Parliament and Foreign Affairs

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Cultural Diplomacy at work

The first lady of Lornado While not on the State Department payroll, Vicki Heyman uses the arts to boost Canada-US ties.

Embassy Photo: Sam Garcia
In just over a year since arriving in Ottawa, Ms. Heyman has fashioned Lornado as a networking base to promote cultural diplomacy.

Published: Wednesday, 05/20/2015 12:00 am EDT

Colin Robertson remembers meeting Vicki Heyman for the first time.

The wife of the United States ambassador took Mr. Robertson, Canada’s consul general in Los Angeles from 2000 to 2004, through her new home, Lornado.

When she and her husband, Bruce, moved into the official residence in early 2014, they brought some pieces from their own art collection to decorate the sprawling Rockcliffe Park home. The Heymans augmented their black-and-white photos of civil-rights era protests and American street scenes with borrowed works by well-known American artists.

Mr. Robertson, who left the Canadian foreign service in 2010, had noticed a portrait of US President of Barack Obama hanging in the sitting room in the Heymans’ Edwardian-style house.

The Heymans, who fundraised big money from their Chicago home for Mr. Obama during his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, brought the piece by Chuck Close from their own collection.

Mr. Robertson asked Ms. Heyman to tell him about it.

“There was somebody else with me. She took us through the house and explained each of the pieces with obvious enthusiasm. And then we got talking about some of the Canadian artists,” recalled Mr. Robertson.

“She’s warm and personable—and quite interested in you.”

It likely wasn’t the first time Ms. Heyman had toured guests through the art in her house, and certainly wasn’t the last.

In just over a year since arriving in Ottawa alongside her banker-turned-ambassador husband, Ms. Heyman has fashioned Lornado as a networking base to promote cultural diplomacy. The art makes for a conversation starter about big, borderless issues that both Canadians and Americans grapple with, like identity and assimilation.

It’s all part of a plan she and her husband crafted before stepping foot in the Great White North. They’re a team, they say, and that means tackling the ambassador job as one. Mr. Heyman has the title, official duties, and policy lead on everything from trade to security and defence. She’s taken the reins on culture.

While other spouses of heads of mission are busy taking care of children, have separate career endeavours, or just don’t feel comfortable sharing the diplomatic spotlight, the Heymans have embraced the job as shared.

“We tackle everything together, and why not this?” Mr. Heyman told a Global morning news anchor while he was seated beside his wife in Montreal in February.

Besides joint media interviews, at last year’s July 4 celebration they both gave speeches to the thousands of guests at their home. Together, they were named earlier this year as a couple of the top 100 people influencing Canadian politics by Power & Influence magazine (a sister publication to Embassy).

Gregarious, with a background in both business and arts, Ms. Heyman appears to be a diplomat in all but official title.

As the face of an ongoing art partnership with the National Gallery of Canada, Ms. Heyman was quoted in a US Embassy press release in February. She was the keynote speaker at a March event in Ottawa on women in politics, and is scheduled to give a breakfast talk this week in the city on social innovation. She also tweets several times a day to more than 1,000 followers.

The beginnings of the dyad

Married for 34 years (35 in June), the Heymans met at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee where they were both in the same program, which involved a three-year undergraduate degree followed by a one-and-a-half year MBA.

At one point, she said she mentioned to him that they could both sign up for a class on entrepreneurship.

“And I said, I think, ‘You know, with your brains and my creativity, we can get an A,’” she recalled, with a hint of the southern drawl of her Kentucky upbringing. “We were a dyad when we started in 1980, and we’re a dyad today.”

Having graduated with art-history and business degrees, she uses the management lingo to describe their plan coming to Canada.

We knew that we wanted to go to a country that would embrace and welcome both of our energies, both of our leaderships, and both of our passions so that we could both drive outcomes and be part of the landscape,” she said.

“Being here as spouse of the ambassador, I consider myself a cultural envoy and have really had the opportunity to lead in the cultural space.”

At the outset, she decided to concentrate on three areas she’s worked on throughout her life: education, art and social innovation. In Chicago, for instance, she was as an adviser to a teacher-led organization focused on supporting academic success for low-income high school students. She also served seven years as president of the philanthropic Kaplan Simons Family Foundation.

In Canada, she’s visited art galleries across the country and helped organize a Toronto event with entrepreneurs talking about scaling Canadian social innovations to US markets.

She’s the driving force behind Contemporary Conversations, which has seen her display in her home work by well-known American artists and host public lectures by them. The second in the four-part series, with visual and performance artist Nick Cave, is set for May 28.

I am passionate about art and film, and arts as a driver for dialogue and exchange. Art as a magnet to bring people together in a zone where they can talk about things that connect them and not divide them,” said Ms. Heyman, seated in the shadow of Chuck Close’s Obama portrait earlier this month.

While her work is self-directed, it often aligns with State Department projects, like working with documentary filmmakers on a film about the Arctic just as the US was about to take over chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum. When her work intersects with US foreign policy, embassy staff members sometimes support her. But she also employs an assistant, paid out of her own pocket. They work out of Lornado.

“The State Department didn’t say to me ‘Vicki, do this.’ I was like: this is what I’m passionate about, this is what I’m going to do and I can do this in a way that really will augment and align with the mission, without necessarily running in front of the mission, [but] hopefully running beside the mission.”

Wielding soft power

With several longtime observers agreed that US-Canada relations have hit a rough patch, the positive sentiment generated from Ms. Heyman’s cultural diplomacy may come as a breath of fresh air for the US Embassy.

The Heymans arrived at a low point in cross-border relations, given the Harper government’s frustration over continued delays in US decision-making on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. In March, the Globe and Mail reported that Mr. Heyman had spent his first year on the job practically frozen out of cabinet ministers’ offices.

Just this week, Canada said it would ratchet up tariffs on a range of US products unless the Americans change country-of-origin meat labelling rules that the World Trade Organization found violate international trade law.

So is the embassy leading on culture to downplay other sticky aspects of the Canada-US relationship?

No, said Ms. Heyman. “If I was living here as an independent person, I’d be immersing myself in culture, [even if] I had nothing to do with this,” she said. “Because this is what drives me. I’m authentic to who I am. I’m a person who likes to activate people.”

Her cultural diplomacy shows that Canada-US ties are about more than just a pipeline, said Andrew Cohen, who was hosted by the Heymans a couple times for the launch of his recent book on John F. Kennedy, Two Days in June.

The networking events Ms. Heyman has spearheaded provide a non-controversial, non-adversarial setting to do business, said Mr. Robertson.

Cultural events are an extremely effective way to send a message, he said. He recalled when he was working in the US and acclaimed Canadian film director Norman Jewison was coming to town. The Canadian mission organized an event to mark the occasion and invited John Negroponte, US director of national intelligence at the time. Mr. Negroponte, who would rarely attend such events, according to Mr. Robertson, knew Mr. Jewison through family ties. The official had recently told a US Senate committee that he was more worried about the US border with Canada than with Mexico.

Mr. Robertson had told Mr. Jewison the back-story, and when the filmmaker got up to speak at the event he mocked the whole idea of border. Mr. Negroponte said he got the hint and noted that Canadians are not so bad.

“That’s how soft power works,” said Mr. Robertson. You can use an event to bring people together and deliver a message—in a subtle, positive way.

“The arts is a great medium,” he said, and Ms. Heyman is “really good at this stuff.”

She’s not the only diplomatic spouse, or even spouse of a US ambassador to Canada, who’s used the role to further cultural diplomacy.

For instance, Ms. Heyman’s predecessor, Julie Jacobson, was also active culturally, having used the role to support the work of writers’ festivals across Canada.

“It varies, I think. The role changes according to whomever is in the role,” said Mr. Cohen. “The level of which you do it changes, the prominence with which you do it. And I think [Ms. Heyman] in particular loves the job, and loves being part of this element of it and so is giving it a lot of her time and attention.”

Indeed, she explained that none of their three kids are still living at home; they’re all grown up. So she has the time to devote to multiple cultural and community events every day, which she might not have had 10 years ago.

“I’m all in,” she said.

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The EU matters to Canada

Why the European Union endures despite its flaws

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail

Canada is bound to Europe through ties of history, family and sacrifice. Our collective security is enshrined through NATO and we recently negotiated the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

This month, we commemorate the many cords that bind us in ceremonies marking the 70th anniversaries of the Battle of the Atlantic and Victory in Europe Day. Prime Minister Stephen Harper observed that Canadian “commitment, innovation and professionalism” in the Second World War generated “international recognition for our country and immense national pride.”

If the United States was the arsenal of democracy, Canada was the aerodrome, training thousands of Commonwealth fliers. Canadians built and sailed many of the ships that won the Battle of the Atlantic. On this battle, Winston Churchill said, hinged, “everything elsewhere on land, sea and air.” By war’s end, the Royal Canadian Navy was one of the world’s largest, growing from 3,300 men and 13 ships to 95,000 men and women and 428 ships.

Ceremonies in recent days across the Netherlands remember the more than 7,600 Canadians who died in its liberation. The tulips blooming today on Parliament Hill are the gift of a grateful Dutch nation and, later this month, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will visit Ottawa.

The EU continues to be an experiment – political, economic, social and cultural – in federalism. Federalism is a system of government in which Canadians are also invested, especially in the practice of pluralism.

There are faults and flaws with the EU: too much bureaucracy; economic disequilibrium between south and north; the tensions of balance between national and supra-national sovereignties evidenced in the emergence of anti-EU, nationalist-populist parties; and, the threat of exits by Greece (“Grexit”), through financial default, or Britain (“Brexit”), through Prime Minister David Cameron’s promised referendum.

The European experiment has faced many challenges: the Cold War that threatened global catastrophe; dissolution of the former Soviet Union and the tragedies that befell the Balkans; the recent Great Recession with effects still plaguing much of southern Europe; the boatloads of refugees from the Middle East and Africa now crossing the Mediterranean.

But the European Union endures and the refugee inflow is testament to the continuing attraction of the EU’s liberal and democratic virtues.

There is a line of new applicants for EU membership. The Ukrainian crisis was sparked in part by Ukrainian desire for closer association with the EU rather than the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union. Last month, Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati was in Ottawa and received Canadian endorsement for its EU bid.

The EU’s economic partnerships continue to broaden. It is negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the United States. The public debate on investor state dispute settlement threatens to sideswipe our CETA, now in post-negotiation legal scrub and translation.

We need to re-engage with the EU’s Commission, Council, parliamentarians and member states to assuage concerns, highlight the mutual benefits and ensure that there is no backsliding. An energetic diplomatic campaign should be complemented with visits by ministers and the business community.

Let’s utilize our various inter-parliamentary relationships. The European legislators within the NATO Parliamentary Association are influential and the Canadian delegation should be making the case for CETA at its spring session in Budapest this week.

The case for Canada begins with the more than 100,000 Canadians who died during two world wars, many of whom are buried throughout Europe. Canada’s current deployment includes RCAF fighter jets in Central and Eastern Europe; HMCS Fredericton recently completed exercises in the Baltic. Trainers in Ukraine could also help our Baltic allies.

The generation that fought the Second World War and then created global and regional institutions, rooted in liberal internationalism, is now passing. So, too, is the international consensus that holds these institutions in place.

This past weekend Russia staged its biggest-ever military parade in Red Square to mark Victory Day. Standing with President Vladmir Putin were Chinese President Xi Jinping, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Cuba’s Raul Castro and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro. Mr. Putin reiterated his criticism of NATO and the United States. Later this week, China and Russia conduct joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean.

We take for granted continuing peace and prosperity, starting with our deeply rooted transatlantic partnerships. But without a commitment to activist diplomacy, backed up by muscular collective defence, this century could be as difficult as the last.

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