Chapter 17 of Cotton Fields to Summits: The View from Contested Ground
by George Kennedy
To the casual observer or newcomer that I was, Toronto in July 1993 had the outward appearance of a major mid-western city, like Chicago, for example: warm, vibrant, with a pace considerably less frantic than that of Washington, D.C. or other cities of comparable size. However, I knew from policy briefings and discussions with my colleagues on the Canadian desk at the Department of Commerce and at the State Department that beneath this veneer of tranquility was a large segment of the Canadian population increasingly suspicious and resentful of a national government in Ottawa they alleged had sold out their country to the hated Americans.
For perspective on this, we need only consider recent political history of the 1980s and 1990s. The United States and Canada were almost mid-way through the ten-year implementation phase of the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement (CFTA). The year preceding my arrival had been the most difficult. Canadians, meanwhile, were unhappy over the requirements of a new single integrated market while suffering at home from a deep and prolonged recession. To exacerbate the sense of foreboding felt by many, Canadian critics saw a direct link between the recession and the free trade provisions of the Agreement (CFTA). An already contentious bilateral relationship was roiled further by the successful conclusion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations.
Coincident, therefore, with my arrival in Toronto were heightened fears by Canada’s nationalists that Ottawa had sold out; as I said, capitulated to the Americans. The political delicacy of this situation reminded me of a similar period in our relations with the Philippines during the 1960s. As Consul General, Lawson Glasgow worked with his ambassador, then Justin C. Tracewell, to manage a delicate relationship with Filipino politicians almost 30 years earlier during the American buildup to the Vietnam War. In an identical capacity, I now bore the responsibility for carefully managing our bilateral relationship in Ontario, Canada’s largest, most populous province. My early goals would be to build Canadian confidence in the U.S. as an economic and strategic partner; to avoid new disputes, and to resolve outstanding ones in ways that kept new tensions off the table. New disputes and unresolved old ones would only fuel critics on either side of the border while both governments went through their respective CFTA/NAFTA ratification processes. The politics of this assignment were delicate, intricate and I intended to tread lightly—at least early on. This is the thumbnail sketch of the political/psychological climate the day I arrived. The historical analogy was helpful to me as a reminder that I had been in similar circumstances earlier in my career. The difference is, it was now my turn at bat.
Well, here I was in Toronto. The American Consulate General in Toronto at that time was the largest constituent post in Canada and one of the most important in the World. There were small constituent posts in Montreal, Quebec, Calgary, Halifax, and Vancouver. As the Principal Officer and Consul General, I was now responsible for a staff of 22 Americans and 52 Canadian national employees, including elements of the U.S. Information Service (USIS) and the Department of Commerce. In addition, there were 100 officers from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (Department of Justice) and U.S. Customs (Department of the Treasury) at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Although I was not an ambassador, the size of my staff, the importance of the Canadian relationship, and the scope and complexity of my responsibilities did exceed that of many ambassadors at smaller missions. My point is, this assignment was preferable to many that came to mind, even at the ambassadorial level. Here is another way to look at this assignment. I well understood that consulates historically have been, and continue to be, an extremely important platform for American interests, and to apply all the tools of a diplomatic presence.
The physical dimensions of my consular district were impressive: an area 50 percent larger than Texas with over nine million of Canada’s total population of 26 million in 1993, including some 100,000 American citizens. The Province of Ontario, one of nine plus two territories, accounted for 40 percent of Canada’s Gross National Product (GNP) and $100 billion dollars of trade with the United States. Toronto, Ontario’s largest city, seat of the Provincial Government, was, and remains, the commercial, cultural, and financial center of Canada. This was center stage in career terms. Toronto was the culmination of a career’s quest to head an important mission abroad. This was the serious responsibility that fueled my dreams, that was the content of my broadest aspirations.
It was high summer in Toronto; warm with bearable humidity and a pace to my liking. It was also the perfect time to plan for the fall quarter and become acquainted with my new surroundings e.g., residence, neighbors, staff, and essential consulate operations. The official residence I was to occupy was an unimposing three-story brick colonial in the upscale Forrest Hills section of Toronto approximately three miles from the consulate. The grounds around the house were spacious and neatly manicured. Two full-time Filipino household staff were on hand to help me maintain the house and to assist me with my many representational duties. I was a bachelor at that time and they subsequently became my family. The house was old but very comfortable with larger representational space than the residences of my former ambassadors in Brussels and Paris. Posted outside my front door standing a 24-hour vigil (more accurately sitting in an unmarked vehicle) was a member of the protective division of Canada’s famed Royal Canadian Mounted Police. My immediate neighbor to my right (of the prominent Labatt Beer family) told me that he and the other neighbors rested well at night secure in the knowledge that my security protected them as well. The consulate’s offices occupied a prominent three-story building designated by city officials as a historical landmark on Toronto’s University Boulevard. I was literally minutes from the financial center of the city, the University of Toronto, Queens Park, seat of the Provincial Government; the Mayor’s Office, the theater district, and Skydome, the most famous sport’s facility of its type in the world. And then, there was CN Tower. My friend and mentor, Joseph Manning, had advised me to “put together a good speech and make good and appropriate use of it.” “That’s what good Consuls General do,” he said. That would come in good time but, for my initial round of introductions to local and provincial leaders, I chose to be more spontaneous. Spontaneity was one of my strengths, thus one of the most effective tools I had at my disposal. I resolved to be different than my predecessors, more inclusive. I also felt I and my message would be well received; I just did.
In all of my early conversations during the fall of 1993, NAFTA ratification was the “flavor” of the day and everyone, politicians, civic leaders, businessmen and women alike, wanted to know “will NAFTA be ratified?” Confidently, I predicted NAFTA would be ratified because President Clinton has said, “turning away from the deal is not an option.” While my audience of several or many digested the confidence of my assertion, I would then launch into a vigorous affirmation of the benefits NAFTA offered to North America, the world’s largest market. By linking NAFTA to Canada’s future, I could speak of hope for the unemployed, for medium size industries, and for young people on both sides of our common border, and all through increased trade. “Imagine,” I said, “370 million people growing and prospering together.” Paraphrasing President Clinton, I would share a view that had deep personal meaning for me: “that when you live in a time of change, the only way to recover your horizons is to adapt to the change, to embrace it, to move forward.” That had been the story of my life. “NAFTA,” I continued, “offers us this unique opportunity.”
For years, Toronto was the center of finance and commerce in Canada yet it was accustomed to a benign presence of the American consul general. As I began to reach out in the city, I heard frequently that “we saw your predecessors upon arrival, at the appropriate civic events, on July 4th sometimes at the residence, and upon their departure.” Well I wanted to change this; I wanted to be part of the city’s social fabric, part of the dialogue that shaped Canadian attitudes about the United States. The one thing Americans and Canadians did share was a firm belief that each understood the other better than was actually the case. The reality, I learned, is that each side is a captive of stereotypes and bias. Also, I wanted to understand the reality of American business in Canada, and I wanted to be perceived as someone businessmen and others could trust to convey that reality to the American ambassador in Ottawa, former Michigan governor and Member of Congress, Norville Chamberlin, someone many Canadians did trust. Norville Chamberlin had grown up on the American side of the border, knew his way around Canada and had many friends there. I was the unknown quantity. It was not easy; I had to earn their trust. Here is a good example. Whenever I would arrange a visit to a resident American company, the management would politely receive me; after all, I was the American Consul General. Inevitably during the introductions or, when I was awaiting a response to a statement I had made, the question arose, “Mr. Kennedy, why are you here? What can we do for you? None of your predecessors ever visited with us.” Wanting precisely that very reaction, I described to them my role as a conduit and source of information for the resident American business community; my effort to secure greater market access for their products, and the varied services we could offer them. Gradually, I would earn their trust and their respect because their concerns were my concerns and I was willing to meet them where they were, literally, if it helped me to help them.
Within the consulate, I solicited the support of my staff early on for this change in emphasis. I told them that I was not going to just pay lip service to something each of my predecessors had; and that I would not ignore the consular function that was central to the Consulate’s raison d’être. Staff utilization deserved my full attention. I had a sizable staff that issued visas and rendered services to Canada’s large resident American community. Nevertheless, I pointed out that this was the perfect place and the perfect time in the history of our relations with Canada to demonstrate a real commitment to promoting American interests and to supporting American businesses in Ontario. Therefore, we would make a concerted effort to reach out to and establish contact with a broad and high-level circle of opinion leaders in government, civil society, and the business community. My early goal as the senior American representative within my consular district was to establish myself as spokesman for the United States in Toronto. My highly competent staff was enthusiastic about this shift in program direction and, before long, my officers and I were in demand at business roundtables, policy forums, strategy meetings, and as keynote speakers before the most influential academic, business, and civic organizations in the Province of Ontario. Drawing on my experience with Secretary Brown, I instituted a series of business outlook dinner discussions at my home shortly after my arrival to explore the oft-perceived divergent interests between the business sector and the city’s political leadership. Included among my dinner guests were the president and/or CEO of Proctor and Gamble, Canada; the Bank of America, General Electric Canada, Shoppers Drug, and a partner of one of Toronto’s largest and most prominent law firms. This was a first for an American consul general. To me, it was the natural thing to do. At that first dinner, I took the plunge. I wanted each of my guests to know that it would not be enough for us to meet periodically over dinner and cigars. “If we are serious about developing a real partnership to advance our mutual interests,” I said, “then we are going to have to trust each other, avoid public recriminations, and reduce the level of tension between our two societies.” I met several of my dinner guests at other functions during the following week and each of them said my message of cooperation had been well received.
When the ambassador’s deputy, Jasper Hubbell, visited Toronto in January 1994, he asked Danville Huddelston, the senior commerce officer at the consulate, what he thought of me as the new consul general. He responded that “no other consul general has come anywhere near the success of George Kennedy.” Hell, I was naturally suited to the role and this environment and I knew it! Ambassador Chamberlin and I had met in Washington before either of us arrived to assume our official duties. This was customary if the ambassador was in Washington. Since we were unknown to each other, I asked about his goals as the new ambassador, the role he envisioned for the constituent posts, including his views regarding the rivalry between the consulate in Toronto and the embassy in Ottawa. That broke the ice and we found we had much in common regarding our approach to public diplomacy. We also shared the personal goal of becoming the most successful ever in our respective roles. I think we both realized at the end of that meeting that ours was to become a productive relationship.
My years of experience in academia, public diplomacy, media relations, and business outreach had taught me the value of being able to bridge the most important part of communication – the last six inches between yourself and your interlocutor. Bridge that gap and you have understanding, not always agreement; you have laid the foundation for mutual respect and a relationship built around honesty and candor. It all came together for me in Toronto, as it had for Cheston Clifton before me, Albert Zucca in Rome, Lawson Glasgow in Manila; ambassadors Parsons and Larry Manning in Washington, at the United Nations and elsewhere; and for Secretary Brown at Commerce.
If I owe a debt of gratitude to anyone for the success I am reputed to have achieved in Toronto, it is to David Fassbinder, a partner in one of Toronto’s most prominent law firms: Smith, Lyons, Torrance, Stevenson & Mayer. David is one of those valuable resources resident in most major cities around the world that you want to meet early in your tour rather than later: a friend of the United States, politically well-connected, and willing to extend himself on your behalf to ensure your success. A Canadian advisor to the Mexican Government I met while in Mexico City with Commerce Secretary Brown a few months earlier introduced me to David. I had met this valuable contact, herself a member of one of Toronto’s most prominent business families, through Jackson Wheaton, our Commercial Counselor in Mexico City. Jackson’s words rang in my ears. “George, this lady knows everyone you will need to know in Toronto. She helped me here in Mexico City.” The contact was Kim Samuel, the daughter of Ernest Samuel of Samuel, Son & Co., one of Ontario’s preeminent businessmen who, as it turned out, befriended my son and me on many occasions during my three years there. Between Kim and David, there was literally no one they did not know. I hit the ground in full stride, thanks to both of them.
The timing, venue, and audience for your debut as the principal American representative anywhere abroad are significant. You get it right on all three and you hit an early home run rather than field a base hit, to use a baseball analogy. My debut was as luncheon speaker before the prestigious Toronto Board of Trade on September 21, 1993, another first for an American consul general. I had the right audience and as David and Kim put it, “the membership of the Board of Trade is comprised of those who shape attitudes and behavior in Ontario about NAFTA and our economic relationship with the U.S. Reach them and you will succeed here.” The membership included the CEOs of all the principal Canadian and American enterprises in Ontario plus those representing many medium-sized companies; civic officials, and their local government counterparts. I made several points in my speech I thought would be well received, or that would stimulate questions: “It was my firm belief that we South of the 49th Parallel (the border between the United States and Canada) need to do a better job of explaining our positions particularly in the economic, business, and commercial area.” They could not take issue with that point. Second, that “no other country is more important to the security and well-being of the United States than Canada…Canada is not only our largest trading partner, doing substantially more trade with us than Japan, but that the Province of Ontario does more trade with us than Japan.” I continued: “NAFTA is our future and it deserves your full support.” It bears remembering that Canadians are polite to a fault and perhaps that inhibited the discussion I expected given the level of public criticism about the NAFTA Agreement. I recall there were a few perfunctory questions but nothing to challenge the foundation of my logic about NAFTA.
Several days later, I called David to join me for lunch at home; I wanted the unvarnished truth regarding my remarks. What had been the impact? David told me that all of the calls he had received, the conversations he had, were positive. “They liked your message but, George, they liked you… They liked your approach, your style, your interest in them as the businesses community… They saw in you someone very different than your predecessors,” as some of them put it. David’s words were gratifying and I thanked him for his support and his friendship. I then shared with him a more private thought. What I was soliciting was his reaction to an idea. The idea simply was to project myself as a catalyst, an intellectual provocateur to stimulate debate about the differences we perceive exist between Americans and Canadians beyond those that are legitimate differences. “Many Canadians are naturally reticent but I am not… My plan is to raise my visibility to talk about some issues that people might take more seriously than if I took refuge in the comfortable niche reserved for American consul’s general… Over the next few months (into 1994)” I said, “I will explore various mechanisms to bring together select Canadian opinion leaders from the academic, cultural, scientific, and business communities on issues that seemingly divide us and that are central to our bilateral relationship.” I then asked David if he would join me in this enterprise. “Yes, I will,” he responded, and “enthusiastically so!… We need this kind of initiative now given the unease over NAFTA and our relationship in general, and you are the person to launch it.” When David left that day, I was feeling energized and confident; I had the support of a pillar of the Conservative political establishment and someone who was admired and respected by practically everyone I had met. The introduction of the kid from Mizpah had gone well. My purpose now was to sustain the momentum.
Concurrent with my goal to extend our outreach program to each of the four corners of the Province of Ontario was the equally important goal to allocate a fair amount of my time to several prime management issues. The first of them was to do what I could to heal the rift between the consular staff and the administrative staff. My early intervention became necessary because my predecessor had given his administrative officer an unprecedented degree of authority over daily operations. A little context might be helpful here. The consular staff included a large contingent of American officers and locally-hired Canadians to provide the myriad services required by visitors to the United States and the huge resident American community (several hundred thousand) in the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario. The demand for consular services was the core function and raison d’etre for the size and scope of our presence in Ontario’s largest city. Perhaps the administrative officer felt the pendulum had swung too far in favor of the consular staff e.g., awards, other forms of recognition, and promotions. The administrative officer’s staff, slightly fewer in number, provided the capability to sustain a large physical presence, support for the consul general, security budgeting, and other essential operations. His remedy did not achieve balance or parity in any of these areas essential to staff cohesion and morale. Morale plummeted to the extent that it came to the attention of the Canadian desk in Washington. Sanford Bloomington, the director of the Canadian desk asked me during my pre-departure briefing to “look into that situation when you get to Toronto.” That is State Department parlance for “solve this problem; we would prefer not to get involved.” Well, I got involved much to the chagrin of my administrative officer, himself a recent arrival at the consulate. He looked forward to becoming “the new mayor” as his predecessor saw himself. I sternly disabused him of that notion. There was only one principal officer and I had been tagged.
I was mobile. Daily, I would visit every office and, on a regular basis, I talked to each member of the staff until I had a clear understanding of each staff member’s concerns. I called a meeting one day in August that summer to thank the staff for their honesty and candid assessments of issues that affected morale, efficiency, and staff performance. I also talked about some administrative changes I planned to make that I hoped would move us toward resolving the most egregious problems. This had to be done because I needed their combined support to pave the way for a multi-million dollar physical restructuring of our building. This complex project, still under discussion after ten years, was a millstone around the neck of several of my predecessors, and now I had to wear it. Although a renovated facility would have improved staff morale, mine included, and improve the delivery of services to our demanding public, the project never achieved “lift off” because several key officers in the embassy saw it as a rival to their goal of building a new chancery in Ottawa. One major project for Canada was enough. Personalities, egos, and bureaucratic politics combined to delay major improvements in Toronto, but the Office of Foreign Buildings (FBO) within the State Department never tired of requesting more data, more studies, hosting conferences, and sending architects to Toronto for yet more measurements. And then, there was the informal dialogue between the General Services Officer (GSO) at the embassy and the Canadian desk on embassy priorities. This is commonly referred to among Foreign Service officers as the “back channel.” This dialogue conspired against Toronto’s interests because the GSO’s husband, the Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs in Ottawa, coveted my job since it had been on his short list of preferred assignments. The deck was stacked against us on this one but I had to play the hand I was dealt: going through the motions. What a waste of time and energy. We accomplished little toward this goal during my three years in Toronto. My predecessor had warmed me of just this probable outcome.
I did, however, achieve success with the second of my management challenges: work with my embassy colleagues to develop a contingency plan for the possible consolidation of the Canada-wide immigrant visa function in Toronto. In conjunction with this plan, we proposed to offer a “900 number” consular information service in response to the thousand of queries we handled on a weekly basis. By strengthening the management role of my deputy—also the Chief of Consular Operations at the consulate—I was able to direct post operations through him and devote more time to my other management challenge of reducing the rivalry between Toronto and our embassy. Closer coordination between my office and those of the economic and political staffs in Ottawa reduced some of the friction. I knew I could not eliminate the rivalry because Ottawa could not compete with Toronto in areas of prime importance to an embassy: finance, economics, commerce, the arts, and culture. What I could do was extend an open invitation to the director of each principal office at the embassy to visit Toronto whenever they felt the need to consult with me or with any local officials in my district. All I would require was the courtesy of advance notice that they would be in Toronto. My larger strategy was to develop a strong relationship with ambassador Chamberlin. Chamberlin was a skilled politician who thrived on the energy, the intrigue, and the social diversity of a large city, something Ottawa was not. Most of his friends and corporate contacts also lived in Toronto. Not surprisingly, he was in Toronto frequently, to my satisfaction but to the dismay of his staff that wanted him in Ottawa, who tried mightily to make their concerns his daily priorities. In Toronto, Chamberlin and I could talk without the embassy filter. On several occasions, he commented, “my staff does not know how to use me.” There was more than an element of truth in that statement. Many Foreign Service officers derive considerable gratification from reading telegrams, attending meetings, drafting endless memoranda, and debating the merits of each other’s policy perspectives. That was not Chamberlin. Their more parochial concerns often did not resonate with him. Chamberlin and I worked well together because we had similar goals, our styles were complementary, and we wanted to make things happen in the three years allotted to us. (Executive-level assignments as ambassador, deputy chief of mission, and consul general are limited to three years unless extended by the Secretary of State or the President.) My preferred approach to working with the ambassador utilized his political talents, knowledge of Canada, and the ease with which he forged important relationships in Toronto. Ambassador Chamberlin opened doors for me that may have proved more difficult were I completely on my own to do so. My approach, therefore, did not endear me to my embassy colleagues, but that was a price I was prepared to play.
Within six months of my arrival, I had built significant bridges to many of the “movers” in town and around Ontario. I am not overstating my accomplishment; this was the view of Chamberlin’s corporate friends and the leadership of Ontario during his private meetings with each of them. At the end of my first year, ambassador Chamberlin had this to say in an assessment about my performance as the American Consul General in Toronto: “a strong viable presence in Toronto and the Province of Ontario is vital if I am to accomplish my mission here and if we are to gain greater market access for potential American investors here. George embodies that presence.” He also gave me credit as a “strong, effective manager in confident command of his post, a seasoned senior officer who well understands the practical political realities of managing a delicate, complex bilateral relationship—our largest.” As the anniversary of my arrival in Toronto approached, I realized I was positioned exactly where I wanted to be.
As I began to chart my own course, I made a number of important friends along the way. One of them was Andrew Brandt, Chair of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), the most profitable Canadian enterprise in Ontario: in excess of $4 billion dollars annually during my tenure there. The LCBO is important to the U.S. because it controls all imports of wines and distilled liquors in the Province of Ontario. Canadians consume millions of gallons of wine annually and exporters from New York State, California, Oregon, and Washington State were aggressively trying to increase their market share of the wine market in Canada’s largest, most populous province. In the mid-90s, French wines occupied the lion’s share of shelf space in the LCBO’s outlets and American exports were a distant second. I cannot recount the number of times I attended wine tastings by the principal American wineries as they launched new products in Ontario. They wanted a larger share of the Canadian market and my role was to assist them in whatever fashion I could. Andy Brandt and I saw each other so frequently that he—half in jest—offered me a desk in his office. “George,” he would begin, “you Americans are doing very well in Canada. American wines are very competitive and Canadians’ tastes are changing slowly. But, for a long time, French wines did not have serious competition here.” I knew that to be true but my purpose was to remind him regularly that we intended to keep up the pressure. Imports of wines for wine tastings were not subject to duties and therefore could not be sold commercially. All wines including partially full bottles not consumed at these events were turned over to the American Consul General to be used at his discretion—in this instance, my discretion. I had a wine cellar full of the finest wines America had to offer which I used for representational events. Often, the embassy would ask if I could share my largesse with ambassador Chamberlin for use at his official functions. Andrew Brandt had been a provincial cabinet minister when the Conservative Party was in power. Moreover, he was a personal friend of David Fassbinder, an admirer of the United States and, through him, I strengthened budding relationships with Ontario’s Conservative political establishment and built new ones through his vast network of business and social contacts.
America’s Independence Day, July 4th, is probably noted on the personal calendars of government officials and leaders in the local business community around the world. On that day, many are guests of the resident American ambassador, or an American consul general at his or her residence. As July 4, 1994 approached, I looked forward to renewing ties and showing my appreciation to my many supporters in provincial government, Toronto’s City Hall, and the business community for making my first year the success it was. I arrived after July 4th in 1993, so this would be my first Independence Day event at my home. In late spring 1994, I approached business leaders for donations, or in-kind support for an old-fashioned western bar-be-que I planned at the residence. My representation funds were inadequate for such an event. With embassy approval, I was allowed to approach the business community for additional financial support. The response was overwhelming considering that ambassador Chamberlin had approached the same business leaders to support a picnic he planned to host on that same day. Generally an invitation to an event at the ambassador’s residence is more coveted but my attendees declined the ambassador’s invitation in favor of the event I planned to host. The President of the Bank of America expressed sentiment I heard from many that day when he said, “many of us prefer a smaller event at your home with people we know and see regularly than having to travel to Ottawa for a picnic with a cast of thousands. There is also the small matter that we appreciate your interest in our community and the support you have demonstrated about our concerns.” Throughout the day, I heard similar expressions from other provincial and local officials who seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. Although it was a luncheon event, most of the invitees did not return to their offices that afternoon. Neither did I. It was a beautiful day—in many respects.
While assembling the materials for this memoir, I looked for a copy of the program for the July 4th event at the house. The names and corporate affiliation of each co-sponsor was listed on the back page. Although I could not find the program, I do recall some of the names: Ford Canada, GE Canada, the Bank of America Canada, Proctor & Gamble, Sun Microsystems of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Bank of Montreal, IBM Canada, Ltd.; K-Mart Canada, Ltd., Campbell Soup Company Ltd., The Bitove Corporation, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Inc., Shopper’s Drug Mart, Chemical Bank of Canada, The O’Keefe Center for the Performing Arts, The Liquor Control Board of Canada, Salomon Brothers Canada, Inc., Westinghouse Canada, MerrillLynch Canada, Inc., Purolator Courier Ltd., and Coca Cola Beverages Ltd.
My guests also included the Premier of Ontario, the Honorable Bob Rae; the mayors of Toronto, Oakville, Markham, North York, and Mississauga. I had put in the time this past year and I felt I was in a position to reap dividends. My game plan for the second year included several elements, the first of which was to maintain an extensive and well-targeted program of political and economic reporting regarding the effects of NAFTA implementation and the political environment in which the effects are judged. In Ottawa and on the Canadian desk in Washington, I was given high praise for my reporting. In an institution like the Foreign Service, good reporting is the coin of the realm. My officers and I stuck our necks out and attempted some predictive analyses in the run-up to the provincial elections during the summer of 1995. The Conservative Party in Ontario under Bob Harris were poised to capture the reigns of provincial government from Bob Rae’s Liberal Party and Ontarians were schizophrenic about the choice.
The second element of my plan was to develop a formal approach to managing the cumulative effect of numerous niggling trade disputes (dispute settlement process, steel imports, softwood lumber, beer imports, and salmon and herring) and their potential to erode the public’s perception of a large, healthy relationship. In addition to my “Business Outlook” discussions that targeted the government and business sectors in both countries, I also launched my “Consul General’s Forum.” A third initiative I planned to launch was designed to bring mayors and their city councils together with manufacturers to create a dialogue between those who govern and those who challenge government to create a positive environment for economic growth and for competitiveness to flourish. The Consul General’s Forum would bring together select Canadian opinion leaders from the academic, cultural, scientific, and business communities on issues central to U.S.-Canada relations. Moreover, I would continue an active schedule of public appearances, interviews, and visits with municipal leaders, directors of economic and business development, university presidents, CEOs, and plant managers in every major city in Ontario. We had already identified the cities I needed to visit, the people I needed to consult and the issues I should be prepared to discuss. Weekly, sometimes, I would shove off to spend a day or more in one of the principal cities in my district.
The ledger, however, was balanced with enough other challenges to make life less enjoyable. It went with the territory. It was my misfortune in 1994 to undergo another formal inspection by State’s Inspector General. In the case of Canada, a country with six constituent posts, the inspection would be of each post, plus the embassy in Ottawa. Earlier, I described the effect an inspection can have on a program, the daily rhythm of an organization, and the staff. This would be my first overseas inspection since Pusan in the late 1970s. There were several areas I felt the involvement of the inspectors would be beneficial e.g., staffing, more control over representation funds, and the process and the pace of the proposed renovation of my building. Apart from these areas, I felt we were in good shape and that nothing major would emerge from this intrusion into our lives. Was I ever mistaken! The day I received the inspectors’ draft report, I was scheduled to visit with the mayor of Sudbury. To reiterate, I expected no major surprises so, I threw the report into my briefcase to read during the several hours’ drive. In fact, there were no surprises until I saw a formal recommendation to transfer the immigrant visa processing operation from Toronto to Montreal. Confident that this was a simple error in transposition, I called my deputy, Dwight Maraniss, to confirm before I placed a call to Jasper Hubbell, Chamberlin’s deputy in Ottawa. Dwight confirmed that he, too, was unaware of such a radical change. I called Jasper Hubbell on my mobile telephone, again, to report a simple error. He was slightly irritated by my call and from his tone, he was aware of this recommendation. “It was in the draft, George; I don’t understand why you are surprised” he said. I had not seen any language to this effect prior to the report in my hand and I strove to make that point. I also reminded him that Toronto had the most efficient immigrant visa processing operation in Canada. This he acknowledged. I further reminded him that at Washington’s request, we, in conjunction with his staff in Ottawa, had developed a contingency plan to consolidate the Canada-wide immigrant visa function in Toronto, not Montreal. “Jasper,” I asked, “why would I assume the transfer of this function to Montreal?… From what I know, they do not want the responsibility.” It was obvious he knew more than he was revealing during our conversation and my query apparently highlighted a very delicate decision he had made without consulting either Dwight or me. At a minimum, as chief of consular operations in Toronto, Dwight should have been made aware of a decision of this magnitude.
As in most situations of this type, details eventually emerge. During the inspection of our consulate in Montreal, the inspectors concluded that the facility was too large and too costly for that post’s limited operations; that Ottawa should consider a less costly location. Jasper Hubbell decided to transfer the immigrant visa function to Montreal to avoid losing a desirable property. Although there were well established inefficiencies in the immigrant visa program in Montreal, Jasper made a tactical and administrative decision that ultimately destroyed morale in Toronto and severely weakened the immigrant visa program in Canada. The human consequences of this were considerable for me. I was never able to convince my staff that I was not part of that fateful decision. My Canadian staff complement was reduced by eight positions. Several American officer positions were not filled once the incumbent had transferred. The eight Canadian nationals were discharged with a very generous severance package, a package both Dwight and I would have accepted if it had been offered. For the remaining 19 months of my tour, the issue never died. It took a return trip to Canada by the inspectors to follow up on the transfer of this function, repeated conversations between my staff and their Canadian national colleagues in Montreal and Ottawa, and even further explanation from my successor to finally convince my former staff that I had not betrayed them.
On a personal level, I was disappointed in Jasper Hubbell because, to that point, we had a good, strong relationship founded on honesty and trust. At the end of the day, I could only register strong dissent with the inspectors, ambassador Chamberlin, and the Director of the Office of Canadian Affairs. Jasper’s decision was his to make, but it could have been handled more forthrightly without destroying the lives of eight people on my team and without fragmenting an already fragile staff. Change was in the wind and that wind blew in my direction. My relations with embassy Ottawa were permanently altered. It is standard operating procedure (SOP) in these situations to hope for your day in court; make your case, and then move on. I was reminded briefly of Ron Brown when he could not control appointments to his senior team. Were I a drinking man, I would have had a stiff one or two or three, slept on it and put it behind me. My recourse was to press forward with my larger outreach agenda.
Canadians will often assert that they must be forever vigilant to guard against the contamination of their society by developments in the United States. Truth be told, however, they are profoundly affected by social, cultural, and educational trends across their southern border. I always met with the president of a local university during a visit to a university town to balance insights and a perspective gained from meeting business people, civic leaders, and politicians. Besides, I enjoyed academia. The provincial government funds universities in Ontario. Thus, political change at the provincial level affects all university administrators, and I thought their views would greatly enhance my understanding of the social climate in Ontario. Adopting as my theme “How Should Colleges and Universities Be Adapting to Change?” I hosted several discussions at home with the presidents of McMaster University, York University, and the University of Toronto. Trends in American higher education were very much on their minds. Many of their students were highly mobile and keenly attuned to the differences in curriculum offerings between American and Canadian institutions. Student enrollments fluctuated at each of their universities because of the attractiveness of course offerings across the border and, therefore, opportunities for careers. “Brain drain” at both the student and faculty levels also was a constant area of concern for them. As administrators, they were prohibited from engaging in fundraising activities to augment inadequate budgets. The bureaucrats at the provincial level, concerned about maintaining control, discouraged innovation by university administrators. Moreover, as administrators, they felt hamstrung in their effort to create the intellectually stimulating, competitive environments that made American institutions the most desired in the world, even for an increasing number of Canadian students.
My options or, more accurately, recommendations here were more limited. I did encourage more U.S.-Canadian student and faculty exchanges. Although more politically delicate, I also encouraged them to lobby individually and collectively for more autonomy to raise funds for specific programs and to attract faculty of international repute; in addition, to build a case for more synergy between universities and the business community to foster additional research and technological development. This was the early-to-mid-90s. Perhaps there have been significant changes since that time.
Exchanges with university administrators always stimulated ideas and one of them regarded how to launch my Consul General’s Forum discussions. The idea was to blend change, education, responsibility, and opportunity as themes with a group most affected by all of them: young people. I took seriously my responsibility as a mentor to the five junior officers on my staff and, working with them, I decided to include all of them in my inaugural forum discussion with eight legislative interns from the Ontario Legislature. As moderator and guest, I invited a distinguished professor of History from York University, Dr. Jack Granastein. Legislative interns were not accustomed to this level of attention by an American consul general, but they were interested enough and curious enough to participate. Somewhat reticent initially, they warmed up to the idea that we were interested in their opinions on these themes and the larger theme of the individual and civic responsibility. While the differences between Americans and Canadians of the same generation with comparable levels of education are vast regarding, for example, the role of government in civil society and the individual’s responsibility for shaping his or her own life, we started something that night in late November 1994 that my junior officers and I were able to build on in the months ahead: goodwill and a mutual interest to learn more about each other. For my purposes, that was an acceptable result.
My second forum discussion a few months later took a broad look at “Canada, Ontario and the New World Order” with a mixed group of university administrators, members of Ontario’s Provincial Parliament, a prominent banker, several law professors, and the vice president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. That evening, I had one of the most intellectually stimulating conversations I could recall. Concerns over NAFTA ignited a spirited discussion which highlighted the frequent “perceptions and misperceptions” at the heart of our bilateral relationship. It was all good-natured, serious, and a little humorous at times. The value for each of us was an awareness of how easily we assume a level of understanding exists on issues of mutual concern because of our proximity as neighbors when, in fact, it often does not.
The third forum discussion centered on education with the presidents of Brock University, Ryerson Polytechnic University, the University of Toronto, and the president of the Ontario Teachers’ Association. A fourth meeting on health care in Ontario rounded out the series in the spring of 1995.
Meanwhile, my visits with mayors and their directors of economic and business development had heightened my visibility while igniting interest in a dialogue with my office. As executives of cities affected by trade with the United States, thus the larger economic relationship, we had mutual concerns. I was surprised to learn however that as mayors, they did not communicate with each other in any formal way as their American counterparts would. Under the general rubric of examining mutual perspectives on U.S.-Canadian issues, I invited a large group of mayors to the residence for a half-day of discussion and lunch. Seven mayors accepted including the irascible mayor of Mississauga. To avoid an open-ended discussion that most likely would degenerate into America-bashing, I raised questions that addressed issues they each had raised with me during my visit to their respective locales. My larger purpose was to force them to recognize that they had common problems and that they might be able to help each other. The important beneficiary of any fruitful dialogue, and positive outcome, I pointed out, would be the U.S.-Canada relationship. For four hours, they grappled with the kinds of obstacles firms faced in their cities in conducting cross-border business. I wanted to know if they had heard any complaints. What areas of cross-border trade should harmonization of regulations be a top priority? An interesting debate ensued when I asked about additional efforts they would like to see from the provincial government to facilitate trade. Did they see value in Sister Cities and Twinning? What other political tools can cities use to attract and retain employers? Most of them told me they felt powerless to do much here because of political constraints. What about other mechanisms available to create jobs I asked? To those mayors close to Pearson International Airport, I asked about the impact of the new Open Skies Agreement. The 1995 Open Skies Agreement was a bilateral aviation agreement to improve and expand transportation links between the United States and Canada.
The provincial mayors assembled around my table were effective barometers of public sentiment particularly on those issues that defined Canada’s relationship with the United States. Many of their constituents worked in subsidiaries of American corporations. On this day, they expressed genuine gratitude that an American consul general had taken the initiative to do what they should have been doing themselves. Repeatedly, they spoke about the importance of cooperation in establishing better trade and economic relationships.
I had well-established ties with most of the business and economic development directors throughout Ontario, all of whom were more intimately linked to the business community than were their mayors. As economic development officials, they saw room to maneuver, to be proactive in their business environments, but each of them needed the active support of their mayor. This, for a variety of reasons, was not always possible. They, then, exhorted me to reach out to their political leadership because as a “neutral” third party, I had the greater political leverage to raise questions and advance ideas than they apparently felt they could. Each director recognized that to be able to speak truth to power (their mayor), they each had to be willing to walk out the door if they crossed a threshold. On that basis, I achieved a measure of success in establishing a policy-focussed relationship with each of the principal municipal mayors, a new constituency, in Ontario.
I suppose a logical question could be, why is any of this important? Well, bear in mind, the genesis of my journey, the stops and detours enroute to Toronto, or my center stage, as I call it; the career goals I set to position myself for greater and senior responsibility, and my accomplishments within the context of history. By July 1995, I had reached the zenith of my Foreign Service career as consul general. I will elaborate. During my journey, it was important to live the role, to embody the values, to be guided by the counsel I offered others—usually at their request. Thirty years of experience fortified me with a focused point of view and an anchor of ideas and beliefs about how to accomplish our mission in Canada because my assignment was to Canada. It could have been anywhere. I trusted my instincts and I trusted my knowledge of the economic and business factors at the heart of an important bilateral relationship. Viewed through a global prism, I knew that my actions supported the Clinton Administration’s commercial diplomacy campaign to boost American business abroad. That is the macro view. On a micro level, my insights contributed substantially to the formulation of U.S. policies in Canada and to the advancement of our policy objectives in the Province of Ontario. One of ambassador Chamberlin’s primary goals during our second year was to dial down the temperature of our various trade disputes with Canada. We did so. “George contributed to that success” he said in my second annual performance assessment “because of his unprecedented effort to reach out to those who could mold opinion not only in Ontario, but in Canada at large.” My interlocutors did not always agree with me, but they did understand well American economic and trade policy and they were generally supportive of our policy initiatives. In many regions of Ontario by this time, there was much less anxiety about Canada’s relations with its powerful and dominant southern neighbor. I contributed to this turn of events. This is the role I envisioned for myself that memorable day in Bonn thirty years earlier when ambassador Cheston Clifton expressed his confidence in my ability to rise to the senior levels of the Foreign Service. With a year remaining on this assignment, mine had been an extraordinarily challenging and interesting personal experience.
I could have dialed back the intensity of my own efforts that third and final year, but several things happened to sustain an already intense level of engagement. The first was the tragedy in Oklahoma. Within 36 hours of that horrific event, I lost a cherished level of personal freedom I had come to take for granted. Early intelligence reports indicated that the perpetrators of the bombing were headed to Canada. Between Washington, the embassy in Ottawa, and the Canadian Government, I was provided with an additional security team from the Canadian Secret Service. I literally could not go to the laundry without them in tow. They insisted that I not drive my own vehicle because I was a prospective target. It took a few days to sort out how I felt about this sudden change in my status. In an instant, the fact that the world was still a hostile place became personally real. I could not take anything for granted, even in one of the world’s most desired places to live.
The second thing that happened was the provincial elections. Bob Rae, the Premier in 1995, and his Liberal Party were in a race for their political lives. Mike Harris and the Conservatives threatened to bring a level of change that would topple the structure of government generosity many Ontarians had been accustomed to and that fueled a monumental sense of entitlement. Publicly, the view was Harris was too radical; his proposed brand of austerity and fiscal discipline would be the wrong medicine for Ontario’s ills. Privately, many Ontarians recognized the benefits of the bitter pill they would be forced to swallow. While polls gave the Liberals a better than even chance to remain in power, my contacts were increasingly confident of Mike Harris’s success. I called his campaign manager to extend an invitation for dinner and private conversation. To my delight, Mike Harris accepted. Over dinner and drinks, Mike Harris described the “Harris Revolution,” all neatly detailed in his famous red book. “What I offer the people of Ontario is in my red book,” he said; “nothing more, no surprises.” “Would a Harris Administration significantly alter the business and investment climate in Ontario?” I asked. For several hours thereafter, he told me that the health of Ontario’s economy, the staggering provincial debt, and their importance to U.S.-Canadian relations were a source of motivation to become his party’s candidate. “Our debt is destroying us, the investment climate in Ontario, and the stability of Canada.” He continued: “We cannot afford the profligacy of current policy and the example it sets for our young people. A healthy Ontario means a healthy Canada. A healthy Canada strengthens the most important relationship we have.” When Mike Harris left that evening, I called ambassador Chamberlin and suggested that we prepare ourself for a change in leadership.
The timing and policy thrust of Mike Harris and his Conservative movement in Ontario was coincident with the emergence of the Gingrich Revolution in the United States. In Mike Harris, House Speaker Gingrich saw an ideological soul mate that also advocated a balanced (provincial) budget. The U.S. Federal Deficit Reduction Movement (1994-1995) was not only gaining adherents among Republicans and the Clinton “Centrist Movement,” but also among concerned Ontarians across the border seeking change. Following a meeting with the Speaker of the House in Washington, Mike Harris, however drew the line at adopting the policy prescriptions of the “Contract With America.” Mike Harris won in November and was subsequently reelected to a second term. Canadians stepped up, took the bitter pill and complained all the way to the ballot box.
The third thing that happened in early 1966 was my decision to retire from the Foreign Service. I had been actively considering the idea since my arrival in Paris eight years earlier. There was nothing complicated about my decision. My old friend and mentor Al Zucca always said, “know when to go!” I had had a remarkable career with opportunities to learn four languages (Italian, French, German, and Korean); to live in seven countries (Italy twice, Germany, France, Belgium, Korea, the Philippines, and Canada); and to travel to a dozen other countries. I had been a participant in or an official witness to significant events, several of which defined and shaped the latter half of the twentieth century: the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 while on military duty in northern Italy; the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy while assigned to the American Embassy in Bonn, Germany; the build-up to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War in 1965 during my tour in the Philippines; a witness to Secretary Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy that frequently brought him to Rome while he negotiated the end of the Vietnam War in 1973; President Reagan’s historic visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France in 1985 while assigned to the American Mission to the European Communities; the French Bicentennial in 1989 while assigned to our Mission to the OECD in Paris; the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the fall of Communism, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989; Nelson Mandela’s history making visit to the Department of State in 1990; and serving as a senior advisor to the first African-American Secretary of Commerce in our nation’s history.
Major events during my tenure as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State included several noted above and representing the Department of State during the White House planning sessions leading to the Gulf War in 1991, and the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 while serving as American Consul General in Ontario. Each of these events, and myriad others, had great personal significance for me. My career spanned three decades for a total of 35 years, the maximum number of years for which an officer can be compensated upon retirement. It was time to go and I was comfortable with the prospect of reclaiming the balance of my life.
One day in April 1996, a friend and commerce colleague and future business partner, Howie Hodges, called me from Washington and asked if I had heard the news. “What news?” I asked. “About Secretary Brown.” I expected to hear almost anything except news of his violent and untimely death on a fog-shrouded mountainside while on a Presidential mission. I was immediately engulfed by a cascade of emotion and unsure how to react or what to think. Incredibly enough, I was able to reach Secretary Brown’s home and to leave a message of condolence for Alma, his wife. All that evening, I could only retreat to my study and the privacy of my memory about a rewarding experience I had had with a true American patriot, a man of extraordinary talent, humanity, and compassion, who in the course of his travels across the globe, touched the lives of people great and small as no American had since President Kennedy. Ron Brown belonged to the ages and I mourned his loss.
My last official act was to say farewell to friends and supporters in Toronto and Ontario. Whatever emotional fortitude I could muster was going to be necessary to get through this last official, yet personal act. The most wrenching of numerous farewells was for a yard full of my closest friends and I did lose it. I repeat here the text of my farewell:
“The warmth and generosity of you and others who welcomed me and my son to Toronto three years ago has sustained me on many an occasion. The opportunity to direct one of our largest and most important consulates comes very infrequently. The successes I achieved could not have been possible without your friendship, cooperation, and support. Together, we have contributed to managing the largest and most successful bilateral relationship in the world. Ours’ has been a momentous journey. When I arrived in July 1993, NAFTA was yet to become reality and a new civil aviation agreement linking Toronto and Washington was still on the drawing boards.
Today, because of NAFTA, we have witnessed a tremendous increase in bilateral trade and Open Skies is a stunning success story. Despite the occasional dispute, the U.S.-Canada relationship remains vibrant, strong, and mutually profitable. We are good neighbors, good partners, and good friends.”
And it was over. I brought to an end a rich and rewarding career. I also began an enduring love affair as a private citizen with Canada. As the doors closed on my Foreign Service career and my official duties in Canada, a parallel set of doors opened wide offering countless opportunities to extend some relationships and to enrich others.
While packing the last of my personal effects that last evening before the ten-hour drive to Washington the next day, I felt reflective. When this happens, I usually look for a yellow pad and pen to jot down my thoughts before they disappear into the nether reaches of a “senior moment.” I was thinking beyond events I had observed in my career—and there were many. I was thinking beyond other events in which I had been a participant or had helped to create. I was looking at a larger topic: the government I represented for 35 years. The real question on my mind was: had my career experiences reshaped the prism through which I viewed my own government? After all, I had spent three decades selling the American story and the efficacy of our government and its policies to others. How did I still feel about that? I quickly concluded that the one indispensable element I look for from my government, as do millions of Americans and others around the world, is leadership. From leadership, I reasoned, comes judgments of fairness, balance or comprehensiveness, vision, strength, and ability. Often, this is how we characterize government. The highs and lows of 20th century history, particularly during my career from 1962 – 1996, evolved to a large extent around the quality of American leadership during crises and the consequences of our failure to act in a manner consistent with our values as a nation and our responsibilities as a global power. We are at our best when we act unselfishly; when we remember we cannot respond solely to our own narrowly construed self-interests. The instinct to do so stems from a sense of entitlement as a superpower, a right we often express as divinely conferred. The respect my Foreign Service colleagues and I enjoyed at times abroad and fought to regain at other times stemmed from American actions whose consequences were global in their impact.
In each of my foreign assignments, it was very much the case that the resolution of conflict, the key to bilateral understanding, the bridge to reconciliation of most issues on our bilateral issues’ agenda was our willingness to lead. While America’s allies, and certainly its detractors, would not and could not always agree with us, there was the expectation that American leadership was up to the task. When we were perceived as weak, others took the initiative and it was America who had to contain, neutralize, or defeat adventurism that threatened peace, order, and stability. When we were perceived as strong, enlightened, and focused, others accepted our lead, not always willingly. The simple immutable fact is there was no universally accepted alternative to firm, patient, American leadership. In the unipolar world that characterized the final seven years of my career (1989–1996), I knew that the world we are destined to live in and to inherit will be shaped largely by the creativity of America leadership to fashion practical solutions to problems that have the potential to metastasize across national borders and engulf whole communities, and to create further conflict and more enmity.
It might be unrealistic to expect American leadership to assume responsibility for the aspirations of two-thirds of the world’s populations, but only we embody the values the world’s dispossessed hold dear. Only we hold out the promise of hope to realize the dreams many die in pursuit of; and, lastly, only we purport to have the solutions many seek to the problems that seem to plague their very existence. When we don’t act in a manner that recognizes our unique role and the unique responsibilities only we can shoulder, it is also America that pays. We pay in national treasure and often with the lives of a new generation of Americans that have stepped forward. This was apparent in 1963 when I joined the Foreign Service and it was no less true as I ended my career three decades later. Although I did not always agree with my leadership, I was proud to represent my country.
As I brought my tenure in Toronto to a close, the arc of my Foreign Service career was at its zenith. And, as I looked down, I expressed gratitude to all those upon whose shoulders I stood. Were they alive, I think their only requirement of me would be that I make my shoulders available to others. The scope of my successes was in direct proportion to the friendship they offered, the wisdom they unselfishly imparted, and the direction I sorely needed. Each of my giants treated me not as I was, but as they each thought I could become. I grew into the shoes they felt confident I could wear. Along the way, I sometimes missed a step or two wearing shoes that were initially too large but, eventually, I grew comfortable with the larger size. I never forgot an essential quality of Cheston Clifton’s approach to life that I tried to bring to my own: He thought it was futile to spend too much time trying to predict the future to gain advantage. “Create your own future,” he would say. “There is greater value added.” There were no shortcuts, just hard work, many sleepless nights, no time for “pity parties,” and, if you were lucky as I was, you learned a lesson, acquired a skill and maybe a new friend. Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
And so it was that during that final drive back to Washington, no longer an active senior Foreign Service officer, I came to a proper appreciation of my own insignificance. I could not have developed this earlier in my career. It was only in retrospect that my vision reached that level of clarity. I had always been in pursuit of the dream, the life by design.
A final thought. I will pay eternal tribute to those who made my path easier, smoothed out a few of the bends in the roads I trod, and helped me overcome instincts that required greater maturity. However, of all those I encountered on my journey to my moment of truth in Toronto, it was Ronald Harmon Brown who truly embodied a consequence of creating your future. The hard reality is that the success each of us may achieve just may come at great personal sacrifice. By the time I crossed paths with him, I understood that well. At the end of the journey though, the only remaining question you must answer before exiting is, have you enjoyed the trip? I have.
George Kennedy is a retired Senior Foreign Service officer and Federal Executive. His Foreign Service career took him to seven countries and culminated in his appointment as consul general in Toronto. He kept busy after retirement as a political advisor to several elected officials and advising small-to-medium size enterprises regarding opportunities in overseas markets.
He currently serves on the advisory boards of The United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona and the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona. He is also active in his local community as an independent business owner.