Rebecca Berthiaume is a graduate of a Master's Certificate program at JSGS. (Photo: Submitted)
Rebecca Berthiaume is a graduate of a Master's Certificate program at JSGS. (Photo: Submitted)

From Canada to Kuwait: How a policy certificate led to work in security and defence

As a civilian working in the defence and security policy world, Rebecca Berthiaume has been fortunate to see some of what makes the Canadian Armed Forces the best in the world.

By Joanne Paulson for JSGS

“One of the things I’m proud of professionally was when I was deployed on Operation IMPACT,” Berthiaume said. “I was there as Policy Advisor to Commander of Joint Task Force - IMPACT, providing policy advice on Canada’s military training and capacity-building activities in the Middle East, and supporting the Government of Canada’s evacuation of the Afghan nationals in August 2021.

“It was a major operation that involved lots of parts of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Government of Canada. In addition to the many military members both in Canada and abroad who made extremely important contributions, there were lots of public servants across the Government of Canada who played a role in what was achieved there.

She remembers a moment while watching Afghan evacuees come through Kuwait on their way to Canada to start a new life.

“And I saw, for example, a little girl who was dressed in her finest, walking from one plane to the other, and I thought to myself, that little girl is now going to have a future. In Canada.

“That’s the kind of thing that we all go into public service for. Wanting to have an impact on even one person’s life, and playing a small part in making it possible, is really motivating.”

Born in Regina, Berthiaume is proud of being from Saskatchewan and bringing that perspective to Ottawa, noting that a diversity of perspectives is critical to forming good policy.

As is education.

She studied political science in university and international relations in graduate school, and then worked in the University of Regina’s president’s office, doing “really interesting” work that was, however, unrelated to her studies.

There, Berthiaume developed insight into the various university programs and was excited when she discovered Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS).

“I’m really interested in how to practically apply all of these very academic approaches to the things that govern the way we live and the society that we live in,” she said.

“And so I was really drawn to Johnson Shoyama, and the opportunity to better understand the policy world because that’s where decisions are made; that’s how decisions are made.”

Berthiaume decided to enroll in the Master’s Certificate program, studying at night and working during the day, as well as taking a condensed summer course. She graduated with her MCert in 2014.

She recalls being inspired by a faculty member while taking her introduction to public policy class.

“It was really foundational for me. I also took a really fascinating class on the economics of public policy and economics from Jim Marshall. Economics was always something I was intimidated by and never wanted to pursue in my undergrad . . . but Marshall really made it practical.”

Berthiaume said she didn’t have a clear sense of what she would do with her MCert when she started.

“It was mostly going to be ‘you never stop learning,’” at least at first, she said.

“I really credit the experience of studying policy with motivating me to explore and take concrete steps to work in the public service.”

The concrete step came in 2015, when she applied for the Policy Officer Recruitment Program, a developmental program run by the Department of National Defence (DND) and was successful.

“It’s a very competitive program. I credit the practical, hands-on understanding of policy, the policy cycle and how decisions are made with being competitive in the program.”

She has been with DND ever since, following an “atypical career path” of changing jobs often in a program deliberately designed for generalist policy experts — not necessarily subject matter experts.

“I’ve worked on everything, all in security and defence, from parliamentary affairs to Middle East policy to arctic policy, cyber policy. “Over the years, I’ve also sprinkled within there three stints the deputy minister’s office, twice as Special Advisor and once as Acting Chief of Staff to the Associate Deputy Minister.”

“This experience has given me a good foundation in the breadth of defence and security policies and priorities, how government makes decisions, and how those decisions are translated into action in service of Canadians. But I have always been interested in  providing policy support to military operations and working more directly with the Canadian Armed Forces.”

In addition to her past work as the deployed policy advisor on Canada’s military operations in the Middle East, in her current role as Policy Advisor with the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM), Berthiaume’s job is to translate the policy world to the operational level and vice versa. She helps guide the Command through the process of securing authorities from Cabinet, Parliament, and the Minister of National Defence.

“My job is to help ensure there is alignment between the operations and activities the Canadian Armed Forces undertake and foreign and defence policy, and the Government of Canada’s direction and the direction of the Minister.”

To do that, she maintains a finger on the pulse of current affairs, the political environment, international relations and fundamentally how decisions are made.

“That’s really my value-add when I’m briefing my Commander,” she said.

“I’m a very proud public servant. I’m proud of doing work every day that makes a difference to Canadians, even if they don’t see it every day. And I’m very proud of supporting the Armed Forces, as well.”