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Canadian trip fruitful for PM despite abrupt end

BY CONRAD HAMILTON Sunday Observer senior reporter hamiltonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 28, 2012    

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"I have to be out there, I have to be," said a concerned-looking Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in Toronto, Canada last Tuesday morning when she was told that Jamaica was in the direct path of Hurricane Sandy.

Simpson Miller and her delegation, which included Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister AJ Nicholson and Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Onika Miller were on a five-day official visit to Canada when the news came. But the prime minister wasted no time in pulling up stumps.

Simpson Miller had arrived in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, late last Sunday evening ahead of an official welcome Monday morning at the famed Parliament Hill, the home of Canada's federal government.

Following a colourful ceremony which had Simpson Miller inspecting the military guard of honour, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ushered her into the parliament building where the two held talks on several issues including trade, employment and national security.

Simpson Miller and Harper then hosted a joint press conference during which they shared details of plans by the Canadian government to increase assistance to Jamaica, particularly in the areas of agriculture, trade and investment.

With the Ottawa leg of the assignment completed, Harper and Simpson Miller — along with their delegations and members of the media — were taken to a military base where they boarded a Royal Canadian Air Force carrier which took them to Toronto for an intended four-day tour.

Among the events was a special reception at the Jamaican Canadian Association, where both Simpson Miller and Harper addressed, greeted and took photographs with scores of Jamaican immigrants who had turned out for the oversubscribed event.

Some of the Jamaicans who spoke with the Sunday Observer were delighted that they were being hosted by both prime ministers, but expressed disappointment with what they said was the failure of the Canadian government to acknowledge their contribution to that society.

However, Harper, in his address, acknowledged the close to 300,000 Jamaicans living in Canada and lauded the efforts of several of them to bolster their adopted country's development.

He made special reference to the contribution of Lincoln Alexander, the first black Canadian member of parliament, and minister of government.

Alexander, whose mother was a Jamaican, was also the first black lieutenant governor of Ontario, one of Canada's 10 provinces. The distinguished attorney died just over a week prior and was laid to rest on Friday.

In her address, Simpson Miller spoke of the long-standing relations between the countries and expressed gratitude for the assistance that Jamaica has received from Canada in the areas of agricultural support, national security and in the provision of jobs to hundreds of Jamaicans under the Canadian Farm Work Programme.

Simpson Miller's planned engagements were cut short after it became clear that Jamaica was on the verge of being battered by Hurricane Sandy. Word emerged Tuesday morning that she would be convening a press conference to respond to Canadian, Jamaican and other Caribbean journalists who were seeking a comment on the impending passage of the hurricane.

As members of the media waited, Simpson Miller and her delegation were hosted by Canadian government officials, who were joined by several high-ranking Jamaicans in Canada, including billionaire Michael Lee Chin, who reportedly came to the rescue by offering his jet to rush Simpson Miller and her delegation back to Kingston ahead of the storm making landfall.

One hour later, officers of the protective services of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who had been assigned to Simpson Miller's delegation were busy ushering members of the Jamaican delegation into police-driven diplomatic vehicles for the 62-mile trip from downtown Toronto to an airport in Hamilton, Ontario, where the delegation boarded Lee Chin's jet, the NCB.

While acknowledging the disappointment of those who were preparing to meet her at the engagements planned for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Simpson Miller, who spoke exclusively with the Sunday Observer, said she had to be home to face the storm with her people.

She asserted that the trip, despite its abrupt end, was fruitful, and made specific reference to plans by the Stephen Harper administration to boost its support of Jamaica's agricultural export sector.

Simpson Miller added that she was pleased with Harper's efforts to convince international lending and donor agencies to revisit the classification that places Jamaica among middle-income countries.

For Simpson Miller and her Canadian counterpart, a significant proportion of the world's poorest citizens live in middle-income countries, a diverse group which includes large developing economies such as China and small-island developing states, such as those in the Caribbean.

Simpson Miller indicated that there were many follow-up activities stemming from the trip and indicated that some of those discussions will involve Government technocrats and new Canadian high commissioner to Jamaica, Robert Ready, who was also involved in the in-flight discussions.

Senior members of the Prime Minister's delegation also commented on the importance of the trip and argued that some Jamaicans are not aware of the significant mileage that can be obtained from maintaining close ties with major players in the global political economy.

"In international relations, it's not always about who you know, it's about who knows you," said one of them, referencing a comment made by the Canadian prime minister as he addressed the media in Ottawa, Monday.

Harper had asserted that Canada, as a member of the executive board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was aware of Jamaica's challenges and would use its position on that body to speak in Jamaica's interest.

Simpson Miller has indicated that she will be inviting Harper to Jamaica, as his last trip was overshadowed by the bizarre incident in which convicted hijacker Stephen Fray breached airport security at the Sangster International Airport and boarded an aircraft, where he brandished a firearm and held up passengers and crew, causing much embarrassment for the country.

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