Canada

The strange departure of Jake Warren

WALTER STEWART,IAN URQUHART March 7 1977
Canada

The strange departure of Jake Warren

WALTER STEWART,IAN URQUHART March 7 1977

The strange departure of Jake Warren

Canada

Candor is not common in either politics or diplomacy, so Canadians may never know the truth about a question that hovered in the background throughout the Trudeau visit to Washington: did Jake Warren jump, or was he pushed? Just before the Prime Minister turned south for his official call on President Carter, word leaked out that J. H. Warren, Canada's ambassador to Washington, was resigning. Said an embassy official: “The timing could not have been worse.”

Newspapers quickly bristled with stories, rumors, hints, denials and wild guesses. For the government, the most embarrassing account was written by Ben Tierney of Southam News Services, suggesting that Warren had, in effect, been fired for his too vigorous objections to interference from the Prime Minister’s Office. In particular, Warren was said to have protested the fact that Trudeau’s foreign affairs adviser, Ivan Head, kept dropping down to Washington to make deals without consulting the embassy. Trudeau, Head and the embassy all denied the charges. Some of Warren’s friends said the ambassador was simply taking advantage of the federal government’s generous pension scheme, which allows civil servants with 30 years of service to retire at age 55.Warren,who will be 56 in April, has been in the civil service for 32 years, including four years as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and the last 20 months in Washington.

But it was the Tierney story, which Warren knew about before it appeared, that caused the biggest turmoil. George Elliott, minister-counselor for information at the embassy, a former advertising executive (and author of the Liberals’ the “land is strong” slogan for the 1972 federal election), a newcomer to diplomacy, told Maclean’s: “It was my understanding all along that Mr. Warren was only going to be in Washington for two years. I thought that was the generally understood term. What happened is that he had some discussions with the Department [of External Affairs] about his future. He just asked about where he was going next. Somehow that got out and turned into this other story. As to his relations with the PMO, as far as I know they’re good and, naming names, I know they’re good with Ivan Head.”

This account, however, contains a number of points that are difficult to accept. One is that specifically arranged two-year postings at the ambassadorial level are virtually unheard of. Another is that no one had ever mentioned the ‘ ‘generally understood term.” A third is that the story of Warren’s resignation appears to have been leaked in an indirect way by the external affairs department in Ottawa and such occurrences are generally about as accidental as brain surgery.

There has been a running battle going on between External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office for years and Washington has been a frequent battleground. For example, External Affairs did not want Elliott, a PMO choice, in his present post. External wanted a departmental appointment. In addition, the Embassy was upset by the fact that Ottawa let Warren ramble around the United States explaining that the deletion of advertisements from American TV programs carried into Canada by cable made perfect sense—right up to the time the policy was quietly reversed by Ottawa. There was also resentment at the way Head appeared to be conducting his own foreign policy behind, around and above the embassy.

Warren has remained aloof, proper and silent on all these matters. But if he wasn’t fired, certainly nobody begged him to continue in a posting where he has performed competently.

As to his replacement, current scuttlebutt in Ottawa and Washington has thrown up a number of names, including those of two former cabinet ministers, Mitchell Sharp and Jean-Luc Pépin. Sharp says he isn’t looking for the job, but might accept it "if it were offered to me in terms of this being my duty to my country.” The appointment of Pépin, currently co-chairman of the Anti-Inflation Board, bilingual, energetic and well connected, would be well received by the embassy staff in Washington. The only thing Canadians can be sure of, however, is that by about August, Warren should pop up in a new post, amid assurances that there is nothing he would rather do. The danger of plain speaking will be avoided once more.

WALTER STEWART/IAN URQUHART