Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly is promising a plan by this fall for a foreign-service reboot in which diplomats will have a better grasp of the languages and topics relevant to their postings.
“Ensuring that we have a modernized diplomacy, fit for purpose — fit for the 21st century — is crucial,” Joly said in a speech to Canadian ambassadors in Ottawa Wednesday morning.
“Ahead of us is a once-in-a-generation challenge, and how we will respond will define the next decades.”
The minister is promising an implementation plan by Sept. 1 on a reboot to how Global Affairs Canada hires people, manages its staff and internal systems and prioritizes resources.
The move comes as the world is beset by new conflicts, climate change and rising authoritarianism, and following a series of embarrassing incidents and reviews within Global Affairs Canada.
Last fall, a public-service commissioner found the department broke federal rules by promoting an executive who slapped and pushed her staff.
A report last August by the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies found just 23 per cent of diplomats in positions that require a foreign language actually met the proficiency requirements, a compliance rate that drops to 18 per cent among those with executive-level positions.
And in a months-long Senate study, current and past diplomats testified that Canada does not adequately prioritize having foreign-service officers or trade commissioners specialize in a region, language or topic. Instead, Global Affairs Canada shuffles them between a variety of roles in Ottawa and world capitals.
Meanwhile, the department suffered a hack last year that Ottawa attributed to Russia.
Joly said she has tasked the department with updating its cybersecurity, as well as how it supports diplomats and foreign staff hired to work in missions abroad.
“Ensuring they feel supported, heard, valued is needed to improve our workplace culture. We know that there’s a need to revamp recruitment and training to increase diversity,” she said.
“We need to invest in our workforce. Our people are our ears and eyes on the ground.”
Joly released a 30-page report called the Future of Diplomacy, which notes Canada has a comparatively small presence at the United Nations and in what she calls “strategically important countries.”
The report does not specify which embassies and missions could receive new diplomatic postings.
The Indo-Pacific strategy released last fall did not include a pledge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had made weeks earlier to hire roughly 60 new diplomats in that region.
But Joly did say that Canada will have more specialized diplomats.
“We will increase our policy expertise in key areas such as climate change, energy and critical minerals, (artificial intelligence), cyber and digital policy,” Joly said.
“We will build a stronger capacity to anticipate and manage Canada’s response to prolonged crises.”