Transcript – Episode 14: Chat with Myriam Pineault-Latreille and Deena Allam

David Morrison: Myriam Pineault-Latreille and Deena Allam are millennial's who joined the department in January 2017, after completing internships at Canadian embassies abroad. Shortly after joining, they founded Next Gen, a monthly brown bag lunch series for young professionals in the department. I recently sat down with Myriam and Deena to talk about their impressions of Global Affairs, their outlook as millennials, and where they would like to go with their careers and their lives. So today we're going to try something a little bit different on the GAC files; we're going to interview two people. The dynamic duo of Deena Allam and Myriam Pineault-Latreille. They met as graduate students at the University of Ottawa and both joined the department in January 2017. So about 18 months ago. Since joining, they have founded and are co-chairs of the Next Gen youth network. Next Gen hosts roughly monthly brown bag lunches with people from throughout the department and throughout town. So without further ado, welcome to Deena and Myriam.

Deena Allam and Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Thank you.

David Morrison: Now as you know, because I know you're frequent listeners, we tend to start at the beginning, so why don't you each tell me where you're from and how you ended up here at Global Affairs. Start with Deena.

Deena Allam: Sure. I was born and raised in Toronto. My parents came to Canada in the 80s from Egypt. And...

David Morrison: Why? Why did they come?

Deena Allam: The economic situation in Egypt wasn't so great. They had done grad school in the States but they weren't able to get... to immigrate there. So they came to Canada. And so...

David Morrison: You have siblings that came?

Deena Allam: No, I'm an only child. So yeah I was born and raised in Toronto. I did French immersion there and then I did my undergrad at the University of Toronto in French literature and political science. And then after that I didn't really know what to do with my life. So I came to Ottawa for grad school and that's kind of how I got my foot in the door here in the department.

David Morrison: Good, and Myriam?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: I was born and raised in Montréal. Did my undergrad in international and policy in international law. Subsequently, I did not know what to do with my life, I went to Ottawa. In fact, I had an internship on Parliament Hill. I finally worked there for two years in politics a little bit about electoral reform issues; I finally realized that politics was not for me. So I went back to school to do a master's degree in international public affairs and that's where I met Deena to finally end up here.

David Morrison: And both of you have the opportunity, I believe, to have an internship at the Canadian embassies. Myriam where was it?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: I had an internship only about 4-5 months at the Canadian Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.

David Morrison: When was that?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: It was just before I arrived at the department. Make it maybe two years.

David Morrison: And what did you do? What did you do?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: In fact, it was a good timing, and at the same time a bad timing, but it happened that I was supposed to do more work FPDS, but eventually my supervisor got sick and so I ended up doing a little between trade work, development work and FBDS, and I really loved that. It gave me the opportunity to basically taste everything and see what the big picture is about embassy work.

David Morrison: And Deena, you were in Latvia, I think?

Deena Allam: Yes, I did my internship at the embassy in Latvia and so the embassy covers Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It was a small embassy, so we were 11, I think, including the ambassador's driver. And there was only the ambassador who was a CBS. So it was a very interesting environment.

David Morrison: And those internships came about because you were co-op students, is that right? That was part of the deal or part of the... or it was at least something that was available to you? I mean, how do you... if you're a young person, how do you get to work in a Canadian embassy?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: It was part of our program. So the university has contact with different embassies and that's how we got it.

Deena Allam: Yeah, I think since like 2011 the University of Ottawa, like our master’s program in particular has been sending grad students to embassies. It was kind of a network that they've built up through one of their senior fellows, Dan Livermore, who workedfor the department, so he just kind of hit up his friends and was like, Hi do you want an intern? And I just kind of went from there.

David Morrison: And did everybody in your class do this?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: No, we you go through like two interviews and then, yeah. That's how you get picked.

David Morrison: And do we pay you?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: No.

David Morrison: So unpaid internships. Okay I know that's a whole...

Deena Allam: That's a whole other story.

David Morrison: ...A whole can of worms, we'll devote a whole podcast to that one. So then was it sort of natural that you would then get recruited into the department, or how did you.... Did you make calls? Did you... how did you come out of university and then step into this building?

Deena Allam: Okay, yeah so I mean I think it kind of depends on your embassy experience. I know some friends who got into the department based on the contacts they made on their embassy internships. Mine was a little bit different cause there was only one CBS and he was... I believe he's retiring now. So it was like, I mean very useful but not in terms of furthering my career through networking. And so basically I was in the co-op program. And so when you're a co-op student in Ottawa, though really only people who are hiring are government. So I kind of focused my attentions on Global Affairs postings and that's kind of how I snuck on in.

David Morrison: And are the postings on the website? Or do you cold call people? Or how do you...

Deena Allam: It's through the co-op office.

David Morrison: I see, okay. So it's sort of a placement service.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: I did a bit of both, but my cold calling didn't work at all. So I had to go through the university.

David Morrison: So what's the... you guys come in and you have this embassy experience and I don't know…you sit in the cafeteria or you sit at Tavern on the Falls after work and what do you talk about? What do you make of this place as…as newcomers?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: It's funny because actually yesterday we made it kind of a mental list of like all the excitement that you get on your first month in the department. So like the difference between the horizontal badge and the vertical badge, that's really a big deal for us.

Deena Allam: It is, when we got our horizontal badges that didn't say what division we worked for. Like we hit a whole new tier.

David Morrison: What's the... you're speaking a language most of us don't understand. What's the difference between a horizontal badge and a vertical badge?

Deena Allam: So when you're a student, you have a vertical badge and it says your division because that's what you... that's the division that you work for.

David Morrison: That's what you belong to.

Deena Allam: Yeah exactly. But then once you get on like a casual or a term, you get that horizontal badge, with like a longer expiry date usually.

David Morrison: Awesome.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: So you know you're the big deal. You're a part of the game.

Deena Allam: It was very exciting.

David Morrison: Okay, I will have to keep my eyes peeled. So you both became horizontal badgers. And I mean we talked about this briefly before we…before we went on, but your impetus to do the internships and to come here is really driven, you were saying by your desire to work in international affairs, but also your desire to be posted abroad or work abroad for Canada. How do you make the leap? Because you've come in via co-op programs, so you're basically walk-ins, rather than the route that many people listening will have taken, which is the Canadian Foreign Service exam or the postsecondary recruitment. So you're a PM, I think Myriam.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Yeah.

David Morrison: And Deena you're an EC in an FS box. So how do you see the future and getting posted abroad from where you currently sit?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: I don't know. I know it's going to be a boring answer, but it's kind of hard for at least myself to see what is my future in this department just because, like I concentrate for the next month, right? And like what, where I'm...

David Morrison: How long is your contract?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: It's always like going from a year to another year. So like my contract ends in late August. Anyway, so I guess it's just, like my focus on this, like I don't know where I'm gonna be in two years. Right. But I would love to stay here. That's not... but then it's very difficult to say like where I would like to be posted or like...

David Morrison: Sure, sure.

Deena Allam: And I mean being terms also just... where would I like to be posted is not a question we can ask ourselves because we can't be posted.

David Morrison: Yeah, you would rather like be able to pay your rent by the end of August.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: We can be that dramatic. We just want to pay for food.

Deena Allam: We would like to be posted but we can't, so.

David Morrison: Yeah. So I mean this would be the subject of a different podcast, but I mean we do hope to... the department hopes to be in the financial position to be able to begin again offering indeterminate contracts. How that will work is something that was partly the subject of a recent retreat that we had on human resources issues and you know, one of the subjects that was debated frankly was you know whether it was possible or advisable to go back to a national recruitment as a way of ensuring that our workforce is representative of all the various bits of Canada geographically as well as the cultural and other kinds of diversity. So anyhow, there'll be more news on that I hope in coming months. Let's switch gears a little bit. You are I believe known as millennials. Right here in the wild not in captivity. So now that I have you in front of me I would like to ask about whether... you know whether you identify that way, whether you think your outlook on career or on life is any different than your parents, for example, or older people you see in this building. You know the caricature is that you are all entitled snowflakes that expect, you know, to have constant career enrichment and be able to jump back and forth and not pay your dues and so on. And what do you make of that characterization Myriam? How have you been received here?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Really well I feel... that's a tough question.

David Morrison: You can just go back and talk about being a millennial.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: I don’t know how much we’re different from past youth generations. I think that's still the case, we are the result of the current context. It remains that there are still a lot of instabilities for the future, and for our own, like it or not. We are aware that not just at GAC, but also outside of the ministry there are a lot of instabilities. It also remains that we grew up, it's very cliché, but with all the technology that makes us who we are. We have an opening to the world that perhaps our parents did not have. We have traveled more, we may have eaten more food from different countries, because precisely there is like this kind of globalization.

David Morrison: And personally, you learned, you did internships, you studied in South Africa...

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Yes, in fact it was after high school, I found that my level of English was not very good. I told myself, I need to improve my English. Then I decided that instead of going to Ontario, I would go to South Africa to improve my English and that's it, I spent one year there in a host family in Johannesburg where I went to school with other students.

David Morrison: But it is true that your generation is, while the world is smaller. Technology has made the world smaller and the cost of travel is much less so it is entirely normal for people your age and I won't reveal exact ages but one of my guests is under 25 and one of them is under 30.

Deena Allam: Very diplomatic.

David Morrison: But it is. It is true that people that now walk into this building already tend to have lots of international experience and that is a thing that characterizes millennials I would say. What about you, Deena?

Deena Allam: Yeah I mean I think that millennial is just so often used as like almost a derogatory term. It's associated with a snowflake business you alluded to earlier. And I think that how we've been received in the department, really depends on some people. People have been super welcoming, they really welcome our enthusiasm and our passion and recognize that we're here because we want to be here and we're putting up with instability because we are passionate about international affairs. But there are places and people who think that, you know we don't have experience or we need to wait, or we don't… like our opinions aren't necessarily as valid. And so I think it's really been a mixed bag. And I think that some people you know take risks and give the young people opportunities, like my manager has done. But in other cases that's just not what happens and you have young people writing dockets when they could be doing a lot more.

David Morrison: Right. You both arrived and you instantly or rapidly decided to fill a niche by creating this thing called Next Gen. Talk to me about that.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: In fact, it started maybe a few months after we arrived at the department. We saw all those young people who had this drive, who took coffee, who networked in the cafeteria, and Deena and I are just really not like that. So we were like, we are not the only ones who are a bit scared, who would still like to hear about senior management, then hear about their experiences, and then get advice. We said let's all get together, and then create this kind of safe space where we can talk with people we usually do not have a conversation with.

David Morrison: And you invited, I believe, John Hannaford and the others who…

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Yes, ok, we had up to about 15 brown bag lunches, then that's it, we had our first guest John Hannaford who was my teacher at the time when I was at the University of Ottawa. So I thought it was a good opportunity to introduce him to the rest of the department. But also, we had Tarik Khan, we had Marcy Grossman, Tamara Mawhinney.

Deena Allman: Larisa Galadza… Alan Hamson….

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: We did different themes too; we did a panel like Women and Power, we did another about how it's working in a DM office, we had Yannick Lamonde who came talk to us about that.

David Morrison: Who's the audience? I mean I know I see the bills so you advertise them but is it mainly young professionals?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: I would say young people under 25 or under 30.

David Morrison: You listeners can't see it but one of the two is blushing.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: But it's casual, students, term. There are determinate employees, indeterminate employees. We also have people who are young at heart, but who are a little older, I think in fact that it's curious people; that's also what characterizes many millennials at GAC… that we are very eager to know everything, then to understand everything, so that usually we have an audience of about 60 people or more, the last brown bag lunch we had was with Francis Trudel who was…

David Morrison: It would be more... [laughter]

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Yeah, we were above 100 people. So yeah.

David Morrison: Deena, I want to shift gears now and talk to you a little bit about your identity. You are a visible minority, you're woman. You were I think former secretary of the visible minorities network.

Deena Allam: Yes…

David Morrison: How has that... how have those aspects of your identity shaped your interest in world affairs in Canadian foreign policy and your role so far at Global Affairs?

Deena Allam: Ok.

David Morrison: You can chip in.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: I'm just going to watch her.

Deena Allman: Well I think like growing up in Toronto to immigrant parents, in like an area where everybody’s parents were immigrant parents.

David Morrison: Like where in Toronto?

Deena Allam: In North York. Like my kindergarten class was translated into Cantonese and Mandarin. There are about five of us that spoke English so like that's kind of the environment I grew up and all my friends are from all over the world. So I think it's always just been something that I'm interested in being in contact with people from different cultures is just like a huge part of who I am. And like being Egyptian is also a huge part of who I am. And so it sort of drove that interest to like help shape what Canada looks like and to shape a Canada that looks like what I grew up in. And so I think when I moved to Ottawa it was really kind of surprising to me how different our capital city is from what I was used to. And it's really interesting because working in the embassy you know we promote this vision of Canada abroad as like a big multicultural place and that's how I experienced it, but coming here, that's not the case. And coming to GAC was really surprising to me.

David Morrison: What... be a little bit more specific. What was, I mean was it sort of classically male Anglo. Is that what you mean?

Deena Allam: Yeah like white male anglo, if I'm allowed to say. It's going to be edited, sorry this is going to be cut out.

David Morrison: We'll leave that part out. But hey, that was your sense of the town and the building, you're saying.

Deena Allam: And the building, yeah like it was surprising to me that something that... like a building that is dedicated to international affairs just didn't look very international when you're walking down the halls. So that was a big surprise to me if I'm completely honest and I think that's kind of what drove me to start getting involved in the visible minority community that does exist here because we are here and sort of see how we can amplify our voice and see the issues that are facing the community and see why we're not represented so much up the management chain. And yes so it's just kind of something that really interested me.

David Morrison: Well you're... as a white male Anglo you're to be... you know, congratulated because my sense is that the people I interact with at a senior level are all genuinely committed to creating the kind of department that is more in keeping with your experience as a Canadian. But we all have blind spots and so I do know how valuable the deputies found it when the co-chairs of the LGBTQ2+ network came around and told us about their reality in the department and the challenges that the community they represent were facing and what they were doing about it. And so the... these networks, the women's network, has been very valuable and vocal on a series of issues that the department is facing. I can't speak for my deputy minister colleagues but our jobs in a certain sense are to try to take the best decisions possible and we can't do that unless we have full information. And I find that the networks in this house are helping to provide that full information that we can then use to try to take the best decisions possible for the department. So well done on...on your role in the visible minorities network. So I want to again shift gears a little bit and…and pick up on this notion of uncertainty which as you both said is not necessarily unique to this department. The days of people leaving school and stepping into a place that offered lifetime employment and actually staying for a lifetime are probably long gone. And people like yourselves can look forward to having two or three or more careers in a…in a lifetime. If you both want to stay in the department, I hope the department can accommodate that and offer you the kind of careers that our many of our listeners have had. But if that doesn't work out for whatever reason, what other things are you considering doing, giving your mutual interests in international affairs.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: I would say it depends of the days. Some mornings I wake up and I'm like I'm just going to like open a bakery. And just like sell bread.

Deena Allam: I do get these text messages.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: But if not, more seriously it is certain that the international side I want to maintain it in my career later, if it is not precisely in the department that it is possible to reach it, well at that moment is it that it would be in an international organization. Of course this is also a bit scary because there are so many possibilities and there are so many different organizations and structures everywhere, it's like…

David Morrison: Yeah, NGOs, United Nations…

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Exactly, that's what it is, I imagine, to explore, and sometimes that creates some anxiety attacks, because there is no choice and too many choices, so that ... But for sure, the international side is very important for me, and then make an impact. Both in the organization where I am, but also in the world. I know it's very cliché, maybe too, but...

David Morrison: You have to have those goals. And what Deena, and then...

Deena Allam: Yeah I mean I think a lot of... for me it's very similar to me and like I really want to have the capacity to have an impact on the world to shape the world that we're going to live in. And I just I don't really know what direction that is going to take. Definitely internationally would be very interesting. I also just, I'm a huge nerd and I really loved school and I'm probably going to go back to school every once in a while I get into these tizzies where I start looking up like PhD programs and then I talk myself off the ledge because I want to have a little bit more experience before I go back into school. But, yeah, I think it'll definitely be an interesting ride, but I don't really try to plan anymore because I realize that I can't really plan.

David Morrison: So I mean I don't think that what you're saying is terribly different than how people in previous generations might have experienced things. I mean I think there's all...

Deena Allam: Yeah, that’s a relief.

David Morrison: I don't know. I mean we all sort of have to deal with the cards that we've been dealt, but I do think that the kind of existential crises about bakery or not bakery or foreign affairs are things that some of us go through very regularly. I would encourage you to talk to other colleagues, maybe colleagues a little older to see if they... if their careers and their thought processes are as linear as it may seem from the outside. I would wager the answer is no.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Actually through Next Gen it's been a great opportunity to listen to these advice or like different path like we've had there people telling us like yeah exactly there's not just one path and you can like, we had Peter McGovern who told us you should build your career in your own terms. We've like got this bits of advice.

Deena Allam: Little tid bits and it's really like awesome to hear someone like John Hannaford say he didn't really know he was doing either and he stressed about a lot at the time. It's kind of reassuring.

David Morrison: Everybody feels like that. I can assure you John and I've talked about how we took the decisions that we took and John has... I should have let him tell us. But he has a great anecdote of spending a summer driving a beer truck in Muskoka and frankly being really bad at it. And so what he realized was that he should do what he was good at which is stay in school and that was obviously a good choice. I was a carpenter and I wasn't very good. So I quickly learned to focus on what I liked and what I was good at. One of the things that foreign affairs has tended to offer over the years or Global Affairs now, is the opportunity to change jobs, right? Rather than be in the same job for decades. You can, you know, work in the same field, but work in different countries in different capacities.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: But even that, it's funny because we were just talking about it the other day. I could not have felt like that. Kind of a way, you know. Because young people just jump from term to term, which means that sometimes we will end up in a term in trade, a term in development, a term in policy. Then that makes it possible that one is perhaps the product of the amalgamation, in the sense that I am ready to have a career perhaps as much in trade as in development, than in policy. We do not think like the development world or the world of, anyway ... It was just my ...

Deena Allam: But I think it's a serious consideration, right? Like we're in here and we're being...we're existing in a department that's already integrated so we don't have a sort of like chunked out mentality and a lot of the time, like I'll read things and I'll be like Well why isn't there like a Dev angle in this FPDS kind of pieceso...

David Morrison: We should make you the poster children for that.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Yes yes exactly, that's where we wanted this conversation to go.

David Morrison: I mean there's always going to be a tension between... and this played out at our recent retreat on human resources, but the tension is between the need for specialists in a world that increasingly demands specialists. Think of trade negotiators or people that are comfortable and excel at working with companies different skillset then working with governments. Think of arms control. Think of health in the development field where the technical expertise is required. But then think of being at an embassy where in some cases you have to, in the same day, do some development, do some trade do some, do some foreign policy. So we'll never solve that one. I think the challenge is getting... in the workforce, is getting the balance. The balance about right. Well listen, thank you for coming by the GAC Files.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Thank you for having us.

Deena Allam: Yes, thanks for the invitation.

David Morrison: We sit around often and we sort of say well I don't know what would the millennials think or what would young people think. So again...

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Are we disappointing? This is how we think.

Deena Allam: We get really excited when we take the elevator to the eighth floor. That's how millenials think.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: We got excited by your own bathroom.

David Morrison: Yeah we had a pre-visit yesterday to check things out. So sincerely, thank you very much for coming and good luck.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Thank you!

Date Modified: