- Canada's Department of External Affairs, Volume III: Innovation and Adaptation, 1968–1984 by John Hilliker, Mary Halloran, and Greg Donaghy
This third instalment of the official history of Canada's Department of External Affairs examines the shape and substance of Canada's foreign relations in a period of rapid and significant change both at home and abroad. Sub-titled Innovation and Adaptation, the volume highlights that Canada's diplomacy was no longer confined to the high politics of war and international trade, but concerned with a range of issues from sport, to culture, to the environment. Equally important, the authors emphasise how the Department faced new challenges as it lost its exclusive position in shaping and delivering Canadian foreign policy it had during the so-called Pearsonian Golden Era.
The volume focuses almost exclusively on the Trudeau period, with a brief examination of the Clark interregnum of 1979–80. The authors demonstrate that continuity rather than change dominated the substance of Canada's foreign relations despite partisan pronouncements otherwise. Indeed, the titles of the opening and closing chapters of the volume–'New Guys with New Ideas' and 'The Same Old Gang'–clearly signal this interpretation. In that sense, the most important element of the story in Volume III is how the Department adapted to change rather than led innovation. Key to this story is the way the authors detail how the Ottawa bureaucracy worked and how Trudeau's centralisation of policy making within Cabinet and the prime minister's Office affected the formulation and content of Canada's foreign policy. They also highlight how External Affairs spent much of this period fighting to retain control over Canada's foreign relations as new centres of influence and power in Ottawa such as the Canadian International Development Agency and International Trade and Commerce challenged the Department's hegemony in foreign affairs.
The volume adopts a chronological rather than thematic approach, exhaustively covering the ground of the Department's activities in these years. Nonetheless, a few key themes stand out, particularly Canada's rocky economic relations with the United States and Trudeau's attempt to rebalance them with the 'Third Option'; the growing importance of north–south issues; and the challenge to Canada's sovereignty by nationalist governments in Quebec. That said, at times the volume lacks a synthetic voice to pull the narrative together into a more coherent statement about the Canadian foreign relations in this period. The study also draws almost exclusively on records of the Department as well as personal papers of, and interviews with, former Department members, which means at times the analysis seems a bit insular. Readers get a good [End Page 229] sense of how Department officials viewed their relationships with the rest of the bureaucracy and civil society organisations, but little about how those external players viewed the Department and its ability to adapt and innovate in the changing climate of foreign relations of this period.
Overall, the authors take a favourable view of the Department and of Canada's foreign policy making over this period. In that sense, the volume provides a useful counter to some of the more dismissive analyses of foreign policy making in Trudeau years such as Jack Granatstein's and Norman Hilmer's Pirouette. Despite the criticisms above, this latest instalment of the Departmental history will, like its predecessors, be an indispensable source for scholars of Canadian foreign relations for years to come.