PAFSO Strike

Experts divided over foreign service strike’s impact on Canada’s brand Provided by iPolitics

By | Jul 29, 2013

As the foreign service strike intensifies, experts are divided on the overall impact of the union’s job actions on Canada’s image abroad.

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) has been in a legal strike position since April 2 and without a contract since June 2011. The union is demanding equal pay for equal work because some junior diplomats earn up to $14,000 less than colleagues doing the same work in Ottawa.

The union has taken job action over the past two months, including targeted rotating strikes and picketing at major Canadian missions. The effects of the strike have been felt around the world, especially by frustrated visa applicants.

However, the impact of the strike on Canada’s international stature is a topic for debate among Canadian foreign policy experts.

For Andrew Cohen, an Ottawa-based columnist and author of While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World, the strike has reflected badly on the Canadian government.

“There’s been a great deal of skepticism about how this government has treated diplomats and how we treaty diplomacy,” he said.

Cohen said there’s a long history of foreign service officers being underpaid in comparison to their equivalents who work as economists and lawyers in the public service. He highlighted the fact that most PAFSO members have at least two university degrees, speak two or more languages and carry impressive resumes — something that should be reflected in their compensation. Despite the stereotype of diplomats wining and dining in swanky restaurants and homes abroad, many foreign service officers live in modest, sometimes dangerous, conditions without fair compensation for the compromises they make, he said.

The Treasury Board begs to differ. It said the union has been presented with a fair offer and highlighted some of the perks, known as Foreign Service Directives, members are entitled to. These include a reimbursement of up to 50 per cent for dry cleaning expenses, the shipment of personal vehicles and household items to a diplomat’s posting, and a foreign service incentive allowance recognizing the challenges associated with living abroad.

But Cohen said he thinks the Treasury Board’s “stubborn” attitude reflects more than just a refusal to entertain PAFSO’s demands for equal pay.

“Does this simply reflect a distaste for not just public servants but particularly diplomats? And is it playing to a public sense that these are pampered, spoiled public servants who wander around at cocktail parties and sip sherry in tuxedos, in leather back chairs and have a view of diplomacy from the 1940s,” said Cohen. “I think when you talk to foreign officers today, that’s not so at all.”

Cohen, a loud critic of Canada’s “pinch-penny diplomacy” and foreign policy, said the government’s inability to come to an agreement with its own diplomats simply adds to the country’s “diminishing” international image, which, in the past, has been fueled by its lack of involvement at the world stage. He cited Canada’s recent withdrawal from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and its failure to win a UN Security Council seat in 2010.

“I think it makes us look like a smaller, more parochial place that really cares less and less about its stature in the world,” said Cohen.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s Press Secretary Rick Roth said he rejects the “assumption” that the strike has affected Canada’s image abroad.

“Canadian diplomats are still working around the world standing up for Canadian interests and values – and Canada’s stellar reputation reflects this ongoing work,” he said in an email.

While other experts agree the PAFSO strike has affected Canada’s reputation, they question how far-reaching that effect has been.

Former Canadian ambassador Paul Heinbecker said the communities affected by the strike, such as students, visitors, business people and immigrants applying for Canadian visas, are probably more likely to rethink Canada’s image.

“With those particular communities, it affects the image of Canada. Will it affect the image of Canada with the man in the street? Probably not,” said Heinbecker. “It affirms that Canada is a difficult country to get into, … arbitrary and unpredictable.”

Daryl Copeland, who worked as a Canadian diplomat for 30 years, serving on the PAFSO executive, said the strike has probably not done any long-term damage to the Canadian brand because the “boutique union” represents such a small portion of the Canadian federal public service. But he also said the strike hasn’t exactly improved Canada’s image.

“I think it would be safe to say that it’s unlikely to have burnished the reputation because it’s caused undoubtedly some people inconvenience,” said Copeland.

Former PAFSO President Colin Robertson, who served as a foreign service offer from 1977 to 2010, said he believes the union’s demands are legitimate, but completely rejected the notion that the strike has damaged the Canadian brand.

“I think if you asked anybody abroad and said did you know the Canadian foreign service is on strike? They would look at you like you’re on Mars,” said Robertson.

Putting questions of Canada’s image aside, Robertson said the strike is definitely having an impact in a way the union and Treasury Board probably never expected — on the Canadian economy.

According to PAFSO President Tim Edwards, rotating strikes involving immigration officers have resulted in a 60 to 65 per cent drop in visa issuance in targeted missions and a 25 per cent drop system wide. Canada’s tourism, education and business sectors have especially felt the effects of delayed visa issuance.

The longer the strike continues, the more Canada will lose, said Robertson. For instance, if a visa applicant applies to Canada and doesn’t get their visa in time, they will start to look — and take their ambition, knowledge and money — elsewhere.

“If they can’t get to Canada, they say, ‘Alright I’ll go to the States, Australia, Europe.’ They get an experience there but they don’t get the experience in Canada. That’s not just a cost in tourism, that’s a cost in opportunity and investment.”

While experts agree on the impact of the strike on the Canadian economy, it remains unclear how the strike has affected the business of government.

In an email statement last week, PAFSO said the union’s job actions have contributed to the cancellation or postponement of more than a dozen cabinet-level visits or trip segments since mid-May, including trips to the U.S., Middle East and Asia. It did not elaborate on which specific visits were affected. However, Baird’s office had a firm response to the union’s claim — zero trips have been affected. Both sides continue to stick to their guns.

As of Monday, the strike was ongoing. Following an offer from PAFSO to enter into third-party binding arbitration, Treasury Board agreed under conditions — something that baffled Heinbecker.

“It sounds like the government is trying to negotiate the arbitration, in order words setting preconditions to the arbitration, which would defeat the purpose of the arbitration. If that’s what’s going on, then it’s bad faith by the government,” said Heinbecker.

After nearly a week of negotiation between the striking foreign service and Treasury Board, an attempt to reach an agreement to enter binding arbitration failed Friday, leading diplomats to move ahead with walks outs at fifteen of Canada’s largest visa processing centres. As the two sides continue to argue over who brought the attempt to arbitrate to a halt, the negotiation process seems to have come to a standstill.

Until an agreement is reached, the union said there will be no change in PAFSO’s job actions, including rotating strikes and picketing. Experts agree that the longer the strike continues, the more Canada risks tarnishing its image at home and abroad.

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Free trade within Canada requires premiers to act

The premiers are too reluctant to end crippling interprovincial barriers

Colin Robertson

Special to The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Jul. 24 2013

When British Columbia Premier Christy Clark travels to Niagara-on-the-Lake this week for the annual Council of the Federation meeting between Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders, she will be carrying a case of British Columbia wine, including some made in her Kelowna riding.

Canadian wine is now exported internationally, but still the biggest obstacle to expanding markets is interprovincial trade barriers. Even with the passage, strongly supported by the public, over a year ago of MP Don Albas’ private member’s bill lifting federal restrictions on carrying wine across provincial borders, only B.C., Manitoba and Nova Scotia have acted to ‘Free our Grapes’.

The blocking of wine between provinces is another example of internal obstructions to trade that cost the Canadian economy close to $14-billion annually. The OECD and the 2008 Competition Policy Review panel both single out interprovincial trade barriers as a major factor explaining Canada’s poor productivity performance.

So what are we doing about it? A cursory look is not encouraging.

Liquor monopolies, provincial securities regulators, shipping rules, licensing and accreditation rules and food-supply management boards all serve to “balkanize” the Canadian economy and hinder our ability to both attract investment from around the world and sell our wares globally.

There is a bill in the Ontario legislature to effectively rescind the agreement with Quebec to allow construction workers into each other’s provinces. It’s a bitter setback of relations after the Charest-McGuinty entente of a couple of years ago.

Moving west, will there be continuing progress in New West Partnership created in 2010 by British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan? With the departure of Premiers Campbell, Klein and Stelmach, momentum has stalled, notably over the differing perspectives of Ms. Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford over the pipeline to the Pacific.

The 1994 Agreement on Internal Trade involving federal, provincial and territorial governments has achieved some success, notably in improved dispute settlement, but it lacks the level of ambition of the new West Partnership.

When then Industry Minister Christian Paradis took up the chair of the Committee on Internal Trade for 2013, he promised to take on the “invisible monster” of internal trade barriers. Will his successor, James Moore, turn words into actions?

Too often federal-provincial discussion devolves into a debate about the appropriate division of powers between governments rather than reducing trade barriers.

Provinces are reluctant to surrender powers or accept disciplines. Federal governments have been complicit over many years in erecting or maintaining certain internal barriers through federal regulation of agricultural and labour markets.

In the inevitable tradeoff between diversity and harmonization in policies, it should be the greater good for the greater number of citizens that prevails.

Success in achieving internal-market reform is more likely to happen with strong institutional champions and a broad agenda with attractive potential.

We need creative approaches to decision making – notably in avoiding the need for full consensus.

We should enshrine reforms in law with enforcement disciplines, so that they have real effect. One conclusion of the AIT experience is that “shaming by naming” is less effective than having real teeth with disciplinary measures for bad behaviour.

We are in the midst of negotiating a series of international freer trade arrangements – the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement and then Trans Pacific Partnership and bilateral deals with India, China and Japan. We need to match our international ambitions with free trade across Canada.

Internal trade doesn’t get anywhere near the same attention as international trade. Canadians would be surprised at our thicket of internal trade obstructions – a forest that continues to expand.

We know the scope of the problem. The Forum of the Federations, the Macdonald Laurier Foundation and a recent Public Policy Forum conference have produced a prescriptive inventory of the barriers that need to be overcome. Start with labour mobility, corporate registration, business licensing discrepancies and the technical barriers to trade.

Christy Clark is right when she describes the New West Partnership as the “gold standard.” With the NWP the starting point is “everything is on the table.” Any exceptions have to be brought to the table and negotiated into the agreement.

Like-minded provinces should join. This will put increasing pressure on the stragglers.

Internal Free Trade is a national project requiring national leadership but the drive will have to come from the provinces because they hold the regulatory and legislative levers needed to open up markets.

Business wants this to happen. And once the ball starts to roll, experience suggests confidence builds as integration creates a win-win situation.

This week Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne chairs the Council of the Federation in Niagara-on-the-Lake. She should uncork Christy Clark’s offering along with some local vintage and invite Premiers Clark, Redford, Marois and Dunderdale to share a glass over an informal discussion on internal trade.

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Allan J. MacEachen: How to be a cabinet minister

They don’t make cabinet ministers like they used to – for better or worse


Special to The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Jul. 16 2013

As ministers, new and old, begin anew the process of governing, they might reflect on the career of Allan MacEachen.

Mr. MacEachen, who recently celebrated his 92nd birthday, worked on Parliament Hill from 1953 to 1995. He sat as a private member, as senior advisor in the office of opposition leader Lester B. Pearson, then served in the cabinets of Mr. Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Jean Chrétien before his retirement from the Senate in 1996.

Through four decades he served in a dozen cabinet portfolios, including Minister of Finance, Health and Welfare, Labour, and Manpower and Immigration. He served several stints in External Affairs (as it was then called) and as Government House Leader. Mr. MacEachen got things done, including the passage of Medicare.

Still, Allan MacEachen’s first priority was always to his constituency in Cape Breton. Not a day passed without a call and concentrated attention to the riding. He had lost, by fourteen votes, his seat in the Diefenbaker sweep of 1958. It would never happen again.

Mr. MacEachen practiced retail politics and he understood the redemptive power of government and the importance of helping people to “put bread on the table.” While he was in cabinet, Cape Breton would receive funding for docks, for lighthouses, for the heavy water-plant, and for those who worked in the coal mines. As a regional minister, he made sure Nova Scotia and the Atlantic received similar attention.

As minister, he would keep a piece of paper in his pocket, neatly divided into two columns. On the left were carefully inscribed the two or three things that mattered to him – like his next quarterly with his old MIT professor, U.S. secretary of state George Shultz. Mr. MacEachen understood the importance of the U.S. relationship. Always on list, of course, was also something for the riding or region.

On the other side of this ledger, brought to him daily by his senior officials, were the urgent and the immediate. It was a long list. After their barrage of briefings, Mr. MacEachen would steer the conversation back to his agenda. Out would come the list and the request for an update on progress.

For Allan MacEachen, good policy made for good politics and good politics was usually good policy.

On departmental matters, he benefitted from a practice dating to the early days of External Affairs but that exists no longer. Memoranda to the minister would always include the name and telephone number of the originating author, usually the desk officer and subject-matter expert, in the upper right hand corner.

Canny ministers like Mr. MacEachen would call the desk officer to get their opinion. Flora MacDonald was famous for her calls to junior officers.

While civil service advice is intended to be fearless, there is a tendency by those higher up the ladder to shade and shave to what they think the minister of the day would like to hear. The result is homogenized recommendations, pale shadows of the original proposition.

Mr. MacEachen had a lot of time for deputy ministers, as long as they knew their stuff. Those that didn’t found themselves disinvited from briefings and, in short order, replaced. He expected insight and intelligence from the senior civil servants. He would read the cabled dispatches, annotate his comments, as he would also do with the cabinet memoranda, and send them back to the department for action.

There was another feature to earlier governments, since discontinued: the embedding of junior and mid-level civil servants within the ministerial staff as legislative assistants or spokespersons – jobs now held exclusively by the exempt staff.

With the title of departmental assistant, they would daily grease the divide between the ministerial staff and permanent civil service. This had the additional benefit of giving these officers a political education that they never forgot. Personally loyal to the minister and always threading a fine line between the political and the policy, for the most part they adhered to the principle of non-partisanship. In the longer term it made for a better civil service because they understood the way it worked.

Mr. MacEachen depended heavily on his political staff, especially for constituency matters. He recruited well and the alumni have become university presidents, cabinet ministers and CEOs. There was no five-year rule, since imposed by the Harper government as part of their accountability commitments, prohibiting exempt staff from working, post-politics, in positions now deemed to be lobbyists.

While it increases accountability and prevents a too cosy transition between government and government relations, the new approach effectively narrows the talent pool and curbs the incentive for public service. Bill Clinton had imposed a similar rule when he become president, but subsequently lifted it, recognizing that the public good is better advanced by being able to draw on the best possible talent for those who do the nation’s business.

Different times come with different mores, but it is useful to recall these earlier experiences and the practices of that era.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson served as a departmental assistant to Allan J. MacEachen.


·         BOB RAE Bob Rae: With shuffle, the Harper Revolution continues its slow, steady crawl

· LAWRENCE MARTIN Harper’s cabinet shuffle is a good facelift, but what’s behind it?

· JASON LIETAER Harper’s message to business: steady as she goes

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Obama Cimate Change Plan

Winning Obama’s Keystone support will require clean hands in Canada


The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Jul. 03 2013

There is a tendency by Canadians to interpret any reference to Canada by the government of the United States as a direct challenge to our interests. The resulting foofaraw unnecessarily complicates what is a highly complex, but ultimately mutually beneficial, relationship.

The latest example of this tendency is the Canadian reaction to last week’s Georgetown University speech by President Barack Obama.

The speech, aimed at his domestic audience, focused on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. In endorsing natural gas President Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to make haste with regulatory changes that will shift U.S. power generation from coal to gas. Mindful of his other priorities – such as immigration reform – and the lessons of his first term, his preferred vehicle for climate-change progress will be regulation through the EPA (and litigation in the courts) rather than legislation through Congress.

In providing the blueprint for U.S. climate-change policy, Mr. Obama was fulfilling the vision outlined in his second inaugural address in January, and in February’s State of the Union Address – and providing a bookend to the secure energy plan he set out two years ago, also at Georgetown.

One paragraph (of 92) in the Georgetown speech was devoted to the Keystone XL pipeline. The President said that that the U.S. national interest “will be served only if this project [Keystone] does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

There is nothing particularly new in this statement. Nevertheless, advocates on both sides of the Keystone XL debate are using it to reinforce their respective positions.

But it is better to take it at face value: As another indication that President Obama sees the pipeline as “relevant” to the climate change debate.

The oils-sands debate, of which the pipeline is a surrogate, has sucked up most of the oxygen in the Canada-U.S. energy discussion and frustrates the overall relationship.

The debate is important and deserves attention, but it is diverting us from what should be a much broader and more constructive discussion of our shared priorities.

Take, for example, hydroelectric power, a renewable energy source for which the president has promised “priority permitting” for new projects.

Canadians draw 60 per cent of our electricity from hydro, with significant exports to the USA.

Transmission lines running from power generated on rivers in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia help to light Broadway, the Mall of America and San Francisco’s cable cars.

A new study by the Midcontinent Independent Transmission System Operator estimates that just one proposed transmission line between Manitoba and Minnesota will reduce the wholesale cost of energy in the U.S. Midwest by over $400 million a year. But Canadian sources need help in expediting the presidential permit process for new transmission lines.

Let’s also put a priority on securing our electrical grids and pipelines. These vital energy arteries are susceptible to interruption by weather, cyber and other threats.

A 2011 joint report by the Working group for Investment in Reliable and Economic Electric Systems and the Brattle Group estimated that 150,000 to 200,000 full-time jobs could be created annually in the United States, and a proportionate number in Canada, by expanding and upgrading the grid.

Second, let’s share with the EPA the rationale behind the revised Canadian coal regulations, both federal and provincial. Coal currently provides 11 per per cent of Canadian electricity generation but two-thirds of this capacity will be retired by 2035. Ontario will shut the last of its coal plants in southern Ontario by the end of 2013.

Third, let’s join with the United States in its commitment to lead international efforts on climate change. Negotiating free trade in environmental goods and services should be a joint effort, not just through the WTO but in the Trans Pacific Partnership and eventual (we hope) trade deal with the European Union.

Fourth, let’s make people aware that, as President Obama noted, business is already fully engaged in developing clean energy alternatives and in efficiency innovation. The Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance is addressing the environmental impact of the oil sands, recognizing that they need to soon demonstrate visible results related to GHGs, air emissions, water use and land management.

There is much constructive advice contained in reports from the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Manufacturers Association and their US counterparts. Their recommendations deserve attention.

And we should bring labour to the table because it can offer practical advice on getting the job done, especially in handling temporary workers.

The Obama speech pointed to the successful campaigns on CFCs (leading to the Montreal Ozone Protocol) and acid rain. In both instances the USA effectively followed the Canadian lead.

It is a reminder of the effectiveness of the Brian Mulroney approach to energy and the environment: fixing our own situation allowed us to go to the table with clean hands. In this regard, our forthcoming federal and Alberta greenhouse-gas regulatory regimes for oil and gas and other sectors should be best-in-class.

‘Clean hands’ is how we can be the energy “superpower” that Prime Minister Harper once spoke about.

Both Barack Obama and Stephen Harper will be thinking increasingly about how history will judge them. As Mr. Obama told his Georgetown audience, the decisions that we make now “will have a profound impact on the world that all of you inherit.”

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