Transcript – Episode 37: Chat with Marta Morgan, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs

Welcome to the GAC Files, a podcast about the people, issues and ideas driving Global Affairs Canada.

And now introducing your host, Global Affairs Canada's Deputy Minister of International Trade, John Hannaford.

Marta Morgan: Hello?

John Hannaford: Hi, Marta. It's John. How are you?

Marta Morgan: I'm good. How are you, John?

John Hannaford: I am all right. I'm all right. So this is, I think, the second of our podcast conversations, but this one comes at a little different time. I'm talking with Marta Morgan, who is just back with us now, having gone through a period of self-isolation as a result of the COVID virus. And Marta, this is just an opportunity to hear from you and get the sense of the experience you had and any reflections you've got now, coming back into the system. So, how are you doing?

Marta Morgan: I'm doing great. Thanks, John. And it feels really good to have come out the other side of COVID. It was a very strange experience, I must say, having been fully preoccupied with the departmental response and the government's response to COVID since the middle of January, to then find myself personally affected by it was, I have to admit, a little bit surreal. But I feel good now, and I have a real appreciation for, you know, everybody who's going through it. It's not straightforward. Not just because of the physical part, which I think is obviously different for everybody, but just the logistical part of managing something so contagious in your household. And then the psychological part of being a part of a pandemic and reading stories every day about how it's affecting everybody—individuals and your city and your society—and finding yourself to be part of that. It's a little strange, I have to say.

John Hannaford: Yeah, I can only imagine. Well, we obviously missed having you, very much, around the executive table—at least virtually, because the executive team has been meeting by phone for the last little while. But I can only imagine that, you know, that it's an isolating experience, notwithstanding the fact it's kind of a global experience at the same time. It's a chance for you to have reflected a little bit, too, I'm sure, when you weren't reading about the COVID virus. What did you come away from this experience with, in terms of gratitude or reflections on the experience that you had?

Marta Morgan: Well, you know, I really did feel very grateful coming out of this. I mean, recognizing how fortunate I am and my family are to have, you know, a house where we can fairly easily self-isolate, you know, and not having to worry about our next paycheque, like so many people in Canada have to worry about right now. But also just the amazing support that I received and that my family received. You know, the department was amazing. I was well supported. I knew that it was in good hands, John, with you and Chris and Leslie and everybody else who was working so hard. I had a lot of well wishes and even though, you know, I knew people were sending me their good wishes—but then they were restraining from sending me, because they didn't want to bother me, either. But I felt it: I felt that people were sending that my way. And, you know, you really have to depend on, when something like this happens, on your family and your friends; you really appreciate that. My brother did all my grocery shopping for me for almost 3 weeks, and my friends brought over food. Everybody reached out to ask, you know, what did I need? And really, that's what I needed. And so people stepped up and brought over dinners. At one point, I had so much soup in the fridge, I could barely close the fridge.

John Hannaford: (Laughter)

Marta Morgan: It’s true. I was like, OK. No more soup, people. I need protein. So, you know, people were amazing. You know, what I always try and remind myself in this sort of situation is people want to help. People want to help people who need help. And so the one thing I would say to any of you, if you find yourself in this situation, is don't hesitate to ask for help. Ask your friends. Ask your family. Ask your colleagues. They all want to be helpful. They just want you to let them know how. And I am really grateful for all of the help and the support that we got. And I'm also just very sympathetic to others who are struggling with this across the country and across the globe. It is not an easy thing to go through. So I think we need to look for opportunities where we can help each other.

John Hannaford: Absolutely right. What are your other reflections about our organization, our community as a department?

Marta Morgan: Well, I have to say that I was very impressed by the department and our response to this pandemic. It’s worth recalling that the most important thing, in my opinion, is the well-being of our staff and family members, friends, colleagues.

John Hannaford: Absolutely.

Marta Morgan: That has to be our priority as an organization. We're all human, right? And we're going through this as people, and we all have different situations that we're having to deal with. And so, you know, I think the number one thing for the organization is we need to take care of each other. And that's what will show that we are a great organization, which I believe that we are. The other thing is, just in terms of what we've done— No, sorry, 1 more thing on the well-being thing is, you know, we all need to figure out what we need for our own well-being, whether it's time to take care of our friends or family, time to take care of our kids or our parents. You know, time to get outside, to eat well, you know, whatever you need to do. If you need help through the Employee Assistance Program… I just encourage everybody to try and do something every day to make you feel better and to try and keep yourself healthy, both physically and mentally. And have those conversations with each other, you know, with your boss and with your co-workers, about what you need. I think now more than ever, we need to put that on the table. You know, it's sort of like you and I did, John, about 6 weeks ago now. You know, you and me and Leslie and Chris sat down and said, okay, like, any one of us could get sick, how are we going to organize ourselves if that happened? And we had contingency plans such that it was seamless when I did get sick. You were right there and you'd been by my side—thankfully, not literally. You know, we'd been talking about everything for weeks. So you knew what was going on. And I think everyone in their own workplace needs to do that and just be up front about it. And, you know, it's kind of a good opportunity, really, to build a culture where we are open and frank about that sort of home-work dynamic and what we need to be successful at work and what we need to be supportive at home—which I think, honestly, the more transparent we are about that and the more we talk to one another about that, the better it will get. The other thing is— oh, go ahead!

John Hannaford: No, no, I was going to agree with you but I’ll do it when you’re finished.

Marta Morgan: The other thing I would just say is, on the work front, is that I really have been so impressed by the department and how the department has rallied in this situation. At the beginning, we were really at the cutting edge of the government’s response in this crisis, and it was one challenge after another, all of them new situations we’d never encountered before. And I've just been really impressed by the team spirit in the department. You know, employees volunteering to learn new rules to help consular, to join the Emergency Watch Centre, employees at missions all over the world, working with us here at Headquarters to manage all of the logistics of getting people back. We have actually returned over 20,000 Canadians, as of today, on almost 160 flights from 75 countries around the globe. And I have to tell you, when we started, we were, you know, looking at the back of an envelope saying, well, what do you think? Like 10, 12 flights?

John Hannaford: (Laughter). I think you're just exactly right. You know, I've been thinking, as we've been all going through this, that this is certainly not anything we'd ever hoped for, for ourselves. But these are learning opportunities, and you can see how the organization has adapted incredibly well to a really trying set of circumstances and has learned and sort of internalized and adjusted where we need to adjust. And we've been able to redeploy people to higher priorities when that's been necessary. That says something really good about the place. Not to mention just the, kind of, human dimension. And, you know, maybe go back to where we started: When you got sick, I can tell you the outpouring was genuine. And there were a lot of people who were very, very concerned about you throughout that whole process. Now, we're really delighted that you're here now back with us in full force. But it's a community, and that's something that we should really be grateful for.

Marta Morgan: Yeah, I really felt that, John. And you know, the other thing, which I think is, you know, part of our reality, which does make Global Affairs unique, is that we're a community that's spread across the world. And so the other thing that I have seen is that, we have people around the world. We’re here in Ottawa, we’re in all the provinces, we’re in every country. And everyone is going through a situation that’s a little different from the others, and there are a lot of challenges. But a lot of people are having to make judgment calls in missions and regional offices in Canada. And so, you know, one of the things that I see as being something that we have done well is to try and equip people across this dispersed organization to make the judgement calls that they need to make and to have the tools that they need to have, whether it's on the HR side, whether it's on the IT side, as we changed the way we work. But to have some sort of distributed, kind of, judgement and decision making—just because this has come upon us quickly, and it's different everywhere, and we've all had to kind of lean in and have the conversations within our own management teams about, you know, what decisions do we make that make sense here, that are applicable everywhere? And, you know, how are we going to manage our way through this? And, you know, I think it's been, so far, a pretty impressive effort, and I hope that we can continue to support all of our employees across the organization through this, because we're not done yet.

John Hannaford: No, that's true. But it's great to get a chance to chat with you today. Thanks so much for taking the time to check in and it's great to have you back.

Marta Morgan: It's always fun, John. Thank you so much for doing these podcasts.

John Hannaford: (Laughter) All right. We’ll talk to you soon.

Marta Morgan: Okay, bye.

John Hannaford: Take care.

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