THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met with videoconference this day at 11:30 a.m. [ET] to examine and report on the Canadian foreign service and elements of the foreign policy machinery within Global Affairs Canada.

Senator Peter M. Boehm (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Honourable senators, my name is Peter Boehme. I am a senator from Ontario and the chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Before we begin, I wish to introduce the committee members participating in today’s meeting: Senator Boisvenu from Quebec; Senator Gwen Boniface from Ontario; Senator Marty Deacon from Ontario; Senator Amina Gerba from Quebec; Senator Stephen Greene from Nova Scotia; Senator Peter Harder, deputy chair of the committee, from Ontario; Senator Michael MacDonald from Nova Scotia; Senator Ratna Omidvar from Ontario; Senator Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia, Newfoundland and Labrador; Senator Yuen Pau Woo from British Columbia.

I wish to welcome everyone who may be watching from across the country.

Senators, exceptionally, is it agreed that the Senate Communications Directorate be permitted to take photos during today’s meeting with as little disruption as possible?

Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Thank you.

[Translation]

Today, we are conducting a hybrid meeting. I wish to remind senators and witnesses taking part by videoconference to please keep your microphone muted at all times, unless recognized by name by the chair.

I will ask senators to use the “raise hand” feature to be recognized. Those present here in the committee room may also signal directly to the clerk, Ms. Gaëtane Lemay, who is seated beside me.

[English]

Today, we continue our study on Canada’s Foreign Service. For the first hour of our meeting, we are pleased to welcome Mr. Morris Rosenberg, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and, indeed deputy in other departments; Mr. Ian Shugart, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and other departments and, most recently, the former Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet.

I would like to welcome our witnesses and thank them for being with us today. I note that neither witness sent in any prepared statements to share with our interpreters, so I would ask you to pace your remarks to ensure the best interpretation possible.

I will open the floor to questions afterwards. We will begin with Mr. Rosenberg, so the floor is yours.

Morris Rosenberg, Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, as an individual: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to your fit-for-purpose review of the Department of Global Affairs. I’m not going to use my opening remarks to discuss the changing geopolitical context, with which I assume you are all familiar. I will use my remarks to briefly mention four areas that I think merit the attention of your committee.

The first is the need for effective coordination between Global Affairs and other departments, which are engaged internationally.

Global Affairs, of course, has recognized expertise in managing relationships with governments and multilateral organizations, global peace and security, trade relations and trade promotion, development and consular services. However, it’s not the lead on many of the emerging global issues such as climate change, global public health or cybersecurity. Rather, it collaborates with our acts in support of other departments on those issues.

This is reflected in the mandate letter sent last December by the Prime Minister to Minister Joly, where approximately two thirds of the priorities set out therein are to be accomplished working with departments outside the Global Affairs portfolio. These departments, like environment, health, finance, fisheries, public safety and justice, to name a few, have significant international relations divisions. They have deep expertise on the substance of issues like climate, transitional terrorism or dealing with pandemics, and they have domestic and foreign networks with access to key decision makers and experts on all of these matters.

Foreign ministries, of course, need some internal expertise on these newer issues at headquarters and at mission, but will need to figure out their value added in relation to these other actors.

Your committee may wish to consider how the relationship between Global Affairs and these other departments is functioning. If you do so, I hope you have the opportunity to hear from actors outside of Global Affairs for their views on this issue.

The second point I want to raise is about reinvigorating diplomacy. I’m completely in agreement with the view that I think you’ve heard several times about the need to reinvigorate Canadian diplomacy.

There are some prerequisites for success here. First, as Colin Robertson recently noted in Policy Magazine, only about 18% of Foreign Service officers are posted abroad. If you compare this to the situation 30 or 40 years ago, that figure was around 50%, and I agree with Colin’s assessment that it’s not possible to give and get a Canadian perspective when our Foreign Service is homebound.

Second, human resources policies need to promote the development of deep geographic and language expertise and provide incentives to diplomats who do multiple tours using these skills. Perhaps, most importantly, politicians need to value the importance of diplomacy in managing relationships, providing a Canadian perspective and promoting Canadian interests.

However, and this is my third point, a reinvigorated diplomatic service must, in my view, have a more open approach to recruitment. Canada has unique strengths as a successful, diverse country. Our pluralism should be reflected in our Global Affairs department and in our representation abroad.

We also need to look at diversity in a broader sense. We need to recruit people with a diversity of experience. There should be more opportunities for mid-career entry into the Foreign Service from other sectors and from other government departments. Moreover, if expertise on emerging global issues like climate, pandemics or cyber is found in other departments, there should be more opportunities for these experts to be part of Canadian missions abroad.

My next point is on the importance of fostering a learning culture in the department. This has several aspects. They include increasing knowledge about issues that are critical to our well-being as a civilization and as a planet — like climate change, global health security and the digital revolution. As I mentioned earlier, this includes figuring out the synergies between Global Affairs and other departments and, indeed, other actors outside government who are working on these issues. A learning agenda would emphasize the importance of fostering a solid understanding of the country that is being served, that is, Canada. There are various strategies to help the department deepen its engagement with Canadians and hear their concerns and ideas. A learning culture would emphasize softer leadership skills like active listening, partnership building, intelligent risk taking and a willingness to use mistakes as learning opportunities.

Finally, it needs to encourage a culture of giving honest, fearless advice to ministers and, within the department, to senior officials. A recent study by the Institute on Governance concluded that speaking truth to power is discouraged in the federal public service. This is a very big subject, so I’ll simply say this: Utility and credibility of the Canadian foreign policy enterprise depend on politicians and public servants recognizing the value of honest advice and actively encouraging it. What is the point of encouraging diversity if the diverse people you bring in are afraid to give their best advice?

I’ll stop there, and I would be pleased to answer your questions.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Rosenberg. We will now go to Mr. Shugart. You have the floor.

Ian Shugart, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Clerk of the Privy Council, as an individual: Thank you, senators, for the invitation to be with you here today.

[Translation]

I strongly support what my colleague Mr. Rosenberg said.

First, a quick debate on the last point raised. It is too easy to draw conclusions because this issue applies to the entire public service, and it is a bit sensitive. In general, though, it is a very important observation.

[English]

I am going to raise my comments to a slightly higher level than those of Mr. Rosenberg.

Senators will be familiar with the famous Tolstoy quote that, “All happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I’d like to paraphrase that and apply this to Global Affairs and to our Foreign Service: For a foreign service conducting international relations in every normal situation is alike, but every international crisis is a crisis in its own unique way.

This committee, in its examination of our Foreign Service, will be looking at many dimensions of this, including the policy environment, but I want to encourage the committee in this examination to assess the requirements and needs of the Foreign Service with three observations in mind.

First, diplomacy is not simply a specialized activity in a corner of government. It is a specialized activity, but it is far more. It is a language that has to be learned and practised. It has to be developed; it has to be retained. It requires expertise and experience. We have to cultivate that language and the people who know how to use it. The language — the tradecraft — of diplomacy. We have to be able to use it in normal and crisis situations. This is not a language that can be learned overnight. It cannot be ramped up quickly. It is a resource that has to be cultivated, kept in reserve and used continuously.

Second, the world is changing, and the Foreign Service has to be able to adapt to it. This is a truism. The world has always been changing, and that is the history, that is the story, of every foreign service. But we’re dealing with a pace of change and with issues such as security; new technologies such as cyber; rapidly changing markets that give enormous potential; the need for new and creative solutions that have not historically been on the table, such as the engagement of the private sector more directly in development. These are changes that the Foreign Service has to be able to adapt to.

Third, the threats and opportunities facing Canada and every country are evolving, and we need to understand and react to those threats. It’s not always clear that the extent and the long-term direction of those threats are at the heart of decision making within the department and across the government. We have to be going back over and over again to defining, understanding and articulating the national interest in the face of these threats and opportunities.

The case that I am making as a former leader of that department and then a demandeur of the department is to support vigorously our Foreign Service because it is vital to our national interest. And as Mr. Rosenberg has said, not just the Foreign Service within Global Affairs or our trade commissioners or our development experts, but all those who work in foreign arenas across the government, and to expect from the Foreign Service and from those internationally engaged public servants agility, flexibility and adaptability because nothing stays the same, and our national interests will require that adaptability in everything that we face.

I’ll stop there and, likewise, am happy to answer your questions.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Shugart.

[Translation]

Before we begin the question period, I wish to remind members participating by videoconference to use the “raise hand” feature if they wish to be added to our clerk’s list.

[English]

I also wish to inform members that you will each have a maximum of only four minutes for the first round, and, as usual, here is my admonition to you: Keep your preamble short, your questions concise and we can always go to a second round. Concision is also requested on the part of our witnesses in their responses.

Senator MacDonald: I’m so glad to have these two great witnesses here today for my first question. I have a question about the general quality of the Foreign Service.

We were all witness this past weekend when a senior official from the Department of Global Affairs attended an event at the Russian Embassy. My question is less about the attendance of a senior official at this event than it is about the culture that makes such a thing possible.

The individual who attended the event was the deputy chief of protocol in the department. She is a daughter of a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. She surely should have known or been aware that attendance at this event would almost certainly have blown up in her face. She surely should have known that the Russians would be sophisticated enough to ensure that it did, in fact, blow up in the government’s face. Whoever signed off on the attendance should have been aware of those things.

If the deputy minister was aware of the attendance, he should have known that. If the deputy minister was not aware, the officials in the department who chose not to make him aware should have known that this would blow up on the department.

The minister’s office, which it has been confirmed was aware of the attendance, surely would have known that attending a party at the Russian Embassy would be a public relations disaster.

My point is that this is not an ordinary mistake. To me, it indicates some very disturbing things about the culture of a department where, despite the existence of a genocidal war and unprecedented sanctions imposed by Canada on another state, a series of officials in the Department of Global Affairs evidently thought this would be a good idea. In my view, the scope of the mistake and the fact that the mistake was clearly made at multiple levels suggests to me that there is something seriously wrong here.

Gentlemen, I would like to get your perspective on this. Could you identify what the systemic problems are here and, through that, explain to this committee and to Canadians how such a series of errors could be made?

Mr. Rosenberg: Obviously, it has been in the news, and it’s a very good question. I’m not really in a position to be able to say because there are multiple possibilities. I’m not in the department anymore. It could have been a simple error at a low level. Someone may not have checked up the chain as they should have.

As you suggested in your question, if someone knew, they should have told someone further up. That raises the issue of whether people are giving honest advice.

Not being in the department, it’s hard for me to answer the question. I think someone obviously needs to look into what happened. I agree with you that it is a serious breach given the extremely high profile of what’s going on in Ukraine with the Russian invasion — and that calls for not having business as usual — but I don’t think I can illuminate it any further than that.

Mr. Shugart: I would only add that judgment calls are made all the time. Sometimes they are wrong, sometimes they are debatable and sometimes they are right even if they are not accepted as such.

We want public servants and officials in this or any department to be able to make judgment calls without checking every decision everywhere. This is clearly a situation that is sensitive and where being extra careful is called for.

I won’t comment on what happened here; I have no idea. I would just make the observation, though, that some of the commentary that I have seen in the press that this is an event that demonstrates that the country and the government really do not care about Ukraine and what is happening, in my opinion, is patently foolish commentary. Clearly, the country’s stance vis-à-vis the war in Ukraine, the aggression of Russia toward Ukraine, has been made abundantly clear across the government and by the people of this country.

It’s in a broader context that these decisions are made, and they can be errors of judgment, they can be mistakes. I won’t try and explain it.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you for being here today. In past meetings, we’ve heard from witnesses that Global Affairs Canada is a bit too top-heavy. To quote one of our witnesses, it is overweight in oversight. There are too many people looking over too many shoulders trying to check; too many supervisors and way too much to do in one place in one time. I take this to mean too many supervisors and not enough leash to allow our foreign affairs officers to operate independently and with autonomy in their postings.

I’m wondering what your opinion of this is and, if you agree, how do we go about trimming upper management in a public service where such roles typically become quite entrenched? I’ll ask Mr. Shugart first and would also like to hear from Mr. Rosenberg.

Mr. Shugart: Thank you, senator, for that question. I might make the observation that many of my answers, and I suspect Mr. Rosenberg’s as well, may be a little bit conflicted because we were in positions of oversight and leadership in the department. You should take my answers with a grain of salt, certainly, in that regard.

This is likewise a challenge across the government. We have imposed by Parliament a range of oversight and accountability mechanisms that departments are required to have in place. It may very well be that witnesses who made that observation were referring to those kinds of things. To that extent, government departments are simply following the direction and the will of Parliament in establishing those mechanisms.

The other observation I would make is that there’s an implication there that people up the chain of responsibility in the department are not themselves adding value in terms of the substance of the conduct of foreign relations and the analysis. My own experience was that when we were discussing an issue such as Afghanistan or what today would be the situation in Ukraine — and in my time, we spent a lot of time, for example, on the crisis that was developing in North Korea, to say nothing of Canada-U.S. relations. We routinely met in the context of people from all dimensions of our Foreign Service and at all levels. The policy and the culture that was followed was one where if you were in the room, you were both entitled and expected to speak up with your perspective and your knowledge.

I think one has to be very sensitive to that suggestion, senator. I think there are reasons for different people thinking that there’s too much oversight. In my experience, the real question is: Can every person in the organization be able to articulate is what I’m doing adding value to the national interest, and is what we’re doing have to be done in this way? If the answer is no, what we’re doing is not adding value, then stop doing it and turn to many of the other tasks that need to be done.

The Chair: I’m afraid we’ve run out of time on that segment. I’m sure Mr. Rosenberg might want to come back in a future question on that.

Senator Harder: Thank you, former colleagues, for your comments. I broadly share the observations that you both have made with respect to the Foreign Service and the department. In my previous role before your role in the department, I would have shared that same list. I think the trick is, how do we actually have actions that reinforce progress on dealing with those questions?

Mr. Rosenberg, I want to speak to your open approach to recruitment in the context of the obvious expertise in Foreign Service issues, or at least international issues, outside of the department. I agree that we need open recruitment, but we also in exchange need interchange from the foreign ministry into the domestic departments that have an international agenda. I wonder if you could speak to that because I do think it becomes an opportunity to reward broad experience rather than feel that you’re diminishing diplomacy.

Mr. Rosenberg: Thank you very much for the question. I think it is a very important question. One of the things I mentioned very briefly in my comments on the learning agenda is that the department needed to be better at understanding the country it serves. The country it serves is not the country it’s posted to. The country it serves is right here, it’s Canada. How do you do that? I agree with you that some of this should be through postings in other departments, including postings in central agencies, so that people who are senior in Global Affairs understand how the government works and how to get things done, but I think it should go beyond that. I think it would be helpful if when people came back from their postings, rather than taking a job in the department, at least some of them would look for positions elsewhere. I really don’t care where that elsewhere is, as long as it’s in Canada. It could be another government department, an NGO, a corporation or a provincial government. And then there should be incentives. If you do that, that should be given weight when you’re considering promotions or when you’re considering your next assignment.

There is a problem with this. I actually tried this. It was George Hanel who had this suggestion. We said, don’t set up machinery, just make it generally known that we would like this to happen. We had one person who really took this up and went to work for the Canada Pension Plan. They were rewarded with an ambassadorship at the end of it. The problem, I think, is that there is such a fear in the department that if you leave, out of sight is out of mind and it will be a career-limiting move.

The remedy to that is that there needs to be consistent messaging from the senior leadership in the department that this is very important and that this will be factored into promotions and into mission assignments. The trick is, because you have deputies rotating out of the department every three years or so, if one deputy says they want to do this, people may wonder if the next guy will buy into it. There needs to be consistency with this, but it’s very important to build that Canadian capacity that builds the credibility of Foreign Affairs and makes sure that they actually understand the Canadian interests that they’re supposed to be promoting.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Ravalia: Thank you to our witnesses. My question is for Mr. Shugart. The Privy Council Office coordinates various deputy minister committees to advance integrated policy development in support of government priorities and medium-term planning. One of these committees focuses on foreign policy and defence.

What is the Privy Council’s role in interdepartmental coordination for Canada’s Foreign Service and Foreign Affairs?

Mr. Shugart: Thank you, senator. The role of the Privy Council Office is to coordinate to ensure that the various players who have a responsibility and a role in any particular problem or objective are brought to the table and that there is coordination. We would call that de-conflicting any divergent or opposing approaches by departments.

I’d like to stress that the department should not have to wait for the Privy Council Office to implement the kind of approach that Mr. Rosenberg was speaking about in his opening comments, and with which I completely agree in regard to coordination.

In regard to two really important relationships, when I was the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and we were preparing for the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in the United States, the Privy Council Office was deeply interested in what was coming in that bilateral relationship. However, I didn’t wait for the Privy Council Office to establish machinery or mechanisms. We pulled together, both at the ministerial level and senior officials, using the coordination of the department itself.

Also, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs has significant convening power and authority. So any Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs needs to be performing that role in support of what Mr. Rosenberg was talking about, coordinating these efforts right across the department.

In the case of China, it was actually a cabinet directive at one point that there would be a committee of deputy ministers under the leadership of Foreign Affairs that would coordinate China-related matters. So it doesn’t have to be the central agency, but at the end of the day it’s the Privy Council Office’s responsibility to articulate the national interest in any particular issue and to ensure departments are coordinated and brought to the table in support of that interest.

Senator Ravalia: In his appearance on April 28, Len Edwards made the suggestion that one of the deputy ministers in Global Affairs be given the official role of head of the Foreign Service, reporting directly to the Clerk of the Privy Council.

Do you think that would be a more lean and efficient mechanism with respect to moving ahead with critical issues?

Mr. Shugart: Senator, I think, de facto, the deputy minister of the department is the head of the Foreign Service, or at least represents the Foreign Service. Any deputy minister of the broader department, or the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, who does not see that as his or her responsibility has either been badly chosen or is deficient in their responsibilities.

I don’t know that a formal mechanism or designation is required. To me, it would be a given.

Senator Ravalia: Thank you very much.

Senator Woo: Two thirds of the items in the Minister of Foreign Affair’s mandate letter have to do with at least the coordination of, if not the handing over of, responsibilities to other departments. Insofar as the skills required to navigate contemporary international issues resident in departments other than Global Affairs — insofar as, in the words of Mr. Shugart, diplomacy is a language that is not confined in one corner of the government but has to be learned across many different departments — what is the utility of a dedicated Foreign Service stream? If there is still a utility, what would you say are the unique qualities that define that stream that cannot be found or cultivated in other parts of the civil service?

Perhaps we can start with Mr. Rosenberg because he brought up the fact of two thirds of the mandate letter belonging to other government departments.

Mr. Rosenberg: Thank you very much. I did bring that up, and I think it’s important, but I said in my remarks that there are a number of areas where Global Affairs has the actual substantive expertise. It has the expertise in multilateral relations, managing relationships with other governments, development, trade promotion, trade negotiation and understanding other societies. One of the key elements of diplomacy is developing a sound knowledge of the culture of politics, political structure, et cetera, of other societies. Those things can be very useful. Having people in missions on the ground, and people even in headquarters with functional and geographic expertise, can be helpful not only to the issues that Global Affairs are involved in, but also to the other issues — the newer emerging issues, such as climate change, cyber and digital issues, pandemics, et cetera — that other departments are involved with.

I recall when I was at Health Canada and we were dealing with H1N1 back in 2008, when we ran out of a certain kind of vaccine that was necessary for pregnant women — they couldn’t take the regular vaccine — Australia had supplies of that vaccine. Working through our High Commission in Australia, we were able to use their contacts with the government to quickly get a positive response.

So I think there is a lot of value that Foreign Affairs has in terms of its own set of issues where it is uniquely positioned, but also in enabling other departments using the skills that they have developed.

Mr. Shugart: I will briefly add to that.

Senator, I’ll give the example of my time at Health Canada as the senior official. I was asked to chair a Health Task Force of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organization, and my vice-chair was a senior Chinese official. The first thing that was done was an assistant deputy minister from the Department of Foreign Affairs came and briefed me exhaustively on the mechanism, the participants, the background and the culture of the countries that formed the critical mass, including my vice-chair. But then I was set off to lead this exercise, and it turned out to be extremely valuable in working with the host country, which I won’t name. We developed very solid relationships and, behind the scenes, helped them pull off a very successful tour of duty as chair.

So the leadership came from aligned departments, but the expertise about background and culture — what I call the language of diplomacy — was provided by the expert in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I think that case makes the point that Mr. Rosenberg and I are both stressing.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Shugart. We’ll move on.

Senator Boniface: Welcome to both our witnesses.

My question goes to Mr. Rosenberg. It is good to see you again.

You spoke to the issues of truth to power within Global Affairs. In other departments, I hear the same. In fact, a couple of our previous witnesses talked about the elements of the Foreign Service being a risk-averse culture. Can you tell me how you see that linking together and how you would rebuild an organization in a way that actually values the contrary views?

Mr. Rosenberg: That’s a great and really important question, not just for the Foreign Service but the entire Government of Canada. This issue has been around for a very long time. The issue and importance of speaking truth to power were noted back in 1994 in what was called the Tait report on value and ethics.

My own view is that this really needs to start at the top. I’ll give you a very brief example. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Gates wrote a memoir, and in it he talked about the first day he met his senior military and civilian staff in probably one of the most deferential command-and-control organizations in the world. He went in as secretary and said he was not interested in consensus. He wanted disagreements sharply delineated so that he can figure out what’s right. He said if you think I’m wrong, I’d rather you tell me here than that I look stupid when I go speak to the press.

I use that as an example of the need for senior leadership — political leadership and public service leadership — to constantly give permission and to reward people who actually are willing to speak out that way. Because if it doesn’t happen, there’s too much of people reading the room, worried that their careers will be limited if they actually say something that’s dissenting. It doesn’t help anybody.

One senior leader I know said, “If everyone is going to agree with me, why do I need any of you in the room? I already know what I think.” But it really takes that very strong and repeated message coming from senior leadership, starting at the top — starting really with the Prime Minister — that this is an important value, and then rewarding people who exercise it.

Mr. Shugart: I will, again, completely agree with my colleague. I would only add one thing. There is sometimes an easy assumption that if wrong decisions are made or there are poor outcomes, it is because people have not spoken truth to power.

Truth to power is often spoken, and it has made no difference. So there can be an easy assumption that all we need is for people, whether it’s ministers to their colleagues or public servants to their higher-ups and to ministers, to speak truth to power and everything will be okay. The first assumption is that they are right. The second assumption is that if they just speak, that advice will be taken. Neither of those assumptions can be taken for granted.

The diagnosis here is very important as to the extent to which we really have this problem and the nature of the problem. But having said that, the treatment that Mr. Rosenberg suggests is absolutely the right one, and it should be given prophylactically. It should be given preventively, as well as therapeutically after the fact.

[Translation]

Senator Gerba: Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

From what Mr. Shugart said, I understood that the Canadian foreign service must constantly adapt while also having cohesion and cooperation among the various sectors. A number of G7 countries are undertaking reforms at this time, including the United Kingdom, which has launched a major reform based on the principle of “more foreign and less office”. Our close neighbours the United States have decided to bolster their foreign service by increasing their international assistance funding by 10% and by creating 500 new jobs overseas. Before this committee, some witnesses have said that they would like more employees overseas, while others said they would like more employees at home in Canada.

What are your thoughts? Should a reform focus more on employees abroad or local services?

Mr. Rosenberg: Thank you for the question, senator.

I think it is important for the Department of Global Affairs to support the work being done in other countries. As I said before and as others have said, there has been a significant reduction in Canadian staff assigned to this diplomatic work. I am completely in favour of increasing our staff abroad. I think that experience abroad is also useful to staff when they return to Ottawa.

I do not think it is necessary to chose one or the other of the two. Rather, we should be asking what we need in order for Global Affairs to be effective and meet the needs of the country and the government. I do not think we can simply reduce staff at headquarters and send them abroad or vice versa. We have to see it as a whole and have enough staff for both roles at the same time.

Mr. Shugart: Quite right, senator.

We also have to set priorities. Global Affairs is not exempt from the requirement to set priorities. In the world today, there are obviously major challenges and opportunities that are not equally reflected everywhere in the world. We have to make choices. We always have to make choices, but that must be based on an extremely specific analysis of the needs and opportunities. We have to be prepared to assign the necessary staff, whether internally or in other locations to reflect the priorities and needs identified through this analysis.

[English]

Senator Omidvar: Thank you to both our witnesses for being with us today. I don’t believe I’m wrong in making an assumption that becoming a member of the Foreign Service is a feather in the cap of anyone who wants to climb the diplomatic ladder. It is viewed not just in Canada but elsewhere in the world as a special privilege. And yet we know that more and more jobs that are designated as Foreign Service jobs are now being occupied by non-career Foreign Service officers.

I’d like to get your assessment on the impact, advantages and disadvantages of this practice, and how it affects the morale of Foreign Service officers.

Mr. Shugart: I used to say to my colleagues in the department that both Foreign Service officers and non-Foreign Service officers share the designation of public servants. We are servants to the people of Canada, and that has to be first and foremost.

The core challenge, the dynamic tension here, is between having a career path as a Foreign Service officer, which, if you are good, effective and faithful, et cetera, would typically culminate in a posting as an ambassador. That’s the ideal. The reality is that there are different ways, historically, of following that path. Those ways have sometimes been more oriented to the career path needs of the Foreign Service officer rather than the Foreign Service needs of the country or of the department. That’s a very difficult balance to get right.

My own view is that if any government truly believes in the importance of a Foreign Service, it will maintain the possibility of meaningful career paths for the majority of Foreign Service officers.

However, Foreign Service officers also have to understand that they do not own this institution; they are servants of the institution. Mr. Rosenberg set out effectively, I think, the advantages of bringing people from the outside into the Foreign Service apparatus, and I gave a personal example from my own background. There’s a balance to be struck, and there is no formula that is going to allow us to guarantee we get it right.

I believe that what we should be doing is moving away from any culture of back scratching and networking. We should have a professionalized approach to career management based on the needs that the Foreign Service has, so that if we invest, for example, in somebody learning a difficult language, we should get the value from that person learning that language. We shouldn’t give them the guarantee that they’ve done Asia, and now they can do Europe. Then, they’re interested in South America, so they can do that. There’s a balance in realizing the benefit of our investment and honouring the prospect that if you do well and are effective, there will be a career path for you.

The Chair: Thank you very much. We’re out of time. I know Mr. Rosenberg is eager to answer, maybe we will come back to you later on.

Senator Greene: I would like to ask a question that I almost withdrew a couple of times because I’m not sure how good a question it is. It may be very vague. With regard to all of the issues we’ve raised this morning, I’d like to know, in each of your minds, if there is a specific country that we could learn a lot from or, perhaps, emulate — if emulate is not too strong a word — that has issues similar to ours but is finding ways to make things work better than they do here.

Mr. Rosenberg: Thank you very much. One of the comments that has been made in the past by others is that we have the luxury in Canada of being geographically situated where we are. Being next to the United States has been an asset to us in terms of our security relationship. We don’t have any other land borders with anybody else, and it’s led to a tendency to maybe not take foreign policy issues as seriously as we should.

That’s a dangerous place to be now. We didn’t talk about a lot of the geopolitical issues, but the world is becoming a more complex, interconnected, chaotic and dangerous place. I think it’s time for us to actually treat the Foreign Service and foreign relations in a more mature way.

There are countries — and I don’t wish for us to be these countries — where foreign relations is an existential issue. For a country like Cuba, it’s an existential issue. For a country like Israel, it’s an existential issue, and they invest more in their diplomacy and in their understanding of the world, or at least in those parts of the world that are key to them. Increasingly, those are bigger and bigger parts of the world. A country like Australia, who is a bit more like us in terms of their structure of government and demographics, has taken its relationship with the Asia-Pacific more seriously and more consistently than we have.

One of the things I recall being criticized for — not personally, but that Canada has been criticized for — is that Canada has tended to flit in and out of places. We were very involved years ago in Southeast Asia on the development side, and then we left. Then, a few years ago, we said, “Gee, there’s the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, and ASEAN-related organizations, and we should really be back.” People in that region said, “What do you want? Why do you want to come back to this?” I think we have to be a bit more serious about our interests and the reasons that we choose priorities in foreign policy.

There are a lot of examples in the world, but we have to take a good look at our own track record, and we need to take these issues more seriously and make them higher priorities within the government.

The Chair: Thank you. We are not going to get to Mr. Shugart on this one. I’m looking at the clock, and we’re running out of time, so we’re also not going to have a second round.

What I would like to do, colleagues, with your agreement, is to offer two minutes to each of our distinguished witnesses to make a concluding comment. There are a few loose ends that may have come up, so I would go to Mr. Rosenberg first and then to Mr. Shugart. If we’re agreed? Yes, thank you.

Mr. Rosenberg: Thank you very much. I don’t have any formal closing comments, but I do have a couple of thoughts.

On Senator Omidvar’s question about career paths and whether we’re undermining the career Foreign Service, it’s important to maintain a career Foreign Service but one that has to be more permeable and recognize some of the realities that there are many other players involved in the international space than there used to be. One thing about Foreign Service officers that may not be true of others is that they, in choosing that career, have made a decision that they are prepared to organize their lives in a way that they will be moving around — to organize their family life in that way — and this is a hard thing to do.

That’s not a decision that’s taken lightly, and it is a commitment to a way of life that others who are interested in international relations may not have. It doesn’t mean there isn’t room in a career for somebody who is an expert in international climate change negotiations at Environment and Climate Change Canada to spend some time on a mission, but they’re unlikely to want to do this for a whole career. That’s one point I wanted to make.

To the other point about whether we’re top-heavy — I think that was the first question Senator Deacon asked — there’s an issue within government, not just within Foreign Affairs, as to whether we have the right balance between the resources we put into operations and the resources we put into overhead, including management and oversight. I wonder sometimes — and again, this is a general comment about the government — whether we are creating problems for people. We need people with deep expertise in all areas. We need people with deep geographic expertise in Foreign Affairs, for example. Are we forcing people into management if they want to advance? Are we doing enough in our incentive structures to actually reward people that bring this deep expertise? Because you need both. You need managers, and you need people who understand that the whole of government and how to relate to other departments, but you also need people who really understand nuclear disarmament, for example, or how to work in sub-Saharan Africa or in China. You don’t want to lose that expertise, so that’s a long-standing issue.

The Chair: Thank you Mr. Rosenberg, we’ll stop there and go to Mr. Shugart for some concluding remarks.

Mr. Shugart: Thank you, chair, and thank you, senators, for this opportunity. There isn’t anything that I need to say, but having spent time at Foreign Affairs and having been given the opportunity to speak, I can hardly not avail myself of it. There are no easy answers in this regard.

First, the responsibility that you have is challenging and difficult because part of the essence of national security and international relations is that much goes on of necessity that is unseen and cannot be explicitly discussed. Therefore, the potential for misunderstanding and for impression is very large. I’d urge you to bear that in mind.

Second, our Foreign Service needs our support and our backing because our country needs them. We are living in a perilous environment and in perilous times, but the issues of culture in the department are significant.

I think it’s generally true that the more specialized, the more expert and the longer term any human activity is, the people involved in that activity are going to be a bit dug in; they are going to see things the way they are. There is a trade-off there between a profession — and that’s what it is — that knows the answers, but in an environment of significant change, they don’t actually always know. So they need to be challenged, but respected, to bring to the table the expertise that they do have. Some of the things we’ve talked about today are mechanisms to help achieve that balance. Whatever you do that will reinforce and give backing to that profession, but in a way that challenges them to be adaptable and fresh in their thinking, will be doing the country a great service.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Shugart.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank both witnesses for their engagement today and for the wisdom they have brought to us. Thank you very much.

Colleagues, I would now like to welcome on behalf of the committee Patricia Fortier, Senior Fellow, Graduate School of International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, who has been a head of mission numerous times and a senior official in the department; Colin Robertson, Vice-President and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, who has also been a head of mission and has had senior positions in the Foreign Service; and Randolph Mank, President, MankGlobal Inc., and also a former ambassador several times over and a policy planner in the department.

Welcome to you all and thank you for joining. Your opening remarks will be followed by questions from senators. You will have five minutes each. Since there are three of you and there is a four-minute interval for questions from senators, I will be quite strict on the time.

We will begin with Ms. Fortier. You have the floor.

Patricia Fortier, Senior Fellow, Graduate School of International Affairs, University of Ottawa, as an individual:

Thank you, Mr. Chair and senators. I will be talking today about what people currently serving in Global Affairs have told me. It will be, therefore, a very personal view.

Everyone seems happy that the department has now undertaken regular recruitment and promotion processes into the Foreign Service. This should begin to alleviate what Global Affairs Canada managers call “The Hunger Games” — internal competition over staff. What I now hear from serving employees is also fundamental. It is about risk, its necessary corollary — trust — and the exercise of judgment.

One of the primary roles of any foreign ministry is to be entrepreneurial in uncertain circumstances, whether the issue is conflict, trade, development, international law, diplomacy or consular. This means that foreign ministries are inherently risky.

Trust is required in the people and the tools of the trade to avoid other risks that may arise through lack of action or communication. The people who do this work have to trust the organization.

One of the aspects that make the Foreign Service different and more difficult is that it involves a far more intimate relationship with families. Global Affairs has made significant progress since the McDougall report, but family continues to be the key reason why officers leave a posting early or even leave the Foreign Service.

A short list of professional and personal situations abroad includes conflict of interest, fraud, divorce, illness — mental or physical — addiction, abuse, violence, criminal behaviour and death. This is all happening in almost every country in the world, governed by Treasury Board rules. Initial requests are received in Ottawa by employees who may be summer students.

In this context, the COVID pandemic was an inflection point for many. Rules applied in Canada were applied to all staff at all missions. Not surprisingly, there was tension. According to one senior officer, the exchange between posts and Ottawa over vaccinations at missions was long, brutal and shameful. This is when missions were simultaneously evacuating their staff to Canada — under the rubric of duty to care — and arranging passage home for over 60,000 Canadians.

This raises questions that I am sure Global Affairs Canada have considered: Did the department find the right balance between being a strong advocate for its people and acting as an implementer of Canadian rules? Were blanket evacuations necessary to avoid a catastrophe or could it have been nuanced? Crises are great learning opportunities.

Global Affairs Canada employees at many levels seem to be wrestling with how these lessons apply to daily work. They ask whether they are trusted to take risks and whether increasing centralization of decision making and accountability procedures have resulted in better opportunities for Canada in the world.

A non-rotational director opined that risk templates have replaced conversations about risk. Another officer at post said that some decisions formerly taken at the director level would now be passed to the highest level.

Former Prime Minister Chrétien answered my question about management by saying, “How can you drive the car if you are always looking in the back seat?” No one would suggest, however, that the government should delegate all authority and trust blindly. Trust but verify works in organizations, not just in nuclear negotiations.

One instrument of verification is the Global Affairs Inspector General, an important link between the field and headquarters. The primary way of balancing risk and trust, however, is knowing your people, knowing who can handle risk and who merits trust — up and down the chain.

Lack of knowledge and communication can pose a risk and destroy trust. All positions of responsibility engage the issues of risk and trust. The open door to the world that the Foreign Service and Global Affairs provide simply highlights the need for considered judgment.

The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Fortier.

We will move on to Colin Robertson.

Colin Robertson, Vice-President and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute:

Thank you, Mr. Chair. My comments are based on 33 years in the Canadian Foreign Service and, since 2008, teaching U.S. relations several times a year to all new Foreign Service officers at the Canadian Foreign Service Institute. During my time in the Foreign Service, I also served on the executive of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, including a term as president.

It will not surprise you that I think Canada’s global interests are best served with a professional Foreign Service. More than most nations, our sense of self-identity is realized by how we act and are seen to act abroad. More than most, our prosperity depends on our ability to trade and invest abroad, and to recruit immigrants and refugees.

The Foreign Service delivers on these goals. They are Canada’s eyes, ears and voice beyond our borders. Thanks to immigration, we are also one of the few countries in the world that can build a Foreign Service that looks like the entire world.

Foreign Service officers require three qualities.

Adaptability — Shuffled around the globe and at headquarters like a deck of cards, officers must easily adapt to different cultures and pick up new skills.

Engagement — In a networked world, the ability to personally engage in single-minded pursuit of the national interest and then communicate, analyze and recommend to our foreign and domestic interlocutors is vital.

Empathy — With language, cultivating relationships is a lot easier, especially in getting to know those who think and act differently than we do in Canada. Understanding where our adversaries are coming from helps prevent them from becoming enemies.

In Policy Magazine, I recently made 10 recommendations to improve our Foreign Service. Let me focus on three.

The first is more Foreign Service — underlining service — sufficient that we have surge capacity for calamities and to allow for training, secondments, exchanges and personal leave. Our international interests have grown, with 175 foreign missions abroad. While Global Affairs Canada has expanded fourfold to nearly 13,000, the Foreign Service has only increased from 1,750 to about 2,400 — a little less than 25% since Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister.

A second recommendation is more Foreign Service — underlining foreign. Increasingly, we are homebound rather than foreign-based.

When I joined the Foreign Service, half of us were abroad and half were at home. Fifteen years ago, when Senator Harder was deputy minister, only 25% were posted abroad. Today, that figure is about 18%.

Foreign Service officers expect to serve in difficult circumstances. Like our military, we are compensated accordingly. If we want to bring a Canadian perspective to the top table, we need to be in places like Kyiv, Tehran and Pyongyang. Duty of care, a recent concept, must be secondary to our responsibility to represent.

My third observation is more public diplomacy. Outreach and advocacy, including use of social media, needs to go beyond the conventional circuit of business, bureaucrats and fellow diplomats to include innovators, faith leaders, mayors and civil society.

I heartily endorse this committee’s recommendations in its 2019 report, Cultural Diplomacy at the Front Stage of Canada’s Foreign Policy. Gary Smith’s new book, Ice War Diplomat, describes the diplomatic value achieved through the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series, itself an exercise in public diplomacy and one we’re probably going to have to do in a few more years.

Successive U.S. Secretaries of Defense have observed an ounce of early diplomacy is a lot cheaper than the application of a pound of armed force. It is estimated that it cost the U.S. $1 million a year to keep a marine in Afghanistan. It cost half of that to keep a diplomat there.

We need diplomats who can go beyond the headlines to see what is coming over the horizon and focus on the underlying trends and the bigger picture. Interpreting and understanding the ramifications and knock-on effects of events like the Ukraine crisis, including supply chain disruptions and societal rifts, is essential work for diplomats.

To conclude, our world is increasingly messy and mean. Diplomacy and foreign service matter more than ever. A quiet diplomacy remains the first line of defence. With the rise of social media and the growth of disinformation and misinformation fomenting conflict and destabilizing democracies, we need more public diplomacy.

Thank you, chair.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Robertson. We will go now to Randolph Mank.

Randolph Mank, President, MankGlobal Inc. and former ambassador to Indonesia, Pakistan, and Malaysia, as an individual: Thank you, chair. I’m drawing on 35 years in both the Foreign Service and then, afterwards, business overseas heading BlackBerry and then a Swiss company called SICPA in Asia. I submitted a little paper to the committee for your consideration later on perhaps, but I’ll get right to the top 10 list of practical suggestions that could be decided upon and implemented.

First of all, define our overarching foreign policy interests, stick to them and ensure the whole organization is clear about them. Any policy review, for example the current one on the Indo-Pacific, should be guided by these same clear and consistent interests.

Second, resist the urge to change foreign ministers so often. We have had five in six years. They need more time.

Third, ministerial mandate letters should be limited to two pages with three to five priorities. Currently, we have six-page mandate letters, and if you add up the three portfolio ministers, they have 68 bulleted priorities.

Fourth, deputy ministers for global affairs, trade and development should be appointed based on career experience in the portfolios.

Fifth, recognize the domestic constraints on foreign policy and connect global priorities clearly with the fiscal framework. The government needs to reduce costs.

Sixth, rebrand the Foreign Service as a much more inclusive global advisers’ service, and distinguish it from the global diplomatic service, which should remain a small subset at its heart. The new global advisers’ service should include the thousands of other staff working on global issues in Global Affairs and other key departments, as well as locally engage staff working abroad.

Seventh, deploy more staff to the field from this global advisers’ service. The field should be defined not just as overseas missions, but also relevant provincial government agencies, companies scaling for export, regional innovation centres and other business support organizations and universities.

Eighth, maintain and regenerate a well-trained global diplomatic service with annual recruitment of diverse new graduates, along with lifelong skills training. They should spend at least half of their time abroad. Head of mission assignments should normally come from this group.

Ninth, use technology to improve services to Canadians and foreign clients. There should be more automation. Processing for a permanent resident and citizenship application should target the one- to three-month range rather than the multi-year ranges now, which are abysmal.

Canada should also lead a global initiative to rationalize travel by making paper passports optional and replacing them with digital identities.

Last, reduce Global Affairs Canada’s internal administration and policy overload. Morale is low. Departmental staff waste too much time on everything from outmoded travel and reimbursement procedures to cumbersome performance management processes to confusion that results, at least in part, from not adopting the nine other reforms I’ve just outlined.

Those are my suggestions for making our excellent Foreign Service even better. I went through them quickly, so I would be happy to take questions if there is interest.

Thank you very much.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Mank. We now go to questions and answers. Colleagues, if you’re participating virtually, use the “raise hand” feature. If you’re in the room, get Ms. Lemay’s attention or mine. Please keep your questions concise, and I would encourage the witnesses to do the same with their answers.

Senator MacDonald: Thank you to the three fine witnesses. I think I’ll direct my question to Mr. Robertson. I think the last time we spoke was pre-COVID on the plane going to Halifax. I believe you were going to the Halifax International Security Forum. We talked mostly about trade at that time with the U.S.

You authored an article last month. I read the article and really enjoyed it. I have some questions in regard to it. You recommended greater emphasis be placed on partnerships with provincial representatives abroad, which you said would complement Canada’s work, in particular in terms of trade and investment. Specifically, you said that Quebec is the most sophisticated provincial foreign service and is a model for other provinces as they expand their networks abroad.

How might specific partnerships between the Canadian Foreign Service and provincial representatives enhance the effectiveness of Canada’s diplomatic trade and development objectives abroad? As well, are there best practices of partnerships between the representatives of federal and provincial or state-level governments in other countries that Canada could learn from?

Mr. Robertson: Thank you, senator. Yes, I do think that the provincial governments play a vital role, particularly in trade development abroad, because they are closer to the reality of trade. That’s certainly been my experience. I say this as someone who participated in the negotiations of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and then the North America Free Trade Agreement.

My experience at posting was that the provincial governments were often the best equipped and able to get out there to actually put meat on the framework of the trade agreements that we had negotiated working with the provinces because they can often identify what their needs are, and that part works very well. Certainly, my experience both in Asia and in the United States was that with the actual, as I say, doing the deals, provincial governments were better placed to do so. Therefore, the synergy between posts and provinces is vitally important.

As I observed, I think the province that does it best because they’ve had the longest experience at it is Quebec. They have half a dozen plus offices in the United States. Certainly, I work closely with the Quebec delegation or wherever I was placed whenever there were Quebec interests at stake. Provinces are also extremely well placed because they know exactly what they want. They come in with a clear focus. At the national level, we are trying to often set up the framework, which is important, but again we need to have that complicity between our provincial governments and the national government.

As I said in my piece, I think Quebec has the best defined one. Other provinces I think could learn from Quebec. Ontario has vast interests. They have a representative in Washington. Alberta has long had a rep in Washington and they do are a very good job. It is usually someone who comes from political life. James Rajotte is their current rep who served in the House of Commons. In a place like Washington, my observation was that provincial reps who had political experience were extremely effective. They were playing mostly on trade issues, but would go larger than that.

The Chair: Thank you. We’ve run out of time in that segment.

Senator Greene: Winston Churchill once said that sometimes the truth is so fragile and important that it needs to be protected by a bodyguard of lies. Is it ever ethical for a Foreign Service officer in Canada to lie to further his country’s interests?

The Chair: Who is the lucky witness you would like to direct that to, Senator Greene? Anyone want to take a stab at that?

Mr. Robertson: I’ll just say no. That’s a misnomer. You don’t lie for your country because your credibility is everything. Once you have a reputation for deceit, it’s very hard for anyone to take you seriously. No, I don’t think that’s a good approach.

Ms. Fortier: I agree with Mr. Robertson. I think how you present things is extremely important. You can choose how you present things, but that is not the same thing. I know there is an old saying that diplomats are sent abroad to lie for the country, but that is not, in fact, the practice of Canadian Foreign Service officers.

Mr. Mank: Lying is a strong word and we want to avoid it. However, I have to admit that if I had told the Indonesian government that I was going up after the tsunami crisis in 2004 and setting up what was essentially a consulate to lead the response, they would have said no. Telling them that we were just going up to do some immediate disaster relief was the way of getting to what we wanted. Lying is strong, but sometimes you have to be creative.

The Chair: So “creativity” is the word that you would substitute, Mr. Mank? That’s good. Thank you.

Senator Woo: Thank you Ms. Fortier, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Mank. It’s nice to see you all again. This question is for Mr. Robertson, but Mr. Mank may want to weigh in as well.

I agree with your assessment that adaptability, engagement and empathy are key qualities for Foreign Service of representing one’s country abroad. However, it’s not clear to me why these three qualities are limited to Foreign Service officers and why a specific stream is needed for these qualities to be nurtured and expressed. If your answer is that, well, these are the people who commit to working overseas and cultivating those skills, but only a fraction of them are posted overseas. In fact, some refuse to go overseas for a variety of reasons. Aren’t you undercutting that argument?

What I’m trying to get at here is whether we can take a broader view of Foreign Service for the country that is not the same as the Foreign Service stream that all of you served in and served admirably on, and whether maybe Mr. Mank’s idea of a variation of that stream may be one way to go.

Mr. Robertson: Senator, I think I’ve tried to identify three qualities, but they aren’t particular to those in the Foreign Service. As you heard in the last session with Mr. Shugart and Mr. Rosenberg, they pointed out that — and I do agree with this — bringing people in, as necessary, from other parts of government or governments or the private sector would also serve the Foreign Service, and that having Foreign Service officers serve in different provincial governments and in business makes a lot of sense as well. I don’t look at the Foreign Service as a caste or a class, but something that is permeable and people enter as appropriate. However, I do think you need a professional Foreign Service. There is a lot to be said for long service — that is, the knowledge of cultures and languages that you build on over time. I do think that’s absolutely valuable. In that sense, the Foreign Service is a vocation.

Mr. Mank: I don’t think we recruit any people that are particularly special. Speaking from my own experience, I got in by luck and was recruited fortuitously in London while I was a student there. It really is the lifelong experiences that start when you join the Foreign Service and the training that you get. That’s why I recommend rigorous, lifelong training inside the Foreign Service leading to a level of special professionalism that qualifies you for the kind of role that you will ascend to as a head of mission. That doesn’t come from day one. It comes from long experience in the field.

Senator Harder: Thank you to our witnesses. This question is probably for Mr. Robertson and Mr. Mank. I would like to explore the role of our locally engaged staff. Is there anything you would suggest to this committee as to how our inquiry could benefit from a better understanding of the role of the locally engaged and how that has evolved as there has been less Canadian-based presence? Are there risks to that or opportunities that we should be made aware of?

Mr. Robertson: Well, senator, increasingly, the locally engaged staff are the backbone of our diplomatic representation abroad. They represent the continuity. They often have the better networks and, bluntly, we couldn’t function without them. I would encourage the committee to invite a couple of locally engaged staff — there are a lot of long-service individuals in the United States and abroad — to appear using the marvels of Zoom before your committee. They need a champion. We take them more or less for granted, but we increasingly depend upon them to represent Canadian interests abroad. We’re fortunate, with a large Canadian diaspora, that many of those locally engaged staff abroad are Canadians. We are now starting to recruit some of those who have been long serving to bring them into the Foreign Service. In the examples I can think of, it’s all worked out extremely well.

I come back to where I began, Senator Harder. Because there are fewer Foreign Service officers abroad, because of cost constraints and the rest, we depend heavily on locally engaged staff. We are fortunate because we have a large overseas diaspora so we can recruit Canadians, but I think they are often people without a voice.

Mr. Mank: I agree completely with what Mr. Robertson has just said, and would also reiterate my sixth recommendation, which is that the locally engaged staff should be folded into a global advisers’ service with everyone else and made more inclusive in that sense.

One caveat: Depending on where you’re serving, there are places where we do have to be careful because of exposure to risks because of locally engaged staff. However, those are probably few and far between and relate more to our intelligence service than Foreign Service.

The Chair: Thank you. There is time for Ms. Fortier to make a comment if you wish.

Ms. Fortier: Yes. I think the comments on the locally engaged staff are practical. The other thing is that we need to value them. I’m a bit attracted by the idea of giving them a different status and even moving around among various postings. When you’re looking at the question of risk and trust and the balance therein, you want people to have both experience but also to have worked together. This is why the first posting of any Foreign Service officers or any non-rotational officers is a watershed for both the organization and the employee. It defines the person as to whether they have the judgment, that they can take risks and it also defines whether this is something they want to continue.

Working with people who are coming in — and more people are coming in and go out on first posting as program heads or heads of mission — this process becomes a bit more complicated and we need more training. It’s a good thing we have mentors.

Senator Omidvar: My question is to any witness, but let’s start with Mr. Robertson.

Canada is increasingly becoming more and more a country of immigrants, and one way or the other, diaspora politics enters into our foreign policy considerations. As we all know, the push and pull of diaspora politics can be extremely tense, whether it’s related to security, trade or even international development.

I’d like to know how the Foreign Service is currently equipped to best respond to these tensions and whether there are some promising practices you can alert us to.

Mr. Robertson: Thank you, senator. Throughout my career, diaspora politics was always a fact of life, something you had to be conscious of and indeed factor into every policy recommendation you made to ministers. Ministers are particularly sensitive to diaspora politics. It’s what our country is about. So good Foreign Service officers have a kind of political nose and figure that part out. We are, after all — as has been said in the previous session — servants to our prime ministers and to the government, so we need to be conscious of that.

Again, it’s one of those skills you just have to adapt and take into account. It’s what we are. You’re not going to change it, and you build it into your recommendations.

The Chair: Thank you. Ms. Fortier on this, please.

Ms. Fortier: Thank you. I think this has been given particular salience with the issue of the event at the Russian embassy. In this chamber of second thought, the question of diaspora should be put on the table because diaspora organizations don’t necessarily have the same views as the Government of Canada, and their interests are not necessarily the same.

For example, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, or UCC, does not want there to be any diplomatic relations between Canada and Russia at the present time. This is a difference, and that is a difference that should be respected.

In the current commentary on the embassy issue, I think the hunt for scapegoats is really injurious. Whether it’s a deputy minister or a 22-year-old exempt staffer, this is not the point. The point is what role diaspora politics should play in the formulation of foreign policy. That’s fine.

But the other thing is that the person involved, Yasemin Heinbecker, is a solid professional who would have only gone to that embassy event under instructions. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you. There’s a bit of time if anyone else wants to comment.

Mr. Mank: It’s something you learn as you go and develop your professional skills. I was called Canada’s ambassador to the Muslim world when I arrived in Malaysia after being in Indonesia and Pakistan. I was also made an honorary Sikh in Pakistan and the Punjab. I’m not of those backgrounds at all. I think that if we’re working on an Indo-Pacific strategy, particularly now, we should be tapping into those very valuable diaspora communities who can advise us on that.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Senator Ravalia: Thank you very much to our witnesses.

My question is for Mr. Mank. As we modernize Canada’s diplomacy, do you have a sense of what digital technologies will help us revitalize our Foreign Service? Are the current platforms we’re using in the federal government antiquated? Is our current infrastructure able to address potential cybersecurity threats, particularly in the world of so much information and misinformation? Thank you.

Mr. Mank: Excellent question. After leaving BlackBerry, I wrote on the topic of new diplomacy for the quantum age. By not introducing the technologies that are available, we are conducting our services to Canadians in particular as though we were living 100 years ago. As I’ve said, it’s truly getting outrageous on the immigration visa side, passports and this sort of thing. You see Canadians in queues complaining about the poor services. It’s because we haven’t applied technologies to it.

Where we have tried — the Phoenix system — we’ve failed miserably, so you have to get the right technologies applied. There really is a need not just for a review of the Canadian Foreign Service, but for a separate review on the technologies within government. I think the last budget has dedicated some funds to modernizing services to Canadians — virtual services using artificial intelligence and so on. This has got to be a core deliverable of this Foreign Service review, in my view.

Senator Ravalia: Thank you. A quick follow-up. Do we collaborate with our Five Eyes partners on this particular strategy?

Mr. Mank: Not that I’m aware of. I’m no longer part of the group. But in terms of service delivery, this is something that is in need of a global initiative, and I think Canada could lead that. We host a couple of important agencies down in Montreal that could be used as platforms for discussing this.

For example, passport reform and modernization is something that I worked on within the Swiss company, SICPA, to see if we could generate a machine that would look like an ATM for managing travel, visas, documents and that sort of thing, which could actually be done through existing ATMs. There’s a deep infrastructure reform required in this area.

Senator Ravalia: Thank you so much.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you for being here. My question this afternoon is for Mr. Robertson. You recently wrote about a need for surge capacity. This is a subject that has come up in our study before. I wonder what it would look like. Daniel Livermore noted in an earlier meeting that junior surge capacity could be held in Ottawa economically and deployed when needed. I did worry and wonder when he said this, though. I didn’t imagine or picture recent university grads in Ottawa waiting for the call to be posted abroad — perhaps albeit briefly — only to return and wait until their next call. I suspect I might be misunderstanding this on my part and would hope that today you could elaborate on what this surge capacity would look like from a day-to-day point of view.

Mr. Robertson: I think at any time there are always Foreign Service officers on training, on secondment or on leave. I would think we can pull them back as we sometimes do, particularly when we have a consular emergency and there’s a requirement to get people on the ground, or if we have a particular crisis like Ukraine where there are consular immigration requirements to be able to get Foreign Services out there. However, you can only do that if you have sufficient capacity through your recruitment.

I think the point that Dan Livermore was getting at was that we haven’t been recruiting on a regular basis. We’ve been hiring contract staff and term employees. That doesn’t give us the capacity we need. You need to have regular recruitment of a foreign service — my view is annually, even if you only bring in a few individuals — so you have that surge capacity when the time comes. You’re not having to look for contract employees or, as you described at the outset, new students. That doesn’t work.

Senator M. Deacon: I have another question. This is quite a switch, and this looks at our changing world, in particular as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It shows us the end of a rules-based international order that perhaps has been slowly unravelling for some time now. Canada as a middle power thrived in that order, of course, but with a potential return to great power conflict and a multipolar world, what course should Canada take in its diplomacy? Do we pivot or focus on alliances with like-minded nations? Or do we continue to pour resources into these multilateral institutions, such as trying to, again, get a seat on the Security Council?

Ms. Fortier, I would certainly love to hear from you first on this.

The Chair: Could I make one comment as the chair here?

It’s getting a little beyond the focus of what we want, but I’ll allow for the question and the comment.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you.

Ms. Fortier: Thank you, senator.

Obviously, we should be doing both. But that suggests that we have resources to do both. I think, as has been said in past conversations, if you’ve got a “Hunger Games” situation in terms of your capacity, then you’re going to have to choose.

I think, in a world that is very uncertain, you’re going to need expertise in several places, but you’re also going to need that adaptability. We need to really channel our people and know who they are. That was the point that I was making. We often don’t know who they are.

When I was Director General, Consular, and Assistant Deputy Minister, Consular, I knew who I could count on and I would pull them in for a surge. I would pull them in to look at specific issues. We’re going to have a lot of specific issues in this new world order.

[Translation]

Senator Gerba: I would like to return to the study that my colleague Senator MacDonald mentioned, which stated that Quebec is in fact a model in several regards in terms of diplomacy. It notes that Quebec has 34 representations in 19 countries, with strong representation in French-speaking countries, especially in Africa.

My question is for all the witnesses who have served as ambassadors in various places in the world. How can the presence of the provinces, such as Quebec’s presence, contribute to achieving our objectives in the various countries in terms of economic and political diplomacy?

[English]

Mr. Robertson: I’ll give you an example. When I was in Los Angeles, we set about the goal of helping win a foreign language award for The Barbarian Invasions of Denys Arcand.

I worked very closely with the Delegate General of Quebec and, between us, we brought in the assets of Cirque du Soleil. We waged a full-out campaign, and used our residence as the platform for entertainment and to basically cultivate the votes. We ran it like a political campaign.

I worked, as I say, in complete complicity with my Quebec counterpart, with Denys Arcand and his wife — who was a driver — and we won. I think it’s the only time that Canada has won a foreign language award. Again, this was cultural diplomacy, but it did a lot for us.

At the receptions, we served Quebec beer that we were trying to get into the market. Trader Joe’s was there and said this was good beer. We were able to sell that beer into the California market, which is a bigger market than Canada.

There were all sorts of spin-off benefits, as well as the complicity of working closely together. As I said earlier, my experience in working with the provinces, they were much more attuned to the reality of their own situation. It works very well. I had this experience in other places as well.

Mr. Mank: Quebec is very important, as are all other provinces, but several others have great representation abroad.

In Sweden, I remember hosting Anne Hébert, Gaston Miron and other great legends of Quebec letters. It garnered us attention with the Nobel Committee. It was a wonderful way of raising Canada’s profile.

But it’s not the 1960s or even the 1990s anymore. Social media has changed a lot. Justin Bieber, The Weeknd and Drake don’t really turn to the Foreign Service for help, nor do we turn to them to raise our profile.

Things are happening now outside of the control of the government. That is probably a very good thing. It’s much more of a global village now than it was before. Quebec is great. We want them to continue to work overseas with us and promote those aspects of our culture that we hold so dearly to our national identity.

The Chair: I would like to exercise my privilege as chair to ask a question of Ms. Fortier, and this relates to consular and emergency management, which I think was your last big job as Assistant Deputy Minister at Global Affairs Canada. It’s something that I did in a previous life as well.

I’m very curious whether — on emergency preparedness and consular preparedness — standard operating procedures are being retained. I was associated with the evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon in June of 2006. I know you were involved in many other crises. Of course, we’ve had a very big one in terms of repatriating Canadians during the pandemic.

Is there a standard way of operating? Is there a way — surge capacity was raised earlier — to harness that surge capacity, to have a roster and to look at the lessons learned?

Related to that, is there a way to inform Canadians of what they can really expect from their government at a time of international crisis in terms of coming back, evacuation or just general support? If you could just touch on that, that would be great.

Ms. Fortier: Sure. I did talk to people about the COVID evacuation. This, of course, was the largest-ever evacuation. What you and I did, Mr. Chair, was peanuts compared to that. It was very complex because, as the assistant deputy minister then responsible said to me, the chief symptom of this crisis was anxiety.

I think the lessons learned are that, one, you can do a lot using technology. This is Mr. Mank’s point. We had a lot of people back in Canada who went around the clock. They went into the hours that the people at posts could not use.

Also, Canadians are very demanding. There are standard operating procedures. Some of those were tweaked, at the very least. Some of them got pushed to the side because the situations that presented themselves were so unusual, such as ships full of people off the coast of Japan and moving large groups of people who did not speak Japanese into Japanese settings. This made it possible to link with new organizations, such as the Canadian Red Cross, who delivered some services on behalf of the consular service.

In terms of surge, the rosters are getting more and more sophisticated. More and more people within Global Affairs understand that this is everybody. It used to be everybody at the start of my career, and then it went into a specific cadre of people who would do this. Now, everyone in Global Affairs understands that it’s their job and they will be used, when necessary, for the benefit of Canadians abroad. Thank you.

The Chair: We will go into the second round.

Senator Woo: I wonder if Ms. Fortier could tell us a bit about what I’m going to call the caste system within Global Affairs where you have a foreign service stream; you have an EC stream; you have a PS stream; then, you have the EX above it all. My understanding is that different streams are treated differently, even though, in theory, they could be occupying the same job.

Is that a problem? What should we be doing about it?

Ms. Fortier: Thank you, senator. That’s an interesting commentary. As a person who has had 21 years abroad and 37 years in government, and who has done all the castes, I find it really interesting. I was a development officer at the beginning, and I think I’ve done well. Obviously, working with consular, I was and I am a champion of the consular and administrative group. I’m very glad that they are full members of the Foreign Service now.

The trade and political have specific cultures and esprit de corps. I think in the current environment where there is such a shortage of excellent people, I think all people are valued for what they can bring to the table and specific expertise in particular.

Senator Woo: Are they not treated differently? They are paid different amounts of money for the same job simply because they belong to one stream rather than the other. Is that not a problem?

Ms. Fortier: Everyone who is in the Foreign Service has a similar salary band. It just depends on where you are in the system whether you are, in fact, an FS 1, 2 or 3, even 4s in EX. Within non-rotational, I think these are subject to negotiation. Whether you are a PM or an AS, this depends on which union you might belong to, how the negotiations go and where you are in the ladder.

It’s quite a complex human resources situation, I think.

Senator Woo: Is there time for one or two of the other witnesses to comment?

The Chair: Mr. Mank, would you like to comment on this?

Mr. Mank: It’s a good question. It’s exactly what I meant by my sixth recommendation, which is to rebrand it as the global adviser service. All of this complexity of the different job categories should be washed away. They should be part of one employment group. They could be ported over at their current salary level. This is actually something that could be implemented. For surge capacity, they could have membership in the Disaster Assistance Response Team, which is an important platform based at National Defence, and could be broadened out to deal with the surge capacity that we need.

The Chair: I would add, colleagues, that this is something we might be looking at in the context when we do the comparisons with other foreign services in other governments, and just how they handle that.

Senator MacDonald: I do want to return to our approach when it comes to dealing with our representatives abroad and developing trade and investment. Actually, Mr. Robertson, the experience you had in Los Angeles segues into this.

I’ve been on the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group for all my time in the Senate, and we just came back from three days of meetings with 11 senators in the U.S. after two years of not meeting face to face. Of course, we leaned on our embassy in Washington for most of our work across the border. We have many consulates in the U.S. I’m just curious: Do we use our consulates as well as we could?

From my point of view, we don’t have a lot of close interaction with consulates unless we’re in that city. Do we use them the way we could? Is there a better way to apply these consulates so we can develop our trade and investment in the U.S.?

Mr. Robertson: Thank you, senator. I think the consulates are used as well as you would wish to use them. Can you use them better? The one observation I’d make is that I thought, certainly, when I served at the consulates that we could better synchronize with the embassy in Washington, so I used to phone the ambassador every quarter just to find out what is going on.

I understand now that the consuls general report through to the ambassador. This is a bit arcane, but I think it’s important because the ambassador is the one figure in the United States who has the full scope, and when you have the consulates working with the ambassador, you get the dynamic you want. I think this began under Ambassador MacNaughton and continued under the current ambassador. I think that makes a lot of sense, particularly given the changes in the United States and the fact that we have such vital interests. We do need a Team Canada Inc. approach in which the consulates are key players, as are members of Parliament.

Certainly, when I was working in the Advocacy Secretariat, one of the things we strongly encouraged — which now takes place — was that you’re allowed to use your travel points to travel to Washington and, I hope, other places in the United States. My experience in the United States is that it’s peer-to-peer. I’ve said to you and others before, politician to politician, and it doesn’t matter in what party. You can talk to them in a way that a diplomat can’t, so it’s a vital role for parliamentarians, particularly for senators, because I think you have more leeway sometimes than members of the House to get down there. In my experience, certainly in Washington, where there were two senators in particular who came down and I would travel with them, and I met other U.S. senators — people we were trying to meet — thanks to the relationships you and your colleagues had developed. That’s vital to the work of our embassy and our consulates general.

Mr. Mank: When we were working on our re-engagement strategy with India, one of the better ideas we had was to open more consulates to have better representation across that vast country, so I’m fully supportive of that.

In Japan, we worked with our consulate in Osaka for a variety of very different but useful purposes, one of which was encouraging Toyota’s first investments in Canada — which have been legendary, of course — but also responding to the Kobe earthquake and the disaster that occurred there requiring Canadian assistance, so they’re extremely useful.

The Chair: Thank you very much. We’re out of time on that segment. I would like to thank Senator MacDonald for this question. This is one that I think this committee could return to at various instances, again, in comparisons with other countries and our own experience. It’s one I find quite interesting as well.

I’d like to thank our three witnesses for their candour today, for answering our questions and for their presentations.

Colleagues, if there are no other items, I have a few comments before we adjourn. Our next meeting will take place on Monday, June 20, at 10:30, during which we will study Bill S-9, referred to this committee on June 14. For next Thursday’s meeting, and members of steering don’t know this yet, I propose we have a steering committee meeting in lieu of a regular committee meeting.

If there are no other questions, colleagues, we’re adjourned.

(The committee adjourned.)

Back to top