Foreign Affairs prepares to cut, diplomatically

Canadian diplomats are bracing for federal cuts expected next week, including reductions in embassy staff, longer foreign postings, fewer limos and the closure of some trade consulates.

Budgetary belt-tightening comes with strategic redeployment

Canadian diplomats are bracing for federal cuts expected next week, including reductions in embassy staff, longer foreign postings, fewer limos and the closure of some trade consulates.

CBC News has learned the Harper government plans to padlock at least four Canadian trade consulates in the United States.

Canada currently has 21 consular offices in cities across the U.S., as well as the embassy in Washington, D.C.

Senior diplomatic sources say trade offices on the chopping block as of two weeks ago included those in Phoenix, Philadelphia, Raleigh, N.C., and Anchorage, Alaska.

Foreign Affairs would neither confirm nor deny the cuts, saying the department did not want its employees learning their fate in the media.

No one contacted at the affected consulates Friday would comment, referring all calls to Ottawa.

Diplomatic sources speaking on condition of anonymity told CBC News that services provided by the trade offices set to close will be provided by larger Canadian consulates in the respective U.S. regions.

Canada’s diplomatic and trade presence in the U.S. is maintained by more than 1,000 Canadian and local staff, and costs about $90 million a year.

7 domestic trade offices to close

Next week's expected cuts will also shutter seven of the 18 international trade offices in Canadian cities and towns across the country. Offices will be closed in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Moncton, N.B., Charlottetown and St. John's.

The trade offices are supposed to help local Canadian companies market their produces and services abroad, while attracting foreign investment to the respective regions.

A spokesman for Trade Minister Ed Fast said the closures are a matter of simple fiscal prudence, and won’t in any way limit access to government help for Canadian companies.

"The offices we're closing dealt with less than one call a day and, in the case of Charlottetown, less than a call a week."

The elimination of some trade operations in the U.S. and Canada will yield only a small fraction of the roughly $170 million a year the Harper government has pledged to cut from Foreign Affairs.

Cutbacks for the canapé crowd

Most of the savings will come from changes at Foreign Affairs headquarters and belt-tightening for the canapé crowd at Canadian embassies, especially in Europe and Africa.

For instance, the recent Conservative budget promised to cut the size of the diplomatic limo fleet.

The department plans to reduce its massive annual moving costs by leaving diplomats in foreign postings longer.

Finally, the government is also planning to put $80 million of Canada’s diplomatic digs up for sale, replacing them with more modest accommodations.

There’s plenty to choose from: Foreign Affairs has about $3-billion worth of properties, many of them worth tens of millions of dollars.

But the cuts coming to Foreign Affairs are only partly about saving money.

Beyond the balance sheets, the Harper government is beginning a major realignment of how Canada conducts its foreign and trade policies.

In particular, cost savings and displaced employees from diplomatic operations in Europe and Africa will be redirected into expanding Canada’s trade operations in the world’s most rapidly growing markets in Asia and South America.

The move is nothing new. Since the Harper government came to power in 2006, it has already opened 15 new trade offices in China, India and Brazil.

Sources say Foreign Affairs is expected to begin notifying its employees of the cuts on Monday, and it may be several weeks before the full scope of the changes becomes public.