Amid criticism, Baird defends Canada-U.K. shared embassy agreement
Published Monday, September 24, 2012 2:43PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 24, 2012 6:07PM EDT
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird defended the announcement Monday that Canada and Britain will be sharing embassies abroad, dismissing “speculation” that the move will erode Canadian sovereignty.
Addressing reporters along with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in Ottawa, Baird said the decision to share some embassies with British diplomats is simply a cost-effective, practical move.
“We are not moving to merge all of our embassies and consulates in the world,” Baird said.
“This arrangement allows us to focus on smart diplomacy … without spending large amounts of taxpayers’ dollars on bricks and mortar.”
For example, British envoys will soon get space at the Canadian embassy in Haiti and a Canadian diplomat will work out of the British offices in Burma, Baird said.
Hague said the agreement between the two countries to share diplomatic resources is “about speed, flexibility and practicality.”
“It’s not in any respect about two diplomats trying to work for the same country.”
Officials told CTV News that the two countries will also explore sharing embassies in the growing economic hot spots of Asia.
The move is also seen as an attempt to countervail the European Union's push to extend its presence abroad in the expanding European External Action Service.
Reaction came fast and furious after word of shared embassies emerged ahead of the official announcement Monday.
A former Canadian ambassador slammed the plan as “stupid” while Bob Rae said Canada was “receding” from the world stage under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s leadership.
“This is a dumb idea. There are many parts of the world where it’s best not to be identified with Britain, such as in the Caribbean and Africa where Britain was a colonial power,” Louis Delvoie, a former Canadian ambassador and current diplomatic relations expert at Queen’s University, said in a statement.
“It can also be a threat -- in some countries Britain isn’t very popular. The British embassy in Iran was attacked last year -- if it was a joint embassy, our Canadian diplomats would have been in danger.”
In a written statement provided to CTV News Sunday, Hague noted British Prime Minister David Cameron's remarks to Parliament last year, that referred to Canada and the United Kingdom as “two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values.”
Hague said the two nations have stood “shoulder to shoulder” over the past century as allies and it is only “natural” that the two countries “link up” embassies in places that suit both countries, noting it will save money and increase both countries’ reach abroad.
Others, like Delvoie, disagreed.
“Britain is a great country…but they’re not us. We’ve spend a long time trying to establish that we’re an independent, sovereign country,” Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador to Germany, told CTV’s Power Play Monday.
“The British have baggage. They particularly have baggage in the places that we’re talking about. Countries in Asia and Africa didn’t enjoy their colonial period with the British.”
“We can afford to behave like a sovereign country,” he added. “We are not broke.”
Heinbecker also wondered why Ottawa scheduled a news conference with Hague to announced shared embassies if the move was simply an administrative one, as Baird said.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair slammed the idea of sharing embassies with Britain during question period, while interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said the decision “doesn’t make sense.”
“We’re two separate countries…and in some instances we have competing interests,” Rae told Power Play.
Others, like comedian Rick Mercer, took to Twitter to express their chagrin at the news.
“Have I had a stroke? Remember the good ol’ days, five minutes ago, when we were sovereign?” Mercer wrote.
Noah Richler, son of Canadian literary icon Mordecai Richler, also joined those speaking out against the decision to link embassies, suggesting it was a slippery slope to begin sharing typically sovereign responsibilities with a former colonial power.
“Hey, CPC, why stop at embassies? Who needs the National Archives? We can save money by studying British history instead,” he tweeted.
But a former Canadian High Commissioner to the U.K. said he doesn’t understand why some are questioning Canada’s sovereignty just because some diplomats will be sharing office space with the British.
“This is a manifestation of a lack of confidence. Any mature nation wouldn’t even ask the question,” Mel Cappe told Power Play. “This is merely a matter of sharing facilities. I don’t see this as a problem at all.”
“We’re never going to see a British officer delivering a diplomatic note to a foreign minister on behalf of Canada.”