In other words, the department needed to embed more specialist outsiders on a temporary basis to augment its policy expertise on pressing files.
When relations with China are awkward, welcome a scholar from the Asia Pacific Foundation for a year or two.
If Canada is crafting policy for the next United Nations Climate Change Conference, create a temporary position for a senior policy leader from a leading non-governmental environmental organization.
Ibbitson prefers the American foreign service model: each new administration replaces the bulk of the senior diplomatic corps with its own appointees.
I don’t think that the US approach could work here – note that (1) we don’t have a sufficiently vibrant private sector intellectual marketplace to provide refuge for the cadre of public officials who would find themselves unemployed following a change of government; (2) our Westminster system is not designed to accommodate the confirmation process necessary to keep partisan appointments from spiralling out of control; and (3) without enforceable fixed election dates, there is a risk of overwhelming public sector turn-over much too often – but I’m also not sure Ibbitson’s solution would solve the real problem.
As he says himself, “There is a general feeling within the government that foreign affairs, the foreign-policy shops in other departments, officials within the Privy Council Office and those in the Prime Minister’s Office collectively lack the numbers and depth to think through the big challenges facing Canada.”
Replacing permanent public servants with temporary appointees might enable Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to bulk up on specific expertise more nimbly (assuming that the selection process is smooth, bilingualism requirements are waived, and security screenings are somehow accelerated), but it will not change the fact that, as one of the next generation’s leading thinkers, Caroline Dunton, has recently noted, even though the Trudeau government has added nearly 1000 officials to the department over the last five years, there were fewer staff in GAC in 2020 than there were in 2010.
Dunton’s solution is more comprehensive than Ibbitson’s, less disparaging of public service culture, and more granular in its recommendations. At its core, however, it’s not that different:
“The Government of Canada’s investment in its foreign service and broader foreign policy apparatus at Global Affairs requires a significant overhaul and increase in resources, expertise and staffing.”
If Ottawa wants to adapt Canada’s foreign policy to meet the needs of an increasingly worrisome world order, they both say, it will have to spend more.
When thoughtful individuals with starkly different political orientations arrive at the same policy solution, one might expect decision-makers in Ottawa to take notice.
I don’t think they will.
The problem is that neither proposal stipulates where the funding for these new resources should come from.
Indeed, there is a much more difficult conversation to be had about whether Canadians have the necessary ambition to pay (either via notable tax increases and/or significant cuts to other government programs) for the changes Ibbitson, Dunton, and the many others cited in Dunton's well-researched essay have proposed.
Regrettably, I don’t expect that conversation to end well.
In the meantime, as I suggested last month, it might be worth focusing on some of the low-cost moves the Trudeau Liberals could make to improve things around the edges:
- Stick with a foreign minister for long enough to enable them to grasp the challenges facing their department at home and build relationships with their colleagues abroad.
2. Do more to keep the good people that we already have. From what I understand, most of them simply want to feel appreciated.
On the challenges facing the US diplomatic corps, take a look at this recent essay from Foreign Policy by Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon.
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