Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird named Savoie among a number of diplomatic appointments made Aug. 1. The new ambassador had most recently been serving as second in command of the Knights of Columbus at its international headquarters in New Haven, Conn. As Deputy Supreme Knight working closely with Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, Savoie also advised the Knights on Canadian affairs.
A New Brunswick native, Savoie also served on the board of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, which is co-sponsored by the Knights and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishops' conference president Archbishop Paul-André Durocher welcomed the appointment of Savoie.
“Mr. Savoie is a man who has given leadership both at the civic and community level in Canada,” said Durocher. “He has shown his leadership skills in a number international organizations. I think he’s a highly qualified man.
“He is obviously very knowledgeable of the Catholic faith being himself a devout Catholic, so he will bring knowledge of the sensitivities that are present within the Vatican and the workings within the Vatican, so I think those are gifts that he brings to the role of representing our country at the Holy See,” the archbishop said.
Durocher stressed the importance of having Canada represented at the Vatican.
“We’ve been waiting for a nomination for a long time,” Durocher said, noting former Holy See Ambassador Anne Leahy had extended her stay four months after her mandate ended in September 2012.
“It’s important for us as a country to be part of the diplomatic corps at the Vatican, particularly at this time in the life of the Church and the role that Pope Francis is playing,” Durocher said. “The diplomatic corps at the Vatican is quite active and I think it’s important that Canada be there.”
Among the issues of concern to the Pope are the various conflicts around the world, especially where relations among religions have become problematic, the archbishop said.
“I’m thrilled for Dennis,” said Pat O’Brien, a former Liberal and then Independent MP who now works as a consultant for pro-life and pro-family groups. “I don’t think the Canadian Government could have found a more competent person. I think he’s an outstanding choice.”
O’Brien said Savoie had approached him after he left Parliament to do some consulting work for the Knights.
“He’s a very committed Catholic, a strong family man — father and grandfather.”
He praised Savoie’s work with the Knights, noting he knows Rome well having travelled there many times with Anderson.
Savoie spent 25 years at New Brunswick Electric Power Corporation after earning a degree in sociology at the University of Moncton in 1968. He rose to hold a variety of senior roles in the company, including vice-president of customer service and vice-president for administration and human resources, for operations and for corporate business improvement. After retiring in 1996, he worked four years as executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes.
Active in his community, he held elected and board positions on various New Brunswick school boards, and on the boards of governors of Université de Moncton and St. Thomas University. He also coached minor hockey. He and his wife Claudette Surette have two children and five grandchildren.
Savoie was travelling and unavailable for comment.
The NDP has demanded the appointment be withdrawn because a 2009 blog post on the Quebec Life Coalition web site said Savoie had given a speech in Sherbrooke comparing the 3,000 deaths in the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the 3,000 daily deaths as a result of abortion. NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar told the Globe and Mail he thought this remark made Savoie unfit to be a diplomat.
O’Brien dismissed the NDP’s dredging up of an old quote as “ridiculous.”
“If you’re pro-life you’re thrilled; if you are anti-life like most people in the NDP, you have a problem,” said O’Brien. “He’ll do a great job for Canada.
“Any Catholic person worth their salt who would be under consideration for that position is going to be pro-life. The Catholic Church is pro-life. Jesus Christ is pro-life. It should be one of the criteria for appointing someone to that position.”