Mr. Speaker, the member has attacked the reputation of our foreign service officials and in fact, with her pernicious and misinformed attack, has actually done more to hurt the morale of our foreign service than she realizes.
It is a misinformed attack because, first, we recognize the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship as our most important external relationship and the complexity of that relationship. That is why we must ensure that the position of ambassador to the United States continues to be filled by a qualified individual. I can assure everyone that is indeed the case.
The position has been staffed, for instance, for the last three and a half years by a competent career diplomat with over 35 years of foreign service experience. She mentions that people with 30 to 35 years of experience in the foreign service are getting pushed aside. This is somebody with 35 years of foreign service experience representing the interests of Canada across the world and making a difference, and the hon. member has attacked and impugned his reputation.
I want to point out very clearly that the individual I mentioned is a career foreign service official who has defended the interests of Canadians valiantly over a career of 35 years, and his position did not expire in October. That is another piece of misinformation that the hon. member has come to the House unprepared to explain today.
As order in council appointments, ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, rather than for a fixed period of time. For administrative purposes, by and large, the heads of mission assignments are established for a period between two and four years, plus any extensions depending upon the location.
If we were to review the history of the ambassadors to the U.S., we would see that the position has been held for periods of anywhere from one year, in terms of John de Chastelain, to eight years for Allan Gottlieb from 1981 to 1989. Most ambassadors to the U.S., however, have a period of four years or more.
Our current ambassador presented his letters of credence to President Clinton on October 19, 2000. He has therefore yet to reach the three and a half year mark in his term. He has not even served four years.
While in Washington, I can tell everyone that our current ambassador, supported by a talented and dedicated group of officials, has and continues to work diligently to defend and promote Canadian political, economic and trade interests in the United States.
Here at home, as the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce recently said about our Prime Minister, “this Prime Minister gets it when it comes to Canada-U.S. relations”.
We are taking a more sophisticated approach to Canada-U.S. relations. In addition to my appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, we now have a cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations, a cabinet committee chaired by the Prime Minister that deals with, across departments and ministries, issues of relevance to Canada-U.S. relations.
Beyond that, through the enhanced representation initiative, we are increasing by 50% our missions and our representations in the U.S. over the next year. We are also setting up a secretariat in Washington that will help support the efforts of legislators, from both sides of the House and from all parties, in an effort to defend Canadian interests when they are building relationships with other legislators.
The fact is that we are strengthening our representation in the U.S. by 50% and we will be serving the interests of Canadians.