OTTAWA - Ken Taylor, the former ambassador behind the 1979 Canadian Caper in Iran, says Canada's modern-day diplomats are underpaid and will hopefully resolve their unprecedented strike with the government.
Taylor was critical of the Harper government for its past public comments that its foreign-service officers enjoy coveted jobs with lots of perks.
"I find this a mischievous approach," Taylor told The Canadian Press on Thursday.
"The idea that everybody wants to join it is no reason why you have to underpay them."
Taylor — arguably Canada's most famous international diplomat — was commenting on one of the government's main public themes in its months-old labour dispute with the 1,350-member Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers.
The union has been staging rotating job action at more than a dozen foreign missions after being without a contract since mid-2011.
The union wants wage parity with counterparts in other federal departments, who make as much as $14,000 more for doing similar work.
Taylor was at the Toronto International Film Festival debut of the documentary, "Our Man in Tehran," which describes the Canadian embassy's role in spiriting six American embassy employees out of Iran during the American hostage crisis.
Last year, Taylor made headlines when he complained about how Canada's role in the crisis was minimized in Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning thriller on the exploits of CIA agent Tony Mendez in the hostage crisis.
Taylor said the new film not only sets the record straight about his embassy's role in the affair, but it should highlight the hard work that Canada's diplomats perform in far-flung corners of the globe.
"I certainly hope it conveys to the public to some degree the nature of the foreign service and what it does."
He rejected the view that diplomats receive too many perks.
"What perks?" Taylor added. "The perks are really not very substantial … the perks — as you say perks — only enable you to do business and influence people."
Taylor said Canada's diplomats are among the best in the world, "but at the same time the foreign service is skin and bones."
Taylor suggested it's irrelevant whether a lot of people are beating down the government's door to work as diplomats.
"What's that got to do with value to your country or your wage?"
Taylor's remarks struck an immediate chord with the Harper government in Ottawa.
Minutes after they were published by The Canadian Press, a spokesman for Treasury Board President Tony Clement reiterated the same talking points that Taylor was referring to.
"The Foreign Service is a well paid and highly sought after job. The last Foreign Service recruitment drive saw 9,000 individuals apply for 140 positions," spokesman Matthew Conway said in an email.
"Foreign Service Officers have unique jobs that cannot be compared to others. These jobs are substantively different from public service lawyers, economists or commerce officers.
"Unlike the NDP who sides with union leaders, we will side with Canadian taxpayers."