University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Diplomatic to the Core

U of T has helped train many of Canada's top diplomats

Since the turn of the last century, nine U of T grads have been appointed to lead Canada’s diplomatic corps and have played a key role in shaping Canada’s foreign policy. Three are profiled below.

Lester Bowles Pearson (BA 1919 Victoria)
Pearson is arguably Canada’s most famous and decorated foreign minister. After graduating, Pearson considered law and business before joining the diplomatic service. He was appointed Secretary of State of External Affairs in 1948 and, as minister, spoke softly but carried a big stick. A champion of NATO, Pearson backed sending Canadian troops to Korea as part of the UN force. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for proposing the UN’s first-ever peacekeeping force to defuse the Suez Canal crisis.

Barbara McDougall (BA 1960 UC)
McDougall is one of only two female politicians to have held the position of Canada’s top diplomat. She entered politics as a Progressive Conservative in 1984, and was named Secretary of State for External Affairs in 1991 − a position she held for a little more than two years. As minister, McDougall reiterated a signature foreign-policy principle of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney: that the sovereignty of individual states could be trumped when fundamental human rights were at stake. Under these conditions, Canada, McDougall insisted, “could not remain indifferent to what happens inside other countries” such as South Africa and the former Yugoslavia.

Bill Graham (BA 1961 Trinity, LLB 1964)
Graham taught at U of T and practised international trade law before becoming a Liberal MP in 1993. For six years, he served as Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Under his stewardship, the committee produced reports on the future of the World Trade Organization, and Canada’s ties with Europe and the Muslim world. In 2002, Graham was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. As minister, Graham was embroiled in the Maher Arar affair. Testifying before a judicial inquiry, Graham expressed his regrets over how the Canadian software engineer was deported to Syria and tortured.

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