PREMIER Gary Doer passed his first test on the road to the Canadian Embassy in Washington this week — he proved that he has at least one of the traits necessary of diplomats, he can be discreet. There were likely no more than a handful of Manitobans who were not surprised, pleasantly, for the most part, to learn Friday morning that being a three-term premier was not the pinnacle of his career, but rather it was a step up the ladder —from representing Manitoba to Canada, to representing Canada to the United States.
That Prime Minister Stephen Harper would choose Mr. Doer was not obvious until after the deed was done. At which point it was completely obvious and appropriate.
In Manitoba, Mr. Doer is that approachable guy as likely to be wearing a Bomber jacket as a suit and tie. His extensive travels to the U.S. in particular have largely been ignored as little fish in a big pond junkets. But no matter how they were perceived, Mr. Doer used them to promote Manitoba and to cultivate a vast network of contacts across the United States over the past decade, so much so that California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenager answers his calls and on the issues ranging from energy and the environment to trade and security he is well known at the highest levels across the northern states and all the way to Texas along the mid-continental trade corridor. On the issue of the water diversion at Devil's Lake, for example, he mustered support for Manitoba from a dozen U.S. governors. He knows Washington, too, having made annual pilgrimages to the greatest power centre on Earth throughout his tenure as premier. His travel itinerary in recent years includes China, the Philippines and Australia.
And, of course, he knows the country that he will represent.
As his travel itinerary also shows, Mr. Doer has maintained close and constant contact with other premiers, and developed good relations with them, as their chorus of complimentary comments published in the Free Press Friday affirms. "You've been a tremendous first minister to work with and I know all the first ministers feel that way,'' Mr. Harper told him Friday.
That Mr. Doer could so effectively worm his way into the respect, if not the affections, of so many from his office under the dome on Broadway, it seems clear that he will be able to continue to do so from a much larger platform in Washington.
So, with friends on both sides of the border and a wonk's thirst for policy, Mr. Doer seems the ideal choice for job he is about to undertake, "the toughest job in Canada," according to former Canadian ambassador to the United States, Allan Gotlieb, who served there from 1981 to 1989.
It would of course be parochial to suggest that Manitoba will benefit especially from this appointment. But it cannot be overlooked that Mr. Doer's expertise gathered in Manitoba is in the big bi-lateral issues facing Canada and the United States at this time -- cross border trade, clean energy and the environment. Those are areas that Manitoba has much to offer, as Mr. Doer most certainly knows.
All Manitobans -- all Canadians for that matter, must be wishing Mr. Doer great success if for no other reason that his successes will be our successes.
And as Mr. Doer moves on, so do we move on, no doubt with an elevated interest in Manitoba politics. It would seem that the "perfect calm," as political scientist Allen Mills dubbed Manitoba under Mr. Doer, is coming to an end.