It’s a year-long crash course on diplomacy for Fabian Grass.
He’s in Ottawa for his first posting as a diplomat, where he will be examining ties between Canada and Switzerland from just about every angle—political affairs, economic policy, trade, education, culture, science and innovation.
“It’s completely different from other models,” Mr. Grass said. At 31, he’s among the youngest in his cohort of 19 Swiss diplomats out on their first postings as attachés. Unlike in other European countries, there’s no school of diplomacy. There’s an intake of already-experienced graduates, a three-month training period at the foreign ministry, then the first one-year posting.
In Canada, Mr. Grass has already visited Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, and is set to be on his way to Alberta next month. “People tell me you have to go out of Ottawa to understand Canada,” he said.
He arrived at the beginning of September, during the Canadian federal election campaign. Switzerland was having its own parliamentary elections. The Swiss visited ballot boxes just a day earlier than Canadians.
Observing the differences between the two systems is a fascination for Mr. Grass. Under a proportional representation system, a coalition of all major parties governs Switzerland.
In Switzerland, voting is a more regular activity than it is in Canada.
“Every four months, more or less, we vote on two or three issues,” Mr. Grass said. Fighter jets. Tax increases. Cannabis legalization. “People vote yes or no,” he said. “It’s quite a continuous exercise.”
Mr. Grass said he is curious to see how Justin Trudeau’s Liberal majority government will follow through on its promise to end the first-past-the-post voting system and institute electoral reform. There might be a few lessons to learn from the Swiss. “This will be, for us, very interesting,” he said.
Canada and Switzerland have enjoyed a strong bilateral relationship for a long time. A free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association, which includes Switzerland, entered into force in 2009 (not to be confused with another deal now wrapping up with the European Union). Switzerland is the fifth-biggest foreign investor in Canada, and according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, two-way merchandise trade totalled $5.4 billion in 2014.
That’s lopsided, with Switzerland exporting more than Canada. “There is mutual interest in updating this,” Mr. Grass said.
Engagement on multilateral initiatives is another major area for Canadian-Swiss co-operation. “Here, we see a lot of potential,” he said. “In previous years, the commonality of positions was not as high…now, after the elections, like-mindedness will increase, most likely.”
From 2011 until this March, Mr. Grass worked with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe as a “gift” from Switzerland, which paid his salary though he devoted himself to OSCE activities at its headquarters in Vienna.
A memory of “how real diplomacy can get” persists. In the midst of Euromaidan protests, Mr. Grass was in Ukraine with the OSCE helping the special envoy of the OSCE chairmanship, who happened to be Swiss, and working to monitor the election.
It was February 2014, just before the Crimea region was annexed by Russia. Political tensions had escalated. Mr. Grass said he was housed in an incognito, underground hotel where guests would leave windows open a crack to listen for gunshots.
With so much experience at multilateral institutions—he also worked at the Conference on Disarmament and on an international fact-finding mission on the conflict in Georgia—a bilateral posting was ideal for the official start of Mr. Grass’s diplomatic career.
Canada was a “very lucky pick” for he and his young family. His wife, Sonja, is taking advantage of a prolonged maternity leave to care for their four-month-old son, Valerio, and four-year-old daughter, Elaina, who is attending a French junior kindergarten class in Sandy Hill.
Do the diplomat shuffle (quietly)
Though the Canadian government was in cruise control during the election campaign, that didn’t stop the annual fall diplo-shuffle. It just flew under the radar.
Over the course of the campaign before election day, cabinet appointed several diplomats to new posts overseas.
Dan Costello, most recently the assistant deputy minister for Europe, the Middle East and Maghreb, was appointed Canada’s ambassador to the European Union, replacing David Plunkett.
Mr. Costello has worked as an academic, political staffer, bureaucrat and ambassador. He started teaching at universities in the United States and France, returned to Canada as a policy adviser to then-Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien and chief of staff to foreign minister Bill Graham between 2002 and 2004. He took a few months off to teach again and returned to government at the bureaucratic level in Foreign Affairs, working his way up with roles focused mainly on Europe. He was ambassador to Poland between 2009 and 2012.
Stephen de Boer has been named Canada’s ambassador to Poland, replacing Alexandra Bugailiskis. He worked for 11 years as a trade and investment policy adviser with the Ontario government before switching to the feds in 2003. There, he’s taken on several trade and environmental jobs, including as director of the Softwood Lumber Division (once a sore point in Canada-US ties) and as deputy chief negotiator for climate change and director general at Environment Canada.
Skipping continents, Marcel Lebleu is Canada’s new ambassador to Chile, replacing Patricia Fuller. He has a background in trade and development as well as Spanish-speaking countries. He’s served in Costa Rica and as a commercial counsellor in Spain. At home, he’s acted as deputy director for South America and director general for regional trade operations and intergovernmental relations.
Carol McQueen has been appointed as ambassador to Tunisia, replacing Sébastien Beaulieu. Ms. McQueen is an Oxford-educated Rhodes Scholar with expertise in peacebuilding. Before joining the Canadian government, she worked as a political affairs officer with the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She wrote a book on humanitarian intervention in 1990s Iraq, Bosnia and Rwanda. While working for Foreign Affairs in the last decade, she’s focused on Africa. She’s most recently been director of Gulf States relations in the Middle East Bureau.
Nearby in Morocco, Nathalie Dubé is coming in to replace Sandra McCardell as ambassador. She’s got business degree and a career focus on trade, having worked in Vietnam, Italy and France. She’s also been a media spokesperson on trade issues and most recently director of the Investor Outreach Division. Morocco is in the midst of negotiating a trade deal with Canada.
Sticking on the African continent, Kumar Gupta has been named head of mission in Zimbabwe, also covering Botswana. He replaces Lisa Stadelbauer. He’s had a varied career covering everything from the political, trade and immigration section at the Canadian Embassy to Ethiopia, to Canada-US border issues at the Privy Council Office’s foreign and defence policy secretariat. He also co-chaired the Multi-Mission Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Team at a time when Canada was furiously fighting a European Union proposal to label Canadian oilsands dirtier than conventional oil. Most recently, Mr. Gupta served in Zambia.
Christopher Gibbins is Canada’s new consul general in the Indian city Chandigarh, replacing Rajani Alexander. From 2007 to 2014, he was closely involved in Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, serving as deputy director twice and communications director of the Afghanistan Task Force, an interdepartmental co-ordinating body. He led an interdepartmental team that helped respond earlier this year to an earthquake that devastated Nepal.
Joining Mr. Gibbins in India is Jordan Reeves, the new consul general in Mumbai. He replaces Richard Bale. He’s spent much of his Foreign Affairs career focusing on China. Fluent in Mandarin, he’s worked at the trade office in Taipei, as agriculture counsellor at the embassy in Beijing and senior trade commissioner in Shanghai. The foreign service officers union gave him an award for his work in China in 2010. Back in Ottawa, he was selected for a team that helped support the government’s trade agenda released in 2013, the Global Markets Action Plan. Most recently, he’s served as senior trade commissioner in Saudi Arabia.
Normally, the foreign ministry sends out news releases announcing diplomatic appointments, but the election left it saying little except on pressing files. The caretaker convention, which dictates how the government should work during an election, says government activity should be limited to routine, non-controversial, urgent or reversible action, or that which is agreed to by opposition parties.
You could argue these appointments of non-political appointees are fairly routine and pressing. But when asked why they weren’t announced publicly, ministry spokesperson Nicolas Doire said the convention “advises, to the extent possible, that routine matters such as appointments and announcements be carried out in a non-partisan, low-profile manner, an approach the department is following.”
ODA exec update
In case you missed it, the Ottawa Diplomatic Association at its general meeting in July set its 2015/16 executive. They are: Georgian Ambassador Alexander Latsabidze (president), Honduran Ambassador Sofia Cerrato (first vice president), Albanian Ambassador Elida Petoshati (second vice president), Lebanese Chargé d’Affaires Sami Haddad (secretary general), Kenyan High Commissioner John L. Lanyasunya (deputy secretary general), Venessa Ramhit-Ramroop, acting high commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago (treasurer) and Sudanese deputy head of mission Osman Abufatima Adam Mohammed (deputy treasurer).
Other executive committee members include Jamaican High Commissioner Janice Miller, Ethiopian Ambassador Birtukan Ayano Dadi, Costa Rican Ambassador Roberto Carlos Dormon Cantú, Filipino Ambassador Petronila P. Garcia and Malaysian first secretary Deddy Faisal.