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France’s ambassador reflects on Canada, the ‘bad pupil’ in the climate change classroom

By Laura Beaulne-Stuebing      

He's headed back to Paris while Greece's new top diplomat talks about the legacy of Hellenic culture.

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It’s no secret Canada and France share many things—decades of history, culture and co-operation—and over the past three years this has been aided by France’s outgoing ambassador, Philippe Zeller.

But as France’s top diplomat wraps up his posting in Ottawa, he spoke openly about the challenges of his position as his home country prepares to host a global summit on climate change later this year and his host country is considered the “bad pupil” in the climate change classroom.

Much of Mr. Zeller’s work on the file was in conveying clearly to French authorities Canada’s position on climate change and participation in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

France is set to host a United Nations summit on climate change in December, where experts and leaders hope the world will come to some sort of international climate change agreement to significantly lessen carbon dioxide emissions. In early November 2014, French President François Hollande began a visit to Canada in Alberta. Part of this was to look at the challenge of how to combine economic growth, via Canada’s natural resources, with sustainable development.

“The position of Canada is very well known on the international scene. Many, many specialists or high civil servants know…but there are not so many able to explain the reasons of that position,” Mr. Zeller said in an interview on Jan. 26 at the grand French Embassy in Ottawa.

“When you see Canada being the only Western partner deciding to go out of the Kyoto Protocol, which was a political decision made in 2012,” he continued, “of course, if you are the ambassador of one of the main partners of Canada, you have to explain to your authorities what are the reasons of such a decision.”

How does Canada want to make use of its natural resources? What’s at stake with the oil sands? How does the country plan to export its natural resources through various proposed pipeline projects? How does it want to modify trade by exporting oil and gas to Asia? And then there’s the question of the different climate change plans at the provincial level.

“So, you see, that's not very easy,” Mr. Zeller said.

It also wasn’t very easy to communicate the other way around: passing messages to Canadian authorities, Mr. Zeller admitted.

Mr. Hollande’s special climate change envoy, Nicolas Hulot, travelled to Canada last October, just a few weeks before Mr. Hollande. He was in Ottawa “to try to meet political authorities here, to explain what we intend to reach as an agreement,” said Mr. Zeller, at the Paris summit next December.

“But meeting political authorities, that was a little more difficult,” Mr. Zeller said. At the time, the Canadian Press reported that Mr. Hulot’s request to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper was flat out dismissed, and that the envoy instead found an ally in tackling climate change in NDP leader Tom Mulcair.

But later, when Mr. Hollande came to Canada for a three-day visit, there were indeed talks about the upcoming summit in France.

“During the state visit I know there were talks about that between the prime minister and president,” Mr Zeller said. “We hope and we are sure that Canada will be on board if there is, which is our wish of course, a global agreement for combatting…climate change.”

Mr. Zeller concludes a very busy tenure—particularly lately, taking up a role of media liaison and communicator after the Charlie Hebdo attack and hostage situations in Paris in early January—on Feb. 2 when he returns to his ministry of foreign affairs in Paris. There, Mr. Zeller is set to have a number of responsibilities that will include work on the climate change summit at the end of the year.

'Democracy is a Greek word'

In a bright sitting room at the Greek residence in Ottawa, on a sunny January morning, Ambassador George Marcantonatos extolled the virtues of his home country, speaking highly of the effect Greece and Greek culture has had on Western countries and the world.

Democracy, philosophy, tragedy in arts, he said, were all thanks to Greece. And that cultural heritage extends beyond borders by the millions of Greek descendants and expats abroad.

“We have here [a] thriving Greek-Canadian community [in Canada],” Mr. Marcantonatos said in an interview with Embassy on Jan. 26, noting that there about 350,000 Greek-Canadians in the country.

“It is my strong belief that this community constitutes the most important bond between our countries.”

Many time zones away, the birthplace of democracy had just come out of an historic election: electing the left-wing Syriza party on Jan. 25, and its charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras, in a very strong signal against austerity measures.

The government, supported by the right-wing Independent Greeks who are also anti-austerity, is looking to renegotiate Greece’s debt with the European Union, and many expect the coming months will usher in a new era for the EU.  

“I am optimistic about the future. I think that we shall manage to find solutions on pending issues,” said the ambassador.

“Democracy is a greek word. And what does it mean? It means 'the power in the hands…of the people,'” Mr. Marcantonatos said. “So the free will of the Greek people was expressed.”

The ambassador noted that he has three specific goals while in Canada: to strengthen bilateral relations, strengthen ties between Greece and Greek-Canadians and to promote Greek culture and civilization.

An exhibition coming to the Canadian Museum of History in June is one way Mr. Marcantonatos will work on that third goal. The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great is currently showing at Montreal’s Pointe-à-Callière but will be coming to the museum in Gatineau, Que. starting June 5.

He said the exhibition will give Canadians the opportunity to have better knowledge of Greek history.

“German, English, French…would be much poorer if there was not the contribution of the Greek vocabulary,” he said.

“And this is something I think our European friends should not forget, mainly in this difficult period. [The] huge contribution of the Greek culture, language and civilization to their civilization.”

Senior PS ranks shake up

On Jan. 26 the prime minister announced a handful of moves within the senior ranks of Canada’s public service.

John Forster will become the deputy minister of national defence on Feb. 2. Mr. Forster has held a number of positions in various departments, including assistant deputy minister at Infrastructure Canada and Transport Canada, and was most recently the chief of Communications Security Establishment Canada.

Mr. Forster’s replacement at CSEC is Greta Bossenmaier, the senior associate deputy minister for international development, who takes over the role on Feb. 9. Ms. Bossenmaier has made her way up through the ranks of several departments including foreign affairs, starting there as the director of information management and technology in 1994. She was deputy minister for the Afghanistan Task Force in the Privy Council Office from 2009 to 2012.

Foreign Affairs has a new senior associate deputy minister in Peter Boehm, the current associate deputy minister in the department. The promotion was effective Jan. 26 and he will continue his role as sherpa to the PM for the G7 and nuclear security summits. Mr. Boehm was Canada’s ambassador to the Organization of American States from 1997 to 2001 and until 2004 was a political and public affairs minister at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. He was also Canada’s ambassador to Germany from 2008 to 2012.

John Turner moves from being National Defence’s assistant deputy minister for materiel to being its associate deputy minister, effective Feb. 2. He’s held a number of positions within the public service, beginning in 2000 as the director of defence analysis in the office of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff.

Former ambassador resigns as Yemen’s PM

A former ambassador for Yemen to Canada has resigned as his country’s prime minister, just months after taking on the new role.

Khaled Bahah was posted to Ottawa from 2009 to 2014, and was well known for his friendliness and active participation in the diplomatic community. He became president of the Ottawa Diplomatic Association very early on in his Canadian posting.

His term came to a quick end when he was speedily appointed Yemen’s oil and minerals minister in March, a role he’d held previously after working for oil and gas company Nexen. Then he was appointed ambassador to the United Nations in August. Then he was appointed prime minister by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, Yemen’s president, in October.

International media reports suggest Yemen is in a mess. The country’s cabinet, led by Mr. Bahah, resigned this month. And according to the Guardian Mr. Hadi has also resigned, after being pressured to make concessions to Shia rebels called Houthis.

Dismal election results for former envoy

Nevers Mumba, previously Zambia’s high commissioner in Canada, was one of the many candidates in the country’s presidential election this month to come out behind, way behind.

According to a Washington Post blog, after winner Edgar Lungu, representing the Patriotic Front, and second-place finisher Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party of National Development, all other candidates received less than one per cent of the final vote.

Mr. Mumba was the president of the ODA during his Ottawa diplomatic appointment. A political appointee, after his party lost elections, the new president suggested Mr. Mumba had been involved with financial impropriety in his work in Canada, which he denied as a politically motivated attack. Mr. Mumba represented the Movement for Multiparty Democracy in the recent election.

lbeaulne@embassynews.ca

@laurabeaulne

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