Global Affairs Canada

Global Affairs Canada (GAC; French: Affaires mondiales Canada, or AMC) (legal name: Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development)[1] is the department in the Government of Canada that manages Canada's diplomatic and consular relations, to encourage the country's international trade, and to lead Canada's international development and humanitarian assistance. It is also responsible for maintaining Canadian government offices abroad with diplomatic and consular status on behalf of all government departments.

Global Affairs Canada
Affaires mondiales Canada
Department overview
Formed1909 as Department of External Affairs
TypeDepartment responsible for
  • Foreign Relations
  • International Trade
  • Consular Services
  • International Development
  • Humanitarian Assistance
Ministers responsible

The department has undergone numerous name changes and re-organizations in recent years. Within the past decade it has been known as Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.



Global Affairs Canada was first founded as the Department of External Affairs on June 1, 1909.[2] The word foreign was deliberately avoided by Commonwealth dominions, such as Canada, since the department was founded while Canada's foreign policy was still controlled by the United Kingdom. Canada assumed progressively greater control over its foreign relations during and after World War I, and its full autonomy in this field was confirmed by the Statute of Westminster in 1931. For historical reasons the name External Affairs was retained, however.[3]

The Department of Trade and Commerce, which included the Trade Commissioner Service, was created in 1892 and was combined with the Department of Industry in 1969 to form the Department of Industry Trade and Commerce (ITC).[4] Both External Affairs and ITC maintained networks of offices abroad, with varying degrees of coordination among them. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration also had offices abroad, in some cases dating back to Confederation.


In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were growing efforts to ensure coordination among all Canadian government offices outside Canada and to strengthen the leadership role and authority of Heads of Post (Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Consuls General) over all Canadian government staff in their areas of accreditation. This led to a decision in 1979 by Prime Minister Joe Clark to consolidate the various streams of the Canadian Foreign Service, including the "political" (traditional diplomatic) stream, the Trade Commissioner Service and the Immigration Foreign Service. This was followed by a decision, in February 1982, by Prime Minister Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, to combine External Affairs and International Trade in a single department, initially as the Department of External Affairs and then as External Affairs and International Trade.[5] The change was reflected in a new Department of External Affairs Act passed in 1983.[6] The 1982 merger was part of larger reorganization of government that also combined the Industry component of ITC with the Department of Regional Economic Expansion.


The department's name was changed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 1993 some 60 years after Canada had gained control over its foreign policy. Its responsibilities include Canadian relations with Commonwealth nations, although they are not considered foreign to one another.

The change in name was formalized by an Act of Parliament in 1995. DFAIT maintained two separate ministers: the Minister of Foreign Affairs with lead responsibility for the portfolio, and the Minister of International Trade. The Minister for International Cooperation, with responsibilities for agencies such as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), also fell under DFAIT. CIDA was formally established in 1968 although a predecessor External Aid Office was created as a branch of the Department of External Affairs in 1960,[7] building on roots that go back to the Colombo Plan in the early 1950s.

Recent developments

A separate Department named Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC) and another International Trade Canada (ITCan) were created in December 2003 through an administrative separation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. However, on February 15, 2005 legislation to formally abolish the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and provide a statutory basis for a separate Department of Foreign Affairs and a Department of International Trade failed to pass a first vote in the House of Commons of Canada. The government maintained the administrative separation of the two departments despite neither having been established through an Act of Parliament.

In early 2006, under the new government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper,[8] Foreign Affairs Canada and International Trade Canada were rejoined to again form a single department known as Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

In 2013, buried within the Conservative government's omnibus Budget bill C-60, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures, was a section which would fold the Canadian International Development Agency into the Department, creating the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, or DFATD. The bill received Royal Assent on June 26, 2013.[9] On November 4, 2015, the new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau modified the name of the again.[10] While the legal name of the department remains the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, its public designation (applied title) under the Federal Identity Program is Global Affairs Canada.[1] Despite the change to the applied title of the department, the senior minister responsible is called the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and not "Minister of Global Affairs", a term used by some media outlets.[11][12]

Functions and structure

The current leadership of GAC is provided by three ministers: the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of International Trade, and the Minister of International Development.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs is responsible for foreign policy matters and, as the senior minister in the department, has overall responsibility for the department. The Minister of International Trade is, as the name suggests, responsible for international trade matters. The Minister of International Development is responsible for international development, poverty reduction and humanitarian assistance. François-Philippe Champagne now serves as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Karina Gould serves as Minister of International Development and Mary Ng serves as Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade.[13]

There are three Crown corporations that fall under the portfolios of the Ministers: the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is the responsibility of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, while Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) fall to the Minister of International Trade.[14]

GAC is headquartered in the Lester B. Pearson Building at 125 Sussex Drive on the banks of the Rideau River in Ottawa, but operates out of several properties in Canada's National Capital Region.

Current departmental structure

Current executive

The Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular) was replaced by two Parliamentary Secretaries in addition to two additional posts for International Trade and Development:

  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs - The Honourable Andrew Leslie
  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Consular Affairs - Pamela Goldsmith-Jones
  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade Diversification - Omar Alghabra
  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development - Kamal Khera


The change of terminology from external affairs to foreign affairs recognized, albeit belatedly, a shift that had occurred many years before. At the time that the external affairs portfolio was created in 1909, Canada was a self-governing Dominion in the British Empire and did not have an independent foreign policy. Under s. 132 of the Constitution Act, 1867, the federal government had authority to conduct and implement relations with other parts of the British Empire, which were not considered foreign lands. The United Kingdom and other colonial powers still routinely divided their conduct of overseas policy into foreign affairs (e.g. the UK's Foreign Office) and domestic or colonial affairs (the Colonial Office or Dominion Office, which were later reorganized and combined into one department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office). Canadian interests outside the Empire (e.g. between Canada and its non-Empire neighbours, the United States, Russia, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and Greenland) were under the purview of the foreign office of the United Kingdom. Informally, however, Canada had had relations with the United States in particular, with trade and other relationships pre-dating Confederation.[15]

The term external affairs avoided the question of whether a colony or Dominion—self-governing and hence sovereign in some respects—could, by definition, have foreign affairs. Implicitly, since the department was responsible for affairs with both Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries, all external relations were of a type, even when the head of state was shared with other nations.

Foreign relations

Canada's management of its own foreign relations evolved over time, with key milestones including: the First World War (at the conclusion of which Canada was a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles and a member of the League of Nations); the Balfour Declaration; increased direct conduct of bilateral matters with the United States (where Canada had its own representatives since at least 1927); and finally, the Statute of Westminster and the Second World War. In terms of Canada's commercial relations, the first Trade Commissioner, John Short Larke, was named following a successful trade delegation to Australia led by Canada's first Minister of Trade and Commerce, Mackenzie Bowell.[16]

The Statute of Westminster clarified that Canada (and certain other Dominions, such as Australia and New Zealand) were primarily responsible for, among other things, the conduct of their own foreign affairs. After World War II, Canada was a founding member of the United Nations and participant in its own right in post-war settlement talks and other international fora, and in most respects the conduct of foreign affairs was no longer colonial.

Over the years after the Second World War, a number of other historical traditions were slowly abolished or brought into accordance with reality, such as the practice of Canadian ambassadors presenting diplomatic credentials signed by the monarch of Canada (including, on occasion, credentials written in French as an official language of Canada); Canadian ambassadors now present credentials signed by the Governor General of Canada as representative of the Canadian monarch. Other traditions remain, such as the exchange of high commissioners, instead of ambassadors, between Commonwealth countries. (High commissioners present credentials from the head of government, as the head of state was historically shared, and would not accredit a representative to one's self). Nonetheless, by the time the change in terminology was effected in 1993, Canada's foreign affairs had been conducted separately from the United Kingdom in most significant respects for the entire post-war period, or over 60 years since the Statute of Westminster.

This process was paralleled in other areas over this period, including the establishment of Canada's own supreme court as the court of last resort, the patriation of the constitution, and Canadian citizenship (Canadians had been British subjects, and no citizenship per se existed until 1947).

In September 2012, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office signed a memorandum of understanding on diplomatic cooperation, which promotes the co-location of embassies, the joint provision of consular services, and common crisis response. The project has been criticised by leading Canadian foreign affairs scholars for undermining Ottawa's foreign policy independence.[17]

See also


  1. Program, Government of Canada, Treasury Board of Canada, Secretariat, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, How government works, Government oversight, Government communications, Federal Identity. "Federal Identity Program registry of applied titles". Retrieved 2017-06-11.
  2. "Photo Gallery - Introduction". Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. 2011-02-22.
  3. James Eary, "The Department of External Affairs," in The Times Survey of Foreign Ministries of the World,ed. Zara Steiner (London: Times Books Limited, 1982), p.96.
  4. Gordon Osbaldeston. 1992. Organizing to Govern, vol. II, pp. 454-457
  5. Gordon Osbaldeston. 1992. Organizing to Govern, vol. II, pp. 449-451
  6. Gordon Osbaldeston. 1992. Organizing to Govern, vol. II, pg. 230
  7. Gordon Osbaldeston. 1992. Organizing to Govern, vol. 2, pp. 198-99.
  8. Schmitz G., The Harper government and the de-democratization of Canadian foreign policy. Canadian Foreign Policy (CFP) [serial online]. June 2014;20(2):224.
  9. Parliament of Canada, LEGISinfo
  10. Office, Government of Canada, Privy Council Office, Prime Minister's. "Machinery of Government Changes". Retrieved 2017-06-11.
  11. Cabinet shuffle puts focus on issues including pipelines, discontent in Western Canada and trade, Financial Post, November 21, 2019
  12. Korea-Canada Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea
  13. Global Affairs Canada Ministers and Deputy Ministers
  14. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat: Crown Corporations and Other Corporate Interests of Canada 2007 Archived 2011-06-11 at the Wayback Machine
  15. John Hillicker. 1990. Canada's Department of External Affairs, vol I, The Early Years, 1909-1946, pp. 3-7.
  16. History of Canada-Australia relations Archived 2008-05-30 at the Wayback Machine
  17. Gaspers, Jan (November 2012). "At the Helm of a New Commonwealth Diplomatic Network: In the United Kingdom's Interest?". Retrieved 2012-11-26.
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