Part II – Innovation. adaptation and foreign policy in the age of globalization: Is Global Affairs Canada fit for purpose?

Blogger’s Note: The following series is drawn from the unabridged version of a commentary which has been published in edited form this month by The Canadian Foreign Policy Journal.


Relief and reconstruction

Clearly, some demonstrable diplomacy of the deed will be required if the Government of Canada is re-establish its liberal internationalist credentials. But for that to happen, a fundamental rethinking of international policy directions will be essential. The once storied foreign ministry – and indeed the entire diplomatic ecosystem – needs a major overhaul.

This is now job one.

Canadians have been promised a progressive, activist and engaged foreign policy. Yet apart from the fact the diplomatic corpse has been running mainly on fumes, expecting that kind of performance from today’s GAC is something akin to asking a nearly brain-dead former athlete, ignored for years and left on a gurney in the hallway, to get up and run a marathon. With limbs shrunken and torso emaciated, muscles atrophied and reflexes dulled from years on life support, this won’t happen unless reconstruction and relief are provided.

Foreign ministries most everywhere tend to be conservative and change-resistant, and their relative influence within the greater scheme of things is ebbing, with much lost to other parts and levels of government. Still, by my reckoning GAC is in a class of its own. It has now had over two years to show that it is capable of turning itself around, and begin generating new initiatives. That has not happened, and whether or not this may be attributed to an absence of output or a rejection of those proposals at the political level does not really matter. Either way, the results are discouraging.

When not tasked with policy development or implementation, if left to their own devices large public sector organizations tend to turn inwards. For some, as the brutal bureaucratic contours of Canada’s epic misadventure in Afghanistan have rendered with indelible clarity, the focus became getting ahead. To this day, none of those responsible have been held accountable for what is widely agreed was the abject failure of that costly escapade. Afghanistan was a cancer on Canadian democracy, public administration and governance, but given universal political support at the time there is no appetite at present for a searching post-mortem.

When large public sector organizations have little to do by way of policy development or implementation, they tend to turn inwards., During the Harper years, then DFAIT(D) was led in large part by those who acquiesced to, and were willing to impose the government’s agenda, acquiescing to the centralized control of all communications and abdicating on the provision of critical analysis. Those who prospered had apparently not read the Public Service Code of Values and Ethics, while those who resisted groupthink, un-subscribed to the herd mentality, or refused to drink the Kool-Aid languished – or worse. The hangover from that period endures, as many of the ambitious careerists who were rewarded for services rendered moved up the hierarchy or moved seamlessly into a comfortable retirement.

Thus the question must be put: can a near comatose department be somehow revived and catalyzed?