The Order of the Aztec Eagle

THE SENATE

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Senate met at 1:30 p.m., the Speaker in the chair.

Prayers.

SENATORS’ STATEMENTS

 

Colin Robertson

Congratulations on Appointment to Order of the Aztec Eagle

Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, it is always praise for Canada when a Canadian is awarded an international tribute.

At a special ceremony last week, His Excellency Agustin García-López, Mexican Ambassador to Canada, presented Colin Robertson with the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honour the Government of Mexico can bestow on a foreigner. Maureen Boyd, Colin’s wife was also honoured.

My pride in witnessing this presentation was huge. My heartiest congratulations and thanks go to Colin and Maureen for their commitment and ongoing international work for Canada. This honour is especially timely, marking a particularly positive commitment between partners when the future of NAFTA is in question and the need to retain relationships so important.

Colin Robertson has long been heralded for his knowledge and insights into Canada’s place in the world. Personally, watching Colin’s career evolve over the years has been a treat. My husband gave him his first job in the Manitoba Archives when Colin was a University of Manitoba undergraduate. He worked with the then recent transfer of the Hudson’s Bay Archives from London, and joined us for many dinners and TV specials.

A Canadian diplomat for 30 years, Colin is now Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; an Executive Fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy; and Distinguished Senior Fellow at Carleton’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He sits on many advisory councils, including the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, and the North American Research Partnership. An Honorary Captain of the Royal Canadian Navy, assigned to the Strategic Communications Directorate, he is also on the Deputy Minister of International Trade’s NAFTA Advisory Council. You will have read his regular columns on foreign affairs in The Globe and Mail.

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His understanding of the importance of cultural diplomacy is deep, unwavering in support for arts and culture as a critical tool for Canada’s goals and profile abroad. That was evident when he was Cultural Attaché in New York, in the Canadian mission in Hong Kong, at the UN, Consul General in Los Angeles, and the first Head of the Advocacy and Legislative Secretariat at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

He has supported many international cultural exchanges involving Canadian creators, musicians, dancers, writers, exhibitions and performing arts groups. Canada-Mexico artistic relationships are long-standing. Mexico’s Frida Kahlo and our own Emily Carr have been featured in major international exhibitions. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet recently performed in Mexico and Canada’s National Gallery has a number of exhibitions in the final planning stages.

[Translation]

Honourable colleagues, I very much want to thank to our friend, Colin Robertson, this visionary diplomat who contributed so much to Canada, and congratulate him on this honourable distinction that he was awarded.

[English]

Colin Robertson, a consummate diplomat, is a champion for Canada of whom we should all be proud. He is a silent hero who has worked tirelessly over many decades to advance the interests of Canadians while respecting those of our international partners.

Garcia Lopez me hug

Former Mexican Ambassador Agustin Garcia Lopez Loaeza embraces former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson after presenting him with the Order of the Aztec Eagle award at the official Mexican residence in Ottawa on May 4. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

me Thai ambassador

Mr. Robertson, left, speaks with Thai Ambassador Vijavat Isarabhakdi, right. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

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Arctic Council

Canada-Russia-U.S. tensions could overshadow Arctic Council meeting

Foreign ministers gather for daylong summit on environmental issues, but broader talks likely By Katie Simpson, CBC News Posted: May 10, 2017 7:12 PM

Canada’s foreign minister is joining her Russian and U.S. counterparts Thursday for an intimate gathering to discuss environmental concerns in the north.

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But the conversations on the sidelines of the Arctic Council meeting will likely be of great interest, given the growing political tensions between the three largest participants.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are among the eight political representatives attending the meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The sit-down comes at a time of growing international instability.

A government source with direct knowledge of the summit said Canada is keen to stick to the issues on the agenda, but acknowledged there will likely be opportunities for “real conversations” in private on other topics.

Tensions in the room

The ongoing investigation of Russian involvement in the U.S. election could easily become a source of friction in Alaska, but there are also concerns involving Canada that could emerge.

Ottawa’s relationship with Moscow certainly hasn’t grown cozier in the wake of Freeland’s appointment as foreign minister.

Arctic Report Card

A fisherman drives a boat near the Arctic Circle in Ilulissat, Greenland. Northern issues are on the agenda at Thursday’s Arctic Council meeting, but other topics may be discussed on the sidelines. (Evan Vucci/Pool/Associated Press)

In March, she was targeted in a smear campaign appearing on pro-Russian websites that link her grandfather to Nazi Germany. When asked about the articles, Freeland warned Canada should be prepared for Russian attempts to destabilize its democracy.

Before she even took on the role, she was already subject to Russian sanctions, which ban her from travelling to the country. In 2014, Russia announced a series of retaliatory measures against Canadian officials after Canada levelled sanctions against Russia for its actions in Crimea.

Freeland and Lavrov have crossed paths before, but never in such close quarters.

Anti-trade rhetoric

Meanwhile, the Canada-U.S. relationship has changed dramatically. Since Donald Trump took office, Ottawa launched an intensive charm offensive to ensure key aspects of the Canada-U.S. relationship, like trade, continue to thrive.

Despite those efforts, Canada has been on the receiving end of Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric.

One former Canadian diplomat is urging Freeland to hold frank discussions in private with her counterparts, to speak to some of these growing issues. 

“Often the most important part of these are not what’s discussed in a public roundtable … it’s what takes place in the corridor, that’s what counts,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat.

Softwood and hacking

Robertson expects Freeland to seek out a private discussion with Tillerson, to address the ongoing softwood lumber dispute. Canada is threatening multiple trade actions against the U.S. in response to new duties imposed on Canadian softwood. 

“I think she’ll ask for a readout on where things are at,” Robertson said, adding Tillerson will likely want the same. 

Russian hacking is another issue Robertson thinks should be raised if Freeland is able to secure a private discussion with Lavrov.

Cabinet Retreat 20170123

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland is representing Canada at the Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, Thursday. (Todd Korol/Canadian Press)

“We’ve got an election in Britain coming up, an election in Germany, where certainly all the signals are the Russians are playing their games again,” Robertson said. “So I think it is appropriate for Canada to raise this concern, and it’s appropriate to do it foreign minister to foreign minister.”

Arctic agenda

Freeland’s office said Canada will push several key issues at the meeting, including “advancing the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” especially when it comes to addressing mental wellness, education and climate change.

According to a statement, Freeland will also look for a path to building a sustainable Arctic economy, and ways to encourage and preserve “science-based decision making.”

Whatever political tensions emerge at the summit, the government official said Canada is more than willing to co-operate with all Arctic nations on issues of mutual interest.

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