Episode 040 – HCol Bill Graham

William Carvel “Bill” Graham PC QC CM (born March 17, 1939) is a former Canadian politician, who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of National Defence, Leader of the Opposition and interim Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Graham grew up in Montreal and Vancouver, and he was educated at Upper Canada College, Trinity College at the University of Toronto, the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, and the University of Paris. As a student, he traveled in the Middle East and Europe. He married the former Catherine Curry in 1962, and they have a daughter, Katherine and a son, Patrick.

After his graduation from law school, Graham went to Paris to pursue a doctorate of laws, with a focus on international law, as well as to improve his French. He also represented a Toronto law firm, Fasken’s, in Europe. Upon returning to Toronto in 1968, Graham remained at Fasken’s with a practice devoted largely to international trade and commercial law.

He moved from the practice of law to academia in 1981, when he took a faculty position at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, teaching EEC law, public international law, and international trade law until 1993. Graham also held visiting lectureships at McGill University and the Université de Montréal. In 1999, he endowed a chair in international law at the law school.

Graham twice sought election unsuccessfully to the House of Commons as a Liberal in the riding of Toronto Centre-Rosedale, losing in 1984 to the Conservative incumbent, former Toronto Mayor David Crombie, and in 1988 to Conservative candidate David MacDonald. He defeated MacDonald in the 1993 federal election, and was re-elected in 1997, 2000, 2004 and 2006.

He served as a member, and for six years as Chair, of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Law. Under his chairmanship, SCFAIT produced public reports on the role of nuclear weapons in world politics, Canada and the circumpolar world, the future of the World Trade Organization, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, hemispheric free trade, and Canadian relations with Europe and the Muslim world. Graham also promoted “parliamentary diplomacy” and was active in the creation or operation of many international fora for parliamentarians, including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which he was Treasurer, and the Canada-US Parliamentary Association. He was also the Liberal Party of Canada’s representative to Liberal International and the first elected Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas.

In January of 2002, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Graham as Minister of Foreign Affairs. His tenure was largely dominated by the changes to world affairs flowing from the 9 / 11 terrorist attacks and the increased unilateralism of American foreign policy. Canada did support important elements of the US-led War on Terror, and Canadian troops participated in the UN-sanctioned invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime in October of 2001. In the summer of 2003, Chrétien and Graham committed Canada to assume the lead role in the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO mission in Afghanistan. ISAF was initially responsible for securing Kabul and its environs, but an October 2003 Security Council resolution authorized its extension through much of the country.

When Graham’s former law school classmate Paul Martin succeeded Chrétien as Prime Minister in December of 2003, Martin left Graham at Foreign Affairs, but after an election in June of 2004 reduced the Liberals to a minority, Martin moved him to National Defence. This would normally be regarded as a demotion, but Martin had promised during the election campaign to increase defence spending, and he indicated to Graham that he would enjoy prime ministerial backing in his efforts to rebuild the Canadian military after the economies resulting from the deficit-reduction program that Martin had implemented in the early 1990s as Minister of Finance.

In July of 2005, as part of a tour of Canada’s arctic defense installations, Graham visited Hans Island, the sovereignty of which was disputed by Canada and Denmark. Denmark publicly protested the visit, but subsequently entered into negotiations to settle the island’s status.

Perhaps Graham’s biggest success as Defence Minister was implementing a new doctrinal and budgetary framework for Canadian defence policy. He persuaded Martin and Finance Minister Ralph Goodale to accept a $13 billion increase in defence spending, the largest in a generation, as part of the 2005 budget. This entailed significant capital expenditures, including the acquisition of Hercules aircraft to provide the Canadian Forces with tactical airlift capability. In addition, the CF command structure was overhauled to improve the capacity to respond to either domestic disaster or terrorist threat, including the creation of a new Canada Command.

Graham and General Rick Hillier, whose 2005 appointment as Chief of the Defence Staff he recommended, sought to transform the CF into a more mobile force, capable of conducting armed “peacemaking” and humanitarian interventions. This broke with both the Cold War emphasis on preparation for large-scale conventional hostilities across defined international borders, and the recent Canadian tradition of lightly armed peacekeeping under UN auspices. Restoring security and order to the failed or failing states that served as bases for terrorists was placed at the centre of CF doctrine. This conception of the CF’s future role was set out in a Defence Policy Statement that fed into the Martin government’s broader review of Canadian foreign policy.

Graham and Hillier persuaded Martin to make Afghanistan a laboratory for the new doctrine; in the spring of 2005 the Canadian government announced that the 1,200 Canadian troops in Kabul would be transferred to Kandahar province. Canada assumed a major role in Southern Afghanistan, with 2,300 personnel there by early 2006. Graham and Hillier supported a “3D” or “whole of government” approach, based on the concept of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, in which diplomats, military, police, development and reconstruction specialists work together to provide security and rebuild societal institutions. During Graham’s tenure as Defence Minister, Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team provided emergency relief to Sri Lanka after the 2005 tsunami.

In the weeks leading up to the January 2006 federal election, Graham oversaw the negotiations of an agreement, signed by Hiller and the Afghan Defence Minister, governing the treatment of Afghan detainees captured by Canadian personnel and turned over to Afghan authorities. After revelations in 2010 that some detainees had been tortured, Graham appeared before a parliamentary committee investigating the matter. He conceded that the agreement had been imperfect, lacking as it did a mechanism for monitoring the treatment of prisoners after they were placed in Afghan custody, but pointed out that its omissions were more readily apparent in retrospect than they were at the time, and that it had been developed on the best available advice to meet unprecedented circumstances.

After the Liberals were defeated in the 2006 election, and the Conservatives formed a minority government under Stephen Harper, Graham served as interim Leader of the Liberal Party and Leader of the Opposition, until the December 2006 leadership convention that elected Stéphane Dion as Leader. Two highly charged issues debated in the House of Commons during his leadership were the recognition of Quebec as a “nation” and the extension of the mission in Afghanistan until 2011. Graham was neutral in the race to choose a new leader. On February 22, 2007, he announced he would not be a candidate for re-election in the next federal election. On June 19, he announced that he was stepping down as an MP, effective July 2. This freed up the seat for former Ontario Premier and leadership contender Bob Rae to run as the Liberal candidate in the resulting by-election.

Since his departure from electoral politics, Graham has been active in a number of organizations and business concerns. In 2007, he was elected Chancellor at Trinity College, Toronto. He is a Senior Fellow of Massey College and Visitor at Green College. He is also the Chair of the Atlantic Council of Canada, Co-Vice-Chair of the Canadian International Council, and a member of the Trilateral Commission. He is the Honorary Colonel of the Governor General’s Horse Guards and received an honorary doctorate from the Royal Military College of Canada in 2010. As a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada since 2002, Graham is entitled to use the style of “The Honourable” and the post-nominal “PC” for life. He has received various honours for his services to the French language and culture in Ontario, including appointment by the French government as Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and Chevalier of the Order of the Pleiade.

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Royal Canadian Navy Cadet Bill Graham (second from the left on the 2nd row)  at the University Naval Training Division, Royal Roads in 1959.


Bill Graham, then Foreign Affairs minister, inspects troops at Canada’s base in Kabul on Sept. 5, 2003.

Op ATHENA Bill Graham with Jet 2005 (1)

The Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of National Defence 2004-2006


Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel Bill Graham Salutes the Standard of the Governor General’s Horse Guards at Denison Armoury in November, 2009.


Honorary Colonel Bill Graham attends the 2014 Toronto Garrison Ball.


The portrait of Honorary Colonel Bill Graham by Canadian military artist Gertrude Kearns: The Art of Command


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