A New Foreign Service Model

A cursory glance through GEDS tells us that almost every department has an international bent to it. When thinking about a department’s overall policy framework, it is impossible to ignore international factors. There are multilateral organizations, bilateral frameworks, etc, that all have an impact on policy approaches in Canada.

The mandate of DFAIT is: The mandate of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada is to manage Canada’s diplomatic and consular relations and to encourage the country’s international trade.

Additionally, DFAIT serves as a Common Services Provider, with jurisdiction over international telecommunications, international procurement (including real estate, goods, and services).

How effective is this model? I’m unsure. It appears that each department spends time running their own international policy shops and coordinating with DFAIT. That being said, the actual diplomatic expertise required may be lacking in departments, as it is centralized at DFAIT (FS, the Foreign Service classification, is only located in DFAIT). The working relationship between DFAIT and other departments has an impact on how Canada is perceived internationally.

That’s not to put the blame on diplomats or departments — the question, rather, is how to structure our institutions to provide the most coherent and consistent international policy, allowing all departments to fulfill their mandates as effectively as possible.

The Department of Justice essentially functions as the law firm for the Government of Canada. Almost all lawyers (LA classification) are employed by DoJ, even though many are posted to various departments. This allows departments to access the expertise of the lawyers, who provide independent advice, but are fully aware of the operational context of the departments in which they serve. As they are all part of DoJ, they idea is that the lawyers speak with one voice with regard to legal policy. The DoJ itself has its own core functions (including policy), but those providing advice to departments are actually embedded.

DoJ is also a Common Services Provider. Their mandate under that policy:

Justice Canada is responsible for the legal affairs of the government as a whole and for providing legal services to individual departments and agencies through functions related to the offices of the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice. These services include providing legal advice, preparing legal documents, drafting legislation, regulating or conducting litigation, and overseeing all legal mechanisms used to achieve the overall objectives of the government.

It would be interesting to see if DFAIT could do something similar for its diplomatic corps. By having FSs posted to each of the departments, it would allow the departments to benefit by having people who are professional diplomats fully aware of a department’s operational context, while also ensuring that the overall foreign policy of Canada is consistent, as DFAIT would have their employees embedded within each individual department.

Justice and DFAIT both serve as Common Service Providers. Justice can use their employees to provide benefits to the departments (access to services), and provide intelligence to themselves (each department is using the same “firm”, and those embedded can advice on their area of specialization).

It would require a big shift in how we think about foreign policy and the role of the diplomatic corps. However, as we shift towards an ever more globalized world, the actions of departments necessarily will have consequences outside our borders. Recognizing that, and structuring ourselves for success, will be crucial as we begin to address international challenges.


4 thoughts on “A New Foreign Service Model

  1. I think what you’re overlooking is that there are a sizeable corps of specialist public servants – not FS officers – who are routinely seconded as subject matter experts, market-specific trade commissioners and highly skilled staff at international organizations. There are also public servants who are long-term participants in international standards organizations, trade associations and multilateral groups. One of their principal assets is long term exposure to specific issues and markets at the national and international levels.

    While I agree that there is duplication in this function across the public service, there are some practical reasons why internationalists can be found in departments.

  2. I first of all want to thank you for throwing this out there, as it is important to think deeply about why things are organized the way they are.

    A few thoughts:
    1) what would be the rationale for this? I think that matters, in terms of whether the reason for the change is deficit cutting (i.e. cutting back) or simply trying to think of innovative ways to do things. The rationale matters.

    2) What kind of expertise would DFAIT bring? In the case of Justice, it is clear that they are legal experts. Usually in my somewhat limited experience with legal, is you provide them with a clear question and they provide legal advice. Not sure how that would work in terms of foreign policy issues.

    3) As mentioned by Canuck Flack, some of the areas that departments are involved in are extremely technical. International standard setting bodies for example, in health or other areas. It isn’t clear to me what someone at DFAIT would bring to the table. What kind of support could they offer there?

    Would departments trust key issues for them, so someone who may not be an expert in the area, and may be working on other issues at the same time.

    That being said I think it’s worth exploring, in terms of trying to bring coherence to the international activities to what the GOC does.

    • Thanks, Justin!

      In brief:

      1) I think it’s a bit of foresight. If we agree that very few departments can operate without having international dimensions to their policy issues, then it becomes more important to have well-informed foreign-policy design. This includes ensuring our experts (diplomats) have a solid understanding not only of the overall int’l climate, but also the specific context of a department/policy area.

      This functions in the same way of our lawyers. They’ll be experts in the law writ-large, but also specialized areas of law. This allows them to ensure broad consistency across government.

      2) This is a tougher question — it means defining diplomacy as a profession, and figuring out what service/expertise they can offer. (1/2)

    • (cont’d)

      Our diplomatic corps ought to offer a comprehensive view of Canada’s foreign policy and be experts in international institutions. Knowing how environmental policy fits in with transportation policy, and what institutions exist at the international level, can be fairly complex. Having a cadre of specialists who can work at the global level would be quite helpful. But we need to start developing these experts now.

      3) This proposal doesn’t mean eliminating the international sections. Having policy experts actually developing the policy is crucial, with the diplomats providing the international bent/advice to the analysts. This is just like lawyers. Lawyers advise on the legal aspect of a policy, but the analysts are receiving feedback from lots of different sources. The diplomatic corps could advise on international strategy and ensure that the approach is consistent with the overall approach of the government. Maybe this works against a department’s individual interest, but it moves us towards looking at a whole-of-government approach.

      Those internal expertise, then, are maintained (as diplomats get cycled around), but it provides a generalist set of expertise in foreign policy writ-large.

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