Like father, like son: Canada keeps faith with Jamaica

Like father, like son: Canada keeps faith with Jamaica

Thursday, December 24, 2020

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Forty-six years ago, almost to the day, then Canadian Prime Minister Mr Pierre Trudeau vacationed in Jamaica. With him was his three-year-old son, Justin. The picture of the young boy trying to climb a coconut tree in St Mary warmed the hearts of Jamaicans.

Mr Justin Trudeau, now serving a second term as prime minister of Canada, could not be expected to remember his early Jamaican escapades, but, like father like son, he has maintained the long-standing and highly valued relationship between Ottawa and Kingston.

Jamaica has grown up with Canada acting as big brother and benefactor since formal diplomatic relations were established in 1962, the year of our Independence from British colonial rule — something we have in common with the North American country.

Of course, relations with Canada began with trade between Jamaica and the Canadian province of Newfoundland, which gave us one half of the national dish — salt fish — which was first introduced to the Caribbean in the 16th century, along with lumber, in exchange for molasses, rum, sugar, and salt.

And it is not well known enough that Jamaica was the first country outside of Nova Scotia in Canada to have a branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), today one of the two biggest and most vibrant financial institutions in the island.

We were reminded about the vibrancy of Canada-Jamaica relations by High Commissioner Ms Laurie J Peters, who last month ended her three-year tour of duty, giving the Jamaica Observer's Executive Editor – Publications Mr Vernon Davidson her final newspaper interview.

The affable Ms Peters was obviously confident that she has left the relations between the two countries at least as good or better than she had found it. We concur. Canada has rarely ever turned its back on Jamaica when their friendship was needed.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Jamaica in March this year was an opportunity when our island nation needed all its friends to face the unprecedented assault from the pandemic that ravaged the health care system and the economy.

Canada was one of the first to respond to Jamaica's list of needs, which included ventilators and personal protective equipment, working in tandem with the Pan American Health Organization to make sure that we got the necessary supplies.

We in this space were happy to hear from Ms Peters that Canada is still planning to supply Jamaica with a mobile hospital unit and, critically, the plan to share a vaccine for COVID-19 when it becomes available, as it now is.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that Canada, which last week kicked off its national vaccination campaign to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, has pledged CAD$75 million in funding to support the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income economies like Jamaica.

This includes a CAD$5-million investment in the development of a mechanism to equitably reallocate vaccine doses through the COVAX facility, either by donation or exchange, the WHO stated in a news release last Friday.

In a time like this, Jamaica is reassured to hear from Ms Peters, on behalf of the Trudeau Government, that, despite its own troubles related to the epidemic, Canada has not softened her Government's resolve to keep offering assistance.

And we know that a friend in need is a friend indeed.

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