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Harper government cuts Canadian missions budgets
Written by Diana Thebaud Nicholson // September 8, 2009 // Canada, Foreign Policy, Trade & Tariffs // Comments Off on Harper government cuts Canadian missions budgets
Asia gets more Canadian trade officials at Europe’s expense
While applauding the government’s decision to bolster its trade commissioner ranks in Asia over the past two years, business associations are lamenting the fact the increase has come at the expense of other regions.
At the same time, given the state of the world economy, there are calls for the government to increase funding to trade promotion items like trade commissioners, which are considered extremely useful to exporting businesses.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s website contains a list of all trade officials posted in Canada and in Canadian missions abroad. The list includes the name, title, contact details and area of expertise for each official, including heads of mission involved in trade or investment promotion, trade commissioners, trade commissioner assistants, provincial trade representatives and Export Development Canada officials.
Canadian Missions Suffer More Cross-the-Board Cuts
Government says resources are needed for foreign policy priorities.
By Lee Berthiaume
(Embassy) Canadian diplomats have been left reeling after the Foreign Affairs department quietly told all Canadian missions late last month that their budgets are being cut.
While the government says it is simply refocusing resources towards its foreign policy and international trade priorities, department staff warn Canada’s presence abroad is in dire straits.
During the last week of July, DFAIT management held a teleconference with all Canadian heads of mission posted around the world, according to sources.
During that call, the ambassadors, high commissioners and chargés d’affaires were told that program budgets for all missions were being immediately cut by 50 per cent. The program budget pays for such things as attending and hosting events and conferences, public diplomacy efforts and human rights advocacy.
“The program budget also pays for travel, a key budget item if we want to get out of the capital to try to better understand the country or to conduct education promotion or to meet business contacts,” said one diplomat.
The fact that these changes were being introduced five months into the fiscal year—meaning many missions had spent or were close to spending half their program budgets already—was reportedly met with little sympathy.
As a result, staff at some missions are reportedly weighing whether to cancel conferences planned for later in the year and trips that were intended to advance Canadian policies, and feel they are now handcuffed when it comes to promoting Canada’s priorities and values abroad.
“I’m still reeling,” the diplomat said, asking not to be named for fear of repercussions. “It’s not like we were flush with money to begin with.”
The diplomat said many missions had already seen their hospitality budgets—the money they use to meet and interact with foreign officials and other sources—reduced by 25 per cent the previous year. “We dealt with that,” the diplomat said. “But this is much worse.”
In March, the government tabled in the House of Commons a planning document that outlined its vision for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for the coming years. That document showed the government was in midst of slashing the department’s budget by $639 million over a three-year period from 2007 levels.
Chief among those areas set to be cut was funding for diplomacy and advocacy, international commerce activities and support for Canadian missions abroad.
Sources also say the Common Services Budget has been cut for all missions by 3.2 per cent. This covers things like salaries for locally-engaged staff, rent and utility expenses. Because many of these costs are non-negotiable, the real effect is that discretionary funds are being reduced significantly, meaning items like fixing broken windows, repairing vehicles and filling them with gas will have to wait.
In an interview on July 30, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon confirmed that the department was “engaged in a re-allocation process to make sure resources are being used as effectively as possible.”
“Our missions abroad are being asked to reduce…their spending on non-essential discretionary expenses,” he said. “But this is part of an effort which is exactly the same effort that I’ve asked our people to undertake here at headquarters, to ensure that DFAIT’s funds are used as effectively as possible and are focused on our priorities.”
Contrary to what the planning document tabled in the House in March said, Mr. Cannon maintained that the department’s budget was remaining steady, and that the reduction to each mission was “really a small fraction, if you want, of the overall budget to missions. It’s less than five per cent.”
In response to a request for clarification, DFAIT spokeswoman Laura Markle said in an email that all missions are part of the exercise, but “there is flexibility built into the initiative to ensure that missions continue to advance the government’s priorities effectively and to respond to crises and other major international events.”
When asked whether the reductions were long-term or one-off, Ms. Markle said the re-allocation of 3.2 per cent to the Common Services budget is “an ongoing one to the base budgets of missions.”
“The amounts required for this re-allocation can come from the salaries of vacant positions, as well as from the deferral of staffing where possible or a reduction of overtime expenditures. Longer term savings will come from the automation of administrative processes at missions, improved procurement procedures and energy-saving policies, to name a few.”
When asked what prompted the cuts, Ms. Markle wrote: “This is part of an ongoing effort, which includes [headquarters], to ensure that DFAIT’s funds are used as effectively as possible and are reallocated towards continually improving our services to Canadians, including consular services, and to advancing the government’s foreign policy and international trade priorities.”
When asked how the department can ensure it continues delivering good service with budget cuts, she replied: “This re-allocation exercise will help to ensure that DFAIT is in a better position to deliver on its core mandate and priorities…. Currently, funds are being directed to our foreign policy and international trade priorities.”
While the government says the cuts will make DFAIT more efficient, critics and former ambassadors say the long-term implications are worrying.
“Even if such draconian cuts to DFAIT were justified by the direness of government finances, across-the-board cuts of program money represent the least effective way to go,” said Jeremy Kinsman, former Canadian envoy to the European Union and the UK.
Mr. Kinsman said Canadian representation abroad is already at an all-time low, and further cuts to public diplomacy budgets, in particular, are only going to exacerbate the problem.
Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae lamented further cuts to Canada’s representation abroad.
“I think DFAIT for quite a few years has been getting the short end of the stick in terms of increases in government spending,” he said.
“The narrative is doing more with less. That has been an ongoing refrain. I would say the reality is that we’re doing less with less, and for a G8 country, a G20 country that has not just narrow national interests but broader global interests, we should be doing more with more.”
NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar said the cuts only reiterate the government’s short-sightedness when it comes to Canada’s place in the world.
“Budget cuts like this have long-term impact on our capacity to conduct foreign affairs,” he said. “It will certainly not make any positive contribution to Canada’s efforts in seeking a seat on the UN Security Council.”
12 August 2009
Foreign Service Recruitment Frozen
The government has surprised the union representing Canada’s diplomats with quiet staffing changes.
The federal government is suspending its annual foreign service officer recruitment this fall after un-announced changes to the process last year gave them a bigger-than-usual pool of qualified candidates. The moves have prompted surprise and criticism from the union representing Canada’s career diplomats and from opposition critics.
Cheapening Diplomacy-DFAIT takes a $64 million hit
Embassy Newsweekly, and Lee Berthiaume
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
(CIGI) Spending cuts at foreign affairs will likely keep more of Canada’s diplomats at home, sipping coffee at the Pearson Block cafeteria, rather than talking Canada to the world.
The Conservative government will be holding back on new diplomatic posting overseas and consolidating some missions abroad as part of its announced $2 billion in federal spending cuts, Foreign Affairs reported Monday.
The moves, two of seven that will affect the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and are expected to account for more than $64 million in savings over the next two years. The cuts following a review of federal spending in which Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced a $13.2 billion surplus that will go towards paying down the deficit.
Canada already has the lowest number of diplomats abroad of any G8 country – roughly 25 per cent are posted overseas while the remainder are working at the department’s Ottawa headquarters – which has raised concern in the past that Canada is lagging behind other nations in terms of international presence.