Is it time to get rid of the Foreign Service designation?

dfait_logoA Foreign Service officer (FS) is an employees of the Government of Canada who pass the foreign service exam and are hired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT)and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

This is important because becoming an FS is no easy task. Every year hundreds of Canadians write the test and few are selected for interviews. Fewer still are hired into the department. This barrier to entry has created a sense of class around the FS designation. To be an FS meant you were the best, the brightest, the most able of public servants – not only a distinct class, but a class above.

But what if this is no longer true? Moreover, what if being a class apart is what’s killing the Foreign Service?

It is worth remembering the environment out of which the FS designation emerged (and for which it is designed for). When Canada’s nascent foreign service began to take shape in the 30’s the diplomatic world looked very different. It was dominated by Europeans and largely populated by quasi royalty – former aristocrats – who had all gone to the right schools, spoke the right languages and knew all the right protocols. Foreign policy was an elite policy area – not just because it was so important – but also because it was dominated by elites (in the class sense of the word). While the role of aristocrats in foreign policy has faded long ago, the legacy of their culture lingered. As a result, the Foreign Service had to ensure that the right people became foreign service officers, no ordinary country bumpkin would do, to have influence in the diplomatic world standards had to be kept.

The FS designation also emerged out of an early and mid 20th century era when public servants did not change ministries. In Ottawa you were a Finance Man, or a Treasury Board Man, or a Natural Resources Man (and yes, for much of that period you were probably a man) and it was uncommon to move from one department to another. In this world, a strong Foreign Service culture made sense since many of the other ministries had a strong sense of culture as well.

But today the world, Canadians and Ottawa, are different. Every ministry engages in foreign policy – be it healthcare issues, the environment, energy, transport, you name it. There is hardly an issue in Canada that does not have an important international dimension. Moreover, public servants now frequently move from ministry to ministry. Indeed, a successful career in the public service requires that you move around. A broad set of experience is deemed to be essential. Finally, the typical public servant has changed dramatically. Today, Canadians are much more internationalized. Many of us are born abroad, still more of us have family abroad, and with (relatively) cheap air travel many Canadians travel abroad. This is a far cry from even 30 years ago. But not only do Canadians travel more, they are better educated. There may have been a time when the average foreign service officer was significantly better educated than the average public servant – but this is simply no longer the case. Many public servants now have Master’s degrees. Indeed, for a while, you couldn’t get hired without one.

This is the world of the public service in the 21st century, and it presents three challenges for the foreign service.

The first, it has become less and less clear what makes a Foreign Service officer unique. An increasing number of public servants outside of DFAIT and CIDA are successfully engaging in international work: negotiating treaties, attending international conferences, and working directly with other governments. If this work can be done by non-FSs the question arises… what is the value add of the Foreign Service Officer? What unique skills and knowledge do they bring? Whenever I’m in Ottawa I hear colleagues, friends, and even strangers ask this question. This is not to say Foreign Service officers are not incredibly talented- but it is asking what, as a class or group, do they offer?

This first problem is compounded by a second that few within DFAIT and CIDA wish to talk about: elitism. FSs have always thought of themselves as not only different but also (if they are honest with themselves) better than other public servants. There was likely a time when this was true. FSs were better educated and more traveled than their peers. Today however, it is no longer the case. Many public servants are relatively well traveled and well educated. The gap simply no longer exists. The result is that, around Ottawa, FSs are perceived as elitist snobs, a perception that is crippling the department. Not only does the rest of Ottawa now question the department’s value add they also, quite understandably, despise being looked down upon. Everyday a thousand small decisions are made to seek ways to work around – rather than with – DFAIT and those decisions are adding up. Nobody wants to play with the foreign service.

Finally, FS designation itself is a direct problem because it us both keeping Ottawa out DFAIT down. Today, public servants move around Ottawa getting experience in different departments – this is how the game is now played. And yet DFAIT and CIDA sit outside the game – FSs don’t want to work in another department and they often resent non-FSs who come and work in theirs. Consequently, few good ideas developed outside the ministry find there way in. Moreover, because FSs have isolated themselves they have neither the network of interdepartmental colleagues nor the experience and knowledge of how Ottawa works that their public service colleagues possess. They are getting outplayed. Still more problematic, the answers to the highly subjective Situational Judgment component of the Foreign Service Test are determined by senior Foreign Service officers. This means that those who succeed in being hired as FSs are those who are most likely to think like the outgoing generation. This creates a conservative trend within the department that reinforces old ideas and the class like elitism.

If DFAIT wants a leading role in the development of government policy it has a number of obstacles it needs to overcome. The most challenging however is reforming the system that shapes the thinking and culture of its employees. One place to start may be acknowledging that the FS designation – while an enormous source of pride – is also a source of significant problems. Opening up the FS designation to other public servants (treating it more like that the ES designation) could be one approach. Alternatively, focusing the FS designation on crisis management in the field and making it a class for people who are going to work in embassies in hostile territory or politically compromising situations may make more sense. These are just suggestions – what is most important is that the yawning culture gap between DFAIT and the rest of Ottawa must be closed – because increasingly the rest of Ottawa is discovering it can live without DFAIT, but DFAIT cannot live without the rest of Ottawa.

20 thoughts on “Is it time to get rid of the Foreign Service designation?

  1. Jeremy Vernon

    This is a fascinating analysis of the situation. Coming from the academic side the equation there is a heavy emphasis placed on preparation for the FSE – as much as LSAT or GMAT or GRE.In fact, there exists an elusive and semi-secret student group of Four-Testers, that is students who plan on taking four or more graduate or professional exams. The elitism that the examination centric mentality creates is unnecessary and unhelpful – it doesn't reflect a meritocratic reality of people who've committed long-term to betterment of the academic discipline – merely people who've prepared very well for a two-hour time-sink.While I understand the urge to make things more egalitarian, I also appreciate the need to create artifacts to recognize an elite (in the meritocratic sense) in a “standardizable” fashion.I would ask – is the problem with the nature of attaining the designation or is it with the designation itself? If things were rejigged so that the FSO distinction actually reflected a superior capacity in that field (perhaps with analogous certifications in other disciplines?) would that address the problem?

  2. Rikia

    Excellent post Dave. You managed to completely change my opinion in less than a dozen paragraphs.

  3. Conad Barwa

    This is a very interesting post; what you say about the Canadian FS is eerily similar to what the situation with the IFS (Indian Foreign Service) is. The IFS is a highly elitist organisation where the number of applicants are in the hundreds of thousands but only a couple of dozen are selected. Of course there are some that might say elitism is no bad thing; especially in govt service. However, you raised 3 questions, so let me provide some alternative answers. IMO while there are problems with having a professional diplomatic corps, doing without one on the current international scene is nearly impossible for any middle level (or greater obviously) power that wants to have some influence on the global scene.The first, it has become less and less clear what makes a Foreign Service officer unique. An increasing number of public servants outside of DFAIT and CIDA are successfully engaging in international work: negotiating treaties, attending international conferences, and working directly with other governments. If this work can be done by non-FSs the question arises… what is the value add of the Foreign Service Officer?Yes, but a FS officer does much more than just this. In arenas like the IFIs and the UN many of the treaties are detailed matters of trade, currency movements, regulations on transport, communications, etc. Where specialised officers from the relevant ministries provide valuable support but the overall negotiations are often headed and managed by FS officers. For good reason – since they usually acquire a knowledge of other treaty countries interests and strategies and try or should try to shape outcomes in concurrence with their own governments national interest. Specialised officers can’t always do this and don’t often have this knowledge of other countries positions – a good example is the nuclear issue where FS officers of countries like Iran and India almost always accompany and advise politicial negotiators and ministers on the nuances of talks, memoranda and treaties. They also function as a sort of institutional intelligence service in showing how changes in regimes and admins in other govts have impact on such talks and negotiations – this is something that is built up over time and only acquired through direct experience or study. Apart from academics, only FS and diplomats and a handful of politixal negotiators will have this kind of knowledge. Specialised officers in domestic ministry won’t and it isn’t fair to expect them to have this as it requires years of travel and stays abroad as well as direct neogtations and contacts not just with foreign govts but the whole range of political forces in foreign countries. This is why you get occasional rafts of FS officers resigning in protest when their country follows a particularly stupid course of foreign policy, in defiance of intelligent advice.There are several other reasons why having a professional diplomatic corps and service is necessary imo but they aren’t relevant to the concerns that you raise here so I will omit them.This first problem is compounded by a second that few within DFAIT and CIDA wish to talk about: elitism. FSs have always thought of themselves as not only different but also (if they are honest with themselves) better than other public servants.This is true and as I said earlier, sounds familiar as it is the same in India (where the human resource potential is admittedly far inferior to that in Canada). Part of the answer lies in the fact that a FS projects the image of the country abroad; hence countries’ prestige etc are at stake and at serious international forums like the G-7, the UNSC or WTO you want to be represented by your best and brightest. However, the issue of elitism runs deep in all bureaucracies; I don’t know much about the Canadian system but usually in many countries Treasury officials and Central Banks officials also share this attitude – in someways rightly so, since they handle enormous amounts of money and play important roles in macro-economic decision-making that impacts on peoples’ lives far more than any private actor alone does. Japan’s MITI is another example. The point is that elitism will always exist in such institutions, you can moderate it but not eliminate it. The point is probably to make it so that it does not conflict with the organisational and political aims of the govt and the state.Finally, FS designation itself is a direct problem because it us both keeping Ottawa out DFAIT down. Today, public servants move around Ottawa getting experience in different departments – this is how the game is now played. And yet DFAIT and CIDA sit outside the game – FSs don't want to work in another department and they often resent non-FSs who come and work in theirs. Consequently, few good ideas developed outside the ministry find there way in.Again this sounds very familiar to me but it is the same in most countries. The diplomatic corps always see themselves as a breed apart. It is also linked to the problem of elitism. I think what you suggest is good in that there needs to be more circulation of officers, greater deputisation of officials from other ministries and swapping of roles on a regular basis so that there is more synergy and multi-skilling. One doesn’t want to go overboard as FS officers should be generalists rather than specialists but this kind of movement along with hiring in of external experts/advisors if managed properly could improve performance and inter-departmental relations. Of course it has to be managed properly and not done in a haphazard manner; all instutions have their own internal coherence and integrity and excessive moving of personnel and transfers will undermine this.I think this post raises many important questions regarding how any country should organise and manage its FS; while I don't agree with many of your prescriptions, I think the questions you raise will need to be addressed by any state serious about improving the performance and efficiency of their FS in the current century.

  4. rod

    Oh dear, the great Canadian problem – elitism; how dare anyone be better than anyone else. All departments should be equal as well. Employment insurance is as important as nuclear proliferation and why should some bright Es in Fisheries step in to run the negotiation as should any bright man in the street.The games played among departments are not much more than bureaucratic leap frog; DFAIT actually has a focus on the world, how it works, how to exercise influence and how to design and execute the Canadian role. The relationship between countries on the myriad of issues that confront us in a huge range of countries and cultures and languages doers not come from swanning around among departments, even if that is the thing.

  5. @nickcharney

    David – very interesting post. First, I find it eerie that I personally identified with how you describe the recruitment process for the FS. Truth is that when I was younger I applied repeatedly, passed all three tests (and yes, I have a master's degree) but failed because I failed to score in the top 3 percent (because there are so many applicants) I didn't get a call back. But I digress.From what I can tell, your inference about making the FS designation more like the ES one may be the wrong analogy. From what I can tell, there is still a great deal of what I can only call “classism” in the public service, where generally speaking ES > PM > AS > etc.I am currently in the process of moving from the ES to the PM stream and have been cautioned by many ES's not to do it. I personally don't care too much because I don't feel as though I will ever be bound by a particular group-level classification system. Perhaps this speaks to the issue of mobility you have raised.In the end, I think that the FS designation, much like the other professional class structures in the public service, will continue to erode under the pressure of collaborative approaches to government made increasingly easier via new technologies. I can see this undercurrent leading to flattening of roles and responsibilities but I can't quite make out exactly what that will entail or how it will look. If you haven't already, you may be interested in reading this piece I wrote that offers a bit more explanation. (…)Cheers,

  6. david_a_eaves

    Rod – thank you for commenting. I think it is great that a senior policy advisor from DFAIT is commenting on this – especially one working in the Office of Transformation. While I understand that you are not commenting in role as a FS, I'm disappointing to hear your views mirrors those I believe have helped marginalize DFAIT in the first place – nor that, unlike Conrad, you offer much of a reason why we shouldn't be concerned. On one point I also fear you may have misunderstood me. I don't believe elitism (or a healthy esprit de corp) is unhealthy. It does however, become a problem when the perceived elitist attitude among FSs – reflected in your comment – alienates the department from everyone else in Ottawa at the very moment many feel the department's influence is waning. If members of the Office of Transformation believe the status quo is okay and that nothing I've written in my post should be of concern, then I fear for the future of DFAIT, a ministry I care for deeply.

  7. CDH

    I think you touch on a broader issue towards the end of your post:Still more problematic, the answers to the highly subjective Situational Judgment component of the Foreign Service Test are determined by senior Foreign Service officers. This means that those who succeed in being hired as FSs are those who are most likely to think like the outgoing generation. This creates a conservative trend within the department that reinforces old ideas and the class like elitism.These tests are used to recruit a variety of public servants. Indeed, the Post-Secondary Recruitment process (PSR) requires that applicants write the SJT (DFAIT no longer has a separate one — for the last two cycles or so, they have used to Public-Service wide SJT, scored at the PSC), the GRT, and the WCPT. Other departments are just as guilty when they ask the PSC to give them the top x amount of applicants with strong test scores, while they may or may not have looked at CVs. The elitism in other cases is more subverted. I remember reading somewhere that the vast majority of Deputies come from the ES stream, rather than CO/PM/etc. I've been told on more than one occassion that should I wish to progress in the Public Service, the ES stream is necessary.Another example would be simply location — I think that regions in various departments often feel looked-down upon by those working in the NCR. Again, I've heard comments fairly regularly that to progress, you simply must be in Ottawa. The issues with elitism seem to go beyond just the FS within the PS. CH

  8. Anna Curtner

    Hi David,I am intrigued by your lumping in of CIDA with the FS category at DFAIT – there aren't any FSs at CIDA – only the usual string of PMs, ESs, and the like, most of whom do engage in international work of many kinds. There is no such testing system for entry into CIDA, except the New Development Officer program which brings highly (often over-) qualified development specialists in on a career development program, but these NDOs represent only a small proportion of the staff at the Agency. I suppose that those who go out on postings abroad become more affiliated with DFAIT, but they don't join the ranks of their FS colleagues while they work alongside them in the High Commissions and Embassies. Do they feel less special as a result? I very-much doubt it – having access to all that interesting work without any of the trouble of those pesky exams. As you point out, there are lots of places in the public service to do international work…Happy Public Service Week!

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  10. david_a_eaves

    Hi Anna! thank you for the comment and for pointing out that I incorrectly have lumped CIDA in with DFAIT. Had thought, when DFAIT was split into FAC and ITCAN that there were some FS's over at CIDA (who I didn't want to leave out) but was never 100% sure. I've been working on a more refined version of the piece so this is really helpful.

  11. Tora

    David,Thank you for writing a fascinating critique of the culture and outlined problems with the FS designation and DFAIT's recruitment process.Your article contains much to engage with, but as I'm at work now I'll just mention a couple of things:1. I think you raise numerous good points, although your article doesn't really distinguish the problems of class from those of elitism. Related but different, I'd say. Thinking you're better because you come from a privileged background is simply stupidity. Thinking you're better because you *are* is inadvisable, but possibly accurate.2. I think you underestimate the efforts of DFAIT to broaden its recruitment base. As someone with a graduate degree in international relations I was shocked to see that the current recruitment process has absolutely no substantive knowledge requirement. In short, a country bumpkin no longer faces the challenge of having 'appropriate' knowledge steeped in the history of aristocracy. I would deny that this is a good thing.3. What attracts the 'best and brightest' to DFAIT is the same as virtually all wealthy country foreign services – interesting work and prestige. No offense intended but every hard working person I know has either avoided working in the public service or quickly left it. The only exception to that is DFAIT (admittedly my numbers are small and hardly statistically significant, I offer this only as personal experience). In fact, among my classmates here studying law, numerous of them worked for the public service (either provincially or federally) but left, disgusted with the low standards, laziness, and ineptitude that characterized their workplace (their words, not mine). Among former classmates and friends who work for their respective foreign services (Japan, Australia, Canada), not one has left. I suppose you can take a variety of different messages from this.4. Related to the above: “This is not to say Foreign Service officers are not incredibly talented- but it is asking what, as a class or group, do they offer?” I wonder if you could turn that around and ask – “This is not to say that [insert group of choice here] are not incredibly talented – but it is asking what, as a class or group, do they offer?” Were you to ask a member of the public that question, no matter which group you put in, I imagine they'd struggle to answer it. If you pose the question to members of the PS I suspect the answer would be the same.5. “And yet DFAIT and CIDA sit outside the game – FSs don't want to work in another department and they often resent non-FSs who come and work in theirs. ” You spend years specializing in being able to offer expert interpretations on the politics and actions of foreign governments and then someone from Health Canada decides in their golden years that they feel like traveling, and transfers into Foreign Affairs and frequently at a senior level. It's not hard to see why this breeds resentment – you put in the time and effort moving throughout the world, frequently in dangerous locations, and that's how matters are treated? (Worse still, as someone who managed to get in, you probably gave up a much more lucrative career to do so – as a 3rd year lawyer at a big firm you make as much as senior diplomats).6. Situational Judgement Test: by far my lowest score, and by far the most pointless test I've ever taken – the only truly correct answer to 90% of it is “it depends”. Too bad that's not one of the choices.7. Is it possible that the influence of DFAIT has decreased because it's telling the current government things it would rather ignore?8. It's nifty and scary that you were able to / felt the need to track down/expose the DFAIT officer who (emotionally?) disagreed. With that said, it makes your arguments look weak as well – the final resort of a defeated debater is to attack the source rather than the argument itself.

  12. david_a_eaves

    Tora – thank you for your comment. 2 – At no point do I argue that DFAIT should lower it's recruitment standards or let anyone join. What I point out is that the quality of people who work for DFAIT is not that different from many of the people who work elsewhere in the Public Service. This is not an absolute arguement but a relative arguement.3. I agree that there are many people who find the public service frustrating and leave after a period of time. I'm not sure the Foreign Service Officers are somehow immune. Indeed your union disagrees with you. According to a 2003 PAFSO newsletter (Italics are mine): “In order to avoid this staffing crises in the future, the TBS will need to continue to address the salary issue both at the recruitment level and the working level, which has created a retention issue. The department and the TBS should take note that in the latest Public Service Employee Survey, the FS group was the least content. Seventy-five percent (75%) of FS officers in the survey said they are considering leaving the FS in the next year. This is a significant expression of displeasure regardless of whether these departures actually occur.”5. Your comment doesn't actually address my arguement (actually it reinforces it). I understand that many FS officers are frustrated that others come into their department (which you outline) but my point here is that DFAIT does not appear to have much leverage in Ottawa. One reason could be that FS Officers – in part because they are abroad and in part for reasons of culture – are firewalled off from the rest of Ottawa. You are actually pointing out why the firewall needs to be strengthened – the very opposite of what I'm saying – without arguing whether or not the firewall is itself a problem.7. Possibly – but most people I've talked to aren't political – they are staff. They just find DFAIT unecessary to work with.8. I didn't need to track him down. He provided me his name. He definitely was emotional and I did respond to his arguements. I certainly don't feel defeated. If anything, what has been interesting is how privately – FS officers have agreed with me – yet publically the reaction has been emotional with few people addressing the core of my arguement, or its conclusion. Arguing the elitism isn't bad, or that it is frustrating that non-FS public servants take our jobs may or may not be true, but it doesn't address the core point I'm making: Is there a culture to DFAIT that is undermining its influence in Ottawa?

  13. Tora

    David – although I may take issue with how you characterized some of my points I thank you for writing back, and promptly too :)Just a couple of quick things:1. I am not an FS or any other type of public service worker (it isn't 'my' union).2. I'm not surprised that FSes aren't happy with their salaries – these are generally people who could have made a lot more money elsewhere (this may go to your point that the quality is not so different – I think earnings potential tells a different story). In my case the choice is law or dfait – law (for someone with good grades) starts at 70k and jumps up 10k+ a year. DFAIT, as you know, isn't even comparable. Dissatisfaction is thus easy to imagine for me.I wish someone with influence/a soap box to stand on would write a piece on how awful the recruitment process is. I say this as one of the lucky 3%.Best wishes.

  14. AA

    Does anyone know if there is a streamlined process for those wishing to convert to FS from ES? I think I wrote most of the tests required for the FS through the ES competitions a while ago (e.g. SJT, GRT, Reading Comprehension etc.)…Or are all government employees treated the same as externals and have to go through the whole process again?

  15. Trevor

    David – I think this is excellent analysis, and I'm sorry to have only come across it now, a week after everyone else has moved on. Your suggestion that there is a culture at DFAIT that is isolating the department from the rest of Ottawa is pretty persuasive. However, after reading this over a couple of times, I'm not sure I see the problem for Canada or the Government. If DFAIT is increasingly isolated because other departments have equally qualified employees able to take over DFAIT's traditional policy work, does that diminish Canada in any way? Doesn't it just suggest we have less need for a specialised foreign affairs department? Why not slow recruitment at DFAIT, focus it on administrative tasks to support foreign postings and our overseas offices and let the other departments take the lead on the policy issues (and provide the non-consular staff for our embassies)? You've outlined some clear challenges for the Department, but the consequences for the public service and public policy are sort of obscure to me.

  16. david_a_eaves

    Trevor – thank you for the comment. One of the great things about blogs is that actually the conversation often doesn't move on – there are a handful of people who subscribe to the comments on the blog, and a good number of people are still coming to this post.A number of people have inferred from this post (and the problematic title the piece ran under in Embassy Magazine) that I'm opposed to a Foreign Service or a Foreign Ministry. This is definitely not the case. Historically we do have less of a requirement for a foreign affairs department – but we I think the need has perhaps never been greater. Particularly if we want to be effective in our foreign policy. The challenge, which this article has further persuaded me of – is that we a foreign service that is as effective and plugged in within Ottawa as it is outside of Ottawa. Without that, I fear that, over the medium to long term, the country could suffer… (great question BTW)

  17. Trevor

    Thanks David. I am also a bit puzzled by people who saw your piece as an attack on DFAIT – you're advocating for human resource reform to improve the department, after all. I'm still not sure why you think DFAIT is required though, or why Canadian foreign policy suffers when departments forumulate it without involving DFAIT. I don't have the impression that other departments possess only “technical knowledge” while DFAIT has a monopoly on networking skills – groups like the G-7, G-10, Basel, OECD, FATF etc. exist to bring policy-makers from other countries together without the involvement of any foreign services. Given your background in negotiations, what do you think DfAIT brings to international policy making that other departments don't already possess? All policy-makers work with stakeholders. Does the fact that stake-holders live overseas change that interaction so much that a specialised department, with limited technical knowledge, needs to intervene? Rather than plugging DFAIT into Ottawa better, should we focus instead on plugging other departments into the world?It's good to see that even Craig Weichel, President of PAFSO, is open to your suggestion that it might be good to have more foreign service officers circulate through other government departments, although he has a differnt view on the mechanics (simplified secondments for FS or FS positions outside DFAIT). Do you think simplifying the secondment process for FS officers and creating more ES/PM etc positions overseas would fix the problems you see with Canada's foreign service? I think Craig's reaction suggests another problem an FS faces – he or she can only be employed by DFAIT, while other civil servants can fairly easily exit their departments. Any thoughts on how that might affect the culture within DFAIT, especially the role of mid-level FS officers?

  18. David Eaves

    Trevor – I think you're asking all the right questions. This kind of strategic rethink isn't possible at the moment. My experience tells me that rethinking the role of the FS and DFAIT is simply to challenging for the department – both from an identity perspective as well as from a task perspective – the department is locked into doing certain things and it can't let go of them, and so imagining something new becomes difficult. As a result it is probably only external change and factors that will eventually bring about some rethink (consider reading this piece I wrote a while back).Part of the problem is that the conduct foreign policy and the role of the FS isn't broken – it is just partly broken, stuck in no man's land where (I think) it is unclear if it can thrive but not so broken so as to require definitive surgery.

  19. Laura

    Not that I think you are saying otherwise, David, but I feel obligated, in my not-wanting-to-offend good ole Canadian way to state up-front that there are some very bright, underpaid, committed people at DFAIT who are doing amazing work; both Foreign Service Officers and other professionals who are not in the FS stream. That said, for the reasons you’ve presented it’s timely to a re-think the role of the Foreign Service Officer. Although I have to admit, what troubles me more than the culture of elitism is the competitiveness and organizational structure that ensures Officers (and more troubling; middle managers) remain generalists; never staying in one position longer than four years, with many, at least recently, changing jobs every year. For 8 years I worked at DFAIT, observing and participating in the culture within the walls of a building named after a diplomat that Wikipedia states “is generally considered among the most influential Canadians of the 20th century.” Sadly, the elitism (whether earned or not) is only the cause of a bigger problem; lack of desire to collaborate, and almost no desire to change in an era where the only constant is change. It’s time to think beyond Departmental and state boundaries, not only to define the role of Canada on the world stage, but our own values as a nation so Foreign Service Officers (and all public servants) have a vision to rally around. My question to you is – What *is* Canada's role in the world? Could you point to a source where someone in a position of authority has stated a vision for this country that we can all participate in and be proud of? Can you name a recent International policy or initiative that you are excited about? Define the “Canadian Values” that DFAIT wants to promote. Show me the leadership, collaboration and citizen engagement in this city, this country; that is where I want to be. Over time, we seem to have lost our way from the days of Lester B Pearson when Canadians were proud of, and known for, our peacekeeping efforts, our dedication to human rights, democracy and good governance and our efforts to rid the world of landmines. Maybe with this vision defined, and priorities set, the Department would attract not only the best and the brightest, but the most passionate, forward-thinking Canadians who want to be involved at home and abroad in a conversation about who we are and what we stand for, and would go to work every day with the pride of public service; knowing they were making a difference not only for Canadians, but global citizens everywhere.Thanks for putting your thoughts and concerns out there, David. It’s great to see so many people taking part in this conversation; you’ve provided an excellent analysis of a troubling situation. I hope it sparks change.

  20. Al720

    I am sorry I missed this piece, but in response to your question, “oh God – yes; well, sort of….”In terms of preferential treatment for jobs at Fort Pearson/ Yes, it is time to end the preferential treatment for the FS's, it undermines the merit basis for selection. If they are that good, i am certainFSers can make it on their own.Should the civil service open foriegn positions to non-FSers? Well, sort of… Living abroad under somecircumstances is quite difficult and not something to which everyone is well-suited. (and I think “some” is an important word here, there is a huge difference between a posting in Islamabad and a posting in Detroit) psychological preparation and evaluation focused on assessing capacity to live abroad is important, and while it might not merit its own TB classification, its worth considering.My own time at DFAIT was limited both in longevity and scope, and admittedly in a non-FS position, but my departure was voluntary, and as I left the issue of the FS classification was quietly but passionately partof the watercooler discussion. From my perspective, in spite of a nasty AG report on the dismal state of affairs of HR at DFAIT, the department has more pressing problems, such as credibility with central agencies, a choherent sense of mission and talent attraction and retention.

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