Canada’s Foreign Service Officers continue to live and work in “interesting” times. Events such as the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and its terrible aftermath, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and tensions with India have created additional challenges in doing their important work for Canada and Canadians.  A fractious zeitgeist that characterizes empathy and the ability to see many sides of an issue as a vice rather than a virtue, makes our work harder. We’re also facing practical problems from burnout and understaffing to mouldy chanceries, bedbugs, and difficulties accessing primary medical insurance coverage abroad. 

Bon nombre de ces enjeux ont été exposés dans le rapport que le Comité sénatorial permanent des affaires étrangères et du commerce international (AEFA) a publié en décembre et dans lequel, en se fondant sur les témoignages et les leçons apprises, il formule 29 recommandations visant à faire en sorte que le service extérieur de notre pays soit « apte à remplir sa mission ».

Some of the Committee’s recommendations, such as regular recruitment and training roadmaps, are already under way at Global Affairs Canada. However, others, like emphasis on foreign language training, are at risk in the current cost-cutting environment. The Government’s response, due in June, should outline how priorities are set and funding allocated. As always PAFSO’s priorities remain the health, safety, and professional effectiveness of our members, and respect for the negotiated provision of the collective agreement.

I was particularly pleased to see the Committee’s recognition of the need for “a complete modernization of the Foreign Service Directives to align with the current and evolving realities faced by Canada’s public servants and their families.” In our last Triennial Survey, taken in 2021, a majority of PAFSO members identified the FSDs as a major irritant, and even a disincentive to postings. This was quite shocking considering that the FSDs are explicitly “designed to provide a system of allowances, benefits and conditions of employment that, in combination with salary, will enable departments and agencies to recruit, retain and deploy qualified employees.” Sadly, we expect to see even higher levels of dissatisfaction when we launch the new survey early this year. 

Our Labour Relations team hears often from members who are unable to get support for their spouses or families, whose allowances are improperly calculated – sometimes for years – and who are subject to decisions that cost the taxpayer more in the long run. We do our best to get them the support they deserve, but the official resolution processes are long and arduous, and many situations could be avoided with the application of a little compassion and common-sense discretion. We know that this framework frustrates the Employer as well, so perhaps this report will provide the impetus for change.

Quoique l’appareillage sous-tendant le service extérieur soit très important, AEFA n’a pas pour autant hésité à poser un diagnostic sans équivoque concernant un autre problème fondamental : un manque de sensibilisation de la population au travail essentiel que nous exécutons. Affaires mondiales Canada doit exposer clairement les raisons pour lesquelles le rôle que le service extérieur joue fait une différence pour les Canadiens et les Canadiennes, dissiper les fausses idées au sujet des carrières dans le service extérieur et promouvoir le respect pour les connaissances et les compétences des diplomates. 

I hope GAC will also take AEFA’s advice on the need for an advisory group to assist with the implementation of the report’s recommendations. As the principal advocate for the interests and concerns of current serving Foreign Service Officers, PAFSO must be included among the “internal and external representatives, including current and former Global Affairs Canada employees, as well as parliamentarians, academics, and civil society representatives.” It will be important to ensure that the implementation is firmly grounded in reality and respects the long-term interests of the Foreign Service community. 

In 2025, PAFSO will celebrate 60 years “protecting the status and standards of our profession,”  and maintaining and promoting the effective functioning  of the Foreign Service of Canada. We are planning a number of activities to mark this important milestone, including a book on the untold stories of Canada’s Foreign Service officers, and bout de papier is key to our strategy. Editor-in-Chief Lillian Thomsen, Deputy Zal Karkaria, and staff members Eric Schallenberg and Adam Beauchemin are already implementing a vision for the magazine that showcases all aspects of this great career.  I hope you find it useful as you continue to navigate our increasingly “interesting” world. 

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