The number 13 is traditionally invested with foreboding but not in the case of the 13th Jamaican High Commissioner to Canada.
Standing at the gate of the next 50 years of Jamaican relationships with Canada, Sheila Sealy Monteith has the benefit of a line of exemplary Jamaican foreign service officers beginning with Earle Maynair in August 1962 when Jamaica opened its High Commission in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.
Last week she became the second envoy to host her Prime Minister - Portia Simpson Miller - on an official visit to Canada, the first being K.G. Anthony Hill who hosted Prime Minister Michael Manley in 1976.
With infectious enthusiasm and an incisive mind, she paved the way for her Prime Minister’s seamless visit through a number of initiatives that raised Jamaica’s profile not only in Ottawa but across the entire country from Newfoundland to Victoria.
One of those initiatives is a new book she instigated: Jamaicans in the Canadian Context - A Multiculturalizing Presence, a compilation of essays from several outstanding writers and academics, about the impact of Jamaicans on Canada.
A copy was presented to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a reception at the Jamaica Canadian Association’s headquarters in Toronto in celebration of the 50th anniversary last Monday.
The two countries’ relations long predate Jamaica’s Independence. Based on trade, commerce and diplomacy, items like codfish, rum, bauxite, banking, tourism, sardines, sugar, language, remittances, Commonwealth membership and the Queen have been the main undergirdings of the relationship.
But it is also about personal relationships. When Prime Minister Michael Manley was about to pull Jamaica out of the Commonwealth in 1972-73 it was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who persuaded him to stay.
Manley and Trudeau enjoyed warm personal relations. Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been busy strengthening Canada’s ties to the monarchy but has no difficulty with Jamaica’s determination to follow a different path.
The future of the Jamaican monarchy is “strictly a question for the Jamaicans,” he told an Ottawa press conference. He too seems infected by the Jamaican spirit, enjoying excellent relations with Prime Ministers Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson Miller.
Mr. Harper visited Jamaica three years ago and notably sat waiting together with Mr. Golding in the Montego Bay airport during the drawn-out drama with a CanJet airline which was hijacked for several hours on April 19, 2009 by a young Jamaican.
His ardour for Jamaica has not waned and he looked very comfortable with his Jamaican counterpart last week, sharing a number of embraces and kisses.
As he walked with her from an Ottawa press conference last Monday Mr. Harper commented that there was lipstick on his face. Prime Minister Simpson Miller: “It is mine, I put it there.”
Prime Minister Harper: “I hope it is yours.” Earlier he had observed that “Jamaica and Canada are good friends and neighbours in the Americas who enjoy solid commercial and people-to-people relations while sharing deep historic ties as members of the Commonwealth.
It is fitting on the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations that we look at ways to further strengthen the bonds between our nations.
Our Government is committed to deepening these close ties, while helping the region achieve sustainable economic growth.” Prime Minister Trudeau loved Jamaica and made frequent private visits, often staying at a St. Mary estate.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney visited Jamaica in February 1985 and was photographed eating a patty, thus dousing the flames of an anti-patty campaign that had sprung up among other fast-food magnates in Toronto Prime Ministers Hugh Shearer, Edward Seaga and P.J. Patterson have also made visits to Canada during the period, but not on the invitation of a Prime Minister.
No MOU’s were signed during last week’s visit, Ricardo Allicock, Director of Bilateral Relations in the Jamaican Foreign Ministry, confirmed.
Mr. Allicock expects that a fifth rounds of talks will renew attempts to forge, through CARICOM, a mutually beneficial trade agreement that provides significant economic benefits and takes into account the region’s capacity constraints and vulnerabilities.
The arrival and performances of the Jamaica Military band in Ottawa and Toronto, again initiated by High Commissioner Sealy Monteith, for 50th anniversary celebrations in August placed a pleasing icing on the cake of a 45-year relationship between the Canadian Forces and the JDF that includes the construction and development of the Jamaican Military Aviation School and the creation of a Canadian Military Hub in Jamaica.
Jamaica can also count on Canada for increased assistance with building capacity in counter-terrorism, Mr. Allicock said. It was left to JCA President Audrey Campbell to seal the first 50 years when she recounted the pride her members expressed at seeing, for the first time since 1962, a Canadian Prime Minister on their home ground, the JCA headquarters.