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  • Roland Paris

Testimony to Senate Committee on Global Affairs Canada

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Study on the Canadian foreign service and elements of the foreign policy machinery within Global Affairs Canada

Opening remarks:

Thank you for inviting me to contribute to your fit-for-purpose review of Global Affairs Canada.

I should say at the outset that I am not an expert on the inner workings of the department or an expert on organizational management.

I did work there briefly, taking a leave from my academic career in 2003-04, to serve as a policy advisor on Canada-US relations. I also worked for a year in the Privy Council Office Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat, which gave me a different perspective on Global Affairs. Then, in 2015 until the summer of 2016, I took yet another leave from my university to work in the prime minister’s office.

So I’ve had glimpses of the Global Affairs from all these vantagepoints – and these experiences will inform what I’ll offer you today.

I should also mention another matter that may interest the committee. A colleague and I have recently established a small task force of former senior officials and other experts to look into some of the most pressing foreign policy challenges and opportunities facing Canada. My co-chair in this undertaking is the international trade professor Meredith Lilly at Carleton University, who herself served as a policy advisor in Stephen Harper’s PMO. We both believe that most of these challenges transcend party differences – and that managing in a much tougher world is a matter of importance to our entire country. I can’t preview our conclusions, unfortunately, because we have only just started meeting, but we expect to issue a short report next spring and I hope to be able to share our findings with the committee.

I’ll use the remainder of my time to briefly highlight four issues relating to Global Affairs Canada that you may wish to explore in your study.

The first is the capacity of the department to manage in an environment of recurring international crisis.

Since 2020 alone, the department has had to deal with the pandemic and repatriation of Canadians from around the world; the Trump administration; the two Michaels incident with China; the Afghanistan evacuation; global economic turmoil; and now Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. Your committee may wish to looking into whether Global Affairs has a truly sustainable surge capacity to deal with emergencies (because emergencies are the "new normal") while also continuing to perform all the other functions required of the department.

Second, Global Affairs needs to strength its capacity for strategic planning. Although the department’s the ability to implement foreign policy is obviously central, it must also have the capacity to serve as the Government of Canada’s principal in-house think tank on how the world is changing and what Canada should do about it.

The department has apparently had some difficulty with this in recent years, in part because it has also been called upon to do so many other things. But, especially in a period of change and disruption in the world, we will need Global Affairs to perform this strategic role and to draw upon expertise from across Canada and elsewhere to help them.

Which leads to my third point: in my view the department would benefit from an HR policy that specifically seeks to recruit more mid-career professionals from outside government and that conversely also encourages Global Affairs officials to pursue temporary professional postings outside of government, such as in a major exporting company, in a provincial or even municipal government, or in a non-governmental organization.

Why? Because foreign policy isn’t just foreign policy. It touches on virtually every issue and every sector in our society. And dealing with these challenges will require not just interdepartmental coordination but also deep engagement with private sector and non-governmental actors and the perspectives that those actors bring to bear.

Fourth, the department will need to ensure it has expertise in key areas that we know will be important in the coming years. Some are unpredictable, others we know: from critical technologies to Asian languages and cultures.

These are four areas that, in my view, warrant some further attention, but let me conclude by observing that we are lucky to have so many talented and dedicated people working in fundraisers and in our diplomatic service. We’re starting from a very sound foundation. Canadian diplomats have a reputation for being skilled around the world, and it’s not something to take for granted.

When I used to travel and now resuming to travel, I have always been very impressed and proud to see our diplomats at work. We’re going to have to rely on their skills very much in the coming years to navigate a much more competitive and conflictual world that’s emerging. Thank you.


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