Two key diplomatic posts have York connections

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced diplomatic appointments yesterday involving two individuals with strong connections to York University. York alumnus John McNee (BA ’73) has been appointed ambassador and permanent representative of Canada to the United Nations. York honorary doctor of laws recipient, Michael Wilson, has been appointed ambassador of Canada to the United States.

“Mr. McNee exemplifies the virtues of diplomacy at its highest level, having served most recently as Canada’s ambassador to Belgium,” said Harper in his announcement of the appointments. “His in-depth knowledge of issues important to our multilateral agenda and his work on the government’s task force on international peace and security make him the ideal candidate to advance Canadian interests at the United Nations.”

Right: Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts with John McNee following a speech made to Glendon students on Nov. 3, 2005

After York, McNee went on to earn an MA in history from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom in 1975 and joined the Department of External Affairs in 1978. He served abroad in Madrid, London and Tel Aviv. From 1993 to 1997, he was ambassador to Syria with a concurrent accreditation as ambassador to Lebanon. McNee also served on Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s task force on international peace and security and at the Privy Council office. Most recently he has been serving as ambassador to Belgium.

Wilson was elected a Progressive Conservative MP for Etobicoke Centre in 1979 and appointed minister of state for international trade by Prime Minister Joe Clark. In 1984, Wilson became finance minister under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In 1991, after seven years as finance minister, Wilson became minister of industry, science & technology and minister of international trade. Since leaving office in 1993 he has served as chairman of RBC Dominion Securities and, from 2001, as chairman of UBS Canada, another leading financial institution.

“Strong Canada-US relations are a priority for my government,” said Harper. “Mr. Wilson’s in-depth knowledge and experience in the financial sector and in government will make him a strong advocate for Canada in negotiations with our most important bilateral partner.”

Left: Michael Wilson on stage with Chancellor Peter Cory (centre) and York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden during York’s Spring 2005 Convocation where he received an honorary doctorate

After leaving politics, Wilson chose to concentrate his volunteer efforts on mental illness, a charity, he said, that people often decline to volunteer for because of the stigma attached. His volunteer commitment was rooted in the reality that his son Cameron struggled with depression. When Cameron later committed suicide, Wilson became a leading advocate and fundraiser for community organizations assisting others with mental illness. Wilson has also been a member of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – where he played a major role in a fundraising campaign that brought in more than $11 million – the Toronto-Peel Mental Health Implementation Task Force and the Neuroscience Canada Partnership. In 2005 he was appointed special adviser to the federal health minister on mental health in the federal government workplace.

York conferred on Wilson an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2005 for his success as a business leader and member of Parliament and, above all, for his work in trying to remove the stigma of mental illness.