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Future of Diplomacy: Transforming Global Affairs Canada – Discussion paper (June 2023)

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Executive summary

After 3 decades of unprecedented security and prosperity, Canada is grappling with a shift in economic and political power away from its traditional allies and partners, a return of great power competition, increasing vulnerability to transnational threats like climate change and cyber attacks, and rapid technological change. At the same time, the fabric of Canada has evolved: Canadians are much more connected to the world than in the past, and they have higher expectations for how their government will promote and protect their interests overseas.

Global Affairs Canada stands at the forefront of Canada’s international policies and operations. It has a proud history but now faces the challenge of adapting to this rapidly changing environment. Faced with similar pressures, many of Canada’s allies and partners are re-investing in their diplomatic capacities. Canada must do so now, or risk losing ground to partners and competitors alike.

A revitalized Global Affairs Canada would be:

To accomplish this, the department should:

A Chief Transformation Officer, Antoine Chevrier (Assistant Deputy Minister), has been appointed to create a team and drive the transformation process for an initial period of 3 years (2023-26). He will report directly to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and with matrixed reporting responsibilities to the Deputy Ministers of International Trade and International Development. The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs will report on progress every 6 months to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and be held accountable for implementation.

Successful implementation will require reallocation of existing financial resources. It will also require new investments to enable Global Affairs Canada to adapt to the challenges of the coming decades.

Why does diplomacy matter for Canadians?

Global challenges today know no borders, and the prosperity, well-being and security of Canadians is directly affected by events abroad. This was evident at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when disruptions in global supply chains led to increased prices and product shortages in Canada. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven up the cost of food and gas worldwide, including in communities across Canada. And rising tensions and greater instability in many regions of the world mean Canadians travelling and living abroad can face unexpected peril.

Canada’s diplomatic network can help. Canadians posted to diplomatic missions abroad, working together with their colleagues in Canada and with local staff, are the eyes, ears and legs of Canada overseas. They are the first responders when things go wrong and Canadians need help. They also negotiate the rules and agreements that will directly affect Canadians, including those related to climate change and advanced technologies. During the pandemic, they evacuated tens of thousands of stranded Canadians and helped secure scarce supplies of personal protective equipment and vaccines for Canadians at home. They also provided life-saving support to assist partner countries cope with the pandemic. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Canada’s global diplomatic network helped deliver humanitarian assistance, worked with partners on mechanisms to drive down the costs of food and gas, and became part of a broad international effort to sanction Russia and hold it accountable. In recent years, Canada’s trade diplomats have criss-crossed the globe to secure major trade treaties, promote exports and attract investments, helping to create jobs in Canada by opening new markets abroad.

Canada’s diplomatic missions and the work of its officials in Canada and abroad will become even more important in the future. There are nearly 200 countries in the world and Canada has diplomatic relations with almost all of them. Canada is also represented in numerous multilateral organizations. Maintaining a complex web of international relationships takes time, effort and investment. But effective diplomatic engagement means that when Canada is contending with wildfires, Mexican, Australian, American and South African firefighters come to help. It means that when Canada is short of COVID vaccines, contractors in other countries honour their commitments. It means that when Canadian citizens are arbitrarily detained abroad, the world rallies around Canada. It also means that when other countries call, particularly those in greatest need, Canada does its part.

Diplomacy is ultimately about relationships between countries. Much of the work of building effective relationships goes on behind the scenes, and progress is often slow. But Canada’s relationships around the world, built and nurtured over time by generations of Canadians and local staff working at home and at missions abroad, mean that Canada can have global influence, and can bring that influence to bear, when and where it matters most. This, in turn, means greater prosperity and security for all Canadians.

1. Introduction

Global Affairs Canada stands at the forefront of Canadian foreign policy. Its staff in Canada and at missions abroad work around the clock and across time zones to advance Canada’s interests and protect Canadians from existing and emerging threats. They help to create jobs by supporting Canadian exporters and by attracting investment into the country. They support Canadians abroad who are in distress. And they work with other countries to find solutions to the world’s toughest problems like climate change, conflict, hunger, human rights and gender inequality.

Today’s Global Affairs Canada traces its roots back to 1909 and the creation of the Department of External Affairs. The department sent the first fully accredited Canadian diplomats to London, Paris and the League of Nations in Geneva in the mid-1920s. Footnote 1 It opened legations (precursors to full embassies) in Washington, Paris and Tokyo several years later. Canada’s first consulate general opened in New York City in 1943. Footnote 2 The department’s mandate expanded to include supporting Canadian exporters when it took on the Trade Commissioner Service from the former Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce in 1982. This mandate expanded even further to include helping to reduce global poverty when it merged with the former Canadian International Development Agency in 2013. And for nearly 100 years, the department’s embassies, high commissions and consulates around the world have been a port of call for Canadians abroad seeking assistance.

The organization has of course grown and changed considerably as its mandate has expanded. Today, close to 14,000 Global Affairs Canada staff serve at headquarters in the National Capital Region, in regional offices across Canada, and in 178 diplomatic missions in 110 countries across 6 continents, a network that also houses staff from multiple partner departments and provinces. By the end of 2023, it is expected that Canada will have 182 missions in 112 countries, with the establishment of a fully dedicated mission and permanent observer to the African Union in Addis Ababa and the opening of new missions in Milan, Italy; Suva, Fiji; and Yerevan, Armenia. The network of missions supports the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of International Trade and the Minister of International Development, as well as other ministers with international aspects in their mandates.

In recent years, the international environment has become more complex, and the pace of change has increased. The global pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the rise of an increasingly disruptive China, and the growing effects of climate change have demonstrated to Canadians that the security and prosperity they have enjoyed since the end of the Cold War cannot be taken for granted.

The last major study of the department and, in particular, its foreign service, took place in 1981—a Royal Commission led by Pamela A. McDougall, then Deputy Minister of National Health and Welfare. Footnote 3 Recognizing that the department needed to adapt to new and emerging global realities, on December 16, 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly to “lead Canada’s contribution to addressing global challenges, including by […] strengthening Canada’s diplomatic capacity.”

In May 2022, Minister Joly launched the “Future of Diplomacy: Transforming Global Affairs Canada” initiative alongside the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Drawing on a comprehensive process of consultation, reflection and prioritization, this internal review suggests various ways Global Affairs Canada can be strengthened to more effectively promote and protect the interests of Canada now and well into the future.

Figure 1
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Global Affairs at a glance

  • 14,000 employees
  • 178 missions
  • 110 countries


Global Affairs Canada defines, shapes, and advances Canada’s interests and values in a complex global environment. Global Affairs Canada staff manage diplomatic relations, promote international trade, provide consular assistance, and lead international development, humanitarian, and peace and security assistance efforts. They also contribute to national security and the development of international law.

2. Drivers of change

The end of the Cold War in 1989 ushered in a period of unprecedented globalization and interconnectedness, centred around the pre-eminence of the United States and a widely accepted web of international rules, founded on democratic principles. Canada, surrounded by 3 oceans and bordered by a friendly superpower and the world’s largest market, thrived. Its multilateral diplomats were active in disarmament talks and the decommissioning of Soviet-era weapons and ammunition stockpiles. The 1997 Ottawa Convention (also known as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty) showed global Canadian leadership.

Canada’s trade diplomats criss-crossed the world during this period, such that by 2020 Canada had preferred access to 61% of the world’s GDPFootnote 4 (accounting for 1.5 billion consumers) and was the only G7 member to have a free trade agreement with all other G7 countries. Consular services also increased dramatically as more and more Canadians travelled abroad, and to more distant places. Canadian development assistance contributed to a steadily declining global poverty rate, which reached a historic low prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2019, 3.5 billion people had achieved the health and income levels enjoyed by only 1.3 billion in 2000.Footnote 5

In recent years, the global context has changed significantly. The post-Cold War period of globalization is transitioning to a new era of growing complexity and myriad emerging threats and obstacles, rooted in the following major trends.

2.1. Shift of economic and political power to the south and east

In the mid-1970s, G7 countries—France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada—accounted for roughly 63% of global GDP.Footnote 6 This meant, in a very real sense, that when the G7 took a position, the rest of the world followed. The G7’s share of the global economy, which had increased to 66% by the end of the Cold War, now stands at 44%. In 2023, China alone accounts for 18% of current world economic output. Canada has slid from the seventh largest economy in 1976 to 10th today.Footnote 7 The shift in economic power has led to changes in the political realm. China, India and other emerging economies are on the rise and, collectively, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are aiming to redefine key elements of existing international rules and norms and are actively building new institutions and writing a new narrative in support of this approach. Some developing countries and emerging economies feel pressured to choose between spheres of influence, especially given the growing divide between democratic and authoritarian regimes. All of this means that the map of world power has been gradually tilting to the south and east, while Canada and its closest partners remain largely in the north and west.

Figure 2
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G7 countries’ share of world GDP has decreased significantly

Share of GDP19751991 (end of Cold War)2023
Other countries’ share of world GDP37%34%56%
G7 countries’ share of world GDP63%66%44%

Source: What does the G7 do? (2022) Council on Foreign Relations.

2.2. Return of Great Power competition and rules-based order challenged

After 40 years of relative peace and prosperity, great-power rivalries have re-emerged. China’s rise as a global player in both economic and military terms is presenting a direct challenge to the rules-based international order. Russia has dropped all pretense of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and has reverted to military aggression, launching the most brutal war in Europe since WWII. There is increasing cooperation between China and Russia, including in the Arctic, where Canada, the United States and Nordic partners are facing a new geopolitical reality. In parallel with the dawning of a new multipolar era, there has been a clear weakening of agreed international rules. Conflicts between states are on the rise, with 56 recorded in 2020,Footnote 8 the highest number since the early 1990s. These crises are longer, more protracted and less responsive to traditional forms of resolution. Further, democracies are facing significant challenges, including the rise of malign populism, which in some countries has further undercut the rules-based international order.

2.3. Increased impact of transnational forces

Canada is also facing complex challenges that are transcending international borders and lie beyond the control of single states. Hostile state and non-state actors, cyber threats, organized crime, weak international governance and waning rule of law are just some examples. Migratory pressures are increasing, as millions of people around the world flee conflict and other threats. The COVID-19 pandemic showed all Canadians their vulnerability to threats coming from beyond their borders. It also brought home the importance of reliable and resilient supply chains. More recently, the spillover effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have underscored how millions of people around the world remain vulnerable to food insecurity. And, of course, the entire planet is facing the existential threat of climate change which, among other impacts, has led to a fivefold increase in natural disasters over the past 50 years, which in turn has resulted in a sevenfold increase in economic losses from the 1970s to the 2010s.Footnote 9 Tackling climate change and related issues such as biodiversity loss and mass migration requires extensive international collaboration, but also major investments, including by Canada.

2.4. New technologies and new domains of competition

Everywhere they look, Canadians see their world changing and the pace of change accelerating. New technologies are transforming production and labour demands in unprecedented ways. Canadians have already felt these dynamics in their professional and personal lives, yet even bigger changes may be on the horizon. Newer technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI)—powered by machine learning—quantum computing and advances in biotechnology may prove to be more significant than the invention of the printing press or the Internet. It is impossible to know if the digital and related revolutions will ultimately have a positive impact on international relations, allowing countries to work together more collaboratively and efficiently, and increasing democratic development. But new technologies are already presenting new threats, in the form of military technologies developed by adversaries; technologically enabled authoritarianism; increased cyber threats; misinformation; and AI-driven disinformation, all of which threaten Canada’s democracy, prosperity and national security. Technological advancement is also leading to new areas of geopolitical rivalry, including in space and on the deep seabed. There are opportunities here for Canada, but new threats as well. This is why Canada needs, more than ever, to be present in every international forum that will influence the development of new international norms and rules related to emerging technologies.

2.5. A rapidly changing Canada

Finally, Canada today is not the Canada of several decades ago. The Indigenous population in Canada grew 56.8% between 2006 and 2021—nearly 4 times faster than the non-Indigenous population.Footnote 10 Significant demographic and social shifts have changed what Canadians expect of their government internationally and how it should represent and serve them abroad. Almost one-quarter of the population in Canada was born outside of Canada, the highest among the G7, with this percentage projected to climb as high as one third of the population within the next 20 years. In large metropolitan areas like Vancouver and Toronto, nearly a quarter of children start school with neither English nor French as their first language.Footnote 11 India, China and Afghanistan were the top 3 source countries for new Canadian permanent residents in 2022; the overall share of new immigrants to Canada from Nigeria, the Philippines, France, Pakistan, Iran, the United States and Syria is also rising.Footnote 12 The rise of modern, affordable travel and telecommunications (including social media) means that all Canadians can be more connected to the world outside their borders. It also means that new Canadians can maintain stronger linkages to their countries of origin.

Global Affairs Canada has of course been adapting to these drivers of change. It has undertaken new programs and investments in recent years to augment its diplomatic outreach and international engagement, create more spaces and opportunities for collaboration with allies, like-minded and non-traditional partners, improve services to Canadians abroad, support developing countries in key areas such as climate change, and expand its presence in strategic locations critical to Canadian prosperity, security and people-to-people connections. These investments include:

Strengthening security and preparedness at missions abroad (2017)

The department is investing $1.8 billion over 10 years to improve security and ensure it can fulfill its duty of care obligation to its employees and other Canadians serving in its missions abroad.

Increasing climate finance (2021)

Global Affairs Canada is programming a significant portion of the $5.3 billion over 5 years that Canada is providing to support developing countries’ efforts to combat climate change and prevent biodiversity loss.

Increasing consular capacities (2022)

Global Affairs Canada is investing $101.4 million over 6 years to improve communications with Canadians abroad and strengthen support in times of crisis.

Indo-Pacific Strategy (2022)

As part of the government’s $2.3-billion Indo-Pacific Strategy, Global Affairs Canada is investing $637.7 million over 5 years to enhance support for Canadian exporters; increase development assistance to partner countries, including for disaster risk reduction; strengthen people-to-people ties via scholarships; and enhance security, including cyber security.

Augmenting China capacity (2022)

The department is coordinating an investment of $35 million over 5 years to build China-focused analytical capacity across its global mission network and within the wider federal government; enhance interdepartmental policy coordination; expand collaboration with provinces and territories; and strengthen engagement with Canadian researchers and civil society.

Expanding presence abroad (2023)

The department will have invested $110 million by the end of 2023 to: establish a fully dedicated mission and permanent observer to the African Union in Addis Ababa; convert Canadian offices in Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Rwanda into full embassies and high commissions with resident heads of mission; and open new missions in Armenia, Fiji and Milan. The department will also further strengthen its presence at its embassy in Latvia in 2024.

Creating a more diverse workforce and healthier workplace (ongoing)

While there is more work to be done, implementation of a department-wide Anti-Racism Strategy and Action Plan, as well as a Reconciliation Action Plan, are underway. A total of 26.2% of the department’s Canada-based employeesFootnote 13 are visible minorities and half of all heads of missionFootnote 14 are women. In February 2023 the department established an ombud’s office to promote a work environment in which everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

These recent investments and initiatives are a good start and can be built upon. But Global Affairs Canada has not yet undertaken the kind of comprehensive and ambitious modernization exercise needed to fully respond to changes in both Canada and the wider international context.Footnote 15 Some of Canada’s partner countries have already embarked on concrete initiatives to respond to the evolving global environment. The United States, for example, launched its “Modernization of the State Department” exercise in October 2021 (prior to this, its last major change was the adoption of the landmark Foreign Service Act in 1980). In 2023, France completed its own diplomatic service review, which will lead to 700 additional positions and an increase of 20% of the ministry’s annual budget. In Canada’s own Parliament, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is studying the “Canadian foreign service and elements of the foreign policy machinery within Global Affairs Canada” and will report in December 2023.

3. What kind of global affairs department does Canada need?

To serve Canada and Canadians effectively, Global Affairs Canada must be able to:

Global Affairs Canada must play a consequential role on priority international issues, be able to help Canadians navigate challenges, and support the development of integrated, whole-of-government strategies. Federal government partners look to Global Affairs Canada to chart the overarching direction for Canadian foreign policy, gather stakeholders, lead Canada’s global engagement on a myriad of issues, and support their own important mandates and international engagements. Likewise, provinces, territories, the private sector, civil society and academia expect Global Affairs Canada to frame the agenda on crosscutting global issues that intersect with their own responsibilities and interests. Finally, the department must maximize the advantages of having all the major elements of modern international engagement—foreign affairs, international trade, international development, and consular policies and programs—under a single roof. To be truly effective, Global Affairs Canada must be much greater than the sum of its parts.

Canada needs a department that is:

Strategic and influential where and when it matters.

Open and connected to Canadians and the world.

Agile and responsive to emerging challenges and opportunities.

The leading player in a whole-of-government international policy effort.

Equipped with a workforce that is diverse, highly skilled, bilingual, healthy and dedicated to excellence.

4. How to get there? Action areas and recommendations

The 4 action areas and recommendations that follow are the result of an extensive process of consultation, analysis and reflection over many months. The department conducted more than 80 consultations with Global Affairs Canada staff from headquarters and missions, inclusive of all business lines, as well as with the Diversity and Inclusion Council, the Anti-Racism Secretariat, and unions. Wide-ranging consultations also took place with countries undertaking similar modernization exercises, other federal government partners, provinces that are co-located at Canada’s missions abroad, former senior officials, and other key stakeholders. In total, over 9,000 individual ideas and submissions were received and considered.

In addition, the department benefited greatly from an external advisory council to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, which also engaged with other countries and consulted key stakeholders, such as current and former heads of mission and the Global Affairs Canada Young Professionals Network.

Overall, there was a remarkable degree of convergence among those consulted. While there were some differences in emphasis, most (in both Canada and elsewhere) agreed that true change would come by focusing on some combination of policy expertise, presence abroad, people and the processes and tools needed to carry out the department’s multiple mandates.

The recommendations that follow are therefore structured around 4 key “action areas.”

  1. build new policy expertise and capacity to manage prolonged crises.
  2. increase presence abroad.
  3. invest in the people of Global Affairs Canada.
  4. invest in the department’s tools, processes and culture.

The action areas should not be seen as discrete or siloed but rather as a mutually reinforcing package to prepare the department for the challenges of today and tomorrow.

4.1. Build new expertise on international issues key to Canada’s future, and increase capacity to anticipate and manage prolonged crises

a) Why?

Canada faces a wider range of complex and layered issues than ever before, as explained above. Given the current pace of change, Global Affairs Canada should increase its ability to anticipate and analyze global trends that matter for Canada and prepare policy prescriptions to address them and protect Canadian interests.

At the same time, recent experiences in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Sudan and Haiti have shown that crises initially perceived as “international” can quickly take on significant domestic policy dimensions (e.g. sudden influxes of refugees) or continue for a protracted period. As Canada’s leading department on all things international, Global Affairs Canada must continue to provide a robust whole-of-government platform to support Canada’s operational and policy response to short-term and protracted crises in an increasingly complex world.

b) How?

Increase capacity in key policy areas.
Increase overall capacity to understand the implications of key geopolitical and geo-economic shifts and to act on them early, in pursuit of Canada’s interests.
Increase capacity to anticipate and manage whole-of-government response to geopolitical and security crises.

4.2. Enhance Canada’s capacity to exert influence by increasing its presence abroad, including at multilateral tables

a) Why?

Diplomacy is about influence—the ability to convince or dissuade others in service of Canada’s interests around the world. Overseas, Canada exercises influence primarily via its network of diplomatic missions, which conduct a range of activities in support of Canada’s foreign, development and trade policy objectives, including programs that provide direct financial support to partner countries to combat climate change, conflict and hunger, and promote gender equality.

Canada’s diplomatic missions are headed by ambassadors, high commissioners and other senior officials who serve as heads of mission (HOMs). They lead teams who are specialists in foreign policy, trade promotion and investment attraction, consular affairs and international development. These teams include Canadians posted abroad and locally engaged staff (mostly nationals of host countries) who directly deliver programs and provide common services for mission operations for a broad range of federal departments and agencies, and Canadian provinces.Footnote 16 Canadian missions abroad regularly host visits from the Prime Minister and other Cabinet ministers, provincial premiers, senior officials from across government, trade delegations and leading cultural figures, all of which helps to increase Canada’s influence abroad.Footnote 17

Global Affairs Canada’s network of missions abroad, and the quality of its people who serve there, is its greatest value-added to Canadian government policies and programs. It is expected that by the end of 2023, the current network will be comprised of 182 embassies, high commissions and consulates in 112 countries.Footnote 18

While the number of Canadian missions abroad has remained relatively stable over time,Footnote 19 Canada’s overall presence and ability to exert influence abroad has not kept pace with evolving global realities. The chart below shows spending by like-minded foreign ministries on a per capita basis, including on their missions abroad.

Figure 3
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Foreign Ministry Spending per Capita, 2021-22 (foreign affairs, trade and international assistance

CountryTotal spending (2021-22)Spending per capita
United Kingdom$19,983,874,933$297

Note: These figures should be interpreted as rough estimates to provide general context on Global Affairs Canada spending.

Source: Figures are drawn from the budgets, financial reports, and websites of these countries’ respective governments and MFAs. Population and GDP data were drawn from IMF reports. Note: Where foreign affairs, international trade, and development mandates are split over multiple agencies, respective budgets were tallied. These figures have not been vetted by the Australian, German or UK  relevant authorities.

The number and composition of Global Affairs Canada staff posted abroad have fluctuated over time, mainly because of various rounds of expenditure reviews (positions abroad are much more expensive than at headquarters) and technological progress (several functions once performed by employees overseas are now automated, require much less human intervention or can be performed by headquarters). The high point was at the end of the Cold War in 1990, when there were 2,993 Canada-based staff (CBS) overseas. The number had declined to 2,014 by 1998. In 2022 there were 2,777 CBSFootnote 20 posted abroad.

Canada’s representation at the UN today is one of the lowest among G7 and G20 partners and competitors alike, despite Canada’s rank as the UN’s seventh largest financial contributor. The UN system is at the centre of norm setting and rule development across a wide spectrum of issues critical to Canada’s future (e.g. development of 6G technologies, rules around use of the deep seabed). Canada’s long-term interests demand that its diplomats be in the rooms where this is happening.

Figure 4
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Comparison of presence abroad

Number of FTEs at the Permanent Mission to New York comparison with other countries

Country (year)FTE at the Permanent Mission to New York
Russia (2020)200
US (2020)150
China (2023)140
Germany (2020)120
UK (2020)108
Japan (2023)102
France (2020)73
Indonesia (2020)65
Italy (2020)60
EU (2020)60
Republic of Korea (2023)35
Australia (2020)30
Canada (2022)25*

Number of countries with diplomatic presence comparison with other countries

CountryNumber of countries with diplomatic presence (2023)
Republic of Korea191
South Africa102

Source: Chart on left: PRMNY paper 2021: Aligning Canada’s Interests & Human Resources at the UN in New York; PRMNY, Feb 8, 2023. Chart on right: Global Affairs Canada; Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; Federal Foreign Office, Germany; Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, France; Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, United Kingdom; Ministry of External Affairs, India; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Türkiye; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brazil; Department of International Affairs and Cooperation, South Africa.

*Note that Canada’s FTE number includes OGDs (7 FTEs) but excludes common services and sunsetting positions. Canada and like-minded country numbers include national diplomats and LES; China and Russia do not have LES.

b) How?

Where and how Canada is represented abroad merits new consideration. While advances in technology offer new possibilities for virtual and hybrid global engagement, strengthened presence on the ground is required to report, advocate and represent Canada’s strategic interests where it matters most. This may also require looking at where presence should be reallocated, to support areas where Canada’s interests are greater.

Global Affairs Canada should:

Strengthen presence in the international bodies that matter most to Canada.

Strengthen presence in key G20 and other strategically important countries.

Develop and implement a mechanism to regularly review and rebalance presence abroad.

Pursue innovative means of promoting Canadian interests abroad.

Strengthen its communication, advocacy, engagement and consultations capacity, to more effectively reach both Canadians and foreign stakeholders and audiences.

4.3. Ensure Global Affairs Canada’s workforce is highly skilled, bilingual, diverse, healthy and capable of delivering world-class results for Canadians

a) Why?

Global Affairs Canada employees, Canada-based staff (CBS) and locally engaged staff (LES) alike, are at the heart of everything the department does. They serve around the clock and around the world, often in hardship postings, far from family and loved ones. The 2022 Public Service Employee Survey shows that 85% of Global Affairs Canada employees are proud of their work Footnote 23. But, put plainly, one of the clearest messages to come out of the consultations and surveys that went into preparing this report is that there is an urgent need to modernize and strengthen many of Global Affairs Canada’s human resources practices and systems, to ensure employees throughout the workforce can contribute to their utmost potential. Employees also expect more from their workplaces today. Factors such as the shift to a hybrid workforce, the tightening of the labour market, rebalancing demographics and rapid advancements in technology are just a few of the factors affecting Global Affairs Canada and its ability to attract and retain top talent.

The department’s workforce is complex. There are approximately 8,300 Canada-based staff and 5,600 locally engaged staff. Within the CBS group, approximately 2,000 are foreign service employees (rotational).Footnote 24 The balance between foreign service and other occupational groups has undergone a significant shift in the last 20 years: 2 decades ago, a majority of staff were foreign service employees, while today the vast majority (74%) are from other groups. They are policy analysts, experts in trade, development, and consular affairs; financial and human resource officers; legal advisers; and IT professionals and analysts, to name a few. This shift toward other occupational groups can be traced to a variety of factors, including the amalgamation with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in 2013,Footnote 25 and the virtual halting of entry level and other recruitment into foreign service positions for over a decade because of financial constraints. Failure to recruit regularly meant that while foreign service employees still went abroad, work that had previously been done by foreign service employees at headquarters began to be done by other professional groups, many of whom first entered the department as casual or term employees. Finally, the expansion of functions at headquarters to manage information technology systems, ensure security of staff abroad, manage the global network of missions (including the growing presence of other government departments and provinces/territories) and growing consular demands further contributed to the growth of positions in Canada outside of the foreign service.

These structural factors have led to frustration within parts of the workforce. While it is not true that Global Affairs Canada does not value expertise—for instance, the department has nurtured and developed some of the best trade policy and gender-based analysis expertise in the world—some employees working in a number of areas of the department, including younger employees, have felt disadvantaged compared to foreign service employees. Employees in certain categories have raised concerns with having less access to specialized training, fewer career advancement possibilities and lower priority for postings abroad. While the average attrition rate for the past 5 fiscal years for rotational employees is at 3.4%, the rate for other professional groups in the department is 9.9% - almost 3 times more. Some employees, including foreign service officers with in-depth expertise in specific geographies and issue areas, have increasingly felt disadvantaged over time, including in promotional processes, where emphasis has been placed on management competencies, rather than geographic, linguistic or issue-area expertise. Many foreign ministries are wrestling with the “generalist versus specialist” balance and there are legitimate concerns that over time Global Affairs Canada has tilted too far toward generalists.

The realities of the locally engaged workforce add even more complexity: this cadre represents 81% of Global Affairs Canada staff at missions, works in over 110 different labour jurisdictions, and performs a range of duties from assistants to drivers to senior officers on various programs. All Canadians serving abroad know that LES are the backbone of Canada’s global mission network, serving loyally and courageously, often in very difficult locales. Over the years, the increased sophistication of the LES competency profile, coupled with labour market conditions, suggests there is a need to look deeply at the optimum role of LES at individual missions, now and into the future, as well as to whether Global Affairs Canada is doing everything necessary to retain and develop this key component of the workforce. The department also needs to ensure proper standard of care for LES in times of crisis, including through consultations with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, heads of mission and relevant partner departments.

Finally, Global Affairs Canada must be a place where all employees feel safe and respected, and where everyone understands that there is zero tolerance for misconduct or wrongdoing of any kind. The recent creation of the Office of the Well-being Ombud, which provides a one-stop-shop for all staff to obtain information and support to resolve workplace issues, is an important new investment in the well-being of all employees. The department is also taking additional measures to support the ecosystem and processes through which allegations of wrongdoing and misconduct are received, investigated and addressed. In summer 2023, while taking appropriate steps to protect privacy, the department will begin reporting regularly and transparently to staff on allegations of wrongdoing and measures taken as a result. Having a positive, people-centred organizational culture, founded upon trust, respect, pride in the work being done, and confidence in leadership, must be central to the Global Affairs Canada of today and the future.

b) How?

Career development
Conditions of service abroad
Locally engaged staff
Heads of mission

4.4. Ensure Global Affairs Canada has the tools, processes and culture to thrive into the future

a) Why?

Whether at home or abroad, the Global Affairs Canada workforce must be empowered to provide the highest levels of service and advice—anytime, anywhere—in a way that is informed, capable and secure. Modernized processes and tools are an important part of an efficient, effective and people-centred organizational culture. Enabler functions, like the IT backbone of the department, and business processes should be aligned with the ambitious vision and objectives of the organization, including when the objectives evolve to accommodate new developments in the international context.

The department’s information management and information technology (IM/IT) and digital systems are rapidly aging. This is felt every day by Global Affairs Canada employees, while the real threat of cyber attacks by states and their sponsored actors continues to rise. Although investments have been made in recent years to better serve Canadians, such as the Consular Case Management System and the Export and Import Controls System, IM/IT functionalities continue to be a challenge throughout the organization, and particularly at missions abroad. IM/IT infrastructure and service delivery need to be continuously maintained, upgraded and improved to keep up with rapidly evolving technology and threats.

In addition to the need for more modernized IT and tools, corporate culture also needs to change. Simpler is better. The department must do more to address rigid and burdensome policies and business processes that stymie efficiency and innovation. While it is easy to point fingers elsewhere, the truth is that many of the constraints that hobble Global Affairs Canada are self-imposed. The department needs to rethink how it manages risk, including the unintended consequences of a corporate culture that is too risk averse. Layers of review, both vertically and horizontally, should be re-examined, including their impact on effective decision-making. Staff need agency to do the right thing at whatever their level of responsibility. This means senior management should show greater trust in the judgment of employees; it also means that employees should accept greater accountability for acting to advance the public’s interests.

b) How?

5. Summary of recommendations

Action area 1: Build new expertise on international issues key to Canada’s future, and increase capacity to anticipate and manage prolonged crises

Action area 2: Enhance Canada’s capacity to exert influence by increasing its presence abroad, including at multilateral tables

Action area 3: Ensure Global Affairs Canada’s workforce is highly skilled, bilingual, diverse, healthy and capable of delivering world-class results for Canadians

Action area 4: Ensure Global Affairs Canada has the tools, processes and culture to thrive into the future

6. Implementation

This discussion paper presents key recommendations for how to ensure Global Affairs Canada can serve Canadians more effectively now and into the future. However, understanding what needs to happen is only one part of the challenge. Most plans for institutional transformation fail not because recommendations are wrong; they fail because of inadequate or incomplete implementation.

The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs should be given overall responsibility for ensuring the success of the Future of Diplomacy: Transforming Global Affairs Canada implementation plan, and making progress on implementation should be a key part of his or her annual performance management agreement.

The Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s study on “the Canadian foreign service and elements of the foreign policy machinery within Global Affairs Canada” will issue a report in December 2023. The department will study the report and its recommendations and adjust its plans as necessary.

To launch the implementation phase of this initiative, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs has already appointed a senior executive, Chief Transformation Officer, Antoine Chevrier, to drive the change process over an initial period of 3 years (2023-2026). The Chief Transformation Officer will report directly to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, with matrixed reporting responsibilities to the Deputy Ministers of International Trade and International Development.

Successfully implementing the recommendations in this report will require new resources and a reallocation of existing financial resources. As noted above, the department has already begun a significant reallocation exercise and is building ways to be able to do this on an ongoing basis as circumstances change. Overall, incentives must be found at all levels throughout the department to reward cost-consciousness around the broader concept of strategic alignment.

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