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Envoys bid farewell to Ottawa over holiday season

By Chelsea Nash      

At least eight heads of mission have come to the end of their posting so far in December and January.

Two prominent departures: U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman, left, will be leaving Ottawa with his wife Vicki Heyman, right, by Friday. Former Israeli ambassador Rafael Barak, and his spouse, Miriam Barak, left Canada at the end of November. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia
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Several diplomats—some of them well known in the Ottawa community—took the new year as an opportunity for new beginnings, having finished their postings here.

The hole left by Rafael Barak, who, until the end of November was Israel’s ambassador to Canada, was filled within less than a month. The new Israeli ambassador, Nimrod Barkan, arrived on Dec. 12, and has already presented his credentials to the governor general to start work officially.

Mr. Barak, 67, had reached the mandatory retirement age in Israel, and so was called back home.

Mr. Barkan, whose biography has been helpfully compiled in a video posted to YouTube by the Israeli foreign ministry, is the son of a Holocaust survivor from Hungary. He was born in Tel Aviv and grew up dreaming of being a garbage collector, “to fulfil his desire for action.” By the time he was ready to start a career, that desire was channelled into serving the foreign ministry, now for about four decades. Mr. Barkan, who studied history, worked as a diplomat in Philadelphia, Cairo, Washington, and Paris, among other places, and in Israel he worked closely with the late prime minister and president Shimon Peres when he was foreign minister.

Former Brazilian Ambassador Pedro Fernando Brêtas Bastos has retired from the diplomatic service after having spent three years in Ottawa, and returned to Brazil. An embassy spokesperson said staff are expecting to receive a new ambassador sometime in February, though there are no concrete plans yet. Pablo Cardoso, a counsellor at the embassy, has taken over as chargé d’affaires for the time being.

The 70-year-old former ambassador was a regular at national day receptions, though he was often one of the more reserved party-goers.

During his time here, Brazil hosted many Canadian visitors for the FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The ambassador spent more than 40 years in the diplomatic corps, and finished off with a bit of a bookend: his first assignment having been as a desk officer for Canada from 1978 to 1980.

Another notable departure includes the now-former South African high commissioner Membathisi Mdladlana. He also retired, returning to South Africa.

His former deputy and now interim head of mission, Tanya Sefolo, described him as a “colourful character,” and a “very funny man.”

Mr. Mdladlana, a former teacher, labour minister, and union head, was known for his flourish and his sense of humour. At last year’s Africa Day celebrations, which he emceed, he and his co-host, Rwandan Acting High Commissioner Shakilla Umutoni, ululated on stage together. Mr. Mdladlana cracked jokes throughout the evening, and even urged his colleagues, pleading “your excellencies,” to tell one raucous group to quiet down.

“The staff clearly miss him,” she said, as Mr. Mdladlana “always had us in stitches.” They often reminisce about the jokes he used to tell and share a laugh, she said.

Ms. Sefolo, who has only been in Ottawa for six months now, said she’s “quite excited” to take on the role of interim head of mission. It is not yet known how long it will take for a new high commissioner to be appointed.

Among all of the retirements, there is one ambassador who is said to have received a promotion. Former Italian ambassador Gian Lorenzo Cornado has returned to Italy to become the chief of staff to Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Angelino Alfano.

The current chargé d’affaires, Fabrizio Nava, who has previously served as consul general in Houston, Texas, said he’s “honoured and humbled” having been presented with the task of running the embassy in the absence of an ambassador. He said he’s not sure when someone new will arrive.

The embassy of Benin confirmed that its ambassador, Comlan Pamphile Goutondji, left at the beginning of December to return to Benin, leaving Houèvo Angèle Adoukonou, the first secretary at the embassy, to run things.

Amid all the controversy over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas, the former high commissioner of the Bahamas, Calsey Johnson, may have left just in time. Mr. Johnson returned to his country on Dec. 16.

Roselyn Dannielle Dorsett-Horton is the current acting high commissioner representing the Caribbean islands.

Another familiar face, former Vietnamese ambassador To Anh Dung, left Ottawa at the end of his posting. He left quite a bit earlier than his colleagues, having departed on Oct. 11. An ambassador-designate has arrived and is waiting for his accreditation ceremony with the governor general.

Austria also has an ambassador-designate for the time being. Stefan Pehringer is newly arrived to the city. The former ambassador, Arno Riedel, left just before Christmas, on Dec. 20. He also retired and returned home to Austria.

And of course, the impending departure of U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman is expected to leave a hole in Ottawa’s diplomatic corps. Mr. Heyman and his spouse, Vicki Heyman, have been instructed to leave by Jan. 20, the day of the incoming president’s inauguration. As the ambassadors between Washington and Ottawa are typically political appointees, observers are anxiously waiting to see whom president-elect Donald Trump will send North.

cnash@hilltimes.com

@chels_nash

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