By Ian Francis
As preparation was made to write this article, it was necessary to conduct some basic research so readers of this article will have the opportunity to glean a deeper understanding of the Caribbean consular corps in Toronto.
Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at email@example.com
Currently, consular missions are maintained in Toronto by Jamaica, Barbados, Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts-Nevis. This information was confirmed with the protocol office of the government of Ontario.
With certainty, Jamaica owns a beautiful consular building that houses its tourism, trade and consular facilities. While Trinidad, Guyana and Barbados also have a consular presence in Toronto, it is not certain whether they own the buildings or are rental tenants where the consulates are located. What is certain is that St Kitts, Grenada, St Vincent, Antigua and St Lucia are rental tenants paying monthly tenant rents. While the amount is not known, it is understood that given their locations and market rental costs in Toronto, it is reasonable safe to assume that the rents are hefty.
In recent months, there have been discussions and at least one article written on this medium calling on Caribbean governments to follow the policy decision of Britain and Canada to share diplomatic facilities. While these suggestions are a step in the right direction, it must be understood that there is a fundamental difference between a diplomatic and consular mission. CARICOM as a regional multilateral agency does not maintain any diplomatic or consular missions in Canada. Many CARICOM members maintain independent diplomatic and consular missions but they are not under the control of the Secretariat but rather their home foreign ministries.
The OECS used to maintain a joint diplomatic mission in Ottawa. Unfortunately, due to misguided advice and under the disguise of controlling cost, the diplomatic mission was closed as it was felt that the Castries based Secretariat can conduct the same diplomatic business with the Bridgetown-based Canadian High Commission.
Most observers, including myself, have concluded that it was a very dumb decision. The presence of an OECS mission in the nation's capital should extend beyond Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
What is equally more disturbing about the misguided OECS decision is the belief that the cash starved consular missions in Toronto can assume the responsibilities that the Ottawa based mission conducted. It is wishful thinking, as the conduct and management of diplomatic administration is not conducted in such manner.
Returning to the notion of shared resources and facilities to accommodate Caribbean consular activities in Toronto, it is feasible. Given the growing economic decline in OECS states and the unlikelihood of immediate recovery, Grenada, St Vincent, St Lucia, Antigua and St Kitts can begin the process. Sharing of resources and facilities amongst OECS consulates in Toronto will augur very well for these governments.
In addition, member governments should not shy from this important initiative by thinking that this initiative will impact on their sovereignty. With proper real estate and participation of current Toronto based Caribbean consular representatives in the process, this functional cooperation approach will bring enormous financial savings to the cash strapped OECS governments.
The above suggested initiative should not be difficult for Comrade Prime Minister Gonsalves to accept and pursue in his current capacity as chairperson of the OECS. If my memory serves me right, upon his assumption of the chair, Comrade Prime Minister made it very clear that reform was high on his agenda.
To commence the process, it is possible that the five participating states should establish a committee made up of elected and appointed officials. One of the first likely barriers is ownership. To this end, the governments might wish to consider establishing an independent Ontario corporation. If not, a real estate property agreement can be signed between the member states to facilitate the sharing and disposal of assets if the occasion arises.
Secondly, with efficient real estate planning, there is no reason why a suitable building with the necessary infrastructure to accommodate security and other services cannot be found. There are some local consular representatives who might wish to advance the false notion of location. In other words, there are some who might harness the shallow feeling that a consulate needs to be located in the heart of the City of Toronto. However, in my view, while location is important, current residential and commercial trends in Toronto show clearly a preference for individual and businesses to be in the suburbs.
In conclusion, OECS House can become a reality within a short space of time if our heads understand the suggestion and are willing to act. Comrade Prime Minister, begin with a cost analysis of what each consulate is spending monthly in rent and utilities.
This idea is credible and falls within the ambit of functional cooperation.