Assistant Deputy Minister for Europe, the Middle East and the Maghreb, Global Affairs Canada
Bachelor of Arts, Political Science (’79)
Master of Arts, International Affairs (’92)
In 1982, NPSIA student Alexandra Bugailiskis joined the then-Department of External Affairs. She had finished her coursework—but not her Master’s thesis—when in 1984 she was off to her first posting in Ghana. It was a difficult time for the country and she remembers the empty store shelves.
“When word came that there was sugar, you would drop what you were doing and find a way to get to the head of the line,” she recalls. “But you would also share whatever you found with your friends and neighbours.”
Today, Ghana is one of the success stories in Africa, having implemented difficult but effective economic reforms with the support of long-term donors like Canada.
Following her experience in Ghana, Ms. Bugailiskis worked on the successful campaign for Canada’s election to the UN Security Council, which led to a project that changed the course of her career—assisting Namibia with its transition to independence.
“Working in the UN division was one of the high points of my career. I traveled to Namibia for six weeks to assist our mission in preparing for and observing the UN-sponsored elections,” says Ms. Bugailiskis, who received the first Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) Award for her work on Namibia. It was presented to her by Joe Clark, then Foreign Minister.
During her time in Namibia, she says she witnessed the changing face of peacekeeping.
“It was less about the military and much more about preparing for peace through policing, community engagement and awareness,” she says.
The Namibian experience inspired her to return to NPSIA and write her thesis on the operation and to finally graduate.
“It was a fabulous opportunity to refresh those policy and theoretical underpinnings,” says Ms. Bugailiskis, who worked closely with Professor Fen Hampson. “I was also able to offer a reality check to many of the bright but less experienced students in the program.”
It also convinced her of the need for a larger game plan for governance in countries that were transitioning to a democracy.
“If you can’t reconcile the warring factions, you are only delaying the inevitable,” she explains. “We’re seeing this now in Iraq and Syria. We need to defeat ISIS. But then what? We need to address the underlying sources of conflict, as well.”
Much of Ms. Bugailiskis’ Foreign Service career has involved exactly that—laying the groundwork for long-term change.
“El Salvador was also a place where Canada’s peacekeeping was incredibly timely and important as it supported an integrated approach that included military, diplomatic, and development assistance,” she recalls, referring to her time as Head of the Political Program in Guatemala. As part of that, Canada supported the UN peace process that brought a 12-year civil war to an end.
“There are still problems with criminality in El Salvador, but now there is hope for a more democratic future. Canada should be proud of its role in that,” she says.
But Ms. Bugailiskis’ most memorable experience may have been her time serving as ambassador to Syria from 1997-2000.
“Syria was like the eye in the storm: there was conflict all around, but not in Syria. Although it was very autocratic,” she says. “The people were incredibly hospitable, generous, and open to the world. I learned the definition of generosity from them.”
Ten years later, everything had changed.
“It’s been devastating to see the Syrian people who have been victims of violence treated as a source of terror,” says Ms. Bugailiskis.
That is why, after being the recipient of Syrian generosity as ambassador, Ms. Bugailiskis was so delighted to support the government’s program to bring more than 40,000 Syrian refugees to Canada.
“I’m very proud to see the incredible generosity of Canadians who have opened their doors when so many others are expressing fear. By providing them with a place of refuge, Canada has set an important example.”
But Ms. Bugailiskis acknowledges it’s not enough. Just as in Namibia and El Salvador, she says there’s a need to address the underlying causes of instability and violence across the society.
“As a recent study has shown, the best indicator of a country’s stability is not the economy, it’s the number of women in government and business,” says Ms. Bugailiskis, who also served as ambassador to Cuba and Poland. “So we’re putting a huge emphasis on making sure women are at the table, not just those who hold guns.”
Ms. Bugailiskis credits her colleagues at Global Affairs Canada—many of whom are NPSIA alumni—for their dedication to this work. She says working abroad has provided them with a greater appreciation for their country.
“It’s really humbling when you see Canada through other people’s eyes because you realize how highly regarded we are,” she says. “You also realize how fortunate we are. That’s why we need to give back.”
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