Foreign Service

A foreign service worth fighting for

Somewhere between ‘golden age’ and ‘culture of complaint’ lies the state of Canada’s foreign service. OpenCanada’s Catherine Tsalikis interviewed nearly two dozen diplomats and experts to discover a gradual tarnishing of the diplomatic corps over the years — but many are rooting for its restoration.



July 26, 2017
Illustration of Global Affairs Canada headquarters in Ottawa. Credit: Sami Chouhdary.

Like the Great Sphinx of Giza, from which its headquarters at 125 Sussex Drive took inspiration, Canada’s foreign service holds many secrets — the building’s nickname, ‘Fort Pearson,’ speaks to the opacity that surrounds many of its inner workings.

The exterior is clad in uninviting horizontal, concrete slabs. Through a canopied front entrance, and past security, is the wood-panelled Robertson Room, where Canada’s government hammered out its response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and where leaders from Germany, the United States and the Soviet Union met to discuss German reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In an homage to one of Canadian diplomacy’s signature moments, prominently displayed by the lobby’s windows is a perfect replica of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s 1957 Nobel Peace Prize — the original now relocated to the new Canadian History Hall, which opened as part of the Museum of History’s Canada 150 exhibit.

While Confederation brought the colonies of Canada together 150 years ago, the foreign service isn’t quite that old. When Canada’s first Department of External Affairs was created in 1909, it was housed in a ramshackle office above a barber shop at Queen and Bank streets, and its main responsibility was to manage the flow of correspondence between Ottawa, London and foreign capitals. Though then-Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier had wanted to give the work of foreign affairs “the dignity and importance of a department by itself, as [was] done in other countries,” its beginnings were less than auspicious. Five blocks away from the East Block on Parliament Hill, where the prime minister and several ministries had their offices, the department was made up of only a handful of employees and had hardly any capacity to shape Canada’s relations with other countries.

The department did make it to the East Block a few years later, and over the first half of the 20th century its size and scope — and its diplomatic corps, the foreign service — grew modestly as Canada itself gained more autonomy from Britain over its international dealings. During the period following World War II through to the mid-1960s the department expanded rapidly, with Canada playing a leading role in the development of multilateral institutions like the United Nations and NATO, in what came to be seen by many as the ‘golden age’ of Canadian diplomacy — its zenith being Pearson’s Nobel Prize for the creation of a UN peacekeeping force during the Suez Crisis in the Middle East.

When Pierre Elliott Trudeau came into office, however, he brought with him a distrust of professional diplomats. “In the early days of the telegraph,” he told a reporter, “you needed a dispatch to know what was happening in country A, whereas now, most of the time, you can read it in a good newspaper.” Despite protest, in 1973 the department was moved to its present location, about a 10-minute drive from Parliament Hill, on the banks of the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.

Over the next few decades, the department’s makeup underwent much shape-shifting, with trade, immigration and development at various times consolidated under the foreign affairs banner or not. Most recently, under Justin Trudeau, the department’s designation became ‘Global Affairs Canada,’ which includes foreign affairs, trade and development.

Canada now has 1,174 foreign service officers and 179 diplomatic missions in 109 countries, up from 101 foreign service members and 22 missions at the end of WWII.

Behind these outwardly visible changes, however, there is a battle for the soul of the diplomatic corps unfolding, with fundamental questions about the role of a diplomat and the future of the service giving rise to, at times, fractious disagreement, according to interviews with almost two dozen current and former foreign service officers.

Glamour to grit

The foreign service has always had a bit of a challenging story to tell. Throughout the years, the idea of the ‘professional diplomat’ has for many conjured up visions of “dithering dandies” in pearls or pinstripes “lost in a haze of irrelevance somewhere between protocol and alcohol,” as former foreign service officer Daryl Copeland likes to say. That perception of course isn’t new; as one “riled career man” told The New York Times in 1970: “If I see one more caricature of a Canadian diplomat in striped pants sipping from martini glass holding a maple leaf olive pick, I’m going to burn my credentials card.”

But even in the 21st century, the average Canadian might find it hard to describe what the purpose of a foreign service officer is. Within the service, there is also existential angst about the role. While working for the diplomatic corps still holds a certain amount of prestige in the popular imagination, the reality on the ground is more than monogramed calling cards and canapés.

The foreign service is meant to be the government’s strongest advocacy instrument for defending Canada’s interests abroad — and the first line of defence when it comes to conflict prevention. The key elements of its mandate include working for international peace and security, promoting trade, investment and business opportunities for Canada’s economic benefit, and improving human rights around the world.

A few contemporary examples: helping to rebuild Bosnia after the 1992-1995 war; responding to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; championing the cause of maternal and early childhood health in the developing world; and working to prevent the spread of Ebola in Africa.

The benefits that come from personal diplomacy — the nurturing of relationships with key international decision-makers to protect and advance Canadian interests — may be nebulous, but can tell in a crisis.

The last year has put into stark focus the importance of a strong diplomatic team abroad. When, following the election of Donald Trump, Canada’s most valuable trading relationship seemed in jeopardy, the diplomatic corps activated a network of influencers across the United States who had a stake in trade with their northern neighbour, setting up a dramatic 11th-hour reversal by the White House, which abandoned a pledge to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and agreed to renegotiate the pact instead.

“The benefits that come from personal diplomacy may be nebulous, but can tell in a crisis.”

It was perhaps the biggest diplomatic coup to date for the new foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, who was appointed to the post after throwing herself as trade minister into the task of rescuing a pact between Canada and the European Union from near defeat with direct personal appeals to decision-makers in Brussels.

Career foreign service officer Colin Robertson served at the Canadian embassy in D.C., among other posts, and was part of the team that negotiated the original NAFTA treaty. He said in-person dealings are still just as necessary as ever. “You need someone on ground to provide you with trusted perspective. In Washington, I spent all my time wandering around Capitol Hill. Nothing beats being there — face-to-face is still the best way to transact business.”

Robertson defends ‘cocktail diplomacy’: “I always went to cocktail parties, for two reasons: one, to see and be seen, and two, as the Romans say, in vino veritas — truth comes out over a glass.”

David Edwards, who spent three decades in the foreign service and retired in 2011, says he hasn’t heard much waxing on about “dithering dandies” in recent years: “People are actually on the frontlines, a lot of people have been shot at, we have people in Baghdad, in and out of Libya, Haiti…I think it has moved from glamour to grit.”

Former Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine Abbie Dann, who retired in 2013 after 33 years in the foreign service, likens being a foreign service officer to a calling, such as serving in the military, or feeling compelled to become a doctor or a human rights lawyer. “It’s not even a profession,” she said, “it should be considered a vocation. I’m Catholic, so I can use words like that.”

“I have 20 percent of my lung capacity, from pollution in Sao Paulo, Bombay and Kiev. And I’ve never smoked — lots of us are like that. Real foreign service officers are brought up a bit like the army: don’t explain, don’t complain, just get it done,” Dann said.

Michael Kologie, outgoing president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), agrees, and points out that the officers themselves are often not the only ones making sacrifices. “As diplomats, we have to remember that we are not just working from 8:30am-6pm — we’re representing Canada abroad 24/7. And it’s not just foreign service officers doing it, it’s their families that are doing it.”

One of the main purposes of the foreign service is to provide fearless advice and loyal implementation when it comes to the government of the day’s foreign policy, which necessitates close cooperation with Canada’s foreign ministers.

Lloyd Axworthy, who served as minister of foreign affairs from 1996-2000, says that when the Chrétien government was working on developing an ambitious treaty to ban landmines, Canadian embassy staff around the world “worked the streets,” in diplomatic parlance, with the goal of pulling off a treaty at the UN.

Thanks to the foreign embassy network set up under Pearson in the post-war years, Canada was able to draw on infrastructure in every region: “There have always been [those] in the Treasury Board saying oh, why do we need embassies in Patagonia, or something, and I said well, because they vote at the UN, they’ve got interests, and we never know when we’re going to need them.” In Axworthy’s opinion, the strength and ability of the foreign service has been one of the reasons why Canada has been able to play, when it wants to, an effective role on the international stage.

Barbara McDougall, Canada’s secretary of state for external affairs from 1991-1993, offers a more mixed assessment.

“There’s no question in my mind that the foreign service is the most professional of all the public service…That doesn’t mean that I thought they were always on top of their files,” she told OpenCanada.

In 1992, McDougall was the first Canadian foreign minister to visit South Africa for 30 years, timed to follow Nelson Mandela’s release from prison as a gesture of support for South Africa’s reforms following apartheid — though negotiations over the lifting of Canadian sanctions were just beginning.

In a kind of reverse example to Axworthy’s, McDougall said: “I don’t think our high commission there was at the kind of strength that it should’ve been. And you really notice when that happens, which tells you how good the foreign service is, when they’re at their best. Because when they’re not there, you notice.”


Tellingly, many of the current and former foreign service officers interviewed by OpenCanada pointed to Axworthy’s tenure — which saw the landmines treaty become binding international law — as the last ‘high point’ for Canada in international diplomacy.

By contrast, many said relations between the foreign service and its political masters reached a nadir under the government of Stephen Harper.

Of the atmosphere in the years before she retired in 2013, Dann said, “You could really feel it — they had an anti-elitist attitude. But it’s not an elite, it’s a profession first. Does it have some elitist aspects to it? Yeah — so does medicine, so does law, so does being a long-haul truck driver. You have to be really qualified to do it. That’s not elitist; that’s just being qualified.”

John Graham’s career with the foreign service spanned many decades, from spying for the Americans in Cuba in the 1960s to eventually being appointed ambassador to Venezuela and non-resident ambassador to the Dominican Republic. He sees an erosion of the service’s esprit de corps as starting earlier.

“You’re getting the voice of the dinosaur,” he told OpenCanada, “but this dinosaur has the impression that there were higher professional standards — the sense that it was a distinctive profession, with a culture of professional knowledge that you acquired as you moved through.”

Graham refutes the notion that the foreign service pre-Harper or pre-Chrétien was a “splendid, a well-oiled machine that most people were happy with — that was not the case. It’s important not to have a myth, a shining tower.”

Still, he is of the opinion that an “erosion” did indeed occur during the Harper years, and is concerned about the lasting effects.

“It’s very discouraging to note that a lot of the damage that was done by Harper is not being repaired,” he added. “That, I think, is an area really deserving of investigation.”

So, what have been the lasting effects of the Harper years? After almost a decade of cuts, has funding been restored? Has morale? And what gets lost when Canada isn’t playing at full capacity on the battlegrounds of diplomacy?

‘Yes men’ and ‘yes women’

Canada’s foreign affairs department is known to have taken a hit under the almost decade-long government of Stephen Harper, from severe personnel cuts to the muzzling of diplomats to the selling off of properties abroad. The 2010 failure to win a seat at the UN Security Council was a major diplomatic setback, and was held up as emblematic of the Harper government’s rejection of multilateralism. While many foreign service officers interviewed, like Graham, were careful to point out that Canadian diplomacy had seen low points before — the 1970 Times article also mentioned Pierre Trudeau’s “practice of depending on his own aides rather than professional diplomats for important advice and information” — Harper and successive Conservative foreign ministers seem to have left a mark on the psyche of the foreign service.

“I think they came in with a mistrust of the foreign service,” Axworthy said. “You heard all these horror stories. On the lecture circuit or while travelling I would hear ambassadors saying that they were told they couldn’t go to meetings, and if they were going to meetings their speeches had to be checked by the PMO or the PCO.”

While Axworthy said he never heard much outward sign of “rebelling or revolting,” the foreign service “went into a little bit of a fetal crouch for a while…they definitely lost a lot of good people, because they were just not being given much scope to advance.”

David Edwards remembers a dramatic shift in tone under the Harper government, with a pivot towards a projection of militarism. “We weren’t peacekeepers, we were warrior wannabes,” he said of Canada during the period, noting there was a change in the face and voice of the country when it was abroad. “If you were a soldier, you could speak to the press, but we couldn’t.”

Edwards gives the example of the 2010 Haiti earthquake: “The only people being interviewed were soldiers who had arrived 24 hours later. What about our people, who were there during the earthquake itself and during those first critical hours, who were actually living there?”

On top of tight message control, the government’s relationship with the civil service was perhaps put under even more strain by, as Graham puts it, “an absolute refusal to continue with the traditional culture of consultation with senior members of the public service. This certainly applied to the foreign service — senior people were not encouraged to consult with ministers. It was, ‘this is the policy and don’t ask questions.’”

This translated, Graham argues, into senior officials in the department being hired “at least in part because they were seen to be people who would not rock the party boat — they would be, to use a disparaging term, ‘yes men’ and ‘yes women.’”

“The foreign service ‘went into a little bit of a fetal crouch for a while.’”

This is a recurring critique offered by many who have served recently and by PAFSO.

Tim Hodges, who spent 25 years in the foreign service and served as president of PAFSO from 2014-2016, said there was “in effect a decade where you had management being promoted not just because they did the government’s bidding, because that’s our charge anyway, no matter who the government is, but [because] when asked to jump, they asked, ‘how high do you want me to jump?’”

Over time, Hodges said, bureaucrats from other departments were brought in at foreign affairs “in part to infiltrate the department, but [also] to bring it more in line.” While “not necessarily a bad thing,” Hodges thinks it had a negative result in this particular case. “Non-risk takers, centrists, were promoted up through the organization…talented personalities, yes, but that’s not the kind of people who would naturally think out of the box or think about new initiatives. And I think that’s a major downside currently for the department.”

Enter Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau came to power promising a restoration of Canada’s tradition of multilateralism and, in a Nov. 2015 letter to the ambassadors and high commissioners of Canada’s foreign missions, a “new era” in international engagement.

“My cabinet colleagues and I will be relying on your judgment, insights, discretion, and work ethic in advancing our interests. I have every confidence that your reporting and our interactions when I am abroad will provide a critical, factual basis for our policies,” Trudeau wrote.

Diplomats working for the newly renamed Global Affairs Canada at ‘Fort Pearson,’ where a siege-like atmosphere had set in, greeted their new political leaders with applause. One historian recently described it to OpenCanada as Trudeau “walking into the Pearson building and being received by the starving inmates with outstretched hands.”

The prime minister repeated his message at a rare meeting with 135 ambassadors and heads of mission in Ottawa last June. But while the tone coming from government with regards to the foreign service has definitely shifted back to a more traditional one, and while almost all of the diplomats who spoke with OpenCanada for this piece were happy to go on the record, interviews indicate that more than a year and a half since the Liberals took office, many are still waiting for the restoration of the foreign service to its former strength, standing and influence.

Abbie Dann now sits on the board of the Retired Heads of Mission Association. “All of us, the sort of ‘elders’ of the tribe, were very encouraged by the prime minister’s letter,” Dann said, “and from the type of ministers that have been put in, we’re hopeful. The [question] is, is that political will being really systematically pushed down through the department?”

Shift in tone aside, one publicly available metric by which to assess whether or not the foreign service is being built back up under the Trudeau government is funding. While total department spending is up slightly from the last year of the Harper government, Global Affairs’ Report on Plans and Priorities for 2017-18 suggests that more money for the foreign service is unlikely, given a projected drop in spending from $6.3 billion in 2016-17 to $5.4 billion in 2019-20.

And despite the Trudeau government’s “Canada is back” rhetoric, it has continued the Harper government’s strategy of selling off diplomatic properties. According to The National Post, as of June, 29 diplomatic properties have been sold since the Liberals were elected.

Michael Kologie, the outgoing PAFSO president, says he hasn’t heard of any new resources being allocated to the foreign service under Trudeau’s Liberals. In terms of personnel and positions abroad lost under the Harper government, Kologie “hasn’t seen any new life there,” nor has he seen financial increases to make up for rising costs of operating missions abroad and salaries increasing with inflation. “What that translates into is having to do more with less,” he said.

A Global Affairs spokesperson declined to comment specifically on whether additional funds have been allocated to the foreign service, and instead asked readers to refer to the departmental plan, which details funding for the entire department.

Daryl Copeland, who has written at length on his ideas for reforming the foreign service, points out that, as Canadians saw recently with the 2017 defence policy review, the “lion’s share” of international policy resources are going towards defence rather than diplomacy and development.

Copeland blames a timid service.

“It’s the department’s fault — they didn’t ask for any money in the budget,” he said.

“There are ways that the department can support the foreign service, either by building up the department’s budget so that they’ve got program money so that they can take initiative, or by applying for new funds to hire more new recruits, and there just hasn’t been any of that.”

Indeed, some view the apparently slow pace of rejuvenation under a more open-handed regime as a sign that the senior leadership of the service has yet to adjust to being let off the leash and is not yet inspiring the ranks to greater ambition.

There is debate, typical of political transitions, about whether senior managers brought in under Harper are the right people for the job.

“I think there’s a big disconnect at the moment between the Trudeau government’s ambitions and the senior levels of leadership in Global Affairs Canada,” Copeland said.

“The folks at the top now are those that got promoted during the Harper years — that means that they were rewarded for stifling dissent, keeping the lid on, muzzling the staff. These are not the people who can deliver an activist foreign policy agenda or bring us the kind of creative, imaginative policy leadership that’s going to be required. It’s a bit like asking a patient that has been on life support and in a coma for 10 years to get up and run a marathon. It just can’t happen.”

“There’s a big disconnect at the moment between the Trudeau government’s ambitions and the senior levels of leadership in Global Affairs Canada.”

The impression of inertia is echoed from inside ‘Fort Pearson.’

One Global Affairs Canada executive who preferred not to be named told OpenCanada the message from the political class has been “very clear about: ‘We want to free you so that you can fly.’”

But, “there’s a hesitation at senior levels of the bureaucracy.”

The executive pointed, by way of example, to everyday issues that seemed like things an assistant deputy minister should be able to address: “So you talk to the ADM, and they’re not sure what authority they now have, and they kind of err on the side of caution.”

“We used to have in this department very strong, sometimes quite eccentric senior officials, like [former Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom] Jeremy Kinsman. These people were not necessarily very by-the-book when it came to all the admin and process stuff, but they had views, opinions, and they helped drive a governmental agenda. I don’t sense that now — I sense that maybe the type of people who have been put in behave as managers more than leaders…kind of more [focused on] process, management, a lot of administration.”

The idea of a focus on process over substance is one that comes up repeatedly in conversation with former members of the service.

Valerie Percival, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, worked for the department early in her career. “Over the years it’s become abundantly clear to me that it doesn’t really matter what you do, it matters how you do it,” Percival said. “It’s all about process, all about oiling the wheels of the machine. It’s not really about tangible results.”

As a result, according to Percival, the individuals who move up through the ranks are those who know how to work the system, rather than those with the most relevant CV.

Not one of us

Percival takes issue with the appointment of senior officials without international experience, pointing out that the current deputy minister of Global Affairs, Ian Shugart — while a respected and accomplished civil servant — has never been a diplomat or served in other capacities internationally. “Living and working abroad improves your analytical skills and heightens your diplomatic abilities. This experience is valued in the diplomatic services of other countries — it should matter to Canada.”

Shugart is a post-Harper appointee, made deputy minister by Trudeau in May 2016, having previously held senior government positions in health and environment portfolios. Speaking to OpenCanada, he offered a spirited defence of the idea that managers without foreign service experience can still make significant contributions to the department.

“I think it is not fair to say that, as a general rule, the department is more focused on process, rather than substance. I have not seen that,” he said. “The world of trade negotiations, the world of multilateral diplomacy — the reality is that these things are, of necessity, process-heavy.”

Shugart emphasized that in a 21st century world, managers who come from various fields or different arms of government can be extremely valuable. “I came to this department knowing from hard personal experience an awful lot about global health. Why? Because I did it,” he said. “I came to this department knowing an awful lot about one of the top current issues, interestingly enough, that the government is facing: climate change. Why? Through hard personal experience in international, multilateral climate change negotiations.”

“I’m not just an import from some other department, as a senior deputy minister. Do I know the details of international diplomacy? No, but I know some things that some people in this department don’t know, and it’s useful for them to have access to that.”

Many foreign service officers place great importance on the time served abroad by those in their senior ranks. Graham is of this school of thought, especially when it comes to leaders understanding the particular kind of lifestyle challenges that come with serving abroad. “What about all of the issues that arise about life in difficult circumstances, problems of kids, problems of spouses?” he asked. “People who have not experienced this — it’s not to say that they’re clowns or indifferent, but it is not the same if you don’t know it.”

Dann said that when she arrived in Sao Paulo in her late 20s, her boss at the time took her under his wing and took an interest in her professional development. “I don’t get the feeling that happens the same [way] anymore,” she said, after observing young officers through her work teaching courses on protocol and networking at the Canadian Foreign Service Institute. “You need people at senior levels who are themselves professional foreign service officers.”


Credit: Sami Chouhdary

The previous service of senior officials aside, there is a perception that excessive caution and lack of imagination have seeped down the ranks of a service whose purpose is meant to be the offering of fearless advice.

Inside 125 Sussex Drive, the executive who asked not to be named says a period of restrained ambition may account for a tendency towards self-censorship that has also affected newer entrants to the service.

“I thought well, maybe it’s because their whole experience in government has been waiting to be tasked with doing something, as opposed to, this is the framework the government has proposed, but now they want the bureaucracy and the foreign service specifically to step forward and find opportunities.”

“But also I think for young people maybe it was that nobody had said to them: ‘Think big, come up with ideas. The worst thing that can happen is it won’t go anywhere, because it just isn’t the right time, or there aren’t resources to support it or whatever.’”

The deputy minister offered a careful response to each of the frustrations expressed by those within and without his department.

“What appears to be a failure to think outside the box is, sometimes, you look at the substance of the issue and the constraints, and there really is very little that one can do. You continue to think about possibilities, and it is true that sometimes people need to be nudged or shoved to think more creatively. I think that’s a tendency that we always have to be alive to.”

Shugart said the burden for shifting the department’s culture onto the front foot ultimately rests with senior managers within the foreign service.

“Sometimes it may be true that the political arm of the government will constrain the policy options,” he said, “but other times, it doesn’t matter what stripe of government it is, it’s the foreign service itself, it’s the bureaucracy, it’s the institution — sometimes vested interests within the institution — that are thinking very conventionally themselves.”

An unattainable ideal

Of course, the sentiment often heard from long-serving officers and retirees that the foreign service needs to return to a more professional body and embrace an ‘elite’ status may in part be a byproduct of the realities of operating in a different, information-saturated world.

For some context, OpenCanada turned to the head of the historical section at Global Affairs Canada, Greg Donaghy, co-author of a new book on the department under Pierre Trudeau. He says that while there “is a small kernel of truth in some of this stuff” — for example, that process is valued over substance — many diplomats are yearning for an environment that doesn’t exist anymore.

“If you go back to the 1940s and 1950s, people made their careers on dispatches from missions and policy briefs. Robert Ford, our guy in Moscow in the 1950s, wrote a series of really compelling reports on the post-Stalin Soviet Union and what Canada and Western policy should be. Mike Pearson read them, they shaped his view, and shaped Canadian policy towards the Soviet Union for a couple decades. That’s the way you made your reputation.”

Nowadays, when emails are sent instantaneously and communications are 24/7, “people aren’t sitting down to read 30-page dispatches anymore,” Donaghy said. “So where does a successful person have an impact? In a committee meeting, moving something up the ladder, being able to adjust new policy prescriptions to the tenor of the times, or shaping policy that meets the needs of the minister, and doing that in a quick briefing note.”

Donaghy recalled that former Canadian Ambassador to the UN Bob Fowler once told him that he made his money “in the 10 minutes from the airport to the meeting.”

“He had the minister or the deputy or the prime minister, and that’s where he’d give his pitch. Process guy. He’s not sitting down the way Robert Ford did, to write a 30-page reflection on the state of poetry in the Soviet Union and what that meant for Canada.”

Who should serve

Aside from differing reflections on how the role of diplomats may have changed over the decades, there is a heated battle underway within Global Affairs over who should serve.

“If you were to look at the department in 1950, it would be 90 percent foreign service officers,” Donaghy said. “That’s simply not the case anymore.”

Indeed, out of a total of 10,020 employees working for Global Affairs Canada, the number of foreign service officers stands at 1,174.

PAFSO, which represents employees with the foreign service, or ‘FS’, designation, has been at loggerheads with management for the past three years over a set of demands that include formally ensuring these staff have priority for assignments abroad.

“What we’re seeing now is that, more and more, non-career diplomats, non-career foreign service officers are filling those positions — the stat is something like 20 percent,” Kologie said. “That’s concerning to us, because the intent of the foreign service was to develop a corps of excellence, where foreign service officers would spend half of their career abroad, come back and go abroad again. When that 20 percent, and it’s creeping up there, is introduced, we’re spending less time abroad. We did an internal survey and foreign service officers have told us 48 percent of them struggled to actually get abroad.”

“Diplomacy isn’t ‘get a smart person, add water and stir.’”

This is partly a turf battle. But it is also a central bone of contention in the running debate about who should serve.

The need for a ‘professional’ foreign service is one Dann brought up many times in conversation. “Diplomacy isn’t ‘get a smart person, add water and stir,’” she said. “There are lots of smart people, for expert files, science behind climate change, etc. — okay fine, get them in on a single assignment or for a period of time, or even to be experts within the larger diplomatic corps. But you need in a country a professionally trained, professionally identified, constant corps of people who are diplomats.”

This view of foreign affairs as the exclusive preserve of a career corps of officers is not shared by the deputy minister, particularly when it comes to the most senior roles.

“I affirm the right, and I would even say the responsibility, of the government of Canada to decide who will be the representative of Canada around the world. Sometimes they make decisions that enrich our capacity around the world, [choosing] people who bring skills and experience and understanding that professional FS officers, brilliant as they may be, will never have to the same degree,” Shugart said.

“Now, the core of our international representation in my view has to be the FS. It’s got to have depth, and it’s got to have breadth of experience, and we’ve got to provide a career path to our foreign service officers. If we want to attract the best, and want to develop and retain the best, we’ve got to be able to provide people with a career path. But that, in my view, does not mean that senior appointments and senior international appointments have to be reserved for foreign service officers,” he added.

This does not just hold true for the senior ranks. Shugart concedes the distinction between a foreign service officer and someone without the FS designation doing foreign work for the department is blurring.

“I think compared to the past it’s true that it’s a somewhat more elastic concept, in that people who come from the development stream or the trade stream or the traditional foreign service, which is more, you could use the synonym ‘diplomats,’ all have access to postings and so on,” Shugart said.

In reality, Shugart said, at Canada’s missions abroad, “people from immigration, the security agencies, the defence attaché, the development team, and so on…are all working together as a team.”

“And while we fully recognize and maintain the, you might call it, business lines or practices of these specialized communities — development and trade and diplomacy — organizationally they are together in one department for the purpose of ensuring that Canada acts with all its instruments in a coherent and coordinated way internationally.”

Boosting morale

When it comes to the foreign service’s esprit de corps, present and former officers aren’t shy about offering up their suggestions for reforms that would, in their view, bolster morale and the service itself. Ideas range from a shift in hiring and promotions practices — reinstating official language training to widen the pool of applicants, increasing job security by relying less on temporary contracts, or making it easier for new intakes to get abroad more quickly, for example — to revisiting the 1973 relocation of the department and moving it closer to the newly renamed Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council on Wellington Street.

As Percival and others noted, it will be up to the Trudeau government to articulate its foreign policy vision in a way that inspires the foreign service to go deep on substance. A large part of why Axworthy had notable successes as a foreign minister was that he had a very clear idea of what he wanted to accomplish. But day-to-day, enduring changes to the foreign service and the department as a whole will need to come from senior leadership within Global Affairs Canada.

And despite a proliferation of NGOs, think tanks and country experts, the case for personal diplomacy in the 21st century is made convincingly and robustly by those who have seen it at work.

“You can’t bomb Ebola, you can’t call in an air strike on a warming climate, or send out an expeditionary force to occupy the alternatives to a carbon economy,” Copeland said. “Our only chance is to talk our way out of these problems. That’s the province of diplomacy.”

Current Canadian diplomats from Atlanta to Australia would agree. Louise Blais, Canada’s consul general in Atlanta, says that in anticipation of NAFTA renegotiations, her staff has been part of the Trudeau government’s coordinated campaign to utilize policymakers at all levels to emphasize to key American players how closely intertwined the two countries are economically.

“At the end of the day, we open doors for our government…leveraging those personal relationships that we are paid to develop on the ground,” she said. “You look at how they’ve recruited [Brian] Mulroney, but they also have us.”

Blais gave the example of Sonny Perdue, Trump’s secretary of agriculture, who was reportedly instrumental in urging the president not to withdraw from NAFTA. Blais said Perdue is “a good friend to the consulate. We have worked with him closely — just last year, we awarded him the governor general’s award, I have his personal phone number. You can’t buy [that kind of relationship].”

Angela Bogdan, the Canadian consul general to Sydney, said that it’s important for Canada to address any “diplomatic deficit” left over from years of cuts under the Harper government.

She underlines the opportunity embedded in the current historical moment, with heightened uncertainty about an international order that has fewer champions.

“Never before have I seen the Canada brand be so embraced and emulated — this government and this prime minister have really propelled Canada as a brand on the international stage,” Bogdan said.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us to use this to full effect, not just for the sake of prosperity at home, but in terms of promoting the values systems that we hold dear, the kind of inclusive approach to diversity, refugees, tolerance on LGBTI issues…We’ve never been better positioned to advance Canada’s agenda, and we want to have the tools and the resources to use that to full effect.”


Though many would say the foreign service, and the department itself, have a ways to go to build themselves back up to the fabled ‘golden age,’ Canada’s diplomatic corps has been constantly recreating itself throughout its short history, and will continue to do so, wherever its headquarters happen to be stationed — whether on Sussex Drive or once again a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill.

Donaghy emphasized that the ‘golden age’ of Canadian diplomacy can refer to various periods throughout the 20th century, depending on who is doing the reminiscing. He noted there are two forces at work when foreign service officers look back wistfully at the past: one is the “spectre of golden-ageism” and the other is a “culture of complaint.”

“I think they’re both true but neither reflects what is actually happening — which is that the department is changing in response to shifts at home and abroad,” Donaghy said.

“The fact that you get these reoccurring golden ages suggests that [the department] is pretty good at doing this, because if it wasn’t, it would be a recurring set of dark ages.”

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Reforming Canada’s Foreign Service asked asked seven former Canadian diplomats to name the most important changes or elements for Canada’s foreign policy going forward.

Completely reform Canada’s foreign service (and, here’s how)

Colin Robertson

I wish that the next Government spend money and effort to revive and reform Canada’s Foreign Service. In recent years, Canada’s global engagement — defence, development and diplomacy — has declined.

In the post-war period Canada’s Foreign Service was the best in the world. ‘Pearsonian diplomacy,’ as it came to be known, was creative, flexible and innovative.

Under the direction of successive liberal internationalist governments, Liberal and Progressive Conservative, Canadian diplomacy defined the terms ‘helpful fixer’ and ‘bridge-builder’ first through constructive architecture of institutions — notably the United Nations and its alphabet soup of agencies and the Bretton Woods financial institutions. Housed with the prime minister in East Block until it moved to the Pearson Building (1973) the Foreign Service enjoyed a special relationship with every prime minister but John Diefenbaker and Stephen Harper.

Members of the service were regularly seconded to the Office of the Prime Minister: serving Brian Mulroney as chief of staff (Derek Burney), speechwriter (e.g. Paul Heinbecker), press secretary (Marc Lortie). On major initiatives, notably the human security agenda of Jean Chretien and Lloyd Axworthy, the Foreign Service delivered on the Land Mines Treaty and International Criminal Court.

That the RCMP is now called in to investigate Foreign Affairs over the unprofessional leak—reported on the eve of the recent Munk foreign policy election debate in September—of a classified transition document arguing that Canada’s influence “has declined or is under threat,” is indicative of a relationship between the Harper government and its foreign service that is best characterized as ‘mutual contempt.’

While the Harper government bears most responsibility for this condition, the Foreign Service itself needs both revival and reform.

Looking back nostalgically to the Pearsonian golden years would be a mistake. That era is over. Diplomacy needs to change and adapt.

Our allies, notably New Zealand, are experimenting with different ways to do foreign service using applied technologies, fixed term contracts, single assignments and more partnerships for delivery of services. In an era of wikileaks and distrust of Government, there must be greater emphasis on ‘public diplomacy.’ Let our ambassadors experiment: applying social media and developing best practices.

As for the Foreign Service, start with a look at its terms and conditions — a root and branch examination from recruitment to retirement. The last examination, begun under Prime Minister Joe Clark and implemented by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was conducted during the Cold War. For a model on how to conduct this examination, look to the Task Force on Canada’s role in Afghanistan, chaired by former Foreign Minister John Manley — short, sharp and focused.

A renewed Foreign Service should include continuous training, a balance between generalist and specialist, and the recognition that empathy, adaptability and teamwork are essential traits.

Consider the following:

  • Demands on the foreign service will always outstrip resources and budgets. Events happen and we need to be prepared. We need to prioritize, partner when possible and find our niche.
  • With the return of multi-polarity, international institutions needs re-examination. What memberships work for us? Are we in the ones that count?
  • We depend even more on international trade and recent agreements now need follow-through so that we reap the benefits. Can we more closely integrate the Trade Commissioner Service with, for example, the Export Development Corporation? And how does development assistance fit into the equation?
  • Reflecting our growing pluralism at home through global immigration, the Canadian diaspora has expanded significantly and it should be better utilized to advance Canadian interests abroad.
  • We also need to pay more attention to consular assistance and the implications of dual citizenship, most recently illustrated by the Mohammed Fahmy case.
  • The number of active international players — provinces, business, civil society — has greatly expanded. How can we better market our educational services and shouldn’t we resurrect reciprocal youth leadership programs?
  • So too has the playing field. While issues of peace and security — hostile, failed and failing states — are still vital, we now need applied expertise on mass migration, climate change, terrorism, space and cyber, pandemics and crime, agribusiness and energy, the Arctic. How do we develop and import expertise?
  • We need to do diplomacy differently and adjust according to local conditions. Selling off the official residences — which should be platforms for advancing Canadian interests — should be reconsidered. Presence is important recognizing that one size does not fit all. We need a thousand points of contact: using honorary consuls and mini-posts. We should shift the balance of deployments from headquarters to the field.
  • Within Ottawa the Foreign Service needs to define its role with other government departments and especially with the National Security Advisor and what is becoming a de facto National Security Council. We need to resurrect the cabinet system to give direction and coordinate and manage the intersect between the agencies responsible for diplomacy, defence, and development.
  • Hard and soft power are both essential. Diplomacy is much cheaper than the application of military muscle. While military muscle can stabilize a situation and underlines deterrence, diplomacy is best suited to achieving political solutions and reconciliation.

Canadians’ sense of self draws from what we do and how we are perceived beyond our borders. For the next government there will be many opportunities for re-engagement in responsible global citizenship while at the same time advancing national interests. To do so requires a Foreign Service that is ready and able for action.

Links to the pieces by my former colleagues follow and I especially commend the piece by my friend Jeremy Kinsman with whom I share common cause on North American integration. We both recently spoke on how to go forward at Ryerson University:

Jeremy Kinsman


Anne Leahy


David Wright


Jillian Stirk


Glenn Davidson


Christopher Westdal

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Canada’s Foreign Service needs fixing

No wonder diplomats are on strike: The foreign service needs fixing

Colin Robertson Special to The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, Jun. 12 2013

For a nation whose prosperity and growth depends on a strong, active internationalism, it makes no sense for our government to be at war with our foreign service.

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, the bargaining agent for Canada’s diplomats, is now into a second month of active protest. This has included a series of rotating walk-outs that have affected visits abroad by the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and ministers.

The PAFSO complaint is a growing pay gap between foreign service officers and more highly paid economists, commerce officers and lawyers who are doing the same job, often working side-by-side.

As the smallest of the public-service bargaining agents, PAFSO has gotten short shrift from the Treasury Board Secretariat. Treasury Board has probably made the calculation that there is not a lot of public sympathy for bureaucrats, especially those perceived to lead a ‘glamorous’ existence on the international cocktail circuit, courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer.

That this perception is a myth is beside the point. The foreign service does not have a natural constituency. Yet its work is crucial to the government and the public it serves.

Get into trouble through injury or with the local authorities and need help? Want a lead on selling or buying a product? Want to sponsor your fiancée or parents for immigration to Canada? Call our embassy and who responds: a foreign-service officer.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have developed an ambitious international agenda. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is actively recruiting new Canadians; this requires careful screening and issuance of immigration visas. International Trade Minister Ed Fast is negotiating a series of trade deals. Foreign Minister John Baird is determined to advance the ‘dignity’ agenda.

The foreign service often designs and always delivers these initiatives. Without its active effort and involvement, government objectives would be difficult to achieve.

Within the civil service, the foreign service has traditionally been the closest to the Prime Minister. The foreign service was effectively an adjunct of the Prime Minister’s Office from its inception in 1909 until 1945, during which time successive prime ministers from Robert Borden to William Lyon Mackenzie King also held the portfolio of Secretary of State for External Affairs.

The foreign service was housed with the prime minister in the East Block until they moved into the Pearson Building in 1973. Even then, foreign service officers traditionally served on the staff of the prime minister and a senior foreign service officer accompanied the PM on travels abroad.

Pierre Trudeau once complained that he could read all he needed to know in the New York Times, but he came to rely heavily on the foreign service, especially in the promotion of his valedictory ‘Peace Initiative.’ Brian Mulroney promised ‘pink slips and running shoes’ in his first months of governing, but before long his chief of staff, lead speechwriter and communications director were all from the foreign service.

Today, there is a perception that, after seven years, the Prime Minister and the international portfolio ministers have no confidence in their foreign service even if they trust individual officers. If so, then now is the time to reform the foreign service rather than continuing to rubbish it.

The last serious look at the foreign service was a Royal Commission conducted by Pamela McDougall between 1979-80.

Prime Minister Harper has had success with task forces, such as that on Afghanistan, with clear objectives, a short time-frame, and designed to produce practical recommendations.

Mr. Harper should mandate a task force to determine what kind of foreign service we need for the future. Terms and conditions of service – including a more flexible approach to postings, improved language training, and better recognition of spousal contributions – should be a part of the inquiry. It would complement ongoing work on the government’s Global Commerce Strategy.

Both efforts need to bring us into the 21st century by also allowing our foreign service to use social media. If the foreign services of our U.S. and European allies can use the tools of public diplomacy – to blog, tweet and speak out in support of their national interests – why can’t we? Today’s foreign service long ago embraced the tenets of guerrilla diplomacy, exchanging pinstripes for a backpack.

For its part, PAFSO should lift its guild-like grip on lateral entry into the foreign service. In the future we are going to need the best talent we can find and this will require a creative approach to appointments.

In the meantime, the Treasury Board should look carefully at the PAFSO case and provide compensation commensurate with what it pays those doing the same kind of work. We need our foreign service back on the job.

More Related to this Story



Video: Stephen Harper arrives in London

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird has broken with protocol and made a controversial visit to east Jerusalem, meeting with an Israeli cabinet minister at her office in the Israeli-occupied section of the city.


Video: Baird says that Canada won’t arm Syrian rebels

Excerpted from

Lee-anne Goodman, The Canadian Press
Sun, 30 Jun 2013

“There certainly seems to be no sign of any inclination from the government to find a resolution,” Colin Robertson, a former diplomat who was once the head of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers union, said in an interview.

“You’re also getting into a situation now in which good people are leaving, they’re just fed up and saying it’s not worth it because this government doesn’t value us. And so the government, by holding out, may win this battle but it’s likely to be a Pyrrhic victory, because they’re leaving a very unhappy group.”

It’s time for the Conservative government to make some decisions about the foreign service, Robertson added, given the strike is creating a lengthy visa backlog that’s having an impact on Canada’s tourism and education industries.

Tourism stakeholders have said it may cost the industry $280 million this summer, while some students have been forced to withdraw from Canadian university courses because they didn’t get their visas on time.

“The government needs to take a look at what they want from the foreign service; it needs to use the strike as an opportunity to figure out where they want the foreign service to be in 10 years.”

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Restoring Canada’s Foreign Service

We must restore our diplomatic core

Monday, Aug. 08, 2011 Globe and Mail


With his election victory, Stephen Harper has achieved a new place among world leaders. Admired for his political skills as the leader of an insurgent movement and then, as a prime minister who jockeyed a pair of minority governments into a majority, he’s also recognized for steering Canada’s economy through recessionary waters that are still threatening his fellow G7 leaders.

So what role will international affairs play in his government?

In several recent statements, he has told us it will be a major one. Foreign affairs/foreign relations, he said, “has become almost everything.” In a world where “change is the new constant,” he declared, “our party’s great purpose is nothing less than to prepare our nation to shoulder a bigger load, in a world that will require it of us.” Accordingly, “strength is not an option, it is a vital necessity.”

If these words signal the government’s intentions, then there must be a match between our aspirations and our abilities to achieve them. For too long, our capacity to be a significant player on the international stage has failed to match our rhetoric. The Prime Minister’s declarations of intent have credibility, coming, as they do, from a government that has consistently supported the strengthening of our military capabilities. The Canada First Defence Strategy, including the new command structure for the Canadian Forces, has proved itself both at home and away – in Libya, Afghanistan and in the reconstruction of Haiti.

All the more welcoming, therefore, is Mr. Harper’s recent statement that “re-equipping the military is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making Canada a meaningful contributor in the world.” The implications of this for Canadian foreign policy are profound. Mr. Harper seems to foresee a highly active foreign policy, and a very independent one. “We also have a purpose,” he said. “And that purpose is no longer just to go along and get along with everyone else’s agenda.”

Implicit in Mr. Harper’s statements is a recognition that Canada’s national interests are at the core of our foreign policy and have never been more demanding than they are today. To do so requires rebuilding our diplomatic resources to the stature they had in the postwar era when it was widely acknowledged that the impact of Canada’s contributions far exceeded its size.

The negotiation of a new accord with the United States to reverse the hardening of our border, the need to protect the access of our energy exports to American markets, the need to create new markets for our oil sands, the negotiation of a free-trade deal with the European Union and India, the strengthening of our relations with China, the protection of our interests in the Arctic – all are of the highest importance for our national interest and all deserving of the most talented of our human resources.

“To shoulder a bigger load” will necessitate a foreign service at the very top of its game. If the 1990s were a decade of darkness for the Canadian Forces, both the ’90s and the noughts were equally so for the foreign service. Process took priority over policy-making. Public diplomacy, an area Canada pioneered, virtually disappeared.

Meantime, there’s been a revolution in the way information is acquired and transcribed. Far from the information revolution shrinking the role of the ambassador, it’s enhancing it. Out of the vortex of information and communication, the ambassador emerges as chief interpreter of data and events, chief analyst, chief intelligence officer, chief advocate and chief adviser, the central player in a field with an infinite number of actors, pursuing conflicting goals and agendas.

In this age of the Internet and WikiLeaks, the role of diplomacy needs to be assessed and understood. The Prime Minister should commission a task force on the foreign service, as he did for Afghanistan. It’s been more than 30 years since the McDougall Commission looked at our diplomats. There will be no new golden age of Canadian foreign policy unless we invest in the human resources that, in the Prime Minister’s words, are necessary “to making Canada a meaningful contributor in the world.”

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Canada must rebuild its diplomatic resources

Excerpted From Globe and Mail, Wednesday, October 13, 2010 by Allan Gotlieb and Colin Robertson

Canada’s failed pursuit of a seat on the world’s most powerful body – the United Nations Security Council – puts the spotlight on our performance beyond our borders, the strength of which depends on the quality of our diplomacy and the skills of our diplomats….

The ineffectiveness of our foreign ministry has become a cliché in Ottawa’s contemporary political culture. The government has cut the operational resources of Foreign Affairs, especially representational funding – forgetting that an embassy without an entertainment budget is like a frigate without fuel. Diplomats are no longer authorized to talk publicly without the prior consent of the PMO. These remote commissars undermine the very purpose of our ambassadors – to publicly advance the national interest.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made some excellent diplomatic appointments, his government is silent as to why a country needs an effective foreign service. Yet now, more than ever, we need skilled diplomats and a strong foreign ministry.

The international order of the 21st century is increasingly a world of decentralized sovereign entities and fragmentation among states. There is a deepening asymmetry between the structure of this order, with its 190 or so sovereign units, and the overwhelming transnational nature of the threats we face.

It is also a world of fracturing power within states. The explosion in the number of players – competing agencies in ever-expanding governments, narrow special interests, global activists, environmental crusaders, powerful multinationals, muscular NGOs, deep-pocketed lobbyists, legions of bloggers and self-declared experts – give rise to a single imperative: the need for interpretation.

The movements toward globalization and fragmentation place an enormous premium on the need for envoys of the highest calibre to fulfill four core functions. The first is as our chief intelligence officer in their country of accreditation. Second, the ambassador is the chief lobbyist for our national interests and chief promoter of our industry, trade and economic prosperity.

The ambassador is also our chief advocate, a role that goes in two directions. All input back home tends to come from domestic pressures, including special interests. Yet, decision-makers need to understand foreign political realities from their on-site envoy. Lack of knowledge, wrong information or mistaken beliefs can cause problems to escalate and endanger the national interest…

Successful engagement will oblige significant reinvestment in our diplomatic capacity at home, a strengthening of our network of missions abroad and a revitalized foreign ministry as the focal point for co-ordination. The rebuilding of our diplomatic resources will not be easily or quickly achieved. But if we don’t make the commitment, we’ll need to lower expectations about our role in the world.

For reaction to this piece see Brian Stewart on the CBC website and Barbara Yaffe in the Vancouver Sun

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Interview with bout de papier on Canadian International Council and diplomacy

bout de papier interview on Canadian International Council and Diplomacy

Excerpts from the interview that can be read in full above:

On life after the Foreign Service:

Retirement from the Foreign Service liberates you to speak your mind. As we baby boomers leave government service you’ll find there is a community of like-minded who share an appetite for policy debate and discussion like the CIC and other organizations – RHOMA is another obvious example. The academic community can make a contribution but with some notable exceptions, many don’t seem to realize the importance of policy relevance.  This presents an opportunity for those who have served in the Foreign Service. We understand government. We have developed networks of contacts, nationally and internationally.  We appreciate policy relevance and understand the importance of connecting the dots. We learned how to write and present policy options. I think we make a valuable contribution on issues of public policy – as did a number of our former colleagues last fall around Afghanistan in speaking out on the principle of independent reporting by officers in the field. Nothing is more debilitating for an organization as when the bosses are perceived as looking out for themselves and leave the junior officers hanging in the wind.

On punditry:

Just as government has hollowed out its policy development capacity, so the media have hollowed out their research staff, producers and reporters. This opens opportunities for those of us who believe we can serve the public interest by sharing our knowledge and experience. Mind you have to be comfortable sitting on a high chair in a dark room, speaking into a camera with no one behind it, listening for your cue through an earpiece to someone who might be thousands of miles away and then speaking in 10-15 second chunks to someone who often has no idea of what you are talking about. Then be hustled out without ceremony for the next guest. In short: Be Brief, Be Blunt, Be Gone. Briefing ministers was excellent training ground.

Any reflections on Foreign Service?

Yes. It matters more than ever. As we enter a multi-centric world, geography and demography gives Canada unique advantages. First, our proximity to the United States – if not the ‘hyperpower’ then the ‘default’ power and hungry for the kind of intelligence we can bring to the table because we belong to almost every organization going. Second, thanks to intelligent immigration policy ‘we are the world’. Most importantly, we’re part of the Indian and Chinese diaspora. Through a century and a half of hard work we understand pluralism.  We have the capacity. We have the talent. Now we have to apply it. It means resources. With vision and direction from management and our political leadership.

When I joined in 1977 it was like joining the Habs in their heyday. We were on the Security Council. Bill Barton was our ambassador – like Scotty Bowman, his quiet diplomacy had real effect. Basil Robinson was undersecretary.  Allan Gotlieb would follow a couple of years later. The place buzzed with ideas. Marcel Cadieux and Klaus Goldschlag holding forth in the Library where you were encouraged to spend time. Young Turks like Bob Fowler and Jeremy Kinsman. Officers with panache and an uninhibited elegance in putting forth ‘truth to power’. No ‘group-think’ in this band. A premium on ideas including a much-respected in-house journal, International Perspectives, in which officers were encouraged to write. Consorting with journalists and political staff (I would later marry one with both qualities) was encouraged because they brought intelligence and political nous into the equation. We played hard. We rocked. We made a difference for Canada.

Foreign service is ultimately about foreign policy. Ideas matter. Process and accountabilities are means, not ends. Bulking up on bean-counters and coaching staff doesn’t win games. And you have to keep bringing up new talent every year. Adjustment at the ministerial and political level of ‘Canada’s New Government’ accounted for some of the challenges but senior management also has much to answer. Throwing cultural funding and public diplomacy onto sacrifical alter without a squeak was unforgivable (Last time it was attempted we fought through PAFSO and RHOMA. The Senate  subsequently refused legislative passage). But when they cut post operational budgets last summer because they couldn’t count – in any other business they’d be shown the door. The enthusiasts for ‘transformation’ (remind me what version we are on) and the ‘New Way Forward’ should recall that ‘business process reengineering’ and Mao resulted in Enron and the Cultural Revolution. Brave ‘new’ worlds but not perhaps what the planners had in mind.

Sloganeering matters less in international relations than the hard language of priorities, requirements and resources, tradeoffs, and limitations. Knowing your ask. Knowing what you are ready to give to make a deal. Then, as Derek Burney famously puts it, ‘getting it done’.

I’ve spent the last couple of years at the university and I can tell you that this incoming generation is internationalist, green and believes in service. Really smart women and men. They’ll give you new ideas and improve your technique. And we need to get them out quickly and give them ice time to learn how to skate and play as a team – they’ll soon put the puck in the net for Canada.

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