Bill Graham, former Canadian defence and foreign affairs minister, has died at the age of 83.
News of the former interim Liberal leader’s death was shared by multiple senior Liberals, cabinet ministers, current and former Canadian politicians as well as members of the defence and security community on social media on Monday afternoon.
Former Liberal MP John English told The Canadian Press that Graham died Sunday, according to a member of his family who shared the news with him Monday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Graham “a dedicated public servant, a strong leader, and a respected expert in his field” in a statement released by his office Monday evening.
“Whether in Cabinet, Parliament, or his home riding – few people demonstrated the meaning of public service like Bill Graham did,” Trudeau added in a tweet.
“He cared deeply about Canada and the people who call it home. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and all those who are mourning his passing.”
Foreign Minister Melanie Joly tweeted that Graham “paved the way for better foreign policy, dialogue and diplomacy.”
“Canada and Canadians around the world are better because of Bill’s tireless work,” she wrote.
Defence Minister Anita Anand called Graham an “important statesman” who made “incredible” contributions to the country, while former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole praised the “great passion” he said Graham showed for Canada’s veterans and military members after leaving office.
Former prime minister Jean Chretien named Graham to the role of foreign affairs minister in January 2002, a time that saw Graham and the Canadian government quickly embroiled in the world-changing aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
During his tenure, Graham led the government through pivotal decisions including not joining the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq following that attack, and he played a central role in shaping Canada’s response to what become known as the War on Terror.
He was named to the defence post in July 2004 by Paul Martin, the former Liberal prime minister who ousted Chretien as leader of the party. While in the role, Graham backed a proposal that would have seen Canada joining the U.S.’s ballistic missile defence program for the continent, but the measure failed to get political backing in the Canadian minority Parliament of the time.
Graham later told the Senate national security and defence committee he believed that opposition was a result of the deep unpopularity of the American president pushing the proposal — George W. Bush.
“If it had been President Obama asking with his approach, you never know, we might have said yes,” Graham said in that testimony in 2014.
“We should be intimately involved in the architecture of national defence, and that does include ballistic missile defence.”
The issue remains a prominent one facing his successor, Anand, who earlier this year vowed to upgrade Canadian radar and continental defence efforts but faces continued questions over where the money to do so will come from.
Graham also visited Hans Island in the Canadian Arctic, irking Denmark, which had claimed the island as its own. For decades, Canada and Denmark engaged in what former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen called a “flag war” in 2005.
Earlier this year, Canada and Denmark settled the dispute and split the uninhabited Arctic island.
Graham was most recently chancellor of Trinity College at the University of Toronto.
He was named to the Order of Canada in 2015.
He had remained involved in defence and foreign affairs after leaving office in 2007, and was among the experts who advised one of his successors, Harjit Sajjan, on the federal government’s defence policy reset in the leadup to its 2017 release.
The Call of The World, Graham’s memoir, was released in 2018.
Graham represented the Ontario riding of formerly known as Toronto Centre — Rosedale beginning in 1993, and the riding’s name was later changed to Toronto Centre.
Prior to entering politics, Graham was a lawyer.
He earned a law degree in 1964 from the University of Toronto and later went on to get a doctorate degree at the Université de Paris. He worked for Toronto’s Fasken & Calvin law firm.
Graham leaves behind a wife, Cathy, and two children: Katy and Patrick.
— with files from Global’s Heidi Lee, Sean Boynton and The Canadian Press.