Transcript – Episode 27: Chat with Deputy Minister John Hannaford, with guest hosts Cassandra Morin and Brandon Cove

Brandon Cove: Hello, this is Brandon Cove.

Cassandra Morin: And Cassandra Morin.

Brandon Cove: And we are here today from the Young Professionals Network at Global Affairs Canada, and we’re doing a reverse podcast of the GAC Files, where we will be interviewing Deputy Minister of International Trade John Hannaford. But first, let us just introduce ourselves. So I’m Brandon. I’m a desk officer in our Southern and Eastern Africa Relations Division. I came to GAC [Global Affairs Canada] a little more than two years ago now through a co-op placement within the Office of the Chief Economist. And that was while I was finishing my master’s degree at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs [NPSIA] at Carleton [University], specializing in international development policy. And, prior to all of that, I grew up in Vancouver, and that’s where I did a Bachelor of Business Administration at Simon Fraser University.

Cassandra Morin: So, good morning, Deputy Minister, and thank you again for taking the time to join us for a reverse podcast. My name is Cassandra Morin, and I work in the Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion as a senior adviser. I’ve worked in the department for about four years. I started as a co-op student like Brandon in 2016. I started my career at the Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. After that, I worked with the Corporate Secretariat for three years. I am originally from Montréal, where I studied at McGill University in political science and international development studies, and moved to Ottawa to do my master’s at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

John Hannaford: Excellent, it’s a great pleasure to be here.

Cassandra Morin: Thank you.

Brandon Cove: And just for the listeners that don’t know, the Young Professionals Network, or the YPN, was established recently around February 2019 following the merge of a few different youth groups within the department. And we are an evolving, inclusive network of young and new employees in the department. So we facilitate professional development activities and learning opportunities, such as informal skills workshops. We also, of course, host social and networking events for our members as well as brown-bag lunches, of which you, Deputy Minister, have been a guest a few times, and finally we advocate on issues of importance to young professionals here at GAC.

Cassandra Morin: So today on the GAC Files, we will turn the tables by welcoming Deputy Minister of International Trade John Hannaford as a guest. We are pleased to be having this first discussion with you, Deputy Minister, about your career and experience in the department, and the issues that interest young professionals here in the department. We asked our members to submit questions they would like to ask, so most of the questions we’ll be asking come directly from them.

John Hannaford: Excellent.

Cassandra Morin: First of all, I would like to introduce our guest. Deputy Minister John Hannaford returned to GAC in January 2019 after serving as foreign and defence policy adviser to the Prime Minister. Before being appointed as an adviser, the Deputy Minister had a distinguished career in the Foreign Service. He was ambassador to Norway from 2009 to 2011 after holding various positions in the department’s various divisions and in the Canadian embassy in Washington. The Deputy Minister holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in history from Queen’s University and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the London School of Economics. After his master’s degree, he obtained a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Toronto and was called to the Ontario Bar in 1995. In addition to his work as a public servant, he was an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Law and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. So, with all of that having been said, let us jump into our first question.

John Hannaford: Excellent.

Cassandra Morin: So, we’re going to start with a question that, I think, is quite simple. We know you as a deputy minister here at Global Affairs, but I think our listeners would be more interested in how you got here. Can you describe your career path in more detail?

John Hannaford: Absolutely. I was born in Toronto, Scarborough, and as you said, I started my career as a lawyer. That was my education, and that was one of the reasons why I’m here, in fact, because I was quite drawn to the subject of international law. For someone like me, there was only one choice to practise this type of law, and that was why I was a student here first and then a foreign service officer. So I spent a few years as a lawyer, and then I spent a period as a foreign service officer on international trade policy. That was my position in Washington, for example. And after that, I was just a manager in a number of contexts.

Cassandra Morin: “Just.” [Laughter]

John Hannaford: It was a pretty interesting career for me. You know, I grew up in a situation where working in the federal government was not actually something that I’d thought about very much. When I graduated from university, I thought at one point that I might become an academic. I thought, you know, the school that I went to, a lot of people ended up just in private practice. It’s a relatively unusual thing to go into the government. My wife and I were among the very few who actually moved to Ottawa and stared working in the federal government. I think there were three of us out of a class of, whatever it was, about 150. And, you know, I ended up here really for reasons of subject matter and significant purge. Like I said, I was very drawn to international law as a topic, but I also knew, by virtue of my wife’s family, a bunch of people who had spent a career in the public service and had very interesting experiences. And I thought that they were very impressive people, and so I was kind of drawn to this place as a result of that. So that’s my career path.

All: [Laughter]

Cassandra Morin: So, we mentioned that you worked at PCO [Privy Council Office] with the Prime Minister, and given your career working in different capacities, whether it be in this department or at the Privy Council, how important do you think it is for employees and young professionals in particular to get experience in other departments? As you know, employees and young professionals in this department are thinking about the next step and what experience could they get to help advance their career. What do you think about getting experience outside of the department?

John Hannaford: Well, look, I get it. And I had a terrific experience at the Privy Council Office. In fact, when I left Norway to start at PCO, I thought it was for a year and a half, maybe two years there, and I was going to be back here. And seven years passed, and you know, I think, I guess one of the lessons I’ve taken from that and from other parts of my career is, I think there is enormous benefit to just being open to opportunities and not necessarily having, like, a strict sense as to where you must go in order to see your career progress in a certain way, but rather to be kind of focused on the job you’re doing, but, you know, as things come up, be open about what those things could present to you. And that was sort of what took me to PCO. And it’s a long answer to your question, but I think that, for anyone in their career, you know, if there are possibilities to go work in a central agency or in another department, that can be really interesting. And that’s something that you should think seriously about. But, by the same token, I think that people have had terrific careers staying here, and one of the huge benefits in this department is you can have an enormously varied career, you know, basically just working in various capacities within this department. And so, I don’t think it’s a sine qua non for having, you know, seeing success in this place. But I think it’s a benefit. And I do think that there are some really interesting opportunities.

Brandon Cove: That’s great advice, thank you. But we are happy to have you back here at Global Affairs. And since being back in your role as deputy minister of international trade, you’ve shown a lot of support for the Young Professionals Network. And, as you may know, Prime Minister Trudeau, as minister of youth, has set the priority to include youth in decision making, most notably through the launch of Canada’s youth policy recently, which now must be implemented across the federal government. So, within this context, committing more to increasing the participation and inclusion of youth, how vital do you think it is for young professionals to have a voice at Global Affairs, and how do you think the department can better harness the energy of the next generation here?

John Hannaford: That’s a great question. I think it’s incredibly important. It’s one of the reasons why I think that this is a great opportunity as I get to have a chance to chat with you. But, as you were mentioning earlier, I’ve tried to do a reasonable amount of outreach myself to the kind of structures that exist for youth participation. And, you know, I think a couple of things. One of them, I think it’s terrific that these are spontaneously created networks. It’s much more, well, I’m sure it’s much more rewarding in the sense that you shape these things to your needs rather than it being some sort of imposed structure where we must have a youth, you know, thing, that I think is appropriate. That’s probably not going to be all that meaningful for you. So, the fact that you have created these networks and brought them together and put together the programs that you find important, I think, is essential, actually, to the legitimacy of the exercise. I think it’s really important that people like me talk to you and make sure that there’s an open door and that there’s a good connection between all parts of this department, frankly. And, I think, I met relatively recently with some of the champions for various employment equity issues, and it’s so important that we have these kinds of, they’re not volunteer activities, but they’re activities outside of the regular course of work, because they just contribute to the overall strength of this organization. And I think it’s—so short answer is, I think it’s essential that we have these dialogues, and I think, you know, that the vibrancy that is going to be the future of this department comes from people doing precisely what you’re doing right now.

Brandon Cove: Thank you. Let’s keep it going.
All: [Laughter]

John Hannaford: Exactly.

Cassandra Morin: So as you mentioned, we did put a call out to our members about the types of questions that they would want to ask you. And the most popular question by far was, what do you wish you knew when you first started out in the public service and what advice would you then give your younger self?

John Hannaford: To be more calm, honestly. Starting out, I was quite nervous and not confident. And I think this is quite a common experience. But for me that was a real challenge. And I wish I could have just kind of taken the advice that I gave you just minutes ago not to worry too much about what was going to happen next.

Cassandra Morin: To be present…

John Hannaford: To be present, and to enjoy the work that we get an opportunity to do. And, you know, I don’t want to exaggerate that because when I first started, I felt extraordinarily privileged to be here, and I just felt extraordinarily privileged to have an opportunity to actually work on some of the files that I got a chance to do. I was doing World Court litigation as a first-year lawyer, which was an incredible experience. So I recognized that. But I also had a lot of sleepless nights, and I just, I worried a lot. And I think it was obviously a turn of mind, but I think it’s also just a time in life. And I worried about what, how, you know, things were going to unfold. And as I look back now, at my great age, you can sort of see there’s a logic to my career, but it was not a career that I would’ve predicted. I never thought I was going to be doing this job. So, I think, I guess what I’ve taken from that is I kind of wish that I didn’t fuss too much. And I had a tendency to fuss.

Cassandra Morin: It’ll all be, it’ll all be okay.

John Hannaford: Well, yeah, and I mean more to the point, you just can’t predict, you don’t know. And worrying is actually not going to help very much. So, just letting things happen.

Brandon Cove: That’s great. I think it’s important to be focused on the present because, as young professionals as well, I think we’re always thinking about the next step, the next step.

Cassandra Morin: And how to get there and not necessarily maybe immersing ourselves as much as we could in the work that we’re doing and learning as much as we can. Yeah, I think it’s really important.

Brandon Cove: So, as young professionals, we are, well, back to the next step, we are always thinking about, kind of what skills we can build to progress in our careers, kind of along the lines of professional development. So, we would be curious to know, I guess, what are among the top qualities that you might see in great employees?
John Hannaford: Yeah, that’s another great question. I, well, one of the things I’m proud of in my career was the team that I had in my previous job because I was there for long enough that I saw things evolve, and I was very proud of the fact that we recruited people who were clever but also excellent team players. And, over the course of my time at PCO, I was very, very lucky to have a bunch of people who wanted to be there and who just were a pleasure to work with. And I do think for government, generally, it’s, this is a team sport. You’re not, you know, no one’s a sole practitioner in the government because there’s no policy issue that doesn’t touch on any number of different areas of activity. There’s no service we provide that doesn’t require sort of a broader network within the government. And there are no programs that we provide that don’t sort of touch on multiple people, and so that ability to work with others is essential here for me. And so, playing well is just, kind of, a sine qua non for us, in addition to excellent knowledge of whatever your files are and an ability to actually get stuff done. So I, and I, you know, that’s one of the things that I’m really proud of in this department too because I think there is, I’ve been really struck being back here, by the collegiality of the people that I’ve been interacting with in the, and the sense of just, sort of a mission to the place, you know. People are here because they want to be doing this stuff. We’re lucky to be doing this stuff. And I think that’s something that you see reflected, and it matters a lot.

Brandon Cove: We’re pretty lucky.

Cassandra Morin: I think so. So, on the subject of being proud and accomplishments, can you share with us some of your accomplishments of which you are most proud or some of the most memorable experiences during your career? I’m sure there are many stories you could share with us today. Or not.

John Hannaford: Or not [laughter]. I’m lucky. You know, I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate, and I mentioned actually that, you know, I find comprising teams something that really is incredibly rewarding. If you think of individual files, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be at least around the edges of some really interesting files that have mattered for us as a country. You know, I think, though, as well, my previous incarnation, I was briefly a human rights lawyer and had the opportunity to complete our negotiation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which I think is a very important instrument. But also just having the chance to see something through to completion, is’, it’s huge. And so that was a very rewarding experience. You know, having the opportunity to work for two prime ministers and see those files evolve at that level was absolutely an extraordinary privilege. So, like I said, I’m very lucky and yes.

Cassandra Morin: Thank you.

Brandon Cove: We were happy to take care of some of those memorable experiences, you know, big accomplishments, but maybe just the listeners might be interested to know is there any kind of little-known fact about yourself that we wouldn’t already know, something you could share?

Cassandra Morin: Maybe most surprising fact?

John Hannaford: I’m not sure how surprising.…You know I’m a pretty keen, I’m a pretty keen cook, among other things, so that’s something that I’ve been keen on. For those of you who can’t see me, you may not be [laughter]…I’m a person of a certain size, so that’s…

Brandon Cove: You have time to cook?

John Hannaford: Oh, I love cooking. That’s really one of my principal hobbies and points of relaxation. And so that’s something that is a principal activity for me outside of the office. I have two basset hounds. I don’t know that there are many other things surprising about me. Pretty ordinary.

Brandon Cove: Well, it’s interesting because we did want to ask you a little bit about, like, on the subject of mental health and mental well-being, and we were curious to know how you maintain a work-life balance in such a high-demanding job. I think, even sometimes as young and new employees, we struggle with maintaining that, either working overtime or trying to prove ourselves.

Cassandra Morin: Exactly. And you know, sometimes it’s a bit difficult to take yourself out of that and actually focus on self-care or whatever it may be. So, yeah, we’d be curious to hear.

John Hannaford: Yeah, well, as I said, you know, I’ve struggled with that myself, and I can’t say I always succeed now. My own experiences personally have been that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten calmer. And I don’t think that’s that unusual of an experience, but it’s just true. I think personally that’s, I think you put in context some of the things that you’re worried about, and so that’s made a difference. But, you know, I’ve, I do have a lot of interests outside of the office, and that’s been important to maintain as well. And I mentioned cooking. I mentioned my dogs. My family’s obviously extraordinarily important to me, and I try, and when I’m out of the office, try and focus on the things I’m doing out of the office, as I say not always successfully. And, I mean, one of the other realities of the life that we live is things are going on in the world for 24 hours, and so you can always be immersing yourself, and with the joy of telecommunications, you can always be engaged too. So it’s an active effort to make sure that you create the space to be doing other things and not just thinking always about our lives here. And you know that’s, but that’s an ongoing struggle. And I can’t say I’ve sort of mastered it by any stretch of the imagination, but it is something I’m conscious of. And I do try.

Cassandra Morin: And I guess having the intention is already a first step, right?

John Hannaford: I hope so, and, yeah, I mean, it’s, and obviously you know there are times when you’re going to be busier and times when you’re not. And I think that’s part of the life lesson for me too, is’ when you are not busy, don’t make yourself busy like, you can…

Cassandra Morin: Don’t feel guilty.

John Hannaford: Yeah, you can actually take some time and, you know, rebuild. But when you need to throw yourself into something, then you need to do that.

Brandon Cove: And I guess it goes to being present not only in your, in your career, and in your job but also when you’re away from that job and you’re at home.

John Hannaford: Absolutely right, absolutely right.

Cassandra Morin: So, as a senior manager in this department and, you know, having held different leadership positions and in other capacities, you know, as we young professionals look forward to hopefully eventually being in leadership positions, what do you think, whether from other leaders that you’ve worked with or within yourself, what do you think is, like, one characteristic that every leader should, I guess, seek to emulate or seek to encompass?

John Hannaford: I think it’s difficult to come up with one, but I do think…

Cassandra Morin: Or a few.

John Hannaford: You know, I think being engaged with the team that you have is extremely important. I think having compassion and empathy for the people who you’re working with is incredibly important. I think having a sense of, then, where that team needs to go is extraordinarily important too. And being able to then create the conditions for whatever those objectives are to be met. So those are things that I’ve tried to emphasize in the course of my career, and I think the things that matter across any organization can, you know, ideally contribute to the health of the organization and the effectiveness of it.

Brandon Cove: Have you had many mentors over the course of your career?

John Hannaford: Many, many mentors.

Brandon Cove: Many many?

Cassandra Morin: Is there one that stands out that you think made the most impact or...?

John Hannaford: I’ve been very lucky there too.

Brandon Cove: The Prime Minister?

John Hannaford: You know, I think, well, I certainly worked, as I say, for two prime ministers, and you’ll learn a lot just from the process of doing that. But, in terms of people early in my career who were helpful, there were many, and it’s hard actually to come up with any single name. You know, although I would say Colleen Swords, for instance, who was assistant deputy minister here and then went on to become a deputy minister elsewhere, was extraordinarily important to me early on in my career and was very supportive. Marie-Lucie Morin, who is a former deputy minister here and was also an extraordinarily important person for me at various points in time. So, I’ve been lucky in a lot of ways to have people who have just been there. You know, if you want to talk about something or if you aren’t sure about next steps, somebody who you can call and get some unvarnished advice, and that’s kind of a critical piece, I think, for anyone in their career. And it’s maybe a species of what I was saying earlier that, because this is a team sport, like, you do get in, you have all sorts of relationships with all sorts of people, and that’s a huge strength of this work environment, I think.

Cassandra Morin: Before we wrap up, do you have any final parting words of wisdom for young professionals?

Brandon Cove: That was a lot of wisdom.

Cassandra Morin: It was a lot, but maybe some, I don’t know.

John Hannaford: Actually, I had a question for both of you.

Cassandra Morin: Oh, goodness, OK.

John Hannaford: So, why are you here? What drew you to this place? You both did master’s, so you’re interested in the subject areas, but just kind of interested in your own stories.

Brandon Cove: What drew us to the department?

John Hannaford: Yeah.

Brandon Cove: I think, well, I mentioned earlier that I had studied business administration back in Vancouver. And during that time, I actually ended up doing an internship at the United Nations Secretariat, so more in a project management role. But having the opportunity to, you know, go during my break to the Security Council chamber and see what was happening in the world really inspired me, and that was toward the end of my bachelor’s degree, so when I came back, I was looking, what can I do to get to the department and work at Global Affairs to contribute to that? And that’s why I ended up going to NPSIA at Carleton University, which led me to a co-op here, and here I am.

Cassandra Morin: And for me, I…it’s, I learned about the UN in high school, and it just kind of, even though I was from Montréal and I’ve been exposed to a lot of different cultures and in the world, it just, I don’t know, something, it lit a fire in me, I think. And I had the privilege of going to Ghana and Uganda when I was at McGill and kind of travelling the world a bit and working abroad. And at that point, I’d always had a passion for human rights, and that’s what really drew me to do my master’s in international affairs and studying in particular international human rights law and then, yeah, getting a co-op position here, having the opportunity to work at the UN mission in New York. Again, just further kind of embedded that passion. And, yeah, so I feel very privileged as well to be here.

Brandon Cove: Yeah, definitely very privileged.

Cassandra Morin: And the work we do is just so interesting. And it’s great to work on files that have a real impact on people.

Brandon Cove: It’s a similar story, I think, for many young professionals that have gotten here, you know. They were passionate about international affairs, many of them moved to the region to do a master’s here.

Cassandra Morin: I don’t think you just stumble into Global Affairs Canada. I think it’s something that a lot of people…

Brandon Cove: Pursue.

Cassandra Morin: Yeah, pursue, exactly.

John Hannaford: Like I said, it’s a huge pleasure.

Cassandra Morin: Thank you.

John Hannaford: Thank you.

Cassandra Morin: So, time passes quickly, and we have already reached the end of our podcast. On behalf of the members of our network, we thank you, again, for taking the time to talk to us and for your support for young professionals here at the department. I think I speak for both of us when I say that your career is really inspiring and that the minister is really lucky to have you as deputy minister.

Brandon Cove: And as we wrap up, I just wanted to also say that support from senior managers such as yourself is really indispensable to us here. And, if I could, I would just like to take this opportunity to thank one of my former managers who was my mentor, Sacha Levasseur-Rivard. He was actually a guest on the GAC Files last year when it was hosted by David Morrison. Yes, and he spoke a bit to, you know, some of the challenges that young professionals face here and really praised the talented work that he saw being done by his team and other young employees. So, he’s really been a continuing champion for us, just as yourself. So, yeah, I just had to throw that in.

John Hannaford: Good.

Cassandra Morin: And, as you know, the department is filled to the brim with young and inspiring young professionals that are dedicated to their work. So this interview was about you, Deputy Minister, in your career. And we really hope that we can continue to count on you and your colleagues to give young professionals a voice and harness the energy of the next generation of employees.

John Hannaford: You can.

Cassandra Morin: Once more, thank you very much.

Brandon Cove: Thank you.

John Hannaford: Thank you.

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