“It’s a great year to be a Canadian,” enthuses Canada’s High Commissioner Janice Charette whose arrival in London coincides with Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.
The year-long cultural programme will celebrate the coming together of a nation, she explains. Highlights include a First Nations exhibition at the British Museum and a display of early Confederation photographs at the British Library, while the original British North America Act that created Canada in 1867 will be on show in the Palace of Westminster. Tall Ships will sail from Greenwich to Quebec to commemorate the founding of the French community in Montreal and the National Maritime museum will stage an exhibition about Captain Franklin’s expedition to find the Northwest Passage.
In Canada House, the Canada Gallery will feature a series of exhibitions showing the many faces of modern Canada in all its diversity. “Canadians very much view immigration as a benefit to our country,” reflects the High Commissioner. “My mother is from the Netherlands. My husband is the grandson of a Scottish immigrant.”
While other countries are curbing immigration, Canada is encouraging it. “But – and it’s an important but–” stresses Charette, “we pay a lot of attention to the integration of our immigrants and our refugees. Our population needs to grow and the government hopes to welcome 300,000 new immigrants in 2017. Up to 40,000 of those will be refugees or protected persons. That is just under 1 per cent of Canada’s population.
“That view towards immigrants and refugees is symbolic of our society – it extends to the Canadian dedication to inclusion, to respecting gender rights, respect for the freedom to practice your own religion, for the rights of members of the LGBT community. The list goes on.”
Added to that list of freedoms one could add free trade. Canada has concluded 15 FTAs and is negotiating eight more. “We live in an interconnected world. It promises to bring extraordinary benefits,” says the High Commissioner. “But it also brings challenges – and evokes concerns and fears. That is why Canada has been so focussed on an agenda for inclusive growth.”
CETA is a good example of that, she says. “It’s the most progressive agreement that Canada or the EU has ever negotiated. It’s an important signal that agreements that improve free and fair trade, and that include high standards for consumers, workers, and the environment are possible.”
However two years into this landmark agreement, Canada’s biggest trading partner in the EU, the UK, will be exiting the club. The High Commissioner will be monitoring what form Brexit takes and what that means for the UK-Canadian trading relationship.
But the bilateral relationship extends far beyond a free trade deal, she points out. The two countries are close allies, whether it relates to security in Nato, or striving for human rights in the Commonwealth, or strengthening the world’s economic institutions at the G7 and G20 or global governance at the UN, where Canada is hoping for the UK’s support in its bid for a seat on the Security Council in 2021/22.
Britain and Canada share the closest of constitutional ties. The Queen is Canada’s head of state and as last year’s visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge clearly demonstrated, Canadians have embraced the next generations of the Royal family. “Canadians have great respect and affection for Her Majesty – she is very much our Queen.”
But it’s a lot more than VIP traffic across the Atlantic, she adds. There are more than 1100 businesses in the UK that are owned or controlled by Canadian businesses and and British students are part of the 350,000 international students attracted to Canada’s top-notch universities, which offer a generous three-year Post-Graduation Work Permit Programme.
“And it would be decidedly un-Canadian of me if I did not pause to issue a heartfelt invitation to visit Canada during this special year,” adds the High Commissioner. As a bonus, Parks Canada is offering free entry to all of Canada’s National Parks in 2017 so travellers can discover why Canada’s great outdoors tops the lists of all the major guide books.
There’s traffic the other way too – some estimates – and they are estimates, peg the number of Canadians in the UK at upwards of 400,000 – “They are our true ambassadors,” says Charette, who will be using the 150th celebrations to engage further with the community.
That’s a lot for one mission to accomplish, which is why Prime Minster Trudeau has entrusted the job to such an accomplished public servant. Not only has Charette served in eight ministries, she was Clerk of the Privy Council and knows how to pull civil servants from different departments in one direction.
But the High Commissioner, who champions mental health, also enjoys her down time – when she’s not in a museum or theatre, or striking out on foot with husband Reg, you might spy the self-described hockey mom “sipping a hot coffee in a cold arena”. She even “dropped the puck” at a game between the Cardiff Devils and the Edinburgh Capitals (she’s visited both cities, part of her goal to be High Commissioner to all of the UK).
The ferocity of a hockey rink is great training for the unrelenting diplomacy in London where High Commissioner Charette is sure to be the ultimate playmaker.