Transcript – Episode 18: Chat with Paul Maddison
David Morrison: Paul Maddison has been Canada’s high commissioner to Australia for the past three years. Before that, he enjoyed a stellar three-decade career as a Canadian naval officer, capped off in 2011 when he was named commander of the Royal Canadian Navy. Paul was through Ottawa recently and stopped by my office to talk about life in the navy, his view of Global Affairs [Canada] and his predecessors from the outside, and how his view has changed now that he’s on the inside. G’day, mate! It’s, Paul Maddison that’s always, that’s the best I go, it’s always great to be with you. Paul is in town for just a couple of days. That’s not an often occurrence when you are the Canadian high commissioner in Australia. So thanks for making time to come by.
Paul Maddison: Yeah, it’s great to be here.
David Morrison: You’ve been there about three years or going on three years.
Paul Maddison: Yeah.
David Morrison: It’s tough to think of a country in the world with which Canada has a closer relationship. Before we get to that though, I want to talk about your history. I learned—and for readers that don’t know, Paul, before becoming high commissioner in Canberra, was the head of the Canadian Navy—I learned recently that the current head of the Canadian Navy is from Taber, Alberta, which is about as far from the ocean as you can get, and it’s also very dry. So I’m interested in your background and where you were born and how you ended up becoming a sailor.
Paul Maddison: Oh thanks, it’s great to be here, and I’m here because you, during the global heads of mission meeting, you talked about your podcasts and you—
David Morrison: Shamelessly promoting.
Paul Maddison: Yeah, yeah, and you invited us to come in. So I thought, here I am in Ottawa on a rare visit, so it’s great to come here and see you and talk and share some stories. So I was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, but I’m not a prairie guy. My folks are both from Nova Scotia.
David Morrison: Okay.
Paul Maddison: And my father joined the Air Force, and so Moose Jaw is an air force base, I was born there. But to go back to what you said about Alberta and Vice Admiral Ron Lloyd, who’s the current commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, during the Second World War, the two cities in Canada that recruited the most sailors for Canada’s Navy were Winnipeg and Calgary. So I think it was the attraction of farmers, who have never seen salt water.
David Morrison: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and perhaps people looking just to get out. Right?
Paul Maddison: Yeah, yeah. So, yes, my roots are really Nova Scotia.
David Morrison: Nova Scotia and a military family it sounds like.
Paul Maddison: That’s correct. And so, it was just kind of natural for me to enroll. I was in high school in Ottawa, and I went, I attended Collège Militaire Royal de Saint-John [Royal Military College Saint-Jean] in the late ’70s, was commissioned in 1980 and then spent the next 33 years serving Canada at sea and alongside.
David Morrison: So your Wikipedia entry, on a sort of summary version on the right-hand side, shows that you served in the Gulf War. Was that an active combat mission?
Paul Maddison: Yes, it was, although we didn’t see any kinetics where we were operating in the southern Arabian Gulf in 1990 to 1991. I was on watch and underway, I think it was the 16th of January or the 17th of January, when the invasion began, and the striking forces were launching on the Tomahawks that were flying off the coast of Iran and flying off the coast of Saudi Arabia and straight up the Gulf into Iraq, and that was that first conflict where people were able to sort of see it on CNN. You know, I recall it was a pretty extraordinary experience and a privilege to be serving in the Canadian Task Group.
David Morrison: Right. What, as you look back at that 33 years, and you obviously had a stellar run and rise to become commander, I think named in 2011, so commander for your final stretch, what were your…you have had some time to think about it now, and you’re sitting in a different institution, what are your reflections on highlights, challenges, things that you wish had been different?
Paul Maddison: Well, you know, when you look at your career, it’s in stages. And so the first several years were focused on being at sea. So the highlights were, being part of high-performing teams, having to depend on one another, focusing on the mission and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each of the individuals in the team and sort of training our way into, to serve at sea as best we could. And you know, I think a highlight for me was taking command of the HMCS Calgary in 1997. It was just…I had never dreamed when I was a younger officer that I would ever have the opportunity to be given that kind of a privilege, and it just sort of happens, and you…that was a great ship, great crew.
David Morrison: Do you take it out and see how fast it will go or, you know, how do you have fun when you first command?
Paul Maddison: Well, yeah, you actually do some of that, I mean, we, the frigates were just being delivered in the ’90s, and so we used to do …we used to take leaders out.
David Morrison: Right.
Paul Maddison: You know, folks like you, you know, we’d, to show what the Navy was capable of doing, and one of the things we would do is demonstrate high-speed manoeuvres. And it was a lot of fun. You know, you go full speed ahead at 30 knots.
David Morrison: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Paul Maddison: You just go full speed astern, take that way off and go full speed ahead again. And you feel 50,000 shaft horsepower actually vibrating through the deck plates and up through your legs. It was just…you know, so we would do that kind of stuff.
David Morrison: You’re…and that would involve long absences from family if you’re at sea.
Paul Maddison: Yeah, absolutely. So there’s kind of a downside. I never anticipated as much sea time as I ended up getting in, so, you know, when I think of my wife, Faye, and how much she had to sacrifice from her own personal life in her own aspirations and what she had to deal with as essentially a single mother for extended periods when the children were very small. You know, I can’t give her enough credit for what she did, and I didn’t even appreciate then how much I would end up asking of her. And I suppose if we were ever able to do it again, and we knew what would follow, we probably would have made different choices.
David Morrison: Sure. A slightly different time back then probably in terms of expectations and…
Paul Maddison: Oh yeah. I mean, the Navy that I joined is not the Navy that I left. And when I joined the Navy, when it came to spouses, I mean, if you had an issue at home, the senior folks would say, look, if the Queen wanted you to have a wife, she would have issued you with one. So the message that was being sent then was your personal life is not our life.
David Morrison: Right. Not our concern either.
Paul Maddison: You owe all your energy and allegiance to the Navy. And if you have personal issues, then you deal with them or you are a problem.
David Morrison: Right.
Paul Maddison: And so as the leadership changed in the Navy, that whole approach was transformed 180 degrees until we got to a place where we were publicly talking about the strength behind the uniform being the family, and acknowledging that it’s not just sailors, soldiers or men or women who serve Canada and go in harm’s way. But it’s their entire family that is involved in enabling a man or woman to be able to voluntarily choose to serve. That’s the arc that I saw through my career, and it’s given me a great deal of satisfaction to see that we were able to lead that change.
David Morrison: I mean, there’s a parallel to this department—
Paul Maddison: Absolutely.
David Morrison: As you will have figured out because there was a time when officers were men and spouses were women who were expected to give up their careers. We have long talked about the fact that we post families, we don’t just post the employee, and sometimes we’re maybe not as good at walking that walk as the talk. But nonetheless, it is a reality, that unless, I very much like that, you know, behind the uniform there’s a family, that’s manifestly true in, in our shop as well. So you go on to become the commander, if you didn’t expect even to be in command of a ship. That must have been quite something. You retired in 2013 or 2014, and now you’re back as a public servant. Tell me, you must have formed an impression of this department from across the city.
Paul Maddison: Yeah.
David Morrison: I’m interested in that. The two departments haven’t always seen eye to eye. Although, I think it’s probably much better than it used to be.
Paul Maddison: Yeah.
David Morrison: But what were your impressions coming into this shop, and which ones have been borne out?
Paul Maddison: Okay, so first of all, when you said retired in 2013, I failed spectacularly at retirement, and I’ve come to realize that you don’t retire, you just transition to something better. And this turned out to be something, you know, better for me. In terms of impressions, as a junior officer in the ’80s, I had the amazing experience of being an aide-de-camp to the Governor General of Canada. It was Madame Jeanne Sauvé, and so back then you had to live at Government House, and you travelled through all the state visits and the state visits that came to Canada. So we worked very closely with the chief of protocol and officials here.
You know, around the presentation of letters of credence, you know, I remember coming here and picking up new ambassadors in the landau and going up Sussex [Drive] for the letters of credence, and so I formed an appreciation then of a very exciting, a very talented, very motivated engaged group of professionals serving Canada in a different way. And when we travelled abroad, I remember state visits to Italy and the Vatican and Portugal and France and England and, you know, to see how the embassies supported the Governor General and how we had to work with them and the RCMP in the visit planning, just gave me a very positive impression. And so that’s one that I’ve carried with me through the rest of my career.
You know, as we moved forward, I remember when I was in command of Calgary, a port visit in Manila, and I remember it very well because I co-hosted a reception with the ambassador to the Philippines. And I remember, I can’t remember his name, and I’m embarrassed, but this is 20 years ago, but he impressed me as such a nice, erudite, engaged, personal man who fully appreciated that a warship coming into his home port, so to speak, was a floating embassy. And he wanted to make full use of it, and he appreciated that a warship with the Canadian flag in a foreign port attracts influencers in a way that maybe they won’t come to your residence or your offices as easily. So we had ministers and senior influencers come down, and it was a pleasure to work with him, and he was very thankful, and it made me realize that even though we were in uniform and we were mostly focused on being operationally ready at sea, that in the Navy, at least, when we came alongside in a foreign port, we were actually an extension of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade [DFAIT], and we were there to work with you, to further the national interest. So that was a very positive experience.
And then as it came up into the more strategic level, especially around the conflict in Afghanistan, that’s when I, you know, I found it really interesting observing in Ottawa how DFAIT, or Global Affairs Canada, and DND [National Defence] were working very closely together around the development, security and governance triangle, which was really at the heart of the campaign plan of Afghanistan. And you know, General Hillier was leading from the DND side with the deputy, and there was obviously a huge commitment from Global Affairs…
David Morrison: That’s certainly the one that people point to as having made the change.
Paul Maddison: Yeah, and there were some teething pains, obviously.
David Morrison: Yeah, yeah, but…
Paul Maddison: There are some cultural…I call it cultural dissonance, and…but by driving toward that whole-of-government approach, I think that’s set the tone for the significant change.
David Morrison: As I say, it’s the one I think people point to when they think or talk about whole of government. They tend to have somehow been associated with that because I think it did mark the change, and in my relatively short time in my current position, I’ve had a whole new vista open to me that I never saw before, in the sort of, the national security cluster of agencies that work exceptionally closely together, formally and informally. And of course DND in the Canadian Forces are very much part of that group. Australia, mate.
Paul Maddison: G’day, mate, how you doing? All right.
David Morrison: So, you know, fewer countries are as close to Canada. You know, the number of times where somebody says, well, what are the Aussies doing? When one thinks of security cooperation, one thinks of Five Eyes, when one thinks of almost any challenge we’re facing, it’s always useful to think about what our friends in Australia are doing.
David Morrison: What are the differences? Where have you seen very different approaches from Australia? They live in a rougher neighbourhood than we do. They live with a China reality that we don’t experience as strongly. They have a different posture on immigration. Talk to us about not the similarities but the differences.
Paul Maddison: Well, I think geography matters in this case, and so Allan Gyngell, who’s a former secretary over at foreign affairs in Canberra and wrote a book in 2015 called Fear of Abandonment, and it’s a history of Australian public policy, foreign policy since about 1942, and this fear of abandonment refers to the relationship first with the United Kingdom and then with the United States. And so being an island continent in a very, what I would say, it’s the centre of the vortex ring now with Indonesia, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, up north, China, Japan, Korea, India to the west. There’s a lot to keep them occupied strategically, and so they view their strategic alliances slightly differently than us. And so, I was actually surprised when I got there. It was during the lead up to the American election cycle, the degree to which I did not ever think that Australians would be as focused or even obsessed on the American political cycle as Canadians. But I found that they were at least as engaged as Canadians are, so that made me really think, and…
David Morrison: And it started badly.
Paul Maddison: Yeah it did, well, after the election, but the strategic alliance is everything for them. And they like to say that they have two very close friends, that’s China and the United States, but they only have one ally, in that particular case. So the relationship with the United States, how they manage it, is as important as we do. But there are different elements at play here. Certainly not the same economic, a compelling imperative that Canada is facing, especially today with the tariffs and NAFTA, et cetera. But then you turn that around with China. Their relationship with China is different than ours, as you alluded to, because of the, so much of their economic weight is in the relationship with China, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. And the fact that Australia is the only G20 nation that has had continuous growth for now 28 consecutive years. And that is all a function of increasing Chinese commodities draw.
And so, I think, be careful what I say here, but, I think the degree to which they have become very active with the Chinese on so many levels has forced them to be perhaps more strategically nimble in their China relationship than perhaps we are and because they have to be. And so, I think it’s a very good file for Canada to continue to observe very closely. Migration—a very difficult file in Australia, like Canada, their strength is their diversity. You know, in Melbourne, in Sydney, over 50% of the populations are born overseas. So, you know, Melbourne and Sydney arguably look a lot like Toronto and Vancouver and Montréal. But like Canada, they are very much open to lawful and orderly rules-based, managed immigration. And Canada has not had the experience that they were forced to endure. And so, it’s led to the conditions…
David Morrison: Which was boatloads of people arriving.
Paul Maddison: Yeah, so transnational criminal organizations are running refugees or even economic migrants, and on boats that ran into trouble on the top end of Australia, and hundreds of civilians drowned at sea, and the Australian government decided that this wasn’t right. And they set the gears in motion to stop the boats. This became a government policy. It’s very controversial. I’m sure that if the same kind of thing had happened in Canada, it would have been, and continue to be, equally controversial. And the fact that there are about 1,300 or 1,400 asylum seekers, refugees and stateless people in offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island in PNG [Papua New Guinea] is a very hot button in Australia, and, you know, thankfully this is not something that Canada has to work through. But if you go back to the Sun Sea episode in 2010, I think it was, you know, that was a significant national event here, and that’s only one boat.
David Morrison: Yeah, very tough one. And the other thing about Australia’s sort of neighbourhood, and where it sits as it looks north, that’s always been intriguing to me, is its relationship with some of the islands, particularly its development assistance relationship, which is different from any relationship I can think of that Canada has, where in…I was out there once, and it was on the Solomon Islands, and the Australian High Commissioner said to me, no, no, David, you don’t understand. We currently pay one third of this country’s health-care budget, and we expect to be doing so forever. I mean, they really are sort of out there on their own in their own sort of sphere of influence, and that seems to have broad, that approach to their island neighbours, seems to have broad public support in Australia.
Paul Maddison: Absolutely, and in fact it’s currently a political wedge issue around whether they’re engaging enough. And I’ll add that I’m accredited to seven Pacific Island countries. And my good friend Mario Bot, in Wellington, is accredited to another five. So this is very much part of what we are doing. So I’m in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Pilau, Nauru, Marshall Islands and Micronesia; and Mario’s in Fiji, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga and Samoa, and this is an important neighbourhood in the world for a whole number of reasons.
David Morrison: Well, you’re here talking partly about APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation], right?
Paul Maddison: Yep, yep, so APEC and Papua New Guinea. And so to go back to your original question, Australia invests $600 million annually into Papua New Guinea alone. And the interdependency of the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea is marked. I mean they relate…that Australia was essentially the colonial administrator up until independence in 1975. And so the legacy relationship is very strong, and you see it across the Pacific. The Australians consider the, sort of the, south and western Pacific to be their backyard, and the New Zealanders see, you know, that the, sort of the, southern part of the Pacific to be their backyard, and they’re doing all they can to…within reason, to build trust, to help build good governance, to bring enduring development capacity around health care, especially enabling women and girls, and that’s why, around climate resilience, and that’s why High Commissioner Bot and I have been, I think, successful in arguing that Canada’s development priorities resonate very strongly in the South Pacific, and…
David Morrison: Lots of, I’ve followed it for years, and lots of similarities except that question about where we work. Because in the case of Australia and New Zealand as well, it’s pretty clear where their priorities are. I would be remiss before I let you go if I didn’t ask you to give us any reflections you will on leadership in the two main organizations you serve—the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Navy—and similarities and differences to the leadership requirements that you’ve seen in Global Affairs.
Paul Maddison: Thank you for the question, David. I’ll say so, it’s always about the people and it’s not...it’s never so much about the leader. And I’ve always believed that if you genuinely spend time with the people in your mission or in your ship, if you sincerely show that you respect them for who you are, and if you make it very clear that you believe that each and every individual on your team has a unique gift to bring to bear on enabling the mission to achieve success, and that you’re there to welcome that gift, it doesn’t matter what role you have as a CBS/LES [Canada-based staff/locally engaged staff], as a sailor and officer, but it’s a team effort, and nobody’s successful unless we’re all kind of successful. And if you’re out there communicating and being visible and being supportive and following up and saying, you know, thank you for what you just did there on your own initiative, it means a lot, and you know, and not being invisible, I think those things are very important, and being a champion for your folks. So when, you know, sometimes it’s difficult to get the strategic headquarters level to kind of recognize that some of the real human tensions are how us humans were being impacted by budget challenges or by programmatic challenges. And so you need to, as a leader, step out and be their champion and, you know, doing that in a respectful way is the key. You know, my... I would say, you know, around a difference, so having commanded the Navy and having run a $2-billion budget and 15,000 people, you know, I’ve probably made a mistake in assuming that going into a mission in Canberra with 45 people, I could just take the leadership style I had then and just kind of apply it there. I learned very quickly, so I was looking around and saying, well, we need to do this, I think we’ll need to do that, I would like to see this happen, I very much would think we had need to do this. And my deputy came to me about a month into the appointment, and he said, look, I really get what you’re saying, and I agree with all of the important activity lines that you’re opening. But if we’re going to get any of this done, you need to do half of it yourself. And I had to make that switch.
David Morrison: Sure, sure.
Paul Maddison: So, it doesn’t matter if you’re the high commissioner or if you’re leading a mission, a medium-size or small to medium-size mission like Canberra’s, if you want to get anything done, you actually got to get down there and roll up your sleeves and muck around with the team. And so, I enjoyed making that switch. I’ve been told by the team there that I’m, you know, more visible and more sort of out there communicating and talking and providing feedback than they might have been used to, and so I take it as a sort of a positive.
David Morrison: Yeah. You know we all, when we get thrust into different jobs, different situations, we learn more as leaders, right? You know a new gig challenges old assumptions, so…
Paul Maddison: And I learn things every day. And, I mean, I thought that being in the military and having commanded at the strategic level that I had a pretty broad understanding of the machinery government and a pretty broad understanding of the governance, the global governance system and where Canada’s interests are engaged. But again, I realized very early that I needed to understand the other aspects of what Global Affairs Canada is bringing around the world. I had to rely upon on my team to bring me up to speed.
David Morrison: Back to teamwork with a good dose of communication. Paul, we could go on and on. We’re right out of time so, thank you. Travel back well, and we’ll look forward to seeing you again.
Paul Maddison: Thank you very much for the opportunity. Great chatting with you, Dave.
David Morrison: Okay, thanks. Bye.
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