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‘Profound malaise’ lingers in Canada’s diplomatic service, Senate committee finds

Canadian governments have undermined their diplomatic corps for two decades by failing to spend money and recruit foreign service officers, a Senate committee has found.

Ottawa needs to “reinvest” in the country’s diplomatic muscle to ensure that the country is “prepared to meet the complex global challenges of the decades to come,” the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee reported Wednesday.

Foreign policy and national security observers have noted for years that Canada, protected by a world superpower and isolated by three oceans, has failed to spend money on its own defence and security. That has not changed, despite political instability in the United States that has shaken the country’s most important security and intelligence alliance.

“A lack of recruitment and investment in Canada’s diplomatic capacities and capabilities over much of the past two decades has undermined Canada’s ability to influence and shape global issues and effect change,” the committee’s report said, laying the blame at both Conservative and Liberal governments.

“The committee believes that the Government of Canada needs to reinvest in Canadian diplomacy to ensure that GAC and the Canadian foreign service are fit for the purpose and prepared to meet the complex global challenges of the decades to come.”

The coming decades do not promise to be more stable than the last time Canada reimagined its foreign affairs approach.

The committee noted that the last wholesale review into Canada’s foreign service, conducted in 1981 under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, found a “profound malaise” within the foreign service. When the Senate committee investigated the status of the diplomatic corps over the last few years, it noted many of the same concerns.

“While critically important, the work that (Global Affairs Canada, or GAC) and foreign service employees do to support Canada’s interests at home and abroad can at times seem remote and abstract,” the report noted.

“However, throughout its study, the committee heard many examples of how this work impacts Canadians at a very practical level. This includes … the support that trade commissioners provide to Canadian businesses, and the work that those in the immigration stream of foreign service do to reunite families, assist people fleeing war and persecution and bring skilled workers to Canada.”

In other words, if Canadians have benefited from a form of splendid isolation in the past, they may not yet fully appreciate how much the world impacts domestic affairs.

The Senate committee’s report comes at a time when the Liberal government, flagging in the polls and consumed with domestic affairs, is attempting to refocus on affordability issues and appears determined to cut back on governmental spending.

It is not an environment that appears conducive to boosting spending on foreign affairs, even if the government was in the mood to do so.

“When you look at back-to-back minority governments, you’re focal length in terms of planning is very short and not much time or energy is devoted to it,” said Senator Peter Boehm, who sits as an independent and was a foreign service officer, in an interview with Global News.

“But I would also say that this decline in the foreign service capability in the aggregate … has occurred over several governments, and it’s up to Global Affairs Canada and to the government to reach out to Canadians to explain why we need a foreign service.

“We can’t count on the United States, we can’t count on other allies, and sometimes we’re kind of alone,” Boehm added.

The Senate committee made a total of 29 recommendations to reform Canada’s foreign service, including insuring that senior bureaucrats appointed to foreign policy posts have some familiarity with foreign policy issues, centralizing power in GAC to coordinate Canada’s foreign policy, and providing more support to Canadian diplomatic staff posted abroad.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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