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In the Canadian foreign service, an ambassador traditionally writes a final telegram home before leaving his or her post. Some of them make for good reading, as the dispatch provides an opportunity for some no-holds-barred observations about other countries and peoples, not always the hallmark of the diplomatic life.

In Britain, the practice unfortunately came to an end about ten years ago, when the telegram of the outgoing ambassador to Italy, in which he had some unflattering things to say about his bosses at the Foreign Office, was leaked to the press. However, knowing about this gold mine of juicy information, Times columnist Matthew Paris, who once worked for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, requested copies of declassified past missives.

On the BBC website today, one finds a number of them, including the one penned by Lord Moran, who served as High Commissioner in Ottawa from 1981-84. Apart from a few interesting observations about Pierre Trudeau, First Nations, resource policy and hunting - mixed with some classic snobbery related to a former colony - are several rather astute observations about Canada's political system, summarized as "Little ideology. Excessive patronage. Poor quality of politicians. They look after each other."

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All of which makes for some enlightening and entertaining reading in light of recent domestic controversies.

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