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The Top 100: The mandarins in a sea of madness

With such an openly destabilizing force occupying the White House, governments around the world—perhaps few more so than Canada’s—are going to require the kind of continuity that only a phalanx of senior government officials can provide a political administration.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson is one of the public servants that will be influencing Canadian government in 2017. P&I photograph by Jake Wright
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By Power & Influence staff

The incoming American administration sees instability as an “exciting chance to reshape international relations,” wrote The Economist in a recent article.

With such an openly destabilizing force occupying the White House, governments around the world, perhaps few more so than Canada’s, are going to require the kind of continuity that only a phalanx of senior government officials can provide a political administration.

Canada’s public service is well-positioned to be this counterbalance of calm. Many of its senior officials heading departments and agencies have risen through the ranks over long and distinguished careers, witnessing the arrival and departure of multiple prime ministers and Parliaments. They have the long-term perspective that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will require when United States President Donald Trump begins this reshaping effort.

This is especially important because the Trump era has upended traditional planning in Ottawa, evidenced by the January cabinet shuffle, which many took to be a Trump pivot. It is likely that the Trudeau government’s political objectives are being rewritten or tossed away entirely in favour of new strategies that try to maintain a Canadian advantage in a world of shifting military, trade, and cultural alliances.

An insecure world

Trudeau’s national security adviser Daniel Jean was appointed last May and his career stretches back to his foreign service in the early 1980s working at Canadian missions in Haiti, Hong Kong, and the U.S. He then shifted to immigration control and then to the Treasury Board, and eventually became deputy minister of foreign affairs. Jean thus brings a global perspective to
a job that requires a strong geopolitical emphasis now more than ever.

Deputy Minister of National Defence John Forster has been in his new role for two years. Forster is no stranger to the spotlight, having ran Communications Security Establishment Canada, the country’s electronic spy agency, during the Edward Snowden revelations. If military alliances are to change, there may be no more important public service reference point than Canada’s defence department, so Forster’s role is extremely important.

Greta Bossenmaier, chief of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (P&I photograph by Jake Wright)

The current CSE chief, Greta Bossenmaier, was appointed in 2015 and has many years experience in national security and international relations. She was deputy minister of the Afghanistan Task Force in the Privy Council Office, and has worked at the Canada Border Services Agency and the United Nations in Geneva. Bossenmaier will be at the helm of CSE during a crucial period when the incoming American administration, which has made no bones about its willingness to go after political enemies, will gain control of the formidable US National Security Agency.

Jean, Forster and Bossenmaier represent three important parts of the Canadian security-intelligence nexus. Another piece of that nexus is the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, headed by director Michel Coulombe since 2013. Coulombe—who joined the service in 1986 two years after it was created—has been in the spy ranks for decades.

He’s the first director to have come from within CSIS, the service says, having been deputy director of operations, assistant director of foreign collection and assistant director of intelligence before his current job. He can give Trudeau some important perspective on the likely role the US Central Intelligence Agency could play in the Trump administration.

A fifth piece of the security- intelligence puzzle is RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, who became commissioner in 2011. Like Coulombe, he also joined his organization in 1986, following a career in the armed forces. Through the 1980s and 1990s Paulson served in various policing positions in British Columbia before coming to national headquarters in Ottawa in 2005.

Also similar to Coulombe, Paulson will have the institutional knowledge to give Trudeau some perspective about the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been accused of intruding in the U.S. presidential election by announcing an inquiry into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Like Jean, two other top officials can bring an immigration perspective to the Trudeau government staring down the barrel of a potential Trump wall on the Mexican border and the possibility of mass U.S. deportations. Deputy Minister of Public Safety Malcolm Brown was special adviser to the Clerk of the Privy Council on the Syrian Refugee Initiative, and an executive vice president of the border agency.

Deputy Justice Minister William F. Pentney, meanwhile, joined the public service in 1991 and has played multiple roles at the Department of Justice, including as assistant deputy attorney general for the immigration portfolio.

Economic unknowns

Just as important as the security ramifications of the Trump era are the possibilities for a complete redesign of Canada’s trade relationships, including the unparalleled importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has said he will renegotiate at some point.

John McCallum, Canada’s new ambassador to China. (P&I photograph by Jake Wright)

John McCallum, likely to be the next ambassador to China after being announced in January by the Canadian government (as of this writing, McCallum still has to be officially confirmed) will wield considerable influence in his new position.

Many in Ottawa expect him to move forward on a potential free trade deal with Canada’s second-largest single-country trading partner. If done right, that could provide an important alternate source of growth if the U.S. decides to shift away from its North American partnership. McCallum will have to proceed delicately, however, given high-profile diplomatic and consular spats and some Canadians’ concerns about a closer relationship with Beijing.

For China, Trudeau can also turn to Deputy Environment Minister Michael Martin. China has made responding to climate change a major priority, and given Trump’s skepticism of the global environmental phenomenon, this may prove handy for a Trudeau government, which talks of carbon taxes. Martin, appointed to his role in 2014, has been Canada’s chief negotiator and ambassador for climate change and also worked in multiple roles in Canada’s embassies in Beijing and Tokyo.

Another man who wields considerable influence on the Canadian economy is Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz, appointed in 2013 for a seven-year term. Many bankers and investors hang on his every word, evidenced by the news made when he suggested this fall that the central bank was even discussing the mere possibility of monetary stimulus.

Poloz first joined the central bank in 1981 and held a range of positions before moving to a research firm, and then to Export Development Canada, where he became president. His experience with EDC will be considered a valuable asset, as exporting and boosting small-and-medium-sized businesses’ trade outside of Canada is considered a major opportunity for economic growth.

With the possibility of a 10 per cent import tax on the U.S., Poloz’s experience will come in handy.

Trudeau could also reach out to Deputy Health Minister Simon Kennedy, appointed in 2015. Although he is in the health portfolio now, Kennedy was deputy minister of International Trade and Canada’s G20 sherpa during a time of considerable trade deal momentum in the Canadian government.

He was also the prime minister’s representative on the Canada-US Beyond the Border negotiations, administered Canada’s foreign investment review regime, and has a long public service career stretching back to 1990.

The Trudeau government also has Finance Deputy Minister Paul Rochon, appointed in 2014; Deputy Infrastructure Minister Jean-Francois Tremblay, appointed in 2016; and Secretary of the Treasury Board Yaprak Baltacıoglu, appointed in 2012, to consider as he rolls out federal investments while trying to keep an eye on federal spending.

Meanwhile Deputy Minister of Innovation John Knubley, also appointed in 2012 and whose public service career began in 1980, will find his US counterpart to be billionaire Wilbur Ross, Trump’s pick for U.S. commerce secretary.

Watch this space

Finally, there are a handful of other officials who will play significant roles on how the government operates, and how well-received they are by the public.

Governor General David Johnston is entering the final stretch of his time as the Queen’s representative in the country, with his extended term coming due in September. As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, his calendar will be filled with events and commitments as Canada’s top diplomat. He will be sure to push (albeit, in his gentle, diplomatic way) for improvements in his final months in the role, likely on topics around reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous communities, as well as celebrating and encouraging diversity.

Marie Lemay, deputy minister of Public Services, who started at her position in April 2016, will continue to deal with the years-long fallout caused by the problem-plagued Phoenix federal pay system.

That topic doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, and one of the people keeping it in the news is Auditor General Michael Ferguson. Appointed in 2011 for a 10-year term, Ferguson made news this fall when he called the Phoenix problems unacceptable.

Beverley McLachlin, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is another one to watch as she looks to help strengthen and improve the court system before the end of her tenure in September 2018, when she reaches the mandatory age of retirement at 75.

Last but not least, to help wrangle some of these matters, there’s Deputy Cabinet Secretary Matthew Mendelsohn. The former director for think tank Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation has been described as Trudeau’s “go-to guy” and is responsible for keeping the Liberal government’s promises and priorities on-track, and seeing them delivered within their mandate.

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