Francophones are almost absent from key positions in Canadian diplomacy

The era of influential French-speaking diplomats in the Canadian diplomatic network is over. Global Affairs Canada’s senior management team consists almost entirely of English-speaking employees and only allows other English-speaking employees access to strategic positions, forcing many ambitious French-speaking employees to pursue careers in their second language.

The duty spoke with approximately ten senior Global Affairs Canada staff, executives and former executives, including a current ambassador. Everyone agrees that the lack of Francophones in key positions in Canadian diplomacy is very concerning. Several of them denounce a climate of indifference towards French that has increased over time, despite the hopes raised by the accession to office of the French-speaking minister François-Philippe Champagne. His office did not respond directly to questions from the Dutyand left the preparation of a response to his officials. They confirm “certain challenges at the top management level”, even if a large proportion of the department’s employees are French-speaking.

I can’t even name a French speaker and say, “That person has influence.”

At the top of the pyramid, all four deputy ministers leading the federal institution speak English, as do 11 of the 12 deputy ministers in the prestigious “geographic” and “functional” sectors. Across all sectors, the few French-speaking deputy ministers occupy the least strategic foreign affairs positions, such as human resources or administration, according to an analysis of the organization chart The duty, confirmed by sources within the organization. Furthermore, of the 15 seats of Directors General and Heads of Ambassadors, only two are occupied by French speakers, including the head of Pan-African Affairs, who does not have an embassy under his responsibility.

“Global Affairs Canada is one of the most French-speaking departments in the federal apparatus, but that absolutely does not translate to higher levels. “It’s a bit like the 1950s: everyone on the factory floor speaks French and among the foremen everyone speaks English,” says a senior Canadian embassy official who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter to speak.

“I can’t even name a French speaker and say, ‘This person has influence’.” »

The last French-speaking person to hold a strategic position in the top management of the Foreign Affairs Department was Isabelle Bérard, former head of the Sub-Saharan Africa branch. She was replaced in 2020 by a senior English-speaking official who had a career in other ministries and had no experience in diplomacy.

“Language is important, but ability is also important. If you don’t know anything about Africa and you are appointed deputy assistant minister for Africa… In my opinion it is a big problem,” commented Jocelyn Coulon, political advisor to former Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion.

Top of the pyramid

If the government only appoints anglophones to key leadership positions, it is not because there is a lack of French-speaking succession within the organization. According to a 2019 email received from The duty This lists the number of Global Affairs Canada executives for each official language. Francophones make up a large proportion of first and second level managers (EX1 and EX2), around 30%. However, as they advance, their number drops to around one in eight senior level managers (EX4 and EX5). More recent but less precise data from Global Affairs Canada confirms that more francophones remain at the bottom of the pyramid.

“Senior management speaks English and has difficulty reading or writing in French. “It’s almost impossible to advance to a senior management position within the department,” says a former French-speaking manager at Global Affairs Canada, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions for not honoring a contractual agreement. Confidentiality .

All executives and former executives interviewed agree that although many English speakers at Global Affairs Canada speak excellent French, the language requirements for English speakers allow entry into senior management even for those with very poor command of Molière’s language, while having a weakness in written English can hinder the careers of French speakers. However, Section 39 of the Official Languages ​​Act guarantees equal opportunities for advancement for civil servants from both language groups.

“I wouldn’t say that there are no French-speaking managers, but their functions are becoming more and more ghettoized, not unimportant but business-related. And the same goes for ambassadors. Francophones are disappearing from posts abroad,” complains an ambassador who requested anonymity to speak freely on the issue.

The diplomat stationed abroad nostalgically laments the end of an era in which French-speaking Canadians distinguished themselves on the world stage, as in the early 2000s with Claude Laverdure as French ambassador, Marc Lortie in Spain, Joseph Caron in China or Gaëtan Lavertu Mexico, to name just a few. Apart from the “political appointments” of Stéphane Dion in Germany and Isabelle Hudon in France, as well as two vacant positions, no part-time French-speaking diplomat is currently serving as ambassador to a G20 country, the profiles of the incumbent heads of mission show.

According to several sources, some Canadian ambassadors abroad do not speak French at all. “Our ambassadors are increasingly unable to express themselves in French,” confirms Pierre Alarie, former Mexican ambassador who retired in 2019. I don’t understand why in a country of 38 million people we are unable to find 175 bilingual heads of mission. »

Slow erosion

“There has been erosion in recent years. We have lost our sensitivity to French, says Guy Saint-Jacques, former Canadian ambassador to China until 2006. This is very worrying. The department is the face of Canada abroad. If we can no longer speak French, that’s a problem. »

However, he points out that Molière’s language has long been mistreated in foreign policy. He himself says that in the 1990s he tried to get a promotion in front of an all-English-speaking jury, one of which did not speak French. Several sources indicate that this situation still occurs today.

“French gradually disintegrated, at the same time deputy ministers became managers and the power of the prime minister’s office increased,” confirms former ambassador Ferry de Kerckhove, who served until 2011. In his opinion, the integration of foreign trade into foreign policy in the 1980s and more recently the merger of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in 2013 led to a centralization of power that reduced Francophone influence in Canadian diplomacy overall .

I don’t understand why we are unable to find 175 bilingual heads of mission in a country of 38 million people.

CIDA, based in Gatineau, was known as the domain of Francophones. The institution was swallowed up by the current megastructure, which oversees three ministries and was renamed Global Affairs Canada by Justin Trudeau in 2015.

“We withheld a lot of French-speaking specialist knowledge,” analyzes Isabelle Roy, retired former ambassador since the beginning of the year and specialist for Africa. According to her, the trend towards Anglicization of the highest diplomatic levels is having an impact on the way Canada practices its diplomacy. Several other ex-ambassadors also lament the loss of the French-speaking point of view in the way Canada interacts with the world. “It leads to increased sensitivity towards certain countries and lack of sensitivity towards other countries,” concludes M.Me Roy.

Build a career in English

Due to the lack of French speakers in senior management, many officials in the diplomatic network are choosing to conduct their professional lives only in English, employees and former employees interviewed confirm.

” Career [en politique étrangère]For someone who speaks French, that means pursuing a career in English. If you want to make a career in French, you have to limit yourself to corporate functions. “It will not be a foreign policy as such,” said a 20-year-career Global Affairs official who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The ambassadors and ex-ambassadors interviewed all painted a picture of a government that does not explicitly mandate the use of English in communication, but that creates a climate in which work is ignored by bosses if it is written in Molière’s language.

“At meetings we are always told that we are free to speak the language of our choice. But especially in high-level meetings, if you insist on it, it’s almost like being a spoilsport [vouloir] Express yourself in French because we know that there are managers who do not speak French, even if they may have a C level [niveau de compétence requis pour certains postes] », testifies an ambassador currently stationed abroad.

Global Affairs Canada confirms that a large proportion of its employees (42%) are French-speaking, while among senior managers this proportion falls to 18%, according to its calculations. “The department recognizes that there are certain challenges at the leadership level and this is part of the strategies set out in our Official Languages ​​Action Plan 2019-2022,” says Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Ciara Trudeau Email.

In his reply to DutyThe government notes that it highlights Canada’s bilingual nature as an example of a society open to linguistic diversity compared to other countries.

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Tyrone Hodgson

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