The nearly year-long wait for a new Canadian ambassador to Germany is the latest instance of a multi-month vacancy at major Canadian embassies around the globe, with a former senior diplomat calling the delay to name a new top diplomat in Berlin “very concerning.” Eleven months ago on Aug. 24, 2022, then-Canadian ambassador to Germany Stéphane Dion tweeted that he was leaving the embassy, after being appointed as Canada’s new ambassador to France on May 31, 2022. The Canadian Embassy in Germany has been without a full-fledged ambassador since. Canada and Germany share an important economic and geostrategic relationship. The two countries recently announced a headline-grabbing partnership with Volkswagen set to open a new plant in St. Thomas, Ont., spurred on by an estimated $16.3-billion in Canadian funds, according to the parliamentary budget officer. Ottawa and Berlin also share G7 links and have worked together to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “It’s very concerning,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as director of diplomatic assignments in Canada foreign service over a nearly 40-year career. “ having an ambassador there for that long of time sends a very bad signal to the Germans—either we don’t care about the relationship or we cannot get our act together,” said Saint-Jacques, who held senior diplomatic postings as ambassador to China and deputy head of mission in Washington, D.C., and London. He said the latter is likely the reason behind the vacancy. Saint-Jacques said a chargé d'affaires should only be running the embassy for a “short period of time,” remarking that there needs to be “exceptional circumstances” for the chargé to run the embassy for a long stretch. He called the gap without an ambassador “puzzling” given vacancies are easy to anticipate, noting that when he was in the foreign service, openings for a head of mission are published the October before the summer during which appointments are made. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, hosted German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Ottawa on April 24, alongside Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, and Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia After the list was completed, it would be brought to the Prime Minister's Office to see if there are any openings it wanted to reserve for political appointments. An ambassador has the role of a de facto chief executive officer of a mission; without their presence, it forces the deputy head of mission to assume the role as well as maintain the work with which they already were tasked. As of August 2022, Canada’s embassy in Berlin was its 13th largest in in the world and third largest in Europe with 119 staff, including 24 diplomats, 87 locally engaged staff, and eight officials from departments outside of Global Affairs Canada (GAC), according to departmental information submitted to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade for its study on the foreign service. Without an ambassador present, Saint-Jacques said it can affect the types of meetings the embassy is able to arrange. “It makes it a lot more difficult to go to key decision-makers,” he said. “You deprive yourself of a key person to help establish your foreign policy.” GAC spokesperson Marilyne Guèvremont said a new ambassador to Germany will be named in “due course.” Independent Senator Peter Boehm (Ontario), who served as Canada’s ambassador to Germany from 2008-2012, said he didn’t think the vacancy is a “huge concern.” “I haven’t heard much from the Germans ,” said Boehm, who remains actively involved in the bilateral relationship as the chair of the Canada-Germany Interparliamentary Group. “That said, I’m sure they want to see that job filled very soon because the Canada-Germany relationship is obviously an important one,” he said, citing the nations’ co-operation on Ukraine and renewable energy. From the Canadian side, Boehm said he suspects that Ottawa wants to find a person with the right “seniority” and “gravitas.” The Berlin head of mission has largely been held by career diplomats until the selection of Dion as a political appointee. Boehm, a career diplomat, said he sees value in both routes. Though he didn't speak German when he was appointed, Boehm said Dion had the “gravitas” of most recently being a foreign minister and a past Liberal leader. He added that for some of the career diplomats in the post, a “passible” knowledge of German has opened doors. In the meantime, the Senator said Canada is well served by its chargé d'affaires in Berlin, Isabelle Poupart, who has had previous ambassadorial postings to the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe and to Hungary. “You’re not looking at someone who can’t handle things,” Boehm said. Norbert Eschborn, director of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) office in Ottawa which promotes greater links between Canada and Germany, said he didn’t think the vacancy in Berlin was concerning, but it is “unusual.” “With all due respect, Germans would consider Berlin an interesting posting for every foreign diplomat. Being the largest in the European Union, it holds a certain political weight and certainly would be a challenge for any ambitious diplomat of any country,” he said, remarking that there is “no doubt” that GAC has a “reservoir of qualified people.” He said he has been “a little disappointed” when following GAC’s diplomatic appointments announced over the summer so far and sees that Germany is yet to be included. German Ambassador to Canada Sabine Sparwasser has been in her Ottawa post since 2017. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade Eschborn said the absence of a Canadian ambassador doesn’t seem to have affected the bilateral relationship, noting the “intensive” exchanges over the time the job has been empty, including a visit by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Canada this past April, and a number of Canadian cabinet ministers who have travelled to Germany. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock visited Canada shortly before Dion ended his post. Germany has been represented in Canada by ambassador Sabine Sparwasser since 2017. ‘This reflects very poorly on Canada’ In recent years, several of Canada’s high-profile embassies have been mired in delays before an ambassador was appointed by the foreign affairs minister. There were 10 months between former French ambassador Isabelle Hudon's departure from the Paris Embassy and Dion being named as her successor. Another four months passed before he actually started the post in September 2022. Nine months elapsed between Dominic Barton leaving as ambassador to China and when Jennifer May was named Canada’s representative in Beijing. The Canadian Embassy in Israel operated without an ambassador for a year before Lisa Stadelbauer was named to the posting in 2021. Canada’s mission in South Africa was represented by acting high commissioners for 23 months between 2019 and 2021 before Christopher Cooter was elevated to a full-fledged envoy. In Vatican City, the mission was without an ambassador for four and a half years until Paul Gibbard was named to the post this past April. Saint-Jacques said the growing instances of extended delays before naming an ambassador shows a problem within the PMO and the Privy Council Office, where ambassadorial lists are submitted for approval. “You need a strong foreign minister to push PCO and push PMO to say, ‘Look, this is the calendar. We have to adhere to this calendar,’” he said. “We need to look at the machine and say, ‘What’s wrong? Why is it taking so long? Why don’t we see decisions made in a timely manner? Because all this reflects very poorly on Canada,” he added. Boehm said the instances of extended delays represent a “small number of anomalies,” remarking that much can happen behind the scenes that can lead to delays. He said when he was a deputy minister at GAC and worked to prepare a list of new ambassadors, there would always be the case of an individual that would withdraw, which could be due to personal or medical reasons. “Some of it's inertia within and some of it is uncertainty, and changes before you get to that final stage of PMO approval and issuance of orders-in-council,” he said. Stéphane Dion, pictured in 2015, filled an extended vacancy when he left to become Canada's ambassador in France in August 2022. But his departure from Berlin created a yet-to-b-filled opening. The Hill Times file photograph A discussion paper for GAC's foreign service review calls for the department to confirm heads of mission posts earlier. “This would allow for better continuity of operations at missions abroad, but also ensure more predictability and allow for accompanying families to plan ahead,” the report states. Recommending that heads of mission be confirmed quicker might be one of the recommendations the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade might make for its study on the foreign service. Boehm chairs the committee. He noted that it has been a slow process getting appointments through the PMO. He remarked that there is a human cost for the delays in postings being confirmed, as envoys have to make family commitments to their new capital, including arranging for schools for the children, and figuring out what to do with houses being left behind in Ottawa. Boehm said the recommendation flows out of a need for more personal certainty, particularly for heads of mission. Former Canadian ambassador Michael Small, now president of the Canadian Ambassadors Alumni Association, said the system should be picking up speed to confirm diplomats for foreign postings. “It’s a trend that has crept in, in recent years; it needs a bit of conscious effort to push back,” he said. “We used to be faster than that when nominations would come up through the system and go through the various steps that they go through before being released,” he said. “It has been noted there has been long gaps in some of our key posts,” he said. Small said he was “pleased” to see the department recognize the “human costs” of the delays. Guèvremont said GAC is implementing a plan “to address” recommendations from the foreign service review discussion paper. “The department recognizes the multi-dimensional impacts of being posted abroad and is working on initiatives that bolster support for families, including heads of mission,” the spokesperson said. firstname.lastname@example.org The Hill Times EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated on July 27 to include comments from Global Affairs Canada.