Martin, drew fire for Canada's sluggish response in the first days after the disaster.

He did not return to Ottawa for several days after the tsunami while Foreign Affairs officials scrambled to locate Canadian tourists and put together an aid package.

Defence Minister Bill Graham was left holding the ball for cabinet in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. Mr. Graham publicly defended the absence of the government's most senior members, saying the scope of the disaster "took some time for us to absorb."

But he was reportedly angered by Mr. Pettigrew's absence and suggested -- in strong language -- that the foreign minister return to Ottawa, post haste. A similar message was passed on by the Prime Minister's Office.


Mr. Pettigrew was again caught in Paris in July, during the terrorist attacks on the London underground. And when bombers struck a market in Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular Egyptian tourist destination, his parliamentary secretary, MP Dan McTeague, was brought out to answer media questions about possible Canadian casualties.

There is a concern, voiced privately by some at Foreign Affairs, that Mr. Pettigrew risks embarrassment for himself and the department should he be stranded in Paris during a national emergency that requires senior ministers at the cabinet table in Ottawa and not just on the speaker phone.

Pettigrew has always given me the impression of being too much of a bon vivant . While that might make him the darling of the diplomatic cocktail circuit, it makes us look like we have an effete dilletante running our foreign relations during whenever crisis strikes.

His conduct seems a throwback to pre-World War I Europe, when foreign ministries and embassies were often dumping grounds for the titled classes, where hard work and competence mattered less than ancestry and manners.

While this system sometimes produced a Metternich, more often than not it produced the lazy bumblers who blundered their way into World War I.

His attitude also gives the impression that the government doesn't care all that much about its handling of foreign relations. And given the Liberals' track record, they probably don't.

Source: Ottawa Citizen

No comments: