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New Greek ambassador draws on past Canadian diplomatic work to forge future ties

By Shruti Shekar      
New Greek Ambassador Dimitris Azemopoulos, who presented his credentials to the governor general on Nov. 10, said he's drawing on his previous Canadian work experience as consul general in Toronto to succeed in his new role. The Hill Times photograph Andrew Meade
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The new Greek ambassador says his open personality, combined with five years of experience at the Greek Consulate in Toronto, will help him succeed in growing a stronger relationship between Canada and Greece.

Dimitris Azemopoulos presented his credentials to the governor general on Nov. 10, but it wasn’t his first time in the country. Mr. Azemopoulos first came to Canada back in 2009 when he was made the consul general of the Greek Consulate in Toronto. He held the position for five years before going back to Greece in 2014.

“When I was told that I would move to Canada [in 2009], it was something that happened very suddenly,” he told Diplomatic Circles“I said to myself, ‘Dimitri, what are you going to do? You don’t know the country’… So I said ‘I’m going to be myself.’ And I was myself, probably the best [version] of myself.”

Sitting in The Hill Times‘ conference room last Friday evening, Mr. Azemopoulos noted the reasons why he felt he was appointed as the new ambassador, replacing George Marcantonatos, who left on Sept. 28 after three years in the role—including his philanthropy and easy-going nature.

He said his welcoming personality makes it easy to connect with people, a necessity because he is not married, and does not have children, nor any family in Canada.

Though the ambassador didn’t want to provide too much detail about his personal life, he said this allowed him to call the Canadian-Greek community his family, which brought him even closer to the community. There are about 243,000 Canadians who claim Greek descent, according to Global Affairs Canada.

While in Toronto, Mr. Azemopoulos said he did not only follow the traditional, formal protocols that many diplomats use to connect with people. Instead, he went further and fully opened the doors of the consulate and of his house to informal guests and visitors. His intention was to get to know the community in a more personal way.

“I didn’t have one single hour for myself. There were no weekends as far as I remember,” the career diplomat said, adding he was also elected as the dean and president of the Consular Corps in Toronto.

He said he participated in philanthropic endeavours such as organizing the annual Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, which raised money for the Sick Kids Foundation.

He also noted he helped bring back the modern Greek program at the University of Toronto and helped establish the Waterloo Institute for Hellenistic Studies at the University of Waterloo.

Mr. Azemopoulos began his career in the foreign service back in 1992 and served in Greece, Poland, Norway, and Iceland. Immediately prior to his previous Canadian position, he was the first counsellor at the Greek Embassy in Oslo, Norway, and Reykjavik, Iceland, from 2007 to 2009.

He didn’t expect to return to Canada when he left in 2014, but said he was pleased when he was named the next ambassador.

Mr. Azemopoulos, who came alone to the interview, said he prefers to take a personal approach and speak his mind.

“I never write speeches, you’ll never see me reading a speech,” he said, adding that his focus now that he’s ambassador would be to build the Canada-Greece relations with regard to academics, tourism, and trade.

A memorandum of understanding in education co-operation was signed in July 1998, creating links between Canadian and Greek universities, and maintaining the partnership between the two countries is a priority for Mr. Azemopoulos carried on from the previous ambassador.

He noted that he wanted to grow tourism by encouraging more Canadians to visit Greece and vice versa. In 2016, almost 14,000 Greek residents visited Canada, while in 2015, 128,900 Canadians visited Greece, according to GAC.

Finally, on his agenda, Mr. Azemopoulos said he wants to the see the growth of trade relations, indicating that the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement “could facilitate the trade exchanges between the two countries.”

Between Canada and Greece in 2016, bilateral trade totalled $324.5-million, according to GAC. This included Canadian exports that totalled $83.2-million and imports that totalled $241.3 million.

The multilateral trade deal was 98 per cent put into effect provisionally on Sept. 21, but in order for it to be fully and permanently in effect, all 28 member states must ratify it. Currently, only seven have ratified the agreement, and Mr. Azemopoulos said Greece was in the process of getting on board.

sshekar@hilltimes.com

@shruti_shekar

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