Howard Drake had barely stepped off the plane in Ottawa when he was handed two of the biggest files that any head of mission must manage: the visit of a host country’s leader to your home country; and the smooth sailing of that visit during your country’s hosting of a major international summit.
The British High Commission announced in April that Mr. Drake would be appointed its new head, beginning in June. The mission had been without a permanent high commissioner since November, when its prior boss, Andrew Pocock, left Ottawa to head his country’s mission in Nigeria.
Mr. Drake said he was fortunate enough that his move to Ottawa on June 3 coincided with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip from June 11 to 18 to the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, and the G8 summit in Northern Ireland—but he also admits it was a tad nerve-wracking.
“In one sense, it was [getting thrown] in at the deep end. But in another, it was great, because you meet a lot of key people right from the get-go,” he said in a June 19 interview in his large, well-lit office at the high commission in downtown Ottawa.
“That was two pretty unusual weeks, as you can imagine, preparing for both things.”
But Mr. Drake has hit the ground running. He says he has already formulated a plan, one that focuses on commercial relations—due in part to a push from London, as well as to take advantage of Canada’s economic standing.
“In the case of Canada, obviously it’s one of the best-performing economies in the G8. It has been hit by the effects of the recession, but nothing like other parts of the developed world,” he said.
“A lot of great British companies are doing a lot of good business here, but I want our network to help them do more, to increase that…The other side of that same coin is to work to increase the amount of Canadian investment in the UK.”
Of course, bring up the topic of trade with Britain, and some in Ottawa will think of the trade deal with the European Union—one that was expected by some to be announced during the G8 summit.
But Mr. Drake said not to read too much into Mr. Harper’s inability to land the deal during the trip.
“The press are saying he’s come back empty-handed, but it’s a negotiation. It hasn’t quite finished. That’s not being empty-handed. There have been a lot of hard years that have gone into this.”
The two sides have been in official talks toward a deal for four years.
As the most “pro-free trade” member of the EU, Mr. Drake said, Britain wants to see the agreement in place.
Experience in the Americas
Working on trade, he can draw from his experience as a diplomat in New York, working as director of inward investment from 1997 to 2002, as well as other jobs including as first secretary and head of chancery in the financial hub of Singapore from 1992 to 1995, and commercial vice consul in Los Angeles from 1981 to 1983.
He will also take advantage of Britain’s network of missions in Canada, he said, including the Ottawa high commission, as well as consulates-general in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, that all house offices of UK Trade & Investment—a British government department run by both the foreign office and the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills. Mr. Drake said he planned to travel to Toronto to talk commercial relations.
Another aspect of his posting will be to work on carrying out aspects of the joint declaration that Canada and the UK signed in September 2011, when British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Ottawa. The declaration makes a number of promises, including on trade, security, scientific collaboration, information-sharing, and “promoting our shared values.”
“My aim is to try and make that real,” he said, suggesting that the ball was already rolling on a number of elements in the statement.
Mr. Drake, a career diplomat, heads to Canada after heading up the British mission in another Commonwealth realm, Jamaica, beginning in 2010, where he was cross-posted to the Bahamas.
From 2005 to 2009 he was ambassador to Chile, which saw him return to a city he had already worked in during the 1980s as a second secretary.
Between those postings he has held several positions in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office back in London, such as assistant director for human resources from 2002 to 2005; the deputy head of non-proliferation from 1995 to 1997; and the head of the Cyprus section from 1990 to 1992, among others.
His disarmament job in the 1990s first took him to Ottawa. He also visited Quebec and Western Canada as a tourist during his posting in New York.
“I can’t say we know Canada, but we like what we see,” he said of his travels.
Mr. Drake is married to Gill, and has one son and one daughter.
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