The shuffle removed Dion from cabinet entirely, handing the foreign affairs file he’s held since the Liberals formed government to Chrystia Freeland.
In a statement released as Freeland was being sworn in to his file, Dion said holding the high-profile office was an honour.
“As is [Trudeau’s] privilege, he has just entrusted this great responsibility to another person. I wish Chrystia the best of luck,” Dion wrote.
Freeland’s file, international trade, is going to the current parliamentary secretary for finance, Francois-Philippe Champagne.
Dion’s political career has spanned two decades, encompassing cabinet positions under three Liberal prime ministers and a successful bid for – but unsuccessful tenure as – Liberal leader.
Following the shuffle, Trudeau thanked Dion for his decades of service to Canada, saying he appreciates that Dion will continue his service to Canada in a new capacity.
Trudeau told reporters he offered Dion a “key” position. Rumours were circulating prior to the shuffle that Dion was offered an ambassadorship position, but his office said he is taking some time to consider his options.
“Mr. Dion served his country in an extraordinary way for years and continues to,” Trudeau said Tuesday afternoon.
“I asked him to undertake a very important task to me and, as is appropriate, he’s thinking about it. But I can tell you that the respect I have for Stephane and my friendship with him, as well as my need I continue to have for his wisdom and his skills as well as his commitment to Canada and the world continue to be very important to me.”
As foreign affairs minister, Dion was heavily criticized for a $15 billion sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia and his hesitation to support a motion in the House of Commons condemning the terror group Islamic State’s actions as genocide.
Dion was first recruited to the Liberals, in anticipation of a 1996 byelection, and appointed to cabinet before he even stood for election.
“I was envisaging a brief parenthesis in my life,” Dion wrote Tuesday of his entry into public life. “It has been, in fact, an incredible adventure.”
He easily won the safe Montreal riding and went on to hold the same file, intergovernmental affairs, until then-prime minister Jean Chretien resigned in 2003.
Of his efforts in that office, perhaps none was more critical than his efforts following the 1995 Quebec referendum.
The razor-thin margin that defeated the sovereignty movement was blamed on an ambiguous and convoluted ballot question and opened a slew of questions regarding Quebec’s right to unilaterally secede under Canadian or international laws.
WATCH: Alison Azer, the mother of four children who were taken to Iran by their father 14 months ago, says she was shocked by Dion’s gestures during an exchange in the House of Commons.
Dion’s consultations with the Supreme Court helped set firm ground rules for any future separatist movements, including Quebec’s inability to secede unilaterally and Parliament’s ability to determine whether a ballot question is clear, and helped form the basis of the Clarity Act.
Dion’s time with the environment portfolio was less successful; despite an apparent eagerness to work with industries and develop sustainable technologies, there was little change to Canada’s emissions and the Kyoto Accord he championed eventually proved untenable.
Dion continued his downhill drift in 2006 when he became the Liberal leader, and leader of the opposition, in a come-from-behind surprise win.
WATCH: Dion met with Lebanese leaders and toured a Syrian refugee camp on Monday, renewing Canada’s commitment in supporting Lebanon as they deal with the influx of more than one million refugees.
Less than a year after taking the reins, his candidates in three Quebec byelections were all defeated. Though the Dion-led Liberals won some 2008 byelections, they lost support in the general election later that year, capturing only a quarter of the popular vote.
The loss, combined with his failed pitch to form a coalition government with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois, had many within the party calling for Dion to immediately give up his leadership.
He did just that in early December, but stayed in politics, weathering the Liberal collapse in the 2011 election and return to power in 2015.
“Over the past 21 years, I have devoted myself to my riding, to my fellow citizens, to Quebec, to all of Canada, to the role that we must play in the world, and to the Liberal Party of Canada,” Dion wrote on Tuesday.
“Now, I shall deploy my efforts outside active politics … But politics is not the only way to serve one’s country.”
Dion’s removal from cabinet may have come as a surprise to some, given his long history with the party.
“I think Stephane Dion was a brilliant intergovernmental affairs minister,” said Kathy Brock, a political science professor at Queen’s University. “He understood the constitution, he understood the intergovernmental dynamic and he really had a fire and a strong sense of it.”
His personality, however, isn’t conducive to a file like foreign affairs, she said.
“But his personality type is one where he likes to be in control of issues,” Brock said. “And in some ways you need a foreign affairs minister who could be more coached and accept the knowledge that is prepared for him rather than interrogating everything”
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