The vast majority of Canadian diplomats abroad do not speak the language required for their job description and are not sufficiently specialized, which a report says could harm the defense of Canada’s interests abroad.
“Conducting diplomacy in the local language is key to functioning in the next-generation environment, which is not limited to exchanging diplomatic notes or interacting with English- or French-speaking local elites,” said former Canadian Ambassador to Iraq Ulric shannon
The veteran diplomat signed a study published in August by the Center for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa. The 97-page document paints a bleak picture of how Global Affairs Canada chooses its diplomats, often without the language skills needed for their jobs.
The diplomatic network filled fewer than one in five senior positions abroad (18%) with someone who spoke the local language. In general, fewer than one in four diplomats (23%) have this skill, a number that has been falling in recent years. Proof, according to the author, “of the supposed uselessness of language skills for promotion in the organization”. Canada is also the only G7 country that does not offer financial incentives to learn a foreign language.
The country does not fare well compared to its allies. For example, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom have a diplomatic corps that can, for the most part, communicate in the language of the country in which it is based.
“It goes way beyond learning languages,” comments Isabelle Roy, former Canadian Ambassador to African countries.
She welcomes the study, which “puts a finger on a long-standing sore,” according to the diplomat, nostalgic for a more glorious time for the country’s foreign policy. “We have minimized the importance of knowing the country of destination in favor of interchangeable capabilities. […] The consequence, as we can now see, is that we are becoming a player that matters much less in today’s big international issues. »
lack of employees
This situation can be explained by the general lack of middle management in the diplomatic network, which leads to employees being assigned to urgent tasks instead of allowing them to attend, for example, the language courses to which they are entitled. Mr. Shannon also drew attention to the particular situation in Canada where foreign service diplomats are required to have a working knowledge of French and English at the time of recruitment.
The resumption of a language program for monolingual candidates in 2021 now offers monolingual candidates the right to learn the other official language after their selection. According to the author, this could, for example, allow the hiring of candidates who speak Mandarin but have not had access to training in French.
The consequence, as we can now see, is that we are becoming a player that matters much less in today’s big international issues.
The duty found that the recent executive hiring process at Global Affairs Canada screened out proportionately more Francophones, visible minorities, people with disabilities and Aboriginal people. candidates from the Anglophone majoritywere the less likely to be eliminated. When she held the portfolio of Minister for Official Languages, the foreign ministerMelanie Joly, promised to “change the culture” of the civil service to enforce bilingualism in the administrative apparatus. A reflection on staff is being worked on at Global Affairs Canada.
“As Mr. Shannon’s report states, a review of Global Affairs Canada’s policies and practices is underway. In May, Secretary Joly and Deputy Secretary Morgan announced an initiative aimed at consulting global affairs staff to identify global best practices and build modern diplomacy adapted to today’s challenges,” wrote Adrien Blanchard, press attaché of Minister Joly.
This is also confirmed by the study by the University of Ottawa, which compares Canada’s diplomatic service with that of six countries (USA, UK, France, Australia, China, Russia). from a global context in which the State Department loses its traditional role as government ambassador and more and more ministries invite themselves into international relations.
The author also advises Global Affairs Canada to attract more specialized diplomats so as not to marginalize the institution and “challenge its comparative advantage”.
In short, to prevent the ministry from becoming just a one-stop shop for passports and visas, or just owning the buildings that house the embassies.
To see in the video
Incurable food practitioner. Tv lover. Award-winning social media maven. Internet guru. Travel aficionado.