For Gian Lorenzo Cornado, Italy’s new ambassador to Canada, flying into Ottawa for his posting was a little like returning home.
Mr. Cornado seems to move around his downtown office with a level of ease and comfort that is unusual for new diplomats— likely because it is indeed familiar territory. This will mark the career diplomat’s third posting to Canada, and his second posting in Ottawa.
“I asked for Canada,” he told Embassy with a huge smile during a May 29 interview in his high-rise office in downtown Ottawa.
Sitting in front if a huge picture window, with a spectacular view of the downtown core and the Ottawa River, Mr. Cornado explained how Ottawa and the Gatineau region have stolen his heart, as well as his current plans and priorities.
The Italian government was enthusiastic about assigning him to the top spot in Ottawa because of his extensive experience and established contacts in Canada and North America, he said.
Mr. Cornado served as first counsellor in the Ottawa embassy from 1987 to 1992, and was posted as the consul general in Montreal from 2000 to 2004.
He has also spent more than five years posted to Washington and New York. “I feel home here,” he said, adding that during his years posted elsewhere, including back in Rome, he would make special trips to Canada to cross-country ski in the Gatineau Hills.
On the same page
But with no snow on the ground, Mr. Cornado is now focusing on connecting Canadian and Italian officials in person to talk about trade, investment, and international co-operation—his biggest priorities.
“It’s not only a matter of bilateral relations [between Canada and Italy],” he said. “It’s also to deal…with the major international crises we’re facing together, from the Middle East, to Iran, Syria, the financial crisis.”
He added that Canada and Italy seem to always be on the same page when it comes to international affairs.
“I really don’t see any difference of view in any of the issues that we are dealing with together, nor on the bilateral side,” he said. “The relationship we have with Canada is one of the most solid we have with the international community.”
Mr. Cornado, who was the Italian representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization while posted in Montreal, said his government followed the recent tug-of-war between Canada and Qatar over the location of the ICAO headquarters very closely.
The government of Qatar recently lobbied to have the main office of the United Nations body moved from Montreal—where it has been since 1947—to Doha.
Qatar eventually dropped its bid, and Foreign Minister John Baird signed an agreement that will see the organization stay in the Canadian city until at least 2036. “We gave our strong support to Canada,” said Mr. Cornado. “We acted immediately… because Canada is a very strong friend, partner, and ally to Italy.”
But also, he noted, “because it is a matter of principle. International organizations are not for sale…this would have set a precedent for Italy and several other countries hosting international organizations on their soil.”
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization, for instance, is headquartered in Rome.
Since arriving in Ottawa in April, Mr. Cornado said he has been building on his previously formed relationships, and added that he has had good access to many Canadian officials.
In particular, he said he is “happy to have wonderful friendship and relations with Foreign Minister Baird.”
He added that they are very like-minded, and that Mr. Baird has shown a great deal of interest in Italy.
Italy has been attempting to stave off the financial plague ripping through Europe, but unemployment rates in the country—which is the eurozone’s third-largest economy— have hit a record high.
Fighting the eurozone crisis together
Mr. Cornado sees lots of potential in Canada to help Italy’s economy.
“Europe is facing recessions…and a financial crisis,” he noted. “Canada has a growing economy, especially in the West, in Alberta and Saskatchewan for example.”
An Italian business delegation in the oil, gas, and construction sectors will be visiting Canada in October and travelling across the country, he said.
For now, investment into Canada’s growing economy is the focus, but he said the ultimate goal is to have the Italian economy stabilized and strong enough that Canadian companies will want to open up shop there.
“I hope that in the next few months, or maybe weeks, Canada and the EU will definitely sign the [Canada-European Union trade deal],” he said. “This would be a dramatic change [and] would help our economies to go up…and to create jobs…this will have a wonderful impact on trade.”
He said the trade deal would provide the framework to allow Italy to boost dairy and other agricultural exports to Canada.
With a laugh, he said he would gladly trade some fine Italian wine for some Alberta beef.