The Trudeau government is counting on a senior Quebec official to lighten the “bureaucratic burden” of the administrative juggernaut Global Affairs Canada, in addition to strengthening the presence of French there and opening the door to new technologies.
“We want to make sure that our people dedicate their time within the department to value-added work and not just to fill out forms on top of other forms. It was a point of tension,” explains Assistant Deputy Minister Antoine Chevrier.
A career diplomat, Mr. Chevrier served as Canadian Ambassador to Ethiopia and High Commissioner to Mozambique. He was promoted into the senior civil service as head of sub-Saharan Africa in a context where virtually all of the most prestigious positions at Global Affairs Canada were held by English-speaking executives.
The man from Gatineau says despite everything that he did not feel isolated. “But the fact remains that I am a proud defender and promoter of official languages,” he said in an interview with Dutyon the sidelines of Monday’s publication of a Transformation Implementation Plan, which should serve as a “compass” for improving Global Affairs Canada.
It was the Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, who gave him this three-year mission this spring. Its plan announces in particular the launch this week of a continuous review of the ways of doing things for the imposing administrative structure of 14,000 employees, some of whom are scattered all over the planet.
In this second year of war in Ukraine and after the publication of a strategy for the Indo-Pacific, Canada wishes to increase its influence in the world. Minister Joly met with all the ambassadors in June in Ottawa to inform them of this objective. His observation: the department is too rigid, slow, allergic to risk and unilingual, among other serious problems.
It is up to Antoine Chevrier to change bad habits. “I have enough experience in this ministry to say that decisions about where [le Canada] is present abroad are those that take a long time for different reasons. We want to be careful, it’s expensive. […] But there may be ways to be able to adjust more quickly to changing circumstances. »
His task is greeted with enthusiasm, but also with a touch of skepticism by his colleagues, he admits. The specialist was notably present during the merger of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), in 2013, to form this megastructure which also encompasses international trade and which is today criticized for its notorious heaviness.
In order not to “feed cynicism” among civil servants who have seen the promises of reform slip by, Mr. Chevrier insists on the fact that things must change as quickly as possible and continuously over the coming years. “What we want to avoid doing, […] it’s precisely to say: “We’re going to take our time, we’re going to prepare a report in 12, 18 months.” […] One of the first things we’re going to aggressively launch, in a good way, is the burden reduction exercise. [bureaucratique]. »
His plan to reduce unnecessary paperwork goes through technology. Written as an evaluation grid on the work to be done until 2026, its plan specifies in particular that it is necessary to “simplify key work sectors within the ministry” thanks to artificial intelligence (AI).
The hope is that this will allow the government to increase its ambition, or, in other words, to aim for a “reduction in risk aversion” which generally plagued the actions of the Canadian government abroad. Canada also intends to be present in international discussions on the management of AI.
Other objectives are also detailed to try to improve organizational culture, take better care of staff or increase Canada’s presence in the world.
As Minister Mélanie Joly promised when she was responsible for the Official Languages portfolio, Global Affairs Canada aims to achieve equality between French and English. We can read the commitment that “the use of both official languages [soit] encouraged equally.”
“In line with the new obligations of the Official Languages Act, it is to ensure that we are even better equipped, even better represented in both official languages, so that we can use them even more in the all of our interactions”, says Antoine Chevrier.
The senior official explains that a challenge lies in the fact that Canadian embassies depend largely on locally engaged staff (LES, in federal jargon). The local workforce, which trains the colleagues of Canadian diplomats, speaks English more often than French.
In these situations, Global Affairs Canada wishes to provide them with the opportunity to learn French, explains Mr. Chevrier. “At the end of the day, they are colleagues who represent Canada, like us too. He also believes it’s important for the organization to show leadership on this issue.
These last years, The duty reported that Global Affairs Canada promoted an executive with toxic behavior, made little room for French among its managers, facilitated promotions for Anglophones and sent diplomats to countries whose language they did not speak. The number of Canadian diplomatic missions around the world is to increase from 178 to 182 in 2023.