Fréchette 1st UN Deputy Secretary General | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Fréchette 1st UN Deputy Secretary General

The boys at the male-oriented United Nations called them the "G-7," short for Girls Seven. During the mid-1990s, Canadian Ambassador Louise Fréchette, U.S.

This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on January 26, 1998

Fréchette 1st UN Deputy Secretary General

The boys at the male-oriented United Nations called them the "G-7," short for Girls Seven. During the mid-1990s, Canadian Ambassador Louise Fréchette, U.S. representative Madeleine Albright and the ambassadors of Jamaica, Trinidad, the Philippines, Kazakhstan and Liechtenstein were the only women sitting in the UN General Assembly. So it was only natural that they would gravitate together, forming a loose club that met for lunch each month to talk about everything from the latest peacekeeping mission to the most recent promotion of a woman within the UN bureaucracy. "It became quite an interesting sounding board," recalls Fréchette fondly. "We got to know each other quite well."

That could come in handy. Last week, Fréchette, 51, was named the first UN deputy secretary general, making her second-in-command at the beleaguered world organization. And whether she succeeds at the new post could, at least in part, depend upon her old lunch mate Albright, now the U.S. secretary of state.

Fréchette, considered one of the brightest stars in Canada's civil service, was full of vim and confidence during an interview from her New York City offices. Yet she acknowledges she takes her post at a critical time. The United Nations has been assailed for waste and corruption, starved for funding, and increasingly asked to handle complex tasks for which it is ill-equipped. "This is one of these transitions to a different era," says Fréchette. "It is a time for the UN to redefine its vision and its role."

Secretary General Kofi Annan created the new position as part of his efforts to reform the organization. Anxious to appoint a woman to counterbalance the male bias, he approached Gro Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway, and Sadako Ogata, the Japanese UN high commissioner for refugees; both turned him down. So Annan turned to a woman he had worked with closely while she was UN ambassador and he was in charge of peacekeeping. What sold him on the Montreal native, senior diplomatic sources say, was Fréchette's administrative prowess: in addition to acting as Canada's ambassador in Argentina and Geneva, she has served as an assistant deputy minister of finance. Most recently, the unmarried Fréchette was deputy minister of defence, where she stepped into the highly charged Somalia situation, earning a reputation for being tactful and cautious.

Fréchette, who speaks Spanish, French and English fluently, will stand in for Annan when he is away. But she is no mere figurehead. Annan wanted a deputy who could free him up from co-ordinating the activities of the United Nation's mind-numbing list of departments, funds, programs and specialized agencies. He also wants her to raise the organization's profile in economic and social spheres, including Third World development. Her main task, though, is to take over from another Canadian: global do-gooder Maurice Strong, who until the end of 1997 directed the top-to-bottom reforms designed to silence critics who say the United Nations is bloated and badly run. Her goal, says Fréchette, "is to make the United Nations work as efficiently and coherently as possible and to ensure that we use our limited resources to the best possible purpose."

Which is where Albright could come in. Just last week, the secretary of state was bashing Republican congressmen for blocking passage of a bill that would repay some of the estimated $2 billion the United States owes the United Nations. So desperate is the debt-ridden organization that it has reportedly raided its pension fund to pay staff. No wonder Fréchette - like everyone at the United Nations - is praying that her old friend succeeds. At their next lunch, they should have plenty to talk about.


Louise Fréchette joins an impressive list of Canadians holding top positions in international organizations. Among them:

Donald Johnston

, 61, secretary general of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the so-called rich countries club. Johnston is a former Liberal cabinet minister.

Louise Arbour

, 50, special prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, which tries suspects from the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. She was an Ontario appeal court justice.

Maurice Strong

, 68, special adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and senior adviser to World Bank president James Wolfensohn. Strong is a longtime public servant and businessman.

Gen. John de Chastelain

, 60, co-chairman of peace talks on Northern Ireland. He was formerly Canada's chief of defence staff.

Stephen Lewis

, 60, deputy executive director of UNICEF. An NDP stalwart, he is a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.

Richard Pound

, 55, Montreal-based vice-president of the International Olympic Committee. A lawyer, Pound negotiates the lucrative Olympic TV and sponsorship deals.

Jean-Louis Roy

, 56, secretary general of the Paris-based Francophonie, the organization of French-speaking countries. Roy is a former publisher of Montreal's Le Devoir newspaper.

Ewan (Nick) Hare

, 58, deputy secretary general of the Commonwealth in London. Hare was previously director general of the Canadian International Development Agency.


January 26, 1998