- Architects and Innovators: Building the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 1909–2009, and: Canada among Nations 2008: 100 Years of Canadian Foreign Policy
Anniversaries are opportunities to reflect and assess. For Canadian foreign policy, 2009 was just such an occasion. In June that year, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) marked its centennial—an event that proved especially introspective. The evidence of a century of change is obvious even in the differences in name, size, and scope of the bureaucracy charged with managing Canada’s international presence. The Department of External Affairs, as it was known in 1909, was a slight office above a Bank Street barbershop, staffed by a handful of civil servants. Today, Canada’s foreign policy bureaucracy occupies the imposing Pearson edifice on Sussex Drive and consists of thousands of employees, with many deployed to one of dozens of diplomatic missions Canada maintains throughout the world. Such a dramatic evolution clearly suggests much has changed in how Canada interacts with the world, but just as interesting may be the continuities in the nature and [End Page 429] substance of Canadian foreign policy for the past hundred years.
Two books have taken on the ambitious task of centennial assessment. Greg Donaghy and Kim Richard Nossal have edited a collection of essays, Architects and Innovators: Building the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 1909–2009, while the 2008 installment of the Canada among Nations series, 100 Years of Canadian Foreign Policy, is edited by Robert Bothwell and Jean Daudelin. Together, these works represent more than 700 pages and 30 essays. In this limited space, it is clearly impossible to speak to every contribution; instead, I will address a few broad themes the authors raise.
The first conclusion to be drawn from these collections is that individuals do matter to Canadian foreign policy. This maxim may hold more truth for the past than the present, but what emerges in these pages is a picture of policy inspired and shaped by bureaucrats and politicians alike. Architects and Innovators, in its very organization, emphasizes this point. The essays are presented in five sections, proceeding chronologically from the earliest days of the Department of External Affairs and the interwar years to the late twentieth century, stopping along the way to examine the earliest missions abroad, the dynamic period of post-WWII international institution building, and the particular messiness and complexities faced in the 1960s. The authors clearly ground their essays in the lived experiences and contributions of key individuals, but this is not to suggest that structural determinants in foreign policy are ignored. In his concluding essay, J.H. Taylor cautions, “We may be lead by the most charismatic politician since Pierre Trudeau, or the least since Mackenzie King, but when we wake up in the morning, Canada will still be next door to the United States” (p. 292). Yet, Taylor quite correctly asserts that how this relationship is managed can very much depend on the skills and personalities of the very people who shape and implement Canada’s foreign policy.
In the history of the Department of External Affairs, its two principal and earliest architects deserve special mention. The two men could not have been more different. Carman Miller’s portrait of Sir Joseph Pope, the first Under-Secretary, as the embodiment of Tory aristocratic internationalism stands in stark contrast with Norman Hillmer’s presentation of O.D. Skelton, Pope’s successor in 1925 (Architects and Innovators). Both men proved to be able advisors to their respective prime ministers, though Pope’s views mattered much less after Robert Borden came to power. Skelton was indispensable to both Liberal and Conservative governments, and he had little respect for Pope...