From the diplomats' union, a highly qualified welcome to Canada's new envoy to Israel

Vivian Bercovici and John Baird
Canada’s new ambassador to Israel Vivian Bercovici, left, is introduced to reporters by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, right in Ottawa Wednesday. (DAVID AKIN/QMI Agency)

For the plum job of Canada’s Ambassador to Ireland, the Harper government tapped former Conservative MP (and all around nice guy) Loyala Hearn. To represent Canada at UNESCO in Paris, former Conservative cabinet minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn could console himself that his defeat at the polls opened the door to that post. Lawrence Cannon was also among the most senior members of Harper’s cabinet — until the voters in his riding of Pontiac decided they’d rather be represented by New Democrat Mathieu Ravignat. And so Cannon was consoled with the job of Ambassador to France.

It’s not always a Tory, though, who gets these jobs under the Harper government. The long-running New Democrat premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, retired from that job only to find himself as Our Man in Washington. Gordon Campbell had a long and succesful career as the Liberal premier of British Columbia but when he saw the writing on the wall and retired, Harper stepped in and told him to head to London and be our High Commissioner.

Those, though, are the exceptions to the rule in Canada’s foreign service. Typically, our ambassadors and high commissioners are career diplomats who work hard to prove to the government of the day that they can be trusty stewards of whatever it is their political masters want them to do in the countries to which they are posted.

Today, as you may have heard, Canada named a new ambassador to Israel. Her name is Vivian Bercovici (Last name pronounced BURK-oh-vitch) and she has never been a politician, let alone a Conservative politician. Though her profession is in the law, she has, for the last two years, written a column once a month about Israel and the Middle East and, it’s pretty clear if you read all her columns, that her views are pretty much identical to the views of the current government. And so, another non-diplomat becomes an ambassador.

Bercovici succeeds Paul Hunt, who had been a professional diplomat and civil servant. But Canada has been represented before by other Bercovici-like appointments. One was Norman Spector, Brian Mulroney’s former chief of staff. Another was David Berger who was doing time in the House of Commons as the Liberal MP for Saint-Henri Westmount until a day came in 1994 when then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien asked him to be the ambassador to Israel. (He would be one of our longest-serving ambassadors to Israel, as it turns out)

All of that said, the union that represents Canada’s diplomats — the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers or PAFSO — doesn’t want any government getting the idea that going outside the membership for ambassadors or high commissioners should become a routine practice and so, late today, they issued the following statement, giving Ambassador Bercovici a highly qualified welcome to her job and pretty much telling her they would be keeping an eye on her. This statement was issued by PAFSO President Tim Edwards:

“The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers notes the appointment of Vivian Bercovici as Ambassador to Israel and welcomes her to Canada’s Foreign Service. Our members look forward to providing her with the same top-quality advice and support that we have offered political ambassadorial appointees for decades regardless of political stripe.

“In principle, PAFSO believes the Canadian public is best served when the government draws first on the regional knowledge, policy expertise, and analytical and advocacy skills of its career diplomats when appointing heads of mission abroad. These highly-capable professionals are almost always the most qualified and experienced candidates for the job, having spent at least 20 years – and often much more – honing their craft. Political appointments devalue the dedication and focus which Foreign Service officers bring to their careers and can disincentivize long service.

“That said, our members also recognize that when a political appointee has uniquely relevant qualifications which intersect with a relationship of overriding importance to Canada’s national security and economic interests, Canadians could be well-served by their appointment. But this scenario would only apply in exceptional circumstances.

“PAFSO will reserve judgement on the merits of this appointment until after Ms. Bercovici’s skills, knowledge, and network have been tested in the field. In the meantime, we wish the ambassador-designate success in this delicate and demanding assignment.”


3 thoughts on “From the diplomats' union, a highly qualified welcome to Canada's new envoy to Israel”

  1. Maybe the PM decided to bypass the diplomatic corps because some of them believe in advancing their own agenda rather than implementing and reinforcing the government’s policies.

    I also find the constant questions about the PM’s appointments, branding them as too partisan or political, are hypocritical. Whom do critics expect the PM to appoint — people who disagree with him on basic policies?

  2. While wishing Canadian foreign service careerists well, length of service and career training are not guarantors of fitness or readiness for a foreign service post.The patronizing and condescending attitude of the Diplomat’s union instantiates an undiplomatic response to the appointment of Ms Bercovici.The Foreign Service Old Boys network should not be entitled to dictate the course of Canada’s foreign policy.
    John Sanders

  3. The career ambitions of Canadian diplomats should not determine the course of Canadian foreign policy.Traditional Department of External Affairs approaches have achieved little in the peace process. It is undiplomatic to give qualified acceptance to a non career government appointee better equipped than many foreign service professionals to handle the portfolio. the Diplomat’s Union owes MS Bercovici an apology for their patronizing stance towards an appointee.Determining who or what is “Canadian” is not within the provenance of the Diplomats’ Union.
    I would submit that it is “unCanadian to discriminate against Ms Bercovici in this manner.

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