Update from the President of PAFSO for December 15, 2023

Dear members,

Here we are at the end of 2023 already. This will be my last message to you this year. But before we all wrap things up and get ready for the holidays, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how particularly busy and productive year this has been at PAFSO.

Every year begins the same way. There are always challenges ahead of us, and we set specific goals to meet them. But looking back on 2023, I can see several projects and initiatives that make it stand out as a very productive and very successful year for our association. Here’s a short list.

New additions to the PAFSO team
This year marked the first full year on the job for our General Manager, Bertrand Myre, who has done a great job running our operations and leading our staff. Speaking of which, in 2023 we added three new members to the PAFSO team. In January, we welcomed Daniel Pollak, our very first advocacy and stakeholder relations officer. Over the course of the past year, Daniel has proven to be key in the promotion and protection of our profession by working to enhance political and public support for Canada’s professional Foreign Service. He has helped lead in the promotion of several of our initiatives, from the Deborah Chatsis Indigenous Scholarship in Foreign affairs to PAFSO’s submission to the Standing Senate committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. (More on that later.)

In May, we brought on Adam Beauchemin to join bout de papier’s editorial staff. As assistant to the editor, Adam’s first task was to set up networks of resources to establish a reliable and relevant content pipeline for the magazine. More recently, Adam has also been sharing responsibility with Daniel for our media relations and advocacy efforts.

We also grew our team of Labour Relations Advisors. This past August, Monique Poonai joined our crew. In addition to her Honours law degree from Carleton University, Monique brings with her significant experience in mediation and negotiation with both private sector and not-for-profit organizations. It is this unique skillset that makes her a perfect addition to our team. With her on board, we have vastly expanded our capacity and our capabilities when it comes to defending your rights in the workplace.

Finally, we had 12 positions up for election to the Executive Committee this year, and welcomed several new members, including a number of new FS01s. Their fresh perspectives are already proving valuable as we get ready to embark on the development of our next Strategic Plan for presentation to the AGM in October 2024.

New collective agreement
Negotiating a new collective agreement is always a significant milestone for any union. However, the deal we negotiated this year, and the reception it received from our membership make it truly stand out.

Thanks to the hard work of our negotiating team, the tentative agreement reached with Treasury Board on 9 May contained several significant economic gains for our members: an immediate increase of 8.25%, a total increase of 13.4% compounded over the four years of the agreement, as well as a $2,500 signing bonus. But beyond this, we secured provisions concerning overtime, lowering the threshold to access more leave, improved flexibility for our indigenous colleagues wishing to participate in traditional practices and two memorandums of agreement on telework and the Green Box program.

A ratification vote for the tentative agreement was held a few weeks later. And by the close of the vote at noon on 26 May, the message was clear. Not only had a majority of our members cast ballots, but over 95%, representing an absolute majority of the total membership, were in support of the agreement. Such a high level of support is practically unheard of and is yet another testament to the good work carried out by the Collective Bargaining Committee.

Signed on June 30, the new agreement will remain in effect until June 30, 2026.

New website
Another big achievement for 2023 was the complete redesign and overhaul of the PAFSO website. The project, which began in earnest in February, sought to simplify and streamline the previous site with optimizing our members’ experience as the ultimate goal. The new site makes it easier to find and access the information most relevant to our members, as well as to provide a more direct line of communication with our office.

New Social Subcommittee
One last item under banner of “new” is the recent creation of the PAFSO Social Subcommittee. Following our two very successful 5 à 7 events earlier in the year, there was quite the demand to create more opportunities for members to connect with each other. As a result, the new Social Subcommittee was formed under the auspices of the Professional Committee. This subcommittee is brand new, and we are still seeking volunteers to help set up more social events in the coming year. If you are interested, and able to commit a few hours a month to help plan some fun in-person and virtual events in 2024, please send us a message and let us know.

PAFSO launches its Indigenous Mentorship Initiative
As part of our commitment to advancing reconciliation, we launched the PAFSO Indigenous Mentorship Initiative (PIMI) with the goal of ensuring that Indigenous people are properly represented in Canada’s Foreign Service. Comprising of webinars and one-on-one sessions, the program connects mentors with Indigenous students interested in a career in the Foreign Service.

The first sessions took place in late October and were a resounding success. If you would like to learn more about the initiative or find out how you can get involved, send an email to pimi-pmaa@pafso-apase.com. It is important that the Foreign Service of the future do more to represent all of Canada on the world stage.

PAFSO joins ServicePlus
In September, PAFSO officially became a member of ServicePlus, the free group discount program administered by our friends at the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC). As a member of ServicePlus, PAFSO is now in the company of other public sector unions like CAPE and ACFO, bringing the program’s total membership to over 120,000.

At home or abroad, regular, affiliate, or associate members of PAFSO now have access to a wide range of exclusive savings and promotions on entertainment, clothing, electronics, furniture, travel, insurance and more. In case you haven’t already, everything you need to know to set up your ServicePlus account can be found here on our website.

AEFA Report
Just last week, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade released their long-awaited report the state of Canada’s Foreign Service. This was the first substantive examination of Canada’s Foreign Service capabilities in more than 40 years.

The report, available here, emphasizes that the work of Canada’s foreign service professionals is essential to advancing Canada’s domestic and global interests. However, the committee found that a lack of recruitment and investment in Canada’s diplomatic capacities and capabilities over the last 20 years has undermined Canada’s ability to influence and shape global issues and effect change. The report offers 29 recommendations to modernize Canada’s Foreign Service ranging from recruitment and training strategies, improving the Foreign Service Directives, and the need to reinvest in Canadian diplomacy to ensure that the Canadian Foreign Service is fit for purpose and prepared to meet the complex global challenges of the decades to come.

Overall, we are very pleased to see how closely the committee shares many of our priorities for the strengthening of Canada’s Foreign Service. You can click here to view PAFSO’s submission to the committee, as referred to in their report.

FAAE Study
In November, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE) launched its own study on Canada’s diplomatic capacity. Although it is much shorter in duration than the Senate study, we hope it will draw similar conclusions. I had the honour of addressing the Committee on Wednesday and you can view my testimony here. (video timestamp: 16:46:47)

Cyclical review of the FSDs
When we embarked on the cyclical review of the Foreign Service Directives earlier this year, we knew it would be a lengthy process. It now appears that the exercise will be spilling over into next year. Hopefully the AEFA’s recommendation that the Employer “undertake a complete modernization of the Foreign Service Directives” will be taken into consideration going forward. We’ll be sure to report back on this as the process continues into 2024.

Keeping a close eye on the Public Service Health Care Plan
Also heading into the new year, we are keeping a very close eye on developments in the Canada Life/MSH International fiasco. We have now heard from several members about the cancellation of certain coverages without warning or explanation, the near impossibility of obtaining authorization for essential procedures, as well as the abysmal customer service. I was particularly disturbed to learn of not just one but two cases where employees in the US experienced delays in life-saving medical procedures because MSH could not be reached by the hospital. This is unacceptable.

The good news is that earlier this week, at GAC’s the National Labour Management Consultative Committee, GAC’s deputy ministers and bargaining agents agreed with us, and shared ideas on how we might work together to see progress. One key development is the establishment of an “escalation hotline” so that hospitals can get immediate confirmation of coverage. Treasury Board is also seized of this issue and has called on MSH to develop an action plan by the end of the year. The proof will be in the pudding, however, and you can count on us to continue to advocate for you on this issue in 2024. As always, I will keep you posted as developments warrant.

PAFSO Breakfasts
2023 was another successful year for our long-running PAFSO Breakfast series. I think in total we had ten sessions throughout the year. Our last one for 2023 was just this past Tuesday where I had the pleasure of hosting our former GAC colleague, Roxanne Dubé. Roxanne joined us to discuss her new book, Understanding at Last/Enfin comprendre, in which she tells the story of how she rebuilt her life after one of her sons was killed and the other was charged with felony murder in 2015 while she served as Canada’s Consul General in Miami.

In case you missed this fascinating and uplifting story of transformation, you can watch a recording of the session here on our YouTube channel.

2024 is already shaping up to be a great year for our PAFSO Breakfast series. Our first event is scheduled for 0900 EST on Tuesday, 9 January. Joining me will be Guillaume Séguin and Patrick Ryan from GAC who will be discussing a topic that has recently gained a lot of interest: the Code of Values and Ethics and the use of social media networks as a Foreign Service officer. This is likely to be a very timely and illuminating discussion, so I hope you can join us. Click here to register for the session.

That wraps it up, not only for this week, but also for 2023. As always, if there is anything bothering you about your situation at work, do not hesitate to reach out to us. Write us an email with your name, department, and a detailed description of what you are facing. We will put you in touch with someone from our Labour Relations team who will be glad to assist you. If there’s anything else on your mind, just send us an email at info@pafso.com and we will get back to you shortly.

I am very proud of our team here at PAFSO, and of all of you, for navigating a year that has been both challenging and productive. I hope everyone will have the chance to wind down, relax, rest up and reconnect with your loved ones over the holidays. I wish you all the very best for the holiday season. Since I am taking some leave in early January, my next message to you will arrive on January 19. Until then, you can always follow me at @PafsoPresApase for my take on current issues, politics, and anything that ties into our profession.

Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other. Happy holidays and happy new year.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld