Transcript – Episode 9: Chat with Sebastien Beaulieu
David Morrison: Sebastien Beaulieu is one of Global Affair’s most entrepreneurial leaders. He is a former HoM in Tunis, who is also one half of an employee couple that is taking turns being head of mission. So when he found himself headed back to the middle east a year ago as a trailing spouse he was entrepreneurial enough to invent a role for himself as Canada’s executive coordinator for Syria. Sebastien and I recently chatted about the prospects for Syria and the wider middle east as well as his efforts to advance Canada’s diversity and inclusion agenda. Hi Sebastien thanks for coming in today. You are currently the executive coordinator for Syria. That's a title that no one else has ever had, I think. And so I'm interested in...in how that came about since you actually live in Lebanon where your spouse is the head of mission. But before talking about all these topics, I would like to know where you were born and how you decided to have a career in the public service.
Sebastien Beaulieu: Thank you very much David for inviting me to this experience in social media and with the ... the podcast. It's good to be here this morning.
David Morrison: It's balado in French.
Sebastien Beaulieu: Thank you for clarification. I have been in the department for twenty years. Before that, I was born and raised in New Brunswick, specifically in Moncton. I am the third child in a family of five, and my mother says that's what made me a career in diplomacy. Being the third of three children, I often made peace between my brother and my sister. I think there are other more scientific explanations to explain my journey, but we can explore that throughout the day.
David Morrison: But your family had an international aspect or perspective, it was predestined that...
Sebastien Beaulieu: No, in fact I grew up all my life in Moncton. My parents were professors at the university. That said, it's an opening to the world, then we listened...
David Morrison: But as a family, did you travel?
Sebastien Beaulieu: Thanks to a sabbatical year my parents took, I spent a year in Paris in my youth. Which certainly gave me the travel bug. And then, in my years at university as a student, I worked during the year, and then in the summer I took my backpack and I went to discover Europe.
David Morrison: And ... what did you study in Moncton?
Sebastien Beaulieu: In Moncton I did a bachelor's degree in economics and political science, and then...
David Morrison: But you are a lawyer?
Sebastien Beaulieu: I pursued legal training at McGill in Law.
David Morrison: Did...did you write the Foreign Service exam or how did you...did you always...were you always aiming at an international career that was in your sights or did you consider being a paid up, you know, private sector or?
Sebastien Beaulieu: Public service was always in my career goals. And actually I was going to start with an articling position that the Department of Justice until I wrote the Foreign Service exam I sought to defer my entry into the foreign service. I spoke to personnel and they said...
David Morrison: They said sure.
Sebastien Beaulieu: You'll just have to write the exam next year and you may not be as successful as you've been this year, so I took my winning ticket and I actually articled at Global Affairs.
David Morrison: At Global Affairs. OK. Both you and your spouse Emmanuelle Lamoureux who as I... who as I alluded to at the beginning is currently our HoM in Lebanon. Our foreign service officers. Did you join together or within the same year or so?
Sebastien Beaulieu: Close to it. She joined when we were on our first posting in Geneva after a few contracts with international agencies. She studied in international affairs as well.
David Morrison: At Moncton?
Sebastien Beaulieu: In...at NPSIA...
David Morrison: Okay...okay
Sebastien Beaulieu: …in Ottawa here at Carleton University.
David Morrison: So one of the...one of the I think you've had joint postings in Geneva, Paris, anywhere else?
Sebastien Beaulieu: in Tunis.
David Morrison: Tunis.
Sebastien Beaulieu: I also managed to make a...to reconcile both our careers.
David Morrison: So I guess that's what I...that aspect is what...what I think sort of makes your case not unique, but...but interesting is that you joined the Foreign Service at roughly the same time. You have quite successfully managed to upwardly mobile careers. You have both been HoMs. You were a HoM in Tunis and Emmanuelle is now the hoM in Beirut. I think that would suggest that you are alternating, but just talk to us a little bit. And you have three children.
David Morrison: Tell us a little about the work-life balance and the alternation between CDM and CDM.
Sebastien Beaulieu: People often tease us often by saying, "What is it? You take turn being Canadian ambassadors?” It's a bit like that, it's also a bit of a partnership, it's a relationship that we have between us, we rely on each other.
David Morrison: Do you have big jobs at headquarters too?
Sebastien Beaulieu: Yes, and I think it's part of reconciling this daily challenge that is work-family with three young children. It's not always easy, of course, but it's a ... it's about sharing the burden, sharing the responsibilities, we did it as a head of mission, but we also did it as a parent in each taking parental leave for each of our children, spreading that I think that here too ... the negotiation skills were very useful to ensure to have at least six months of leave.
David Morrison: I'm not going to ask whom you know so you negotiate with personnel, you probably negotiate a little bit with your spouse, but it is a...I think that the challenges of a dual career family are acute in this world that we work in. But trying to do it within the same department is...is probably being special challenges but also special rewards. In my view, and Sebastien and I know each other more from the edge of a soccer field than we do as colleagues, our children play soccer together. But in my view Sebastien gets parents of the year by being like the parent volunteer to coordinate the whole team. So I don't know how you guys have pulled it off, but it's quite...it's quite admirable.
Sebastien Beaulieu: And you mentioned the partnership as partners but it's also a partnership with the children in terms of moving abroad and finding and making sure that everybody enjoys the posting in relation to friends to the education system. That's also the challenge that we manage.
David Morrison: But you are here as a family almost all year, all summer. So Ottawa is always your home.
Sebastien Beaulieu: Yes, and life in Beirut is hectic and exciting and very pleasant, but summer is also an opportunity to renew with the local soccer league, with friends, with the family, with grandparents and the family and the greenery and a slightly more acceptable climate.
David Morrison: You're here now for two months, I believe? And Emmanuelle has responsibilities in Beirut?
David Morrison: That...that gets us into a little bit about your current role. For those listening I think that Sebastien has proven himself innovative and entrepreneurial in creating a role for himself. If I understand it correctly that didn't exist before. The role as I said at the outset is executive coordinator for Syria, which probably does have some kind of job description but...but is has essentially been created around you on the notion that you as a...as a senior official an EX2 can play a valuable role from the region. Given that we no longer have a functioning embassy that you can work out of. Talk to us a little bit about how that role came about. Did you have to push? What do you do every day? How do you...do you have a team? Do you travel? How does it...what's it like to be the executive coordinator for Syria?
Sebastien Beaulieu: Well it's a very interesting job and a job description as well. It came out of the fact that we don't have an operating embassy in Damascus. And I think the need for such a position was also made clear with our strategy engaging in the Middle East. Canada has a three-year strategy to respond to the crisis in Syria, Iraq and the impact in Jordan and Lebanon. So a lot of resources in the field looking at Syria, but also a need to coordinate that and bring...bring it all together. All the various pillars. There's diplomatic engagement. But there's also important programming on the development and humanitarian side. There's also a very strong security component to our engagement in Syria and in the region. So my day-to-day job is to bring it together. I'm working with a small team based in Beirut and with someone working in Istanbul as well. But I'd say it's also broader than that, it's bringing together our network of missions looking at Syria whether it's through the mosque Outlands, whether it's through the Ankara lands, the Amman, Beirut, Paris and Washington. What happens at the UN in Geneva, in New York. So trying to coordinate and to be a point of contact for them.
David Morrison: Are you sort of the Canadian face on the file? You're the fellow that goes to the meetings and liaises with the partners.
Sebastien Beaulieu: I'm certainly one of them. But at all levels we have people engaging with the international community up to the Prime Minister.
David Morrison: What are you...I know you don't have a crystal ball but this is turned into one of the great certainly humanitarian crises since the Second World War. It is the follow on impacts of what...what began in Syria is being felt certainly throughout Europe but in...in a certain sense some of the recent electoral outcomes in Europe some of the domestic issues in Europe that have risen to the top can be traced back to the crisis in Syria and the outpouring of refugees. What's your assessment of how...how this ends or how...how this gets contained? Are you optimistic?
Sebastien Beaulieu: I think that in order to do this work, David, we have to be optimistic despite the fact that it is an incredible human tragedy, indeed, and that it is also an extremely complex geopolitical puzzle. There is obviously Syria, but there is a whole host of other state and non-state actors: Iran, Russia, Turkey, its neighbours with Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, the United States obviously have a key role as ... at the head of the coalition.
David Morrison: But is it more fragile now than two years ago?
Sebastien Beaulieu: I think it's still very fragile. People are weakened; it is a country in tatters after more than seven years of fighting and wars, destruction. But I also think it impacts far beyond the region or the country; in Lebanon. Lebanon, which hosts more than one million refugees, that is to say a quarter of the population and Syrian refugees. It's incredible. And that country can still work, shows incredible resilience.
David Morrison: And the children, they are, I believe, in the schools of the country. It must be very difficult for social services in Lebanon.
Sebastien Beaulieu: All public services in Lebanon, Jordan, are under immense stress.
David Morrison: And Canada helps.
Sebastien Beaulieu: Canada, it is part of our role in contributing to the resilience of the communities that host these refugees by helping public services, including schools, and many schools have two shifts per day.
David Morrison: I think with the 40,000 refugees we accepted here in Canada a few years ago there were challenges. But in Lebanon it's almost impossible, it's another scale. Are there social tensions?
Sebastien Beaulieu: There are social tensions. There are also some political tensions that must be highlighted in the news too. The return of refugees is a very difficult issue. UNHCR reports that conditions are not met for dignified and safe voluntary returns. That said, a number of refugees decide to return to Syria, despite the risks, but it is certainly a crisis that continues and is being felt.
David Morrison: And the role that Canada plays with the United Nations?
Sebastien Beaulieu: Yes the role ... Canada is the fourth or fifth donor.
David Morrison: After whom, after the United States?
Sebastien Beaulieu: After the United States, Germany, the European Union, the big donors.
David Morrison: Do we work with the World Bank and other partners like that?
Sebastien Beaulieu: We work a lot with the UN and the agencies that are the UN, but also with international organizations, international NGOs that are present on the ground to deliver assistance, including humanitarian assistance in Syria.
David Morrison: We have to be optimistic, but the challenges are so big.
David Morrison: Let's switch up a little bit because I want to ask about diversity and inclusion. I learned in doing a little bit of research for this podcast that while you were HoM in Tunisia you flew the LGBTQ flag over the embassy and that was with the exception of Israel that was the first time that had happened. Talk to us a little bit about that and how or what it's like for Canada to pursue progressive...a progressive agenda in parts of the world where that's more challenging than it is in other parts of the world.
Sebastien Beaulieu: I think the promotion; thank you for the question because it is a subject that touches me as a Canadian, but also as a Canadian official and a Canadian diplomat. I believe that the issue of diversity and inclusion is all our responsibility. And in a context where I was ambassador to Tunisia, actually, to provoke a little conversation about LGBTQ rights was important and one way we found to do it was with the help of social media and the flag , provoke, create and spark a conversation. Obviously, we were nervous, homosexuality is a crime in Tunisia and in many countries in the world, including in the region. We were a little nervous before experiencing.
David Morrison: It was a special day?
Sebastien Beaulieu: It was the Day Against Homophobia, May 17, 2015. We were nervous, but at the same time we were aware that it was the good time for a conversation. By going on social media with, again, trepidations to know are we going to have to intervene. And finally, it's been a very robust conversation, for or against, for and against, but it's also a conversation that has self-moderated. We did not need to intervene.
David Morrison: On social media?
Sebastien Beaulieu: On social media. And then it ended up in the traditional media too, and it makes discussion bigger. Our role, I believe, in promoting Canadian values and human rights is not necessarily to reach consensus, but to advance the debate and the discussion, and I believe that with initiatives like this one, we succeed.
David Morrison: It makes us proud as an official, I believe. Talk to me about ... your role with the University of Victoria. I never understood how Sébastien Beaulieu could be a Canadian public servant and also an assistant professor at the University of Victoria with a great compromise, formerly on diversity and inclusion.
Sebastien Beaulieu: Yes. When you work abroad, you work with Canadian universities to promote education in Canada. And when I worked in Tunisia, I worked closely with the University of Victoria, which had projects, programs in Tunisia. When I came back I was...
David Morrison: What are the programs and projects?
Sebastien Beaulieu: The World Bank Program on Leadership and Leadership Training for...
David Morrison: Executives from the private and public sector, OK.
Sebastien Beaulieu: To promote the democratic transition, post-revolution. And then recruiting on my return to Canada and I was offered an innovative idea to be an associate professor. First I clarify that it is not paid and...
David Morrison: Yes, because we had Heather DiPenta, Values and Ethics.
Sebastien Beaulieu: So that's part of my role as a diplomat and civil servant, no conflict of interest there. And then, I do not have a fixed course charge either. I go to Victoria few times a year, usually for four or five days, and then I serve as a resource for the university all year round on international issues, their international activities, networking, for example, putting them in contact with our missions for their activities, I meet teachers, I participate in specific courses, I will talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, in a course on mastery of the New East. And one element, I think, that's important, too, is the contact with students, career advice. Many are interested in diplomacy, so many of the questions I have around how do you become a diplomat, how do you join the department? And in fact at this level, I have a beautiful story to tell them, which I believe gives them hope. When I was a student at the University of Moncton, there was an ambassador in residence.
David Morrison: How was it?
Sebastien Beaulieu: That I had met a few years before writing the exam, and I had spoken of the diplomatic career, he had encouraged me to apply. And what's interesting is that fifteen years later, I phoned him and I was in the position he had previously held as Canada's ambassador to Tunisia. So, I tell this story at the University of Victoria, or whoever wants to hear it is possible. There are opportunities for international careers.
David Morrison: It's extraordinary. And it's really one of the reasons why I wanted to do this podcast because I'm personally fascinated in people’s trajectory and what has...what is the reason they're doing what they do. What…what were the influences or the forks in the road. And just an anecdote on my side growing up in Lethbridge, Alberta no one had ever suggested public service. Didn't really know what that meant, certainly not the federal government until one day when I was in grade 11 or 12, Flora MacDonald Canada's first female foreign minister came to town and spoke at my high school. And I don't remember anything about what she said, she was the foreign minister at the time, don't remember anything she said about foreign policy, but I do remember that she ended her remarks by urging us to consider careers in public service and that as I think back to the choices I've made that's...that was one of the reasons. So going into universities talking to students and telling them what is possible or in your case showing them that in 15 years you could come back as a...as an ambassador. I'm sure makes a difference. Tell us a little bit about the conference that you helped. The conference on diversity inclusion that you helped catalyze at the University of Victoria.
Sebastien Beaulieu: Well I wanted to...wanted to have a project and put forward a project of an activity with the University of Victoria and we came up with this idea of a major conference on promoting diversity and inclusion both in Canada, but also abroad. So taking advantage of Canada's 150th. We thought that was a good time to take stock. So we did it along a number of pillars from a trade policy. We looked at it from a trade perspective, we looked at it from an indigenous peoples perspective, from a climate change, an environmental perspective. And we successfully brought together a few former prime ministers, current senators, leading academics, activists and politicians from Canada as well as public servants from both provincial and federal levels to have a three-day conversation across all these themes on how we can do a better job at inclusion and diversity and also looking to make the case beyond the moral imperatives of diversity and inclusion, but also making the case given the broader geopolitics at play in some efforts at closing doors as opposed to opening them showing that diversity and inclusion is in fact an asset for Canada.
David Morrison: I think you're being slightly humble it was...this conference was a really big deal with some very heavy hitters and as Sebastien has just said at a critical time where the progressive agenda that Canada is trying to advance around the world is running into some pretty strong headwinds that...that frankly need...need resisting. So Sebastien you are an inspiration in that in addition to a very...very active and successful professional life you find time to be the soccer parent coordinator. You find time to be an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria pursuing very valuable agendas. You find time to be a very active parent. I think you you'll...you are an inspiration to...to this, to students and others as well.
David Morrison: So thank you very much for being here today, and good luck in Syria.
Sebastien Beaulieu: Thank you very much David and it has been a pleasure to talk to you today.
David Morrison: Thank you.
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