Coping With a War:
The Experience of the Canadian Department of External Affairs
Down through the ages the writers of military history have developed the axiom that the. successful prosecution of any major war cannot be confined to the events on the battlefield. Behind any success on the field lies a supportive home base. To be effective, diplomats, like others who serve their nation at war, must have the will and the means to acquire and deploy their resources for the achievement of the common goal. Moreover, the performance of a Foreign Office during a war will determine its capacity for making the peace. When Canada declared war on September 10, 1939, its Department of External Affairs was both psychologically and physically unprepared to support its participation in the war effort. Yet, after six years of constant struggle to obtain and effectively deploy its human resources, it emerged in a position of world leadership in fashioning a new international order. This story of transformation from a graduate seminar to a full-fledged diplomatic service is based on learning to cope with and finally to overcome war time impositions.
Press statements to the contrary, the government was, apart from enabling legislation for the defence of Canada, unprepared to assist its allies in waging war abroad. Despite the fact that throughout 1938 and 1939 the Department's Legal Adviser, John Read, had played an important part in the writing of emergency legislation on censorship, internment of enemy aliens, transportation and air raid precautions as well as the operative Defence of Canada Regulations, no thought was ever given to a Departmental War Book.1 The reason was obvious. Few in External Affairs had really considered that Canada would actually join in a war overseas. For the Minister and also the Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, any extensive war preparations could destroy national unity.2 The Under-Secretary at External Affairs, O.D. Skelton, whom the Prime Minister's subsequent private secretary described as "Mackenzie King's closest adviser in all public affairs, domestic as well as external", had profound doubts and hesitations about Canadian participation in the war.3 These were not masked in his paper on "Canadian War Policy" that King read to the Cabinet on August 24. Five days later the Chiefs of Staff recommended raising an army corps of 60,000 men for immediate despatch abroad when war came. This proposal was cut to shreds by the Department's "super isolationist", Loring Christie.4 Even those who may have wished to make preparations at the last minute were deterred from doing so by the government's reluctance to speculate on the nature and level of Canadian participation in a possible war effort. It took nine months of war before Skelton was convinced that "the real place to defend our land is from across the seas".5
When war did come, External Affairs was denied "war department status". The government had divided departments into wartime and peacetime services and, as a non-war department, External Affairs did not qualify for the benefits deferred on "a unit engaged exclusively in war work". This meant that for supplies and accommodation the Department would have to scramble for what was left over after the war departments had liberally helped themselves. Even more important as it turned out, External Affairs could not be exempted from Treasury Board's freeze on promotions, reclassifications, and salary raised through war duty supplements. Arguments before Treasury Board that the amount of its non-war work was "so
small as to be insignificant" went unanswered.6 Staffing new missions abroad and serving on committees involved in war time controls did not quality as war work. Even the Prime Minister who added the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office to External Affairs' appeal would not support it before the Board. In the meantime the Department was losing its support staff to better paying positions in the war departments, and officers abroad found themselves living on a frozen salary while representatives of other departments in the mission received promotions for no more important or demanding work.7 After some hesitancy and in order to allow for the staffing of new missions the Department did receive an exemption for hiring and finally on June 1, 1943, Treasury Board agreed to allow appeals for the supplements in "meritorious cases" where it could be documented that the position reflected "substantial added responsibilities and increased duties". However, the Board warned, this would not apply to those cases where the war had merely required the employee to work harder and longer since the Board believed "that Civil Servants generally are eager to be of the greatest possible service and willing to undertake extra duties without too much regard to established salary ratings".8 This was undoubtedly so, but as the war dragged on employees, especially in the clerical ranks, became more concerned about the prospects for post-war employment that would depend upon their wartime salary scales.
War made apparent what officials in External Affairs had known all along, Canada did not have the means of acquiring first-hand information about developments that would vitally affect its prosperity and future. The parsimonious Prime Minister had repeatedly rejected Skelton's requests for the establishment of posts beyond London, Washington, Paris, Tokyo and Geneva.9 Arguments that Canada had no wealthy political or public-minded men suitable for representing their country abroad were fallacious. Furthermore, the economy if not status demanded more representation. When the last expansion of missions abroad had occurred in the 1920s, foreign trade was freer and governed by relatively stable import tariffs. Government assistance to export trade could under these conditions be reasonably assigned to the Trade Commissioner Service which had a rather anomalous legal status in a host country. In the thirties, the tendency towards increased state participation through internal controls that were governed by political pressures made diplomatic representation for commercial purposes more necessary. Moreover in view of the competition for markets, continued reliance on the British to make the Canadian case was absurd. This was the main reason why in 1939 a Legation was opened in Belgium with dual accreditation in The Netherlands.
The war made imperative, regardless of expense, an expansion of Canadian representation abroad. In rapid succession High Commissions were opened in the Dominions in 1939-40. After some prodding from Washington and London, missions were opened in Argentina, Brazil and Chile in 1941-42 and this was followed by missions to China, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Norway, Poland, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia by the end of 1943. Since there were too few senior career officers whom the Prime Minister considered to be eligible for heading a post and those who were could not be spared from their demanding work in Ottawa, London and Washington, expendable senior civil servants and political appointees were found to head these new missions. With little more than their accumulated experience and innate intelligence, they were despatched abroad under the tutelage of some junior career officer who would assist them in writing reports and hopefully guide them through diplomatic protocol without any serious slip. Recruiting then began for replacement Third Secretaries and for other war-related assignments that the Department had taken on.
Brains more than skills were emphasized in examining the many hopefuls, with a rough
balance being upheld between successful candidates in the two linguistic groups. This policy of a linguistic balance in the external service was begun by Skelton and carefully followed by his successor Norman Robertson and King, even if it meant accepting lower standards when recruiting or making appointments or postings at all levels. "We have maintained", Robertson told King in 1944,
a certain balance in the intake of English and French candidates by requiring a stiffer standard of academic performance from the former group, but this kind of makeshift adjustment is not very satisfactory because it must tend to perpetuate the present position, in which most of the hard and unrewarded work is done by English Canadian officers.10
This was a reference to those French Canadians who had joined the external service as a free ticket to an easy life in Europe where they wanted to remain for life. Those who joined during the war were of a different mold. Each had been exposed to international affairs where they recognized that Canada could be playing an important role in shaping the post-war world. They wanted to get in at the ground level. They wanted to show their compatriots that a French Canadian could influence policy in Ottawa. It was not really a question of lower admission standards but rather the application of standards that did not properly test them. While they wrote the examination in French, it was on Shakespeare rather than Molière, on British constitutional law rather than the French Civil Code and their oral examination was in English which they scarcely knew. Their credentials however were impeccable as all seven had practiced law. Two of them would go on to become Under-Secretaries and all of them became senior Ambassadors. The Ottawa civil service of the early forties was not a hospitable home for young francophones where it was thought that the only good French Canadian was one who had been to Oxford, spoke English with an accent, and watched the Saturday afternoon ball games. But they came anyway, thanks to the encouragement of most members in the Department and especially their father figure, the Assistant Under-Secretary Laurent Beaudry who, with his kind words and charming daughters, persuaded them to come back from happy weekends with the family clan in Montreal. They stayed on in spite of their foreign working conditions.
After the fall of France the war became a people's war and young men began to feel uncomfortable if they were not actively participating in the national effort. Some of the new recruits even signed a petition threatening to quit unless they were allowed to enlist. For fear of losing his new protégés, Skelton persuaded them that they were already doing essential wartime service as an alternative to military service and a fruit salad chest. Robertson made every effort to get them to posts on the front lines which he hoped they would find morally satisfying as well as qualifying them for a "para-military record".12 He was later to resent the efforts of the National Selective Service to boost its statistics by enlisting his eligible men in the armed forces and then seconding them to the Department. This would have defeated the whole point of his argument about equivalent service that had given him a 100 per cent retention rate.13
By the end of 1941 it was decided to take on no new Third Secretaries for the duration of the war unless they were unfit for military service. This seemed the only fair thing to do in order not to prejudice the chances of the enlisted men for positions at the end of the war. But additional help was still needed desperately and the solution was to hire by competition university trained women as Grade four clerks, since the position of Third Secretary was an exclusive privilege for males. However, their work was the same as Third Secretaries and in some cases they directly filled the positions of those going abroad.14 Twelve women entered in
1942 and 1943 at a fixed salary 40 per cent lower than that of a Probationary Third Secretary. Mindful of the injustice and the refusal of the Civil Service Commission to do anything about it, they laboured on with their just rewards coming late in the war through war duty supplements.
As the service expanded through recruiting there developed a need for middle management who could take on important assignments without much direct supervision. Several expedients were tried to solve this problem but only one was successful, the temporary acquisition of patriotic university professors as Special Assistants. They were all close friends of Robertson, Pearson, Read, and Hume Wrong and they invariably rendered admirable service. The majority of them stayed on in the Department or were shortly after the war attracted back to it. As Professor George Brown remarked with obvious satisfaction after a visit to External in September 1943: "1 found an historian in almost every other room working away like mad on contemporary affairs. I told them it was the historian's Babylonian captivity".15 but there was a limit to those who could be captured for service in Ottawa.
The second method attempted for acquiring middle management was more ambitious and consequently less likely to succeed. In 1942 plans were afoot in the United States and the United Kingdom for the establishment of a single foreign service out of the diplomatic commercial and consular services. Hugh Keenleyside, who as the Assistant Under-Secretary for the American and Far Eastern Division was anxious to create a Canadian consular service in the United States, seized the moment to propose an amalgamation for the undermanned External Affairs service with the under-utilized Commercial Intelligence Service in order to find the trained manpower for a nascent consular service.16 His argument was couched in the changing attitude of diplomats who had traditionally distained trade matters--"the comparatively recent recognition of the fact that trade and other economic factors are fundamental to ninety percent of all international relations and are thus worthy of, and in fact demand, consideration by the most competent and responsible officials available". The main problem, but not in Keenleyside's view an insurmountable one, was "the inadequacy of some of the members of the Trade Commissioner Service for senior posts in External Affairs".17 The amalgamation of the British services in May 1943 prompted Robertson to suggest to Trade and Commerce that a committee be established to examine the possibilities of a closer relationship between the two services. The former Deputy Minister of Trade and Commerce, Dana Wilgress, had been a supporter of amalgamation but he was now External Affairs' Minister to the Soviet Union and the Acting Deputy, Oliver Master, was of the opposite view as was his Minister, James MacKinnon. Before the committee could meet, the Trade Commissioners who were on duty in Ottawa emphatically told them in a collective submission: "that it would be very desirable that some definite understanding be arrived at which will prevent Trade and Commerce personnel, the only Government Department personnel at present trained in foreign trade, being relegated to a status in foreign posts inferior to that of junior officials appointed abroad for the first time by External Affairs".18 Before Robertson and Keenleyside heard of Trade and Commerce objections, the whole notion of amalgamation was put to rest by the Prime Minister in an interchange with Gordon Graydon in the House of Commons. In King's views the two services were quite distinct in training and purpose and, what must have really hurt Robertson, External Affairs did not have time to look after commercial interests abroad.19 Trade and Commerce officials were now armed to meet their counterparts in External Affairs to discuss means of better coordination between the two services rather than amalgamation. Keenleyside who in the meantime had prepared elaborate studies on other single foreign services was allowed to make his pitch, but no one on the other side was prepared to listen to a scheme that had been rendered
futile by the Prime Minister's fiat.20 His consolation was to have the committee accept in its terms of reference that amalgamation could be regarded as an eventual possibility of no immediate or early concern. Meanwhile, the committee would turn its attention to the more pressing problems of coordination that the joint venture in the recently opened New York Consulate General made all too apparent. There were some in External Affairs like Vincent Massey and R.M. MacDonnell who were pleased at the outcome even though it did not solve their manpower problems.
An underhanded attempt to have some of the Prime Minister's staff work on External's despatches only served to get Robertson a strong rebuke from the Prime Minister.21 There was no way out other than long hours which some of the bachelors at least began to enjoy as a status symbol of power in an otherwise dull city. For others the sweat of the brow led to nervous exhaustion. But the essential work did get done in a spirit of patriotic or perhaps ambitious fervour.
Those in support positions also suffered the strains of hard work occasioned by inadequate staff. Here their problem was less one of recruitment than keeping recruits.22 It took six months to train people in the file and code rooms but few stayed past that. In one three- month period in 1941 the Code room lost eleven of its sixteen staff, eight to better paying jobs in other departments. However, that did not stop the telegraphic traffic that had to be labouriously coded and cyphered by hand (See Table I following the Notes). In desperation and because of the security risk involved in too frequent changeovers, the Under-Secretary decreed that all junior officers would henceforth have to spend allotted hours each week in the Code Room.23 For even in the midst of an emergency when bombs were raining all around Canada House, the Prime Minister's "Secret and Most Immediate" message had to get through: could the High Commissioner find him some momentos of bombed out Westminster Hall for his ruins at Kingsmere.24 At least the request provided comic relief for those on both ends of the telegraphic machine.
The turnover rate was no less in the filing room that was bulging with files being created at the rate of about 12,000 per year with no space for orderly storage. Inadequate space and staff meant long delays in retrieving documents and getting them on file. Complete work stoppages were prevented by managers who put in more than a few thirty-hour shifts.
The Department's experience with messengers was even worse than with clerks. In order to free men for war service, the Department began at the beginning of the war to use young boys who very soon proved to be unreliable and immune to threats of dismissal. It was then suggested that by combining with the Prime Minister's Office and the Finance Department there could be a joint East Block service until this invitation was seen for what it was, a subtle raid on other department's messengers. The Under-Secretary's Executive Assistant, Saul Rae, then suggested some men in uniform with motorized transport which Robertson rejected as too demeaning for the army. In desperation young girls were hired, however they could not be allowed out on the streets with their precious secrets and in any case, they were little better than the unruly boys. External Affairs then asked National Defence for some discharged soldiers who proved to be even worse.
The first man we took on appeared one morning somewhat under the influence of liquor. He was given two letters to deliver by hand and was not seen again in the Department for two days. He was discharged.
The second man appeared for an interview at ten o'clock one morning and Don Matthews judged from the smell of his breath that he had already, that morning, consumed a fair amount of his twenty-six ounces. He was not employed.
The third man appeared for an interview and turned out to be a nervous case, who, poor fellow, had had a tree fall on him in Scotland. He might have been alright, however, until it was discovered that while he could read, he could not write. He was not employed.25
The message soon got around that if you wanted something coded, filed or delivered in a hurry you had better do it yourself.
War brought an end to the quiet little graduate seminar atmosphere that the Department had enjoyed under Skelton. Not only did the Department have to cope with an enormous volume of old work (see Table 1), it also entered so many new diversified fields from evacuations abroad to American oil wells at home. There was no organizational structure at the beginning of the war to handle all these activities in any systematic way. When an officer joined or returned to the Department, Skelton would look around for unassigned or lagging assignments and that odd mixture which lacked any specification, clarity or continuity became his duties.26 Duplication and overlapping led to confusion as when seven officers were assigned the handling of various aspects of immigration problems. Right down to the last detail of supply everything went out over Skelton's desk and he continued to open and direct most of the incoming mail. While it was pandemonium for the senior officers, the junior officers often had to detain a messenger boy leaving the Under-Secretary's office in order to find enough to occupy their day. Instead of delegating, Skelton took more and more on himself while continuing to advise King on how to run the government. "I have known no man with a sense of duty greater than Skelton", wrote King on February 1, 1940, "or who took on tasks more willingly and with less complaint. I am afraid that he will not be able to stand very long further indefinite strain".27 But instead of relieving the pressure King demanded Skelton's attention on the Dominion-Provincial Conference of January 1941 and this and that speech and telegram. On January 28, 1941 the powerhouse suddenly failed. The future had never looked bleaker and things were in their usual state of disarray in his Department when Skelton died.
So well had Skelton developed the service over the past sixteen years that any one of seven senior officers could have succeeded him and done a creditable job. The Prime Minister's choice fell on the youngest, the brilliant trade negotiator Norman Robertson, who was probably the closest to Skelton in temperament and philosophy.28 The most hopeful aspirants were to be moved on or elevated to be his Assistants. In taking the office Robertson was fully conscious of his own deficiencies as an administrator.29 Accordingly, administration of the Department was to be assigned to his two Assistant Under-Secretaries, Hugh Keenleyside who in utter frustration at the inefficiency he saw had grudgingly won from Skelton permission to begin work on organizing the Department by charts and definitions so as to relieve the burden on the Under Secretary,30 and Pearson who by good personal relations had managed the administration and personnel of Canada House without much liking for either. Pearson questioned going back to Ottawa without being Under-Secretary for he was "not quite sure what this post of Joint Assistant Under-Secretary means. My own view is that it means Mr. King wants Norman Robertson as a sort of super personal assistant and is going to give him the rank of Under- Secretary for that reason, whi1e I am going to be brought back to do the work ... without being given the rank."31
Before Pearson had returned to Ottawa, Keenleyside had his proposed scheme for organization outlined and ready for distribution. It was based on the "rational principles.... that subjects of like quality or inherent relationship should be grouped together and that there should be as clear a distinction as possible between the different units of the organization".32 Administration was Keenleyside's forte and he knew it. Henceforth everyone entering the Department would know where he fitted into the structure and to whom he could delegate or transfer work when necessary. The proposed new structure involved rather curiously, in view of Pearson's imminent return, a single Assistant Under-Secretary, a Legal Adviser, four geographical divisions (American, Far Eastern, Europe, Commonwealth and Empire) and six functional divisions (Administration, Consular, Legal, Commercial, Economic, Information and Research). There would also be a Personnel Board responsible for writing and administering a "Service Code", examinations, and making recommendations to the Under-Secretary for the handling of personnel problems. Tagged on the end were some further suggestions for expediting the flow of paper. Although Robertson liked the proposal, even if some of the divisions would for the present be pretty thin in manpower, he was initially unwilling actually to take any steps towards implementation.
When Pearson arrived from London he found the Department still in "a hive of unorganized activity". He was not sanguine about the prospects for Keenleyside's scheme because he recognized the basic flaw was in the Under-Secretary himself. Already, Pearson observed, Robertson had fallen right into Skelton's weaknesses and two obstacles impeded any decentralization: "First the Prime Minister's insistence on dealing with one person and one person only, the Under-Secretary, on every matter, great and small. Secondly, the necessity under the present system of getting the Prime Minister's approval on practical every step--diplomatic, administrative or political--which the Department desires to take".33 The first was irremovable and the second was somewhat beyond External Affairs' control because Treasury Board rules that had been designed for another era required Ministerial approval on anything from the purchase of floral tributes to the installation of new phones. Even when in 1943 the Minister of Finance agreed that King's signature could be dropped from routine submissions to Treasury Board that did not exceed $200, King never signed the authorization."34 King wanted to keep on top of every detail right down to the appointment of the doorman for the Legation in Washington. And if the temperamental King wanted to keep on top of all this minutiae, Robertson had to serve as the conduit. Operations overseas were directly responsible to the Under-Secretary. This meant an endless flow of issues to be resolved about support staff, finances and accommodation. At the conclusion of one memo to Robertson about these matters, Pearson wrote:
I think the fundamental weakness of our departmental organization is shown by the fact that I have to write you about matters like this. There should be some one to relieve you of this side of the work, so that you will only be approached on administrative matters when a final decision on some important matter is to be made.
Personally, I don't see how you are going to show the Prime Minister how to win the war and make the peace if you have to spend two hours each day talking about the cost of Mr. Desy's table linen or the salary of the newest stenographer.35
When at the same time Escott Reid returned from Washington, Robertson was treated
to a homily on the consequences of failing to implement Keenleyside's scheme. Reid was concerned lest "external policy may be the result of improvisation, not of considered
judgement" or from what he had observed of Canadian government operations in Washington, "merely be the sum of a number of possibly inconsistent or unrelated policies arrived at by various organs of the Government".36 Not only must the Department in these circumstances coordinate policy into a single programme that would be consistent with the national interest but it must through political imagination and inventiveness be able to present the Government with alternative policy choices. In order to accomplish this, senior officers had to accept the fact that the war and its aftermath of reconstruction would continue for some time therefore requiring them to delegate some of their authority instead of seeking only improvisations until the house could be set in order during a quieter time. Unfortunately Reid went on to overstate his case by calling for an unrealistic, immediate doubling of resources. This, at a time when External Affairs had experienced only a modest growth in resources at headquarters, was like asking for the sky. Perhaps he had for a moment forgotten that he had recrossed the border into a nation at war. As Pearson was to point out, since the outbreak of war there had been a net gain of only four among the senior staff in Ottawa, the majority of whom were now consumed in part or in whole by special war work. The net gain among junior officers was also only four and three of these were still too junior to undertake any substantial responsibility.37
The efforts of Keenleyside, Pearson and Reid had their impact, and finally in July 1941 Robertson persuaded King to accept a modest and more sensible organizational change based on Keenleyside's proposals. Instead of ten divisions there would be ten sections combined into four divisions, each to be headed by an Assistant Under-Secretary and the Legal Adviser: a Diplomatic and Commercial Division under Beaudry; a Legal Division under John Read; a commonwealth and European Division under Pearson and an American and Far Eastern Division under Keenleyside. This organization was more in keeping with actual officer strength than the first one and took care of the most senior men. Although the line responsibilities were now in place, unfortunately the cramped quarters did not allow much shifting of space allocations that would facilitate operations. By this time, 203 employees were crammed into the space previously occupied by sixty eight, with the only addition being that of three rooms acquired from the other occupants of the East Block when the Governor General's staff was sent packing to Rideau Hall. Even if renovations would have helped they were all but denied a unit without war department status. One important suggestion that had originated with Wrong was lost in condensation. There would be no research and planning section for another year.
Also in the scheme of things was a Personnel Board that had been established in May 1941 to relieve the Under-Secretary of routine personnel administration. Although its mandate was not as precise as Keenleyside had envisaged, it did set out to do many of the same things. For reasons that are not clear from the files, after a busy few months it soon ceased to meet. One possible explanation for this is the number of petty administrative matters that one of its members, Agnes McCloskey, kept bringing before it. Another is the structural problems that made handling the external service so difficult within a framework of regulations designed for a home service.
The establishment of the Department and Canada House came under the Civil Service Act whereas the staff at other posts that was created by Order-in-Council did not. The resulting confusion had been highlighted by the fact that there was no provision for the transfer of senior people abroad back to Ottawa as Assistant Under-Secretaries at an equivalent rank and salary or the promotion from one class to a higher one by an officer charged with equal responsibilities. The salary scale for Assistant Under-Secretaries and the Minister-Counselor in Washington was well below that of Ministers and High Commissioners, even though the responsibilities of the
former were far heavier than most of those in the latter categories. Thus the "irreplaceable" heavy-weights in Ottawa were being penalized by remaining in Ottawa.38 An Order-in-Council of May 10, 1940 further complicated transfers by prohibiting any changes in classification during the war. Nor was it just officers who were affected. An Order-in-Council dating back to 1922 forced support staff below the Grade IV level to resign their positions39 thereby losing all of their superannuation benefits, when being posted anywhere but London. At stake was the broader question of who should control the conditions of employment for the external service.
A report of an investigation by the Civil Service Commission suggested new pay scales for all ranks and amendments to the Civil Service Acts that would ensure upward mobility of promotions and transfers. The Secretary of the Treasury Board also agreed to cooperate in righting the anomalies. At this point there seems to have been some disagreement in the Personnel Board as to whether the extern service should come under the control of the Civil Service Commission at all.40 Instead of following the route recommended by the Commission, Read set out to draft an amendment to the External Affairs Act. Read was no supporter of a separate service like the British and Americans had and he argued for a system that would allow complete interchangeability with the Civil Service. Transfers would continue to be handled in the Departmental Estimates but Heads of Posts would have responsibility over all Canadian civil servants within the country. In giving the Secretary of State for External Affairs authority to make personnel policy, he stopped short of an independent service since Treasury Board approval would still be required if money was to be spent and the approval of the Commission if organizational structure involving reclassification was entailed. In effect, Read's proposal also combined a subtle way of clarifying channels of authority, particularly in Washington where there were frequent disputes with officials of Munitions and Supply. Although Read's draft was printed as a Bill, because of the pressure of parliamentary business it was never sent to the House of Commons. As Pearson was to write to his old head of Post: "I am encouraged by the views and attitude of the senior members of the Department--but somewhat discouraged by the political difficulties in the way of translating those views into action. If we only had a Minister of our own!"41 After further reflection he continued: "I suppose it is too much even to expect the Prime Minister to spend the necessary time and energy on it and without his interest and support it can't be done."42 "By hook or by crook" as Wrong said, officials found ways of circumventing regulations in order to keep the establishment fluid and prevent the loss of key men but it left an unholy mess for later resolution.43
One of these methods involved the deposition of the redoubtable Agnes McCloskey who had been with the Department since its foundation in 1909. She had been a former school teacher who since 1927 had run the financial, support staff and supply side of the Department as "a cross between a country school and a country store".44 Since Skelton had not wanted to be bothered with administrative details she had gradually built a little empire which, for the same reason, Robertson was reluctant to tamper with. An outside observer might have thought she was an Assistant Under-Secretary the way she would lecture a poor Third Secretary about the use of government property. The Commission in its report had recommended the appointment of a senior experienced administrative officer, but as Pearson and Robertson both knew: "no business manager would have a chance as long as she remains there".45 Finally, in April 1943 Robertson convinced her of the honour of being appointed to New York as Canada's first woman Consul, with the personal rank equivalent to a First Secretary. On hearing the announcement in Washington, Pearson noted in his diary: "For anyone who as had to pry expense accounts out of her the significance of this move will be obvious. In the Legation, it
overshadowed all the war news; even the advance of the 8th Army had to take second place".46
Agnes McClosky was to be replaced immediately but at a higher level by Don Matthews, a dollar a year businessman and lawyer from the Foreign Exchange Control Board. In his pleasing manner he quickly demonstrated a capacity for efficiently handling an enormous number of administrative and personnel issues with a short period. Together with Saul Rae, who began to organize the flow of paper that came through the Under-Secretary's office, the bottlenecks were gradually alleviated and departmental committees were established and charged with coordinating and making written recommendations for administrative policy.
In January 1945 a further departmental reorganization of the Divisions was carried out by Hume Wrong who, because of his valuable services to Robertson, was given the personal designation of Associate Under-Secretary. The Divisional changes reflected new wartime responsibilities and changes in personnel but the basic structure was that laid down by the father of External Affairs organization, Hugh Keenleyside.
Because of its long term implications for the Department, one small organizational change needs to be mentioned. Through his close association with the economic mandarins47 in Ottawa and his active participation in the Economic Advisory Committee and the Foreign Exchange Control Board, Robertson was very involved in matters of commercial policy before assuming the Under-Secretary's mantle. Fashioning and negotiating economic policies in this company was the work he liked best of all and he was determined to keep direct responsibility for postwar commercial policy towards Britain and the United States who needed to be convinced of the need of a multilateral convention that would secure ready Canadian access to world markets. The key economic mandarins valued his advice and used him as a convenient and forceful channel for putting their ideas to the Prime Minister.48
In the State Department in Washington there were no fewer than six divisions handling commercial policy and agreements and Wrong urged him to use this argument to convince King of the need of substantial expansion in Ottawa. Meanwhile, "we are trying", Robertson told King,
to cover the same ground in the Department here. Stone, single handed, except for such assistance as I can give him, performs in the Department the functions of five of the six divisions under the Board of Economic Operations in the Department of State, and looks after questions of censorship as well. He, among others, is slipping behind in his work which is steadily increasing beyond the capacity of our establishment.49
As seen in connection with External's efforts to absorb the Commercial Intelligence Service, King was not interested in the Departments' plight.
Finally, in April 1942 Stone himself was complaining to the UnderSecretary that things were getting out of hand both at home and, where much of the action was, in Washington. The 1941 organization had not helped. Shipping questions were separated from export control, economic warfare from war production and tag ends found a haphazard distribution among various officers. There was no time for liaison and the number of independent agencies involved was steadily increasing. "I believe", Stone wrote:
that unless the Department can organize itself efficiently to work more
expeditiously, to take more effective decisions based on considerations of the whole field, to co-ordinate its relations with other departments and agencies in one division, we should resign ourselves to playing a secondary role in a good many matters where it should be considered essential for us to take the lead. It is not only impossible, under present circumstances, for us to make the running but also not right for us to try. It is essential to face the fact that as a result of our lack of staff, lack of organization and resulting lack of efficiency in the economic fields External Affairs is being most severely criticized by other departments of the government and that whenever these other departments can short circuit us they do so. Officers of the department have been told this in so many words.... when in point of fact our real role--we are the only department that can play this part--is to bring some kind of order into chaotic crises which arise from time to time.50
Keenleyside who had responsibility for American affairs was also finding this piecemeal and ineffective way of doing business increasingly intolerable. As mentioned earlier, he wanted a full-fledged Economic and Commercial Division but the person who by rank would have to lead it was judged unsuitable for an Assistant Under-Secretaryship. To transfer it all to Keenleyside's Division would mean the loss of Stone who refused to work under Keenleyside's machine-like efficiency. He did, however, give up his duties to Henry Angus, an economist on loan from the University of British Columbia, who was on paper to head a new Economic Section under Keenleyside. Unfortunately Angus who after the war would be returning to the University was not always brought into the picture by the strategists, Robertson and Wrong.51 In February 1943 an Economic Division was created, but it lacked both the clout that an Assistant Under-Secretary could have given it and continuity in staff. Moreover, its brightest young economist who had made such a remarkable impression at Bretton Woods, John Deutsch, was meanwhile edging toward the Department of Finance where more of the action was.52 That was to leave only Robertson who himself would depart without a successor in this field a year after the end of the war. The wartime failure to build up a strong economic and commercial expertise would, as Stone had warned, be around to haunt the Department for many a year.53
Whether being the Prime Minister's Department was more of a curse than a blessing was always a debatable point for people in External Affairs. But one thing was sure, it most certainly distorted and detracted from the normal functions of a foreign Office. The linkage between the PMO and the Department had always been a close one, with the Under-Secretary responsible for the Prime Minister's staff and budget and having several young officers seconded to the PMO. The Prime Minister argued that there was no better place for an aspiring diplomat to get a sound training since no Prime Minister could fail to play a major role in the shaping of Canadian destiny in the world, especially when King was so fond of Prime Ministerial diplomacy. Arnold Heeney's appointment, first as the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary and later as Secretary to the Cabinet and Clerk of the Privy Council, further galvanized External Affairs' close ties with the PMO because he was so closely associated with Robertson and had his own special areas of responsibility that touched on External Affairs' work. In this regard he was directly responsible for making the arrangements for the carrying out of American defence projects in the north-west of Canada. In the absence of a Cabinet Secretariat or a Home Office, being the Prime Minister's Department meant that you willy-nilly became involved in anything he chose to involve you in. At the Under-Secretary level it meant that Robertson was always on call to a demanding boss. Shortly after Skelton's death, Robertson's old negotiating friend from the State Department, Jack Hickerson, called on
Robertson to warn him not to let King kill him with overwork the way he had Skelton. At that point in an unusually frank conversation Robertson related an incident of the previous evening. He had left the office late and was preparing for bed when he remembered that he had left a classified document on his desk. Dutifully he trudged back through the snow that was falling to his office whereupon the phone rang and it was the Prime Minister with another one of his fancies. "The old so and so took it for granted that I would be there", Robertson complained.54 And so it continued throughout his entire term as UnderSecretary whenever King wanted advice on things totally detached from External Affairs. "It is very difficult for a layman", Robertson began hesitatingly in one memorandum, "to offer any useful comment, or even ask an intelligent question, about National Defence recommendations for enlarging the Canadian Army establishments in the United Kingdom", but he then went on as requested to offer some suggestions.55 Other subjects would include the "Unification of railways and telegraphs of Canada as a means of economising ... manpower and scarce materials", national holidays and General McNaughton's resignation.
At the conclusion of the war Robertson wrote a "private and personal" memorandum to the Prime Minister discussing the merits of a Secretary of State for External Affairs distinct from the Prime Minister. In respect of internal administration and establishment, the Department had grown during the war to the point where a separate Minister would be helpful. On the other hand the Prime Minister could not escape from questions of major policy involving in particular Commonwealth Prime Ministerial consultation and, as the Ogdensburg and Hyde Park agreements showed, direct relations with the President. Moreover the Canadian public, Robertson thought, demanded the Prime Minister's leadership in United Nations matters. In conclusion, Robertson could not suggest a satisfactory division of powers for a separate Minister.56 What was not said but very well known was the status among other Departments that the PM's leadership gave which offset the frustrations of dealing with him. What they really wanted was the same arrangement under a new Prime Minister.
In fairness to the Prime Minister the further dissolution of External Affairs' mandate during the war was not entirely of his making. Many of the officers such as Pearson, Glazebrook and Stone were only too eager to see the Department move into all kinds of war-related activities. They believed that with their accumulated brains they could identify problems in the war effort and find solutions for them which others could then be charged with carrying out. This is how they got involved in intercepting prisoner of war mail, censorship, prisoner of war exchanges and air priorities, without in the end being able to extricate themselves from the directing of these activities.
The most peculiar example was the public opinion study conducted in the province of Quebec. After Quebec registered a resounding negative vote on the conscription plebiscite, two young French Canadian officers began in their spare time to write a memo for Robertson explaining why Quebecers had voted the way they had, coupled with suggestions on "the ways and means to correct or at least to minimize the dangers inherent to the state of mind now prevailing in Quebec". They then went on to suggest how the government should propagandize Quebec for the Canadian war effort.57 Wanting to make sure of the assumptions that their paper was based on and in order to test the real state of French Canadian sentiment, they pursuaded the Department to send them to Dr. Gallup from whom they learned how to sample and measure public opinion. After this short weekend course they spent two weeks, supposedly on leave, sampling Quebecers on the "underlying motive and basic attitude behind Quebec's view of the present war". Their very "secret" sixty-eight page report58 was then typed and distributed
through External Affairs to the Prime Minister and made available to the Liberal party organizers in Montreal. Because so few people saw the report and External Affairs had become so ingrained in the political climate of the country, no one questioned the propriety of such an activity for a Foreign Office.
Too late it was realized that these activities were making an enormous drain on its resources, and it was simply fallacious to believe that other Departments could not have handled them just as well or, as in the case of State Department, they could have been assigned to new agencies and committees with External Affairs left to the coordinating role. Instead it got too involved in the mechanics and could not channel its energy into its proper function of giving advice and direction to other departments and agencies on issues of interest to them abroad. This failure by External Affairs to serve all of the national interests abroad later encouraged other departments to send their own emissaries who would speak at times with a discordant voice. Having said this it cannot be overlooked that all this happened during a World War when nations were fighting for their very existence.
At least the Department would not face another war unprepared. In mid-1943 the post-hostilities problems committee had begun the work that would allow Canada's diplomats to make a major contribution to the shaping of the post-war world.59 And one of the Department's historians compiled the Departmental War Book, to be updated at regular intervals.60 The wonder of it all is that the Department survived; that it did so in such impressive style was entirely owing to the intelligence and hard work of its members. Even if administration was not always their long suit, they made enormous personal sacrifices to overcome the weaknesses of organisation that had created one bottleneck after another. Rewards and recognition denied them in the war would come through peacemaking, and a golden age of Canadian diplomacy. Its practitioners won their spurs in the war effort.
Alfred Rive, the trojan for work on prisoners of war and problems of interned civilians and, by his own admission, the not so very High Commissioner to New Zealand, captured the mood in his own poetic fashion.
When first I was an F. S. O.,
"third Sec." was the designation
I thought "Some day my chest will show
Some simple decorations."
And so, as slow I struggled through
External's pre mutations,
I saw myself in distant view
Bedecked with decorations.
Through thick and thin, as near or far
Were my perambulations,
I hitched my wagon to a star
And other decorations.
But as I neared the goal space
And told all my relations,
External sent a blunt ukase
"You'll get no decorations.
"We'll put you in no Honours List
With flattering citations.
We think your name will not be missed
No stars--no decorations!"61
And the response!
Abandoning the ancient style
Of formal salutations
Herewith I venture to reply
To yours on decorations.
We've known you now for many years
Enjoyed your aberrations
But never did we realize
You yearned for decorations.
We thought the Special Section toil
With all its tribulations
Would be for you an ample prize
Or junkets to the ILO
And intervening stations
Would compensate your noble soul
For bauble decorations.
But ah! tis clear no man escapes
These tinsel aspirations,
Even New Zealand cannot slake
The greed for decorations.
And so I have the honour, Sir
To send congratulations
Because you've reached your it lofty post
Not needing decorations.62
TABLE I Some Workload Indicators in the Department of External Affairs 1938-46
* Accurate statistics not available.
YEAR Officers Employees
Rep. at Inter.
Thousands of $
per fiscal yr.
1938 27 * - 5 29 20 2,230 25,817 1,227 1939 33 68 106 11 20 13 4,668 16,275 1,005 1940 30 202 111 12 - 10 9,428 165,055 1,161 1941 49 203 148 16 - 10 11,493 215,257 958 1942 61 206 142 21 - 20 15,744 145,148 990 1943 69 209 163 23 - 21 16,438 61,999 1,547 1944 72 223 199 25 12 41 20,448 39,270 2,171 1945 107 238 260 26 27 30 21,687 50,948 2,205 1946 132 287 315 26 102 57 23,106 71,811 4,904
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Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation