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Liberal-named consul-general Rana Sarkar to make nearly double office’s official salary

Rana Sarkar, a long-time Liberal who is close to Mr. Trudeau’s top aide, principal secretary Gerald Butts, was named consul-general to San Francisco in a shuffle of diplomatic postings in the United States announced on Aug. 2.

The well-connected former Liberal candidate who was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a plum diplomatic posting in San Francisco is being paid nearly twice as much as the job's official salary rate.

Rana Sarkar, a long-time Liberal who is close to Mr. Trudeau's top aide, principal secretary Gerald Butts, was named consul-general to San Francisco in a shuffle of diplomatic postings in the United States announced on Aug. 2. The government trumpeted the appointment as a move to beef up its U.S. diplomatic team ahead of NAFTA talks.

But the Liberal cabinet set a salary range for Mr. Sarkar between $221,300 and $260,300 — far more than the official pay scale for the consul-general of San Francisco, which is classified in the government as an "EX-02" position with a salary range from $119,600 to $140,700.

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Mr. Sarkar's salary range is now higher than that set for two former senior Liberal ministers who left Mr. Trudeau's cabinet for diplomatic posts that were touted as "superambassador" roles.

John McCallum, appointed ambassador to China in March, and Stéphane Dion, the former foreign affairs minister who was named ambassador to Germany and special envoy to the European Union, are both paid a salary range between $214,200 and $252,000.

The August order-in-council that formalizes his appointment made the politically connected Liberal one of the highest-paid Canadian diplomats in the foreign service.

The Prime Minister's Office answered questions about Mr. Sarkar's appointment and pay by insisting that the consul-general's post in San Francisco is being raised in stature because of the importance of Silicon Valley and Pacific investment and trade, and that Mr. Sarkar was brought for his skills and experience.

Mr. Sarkar's experience is a former president of the Canada-India Business Council and more recently KPMG's national director for high-value markets. In an e-mail, Mr. Trudeau's spokesman, Cameron Ahmad, said he will be tasked with attracting investment, helping business succeed in fast-growing industries, "and work to expand our reach across the Pacific Rim." Mr. Ahmad said the pay is in line with other "key diplomatic postings" such as London, Canberra, Beijing, Berlin and Washington.

Highly paid diplomatic appointees typically fall into two groups: high-level civil servants or officials already on a higher pay scale who are appointed as diplomats late in their careers and political appointees given high-powered posts so foreign governments will see them as having the ear of the Canada's leaders.

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Canada's high commissions in London and Canberra are respectively the former clerk of the Privy Council, Janice Charette, and retired vice-admiral Paul Maddison, the former commander of the Royal Canadian Navy. Mr. Trudeau appointed David MacNaughton, a long-time Liberal, as ambassador to Washington.

Placing San Francisco on that list when a Liberal close to Mr. Trudeau's PMO takes the job raises questions, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said. "It's almost double the normal foreign service pay scale."

He said he can understand the pay of Mr. McCallum, the ambassador to China, which is a major trading partner, but there does not seem to be a reason to pay such a salary to recruit a consul-general. He said they already saw Mr. Trudeau seek to appoint a Liberal, Madeleine Meilleur, as official languages commissioner. "Mr. Trudeau is going to have to explain why when you are friends of Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Butts, the normal rules don't apply."

Mr. Sarkar is a long-time Liberal who ran as the party's candidate in Scarborough–Rouge River in 2011, but lost. He sought the party's nomination for the 2015 election in another riding, Don Valley North, but was portrayed as part of Mr. Trudeau's clique, and lost to current Liberal MP Geng Tan. He is a friend of Mr. Trudeau and especially close to Mr. Butts, a close friend and adviser to Mr. Trudeau, who, along with chief of staff Katie Telford and the Prime Minister himself, make up the power troika that runs the federal government.

The San Francisco job is considered a plum posting, as its territory includes Hawaii and calls for regular trips to the island, and it comes with a five-bedroom house – not a mansion, but in San Francisco's hot real estate market, enough to be worth millions. It has had occupants with higher rates of pay, who were officials at higher pay grades before their posting.

Cassie Doyle, the former deputy minister of natural resources, was appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper at a time when his Conservatives were concerned about the potential effects of California state fuel standards on Canadian oil exports. But Ms. Doyle said the biggest part of the job is attracting investment and trade ties to Silicon Valley and the Pacific Rim. She said she doesn't know Mr. Sarkar, but thinks his experience makes him a good appointment.

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"It's the most important technology market in the world," said Ms. Doyle, now the CEO of the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute. "That's part of what makes it extraordinary in terms of attracting investment, venture capital, connecting Canadian technology companies into the Valley."

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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