I have been deeply honored and humbled to serve as Canada’s Consul General in Los Angeles since February 2014. What a thrill is has been to represent my country in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada as part of Canada’s diplomatic service. My wife Kim, daughter Grace, and son Andrew want to express our thanks to you all for welcoming us so warmly to L.A., joining us in celebrating Canada at the Official Residence, and for making these into rewarding and successful years.
When Canada’s then-Foreign Minister, John Baird, offered me the position, I have to be honest – even after a 30+ year career in government relations, where I’d interacted with ambassadors and government representatives at every level, I wasn’t exactly sure what a diplomat did – especially in a country so similar to our own, where business and culture were already so interchangeable.
Canada and Canadians are an intrinsic part of the American fabric.
No matter the role, one always brings a little bit of oneself to a new position, and in my case I tried to blend the practices of the private and public sectors in ways that could foster leadership, improve execution and help Canada better achieve its goals. I think I can say that my teams in L.A. and San Diego have raised the standards of excellence for promoting trade and investment; building valuable political and business networks for advocating Canada’s priorities; delivering migration services to foreigners needing visas to visit, work or study in Canada; and providing consular services to our citizens.
I was lucky, too – this consulate covers a territory with – we think – the largest Canadian diaspora of anywhere in the world (especially when it’s 75 degrees in January in Phoenix or Palm Springs). It’s not always obvious because of how we blend in here, but Canada and Canadians are an intrinsic part of the American fabric. My job often was to make Canada a bit more visible to local decision-makers and powerbrokers and to highlight for them what Canada brings to this corner of the United States, whether it’s jobs in an elected official’s district, excellence in front of or behind the camera in L.A.’s marquee industry, or as partners in building a more peaceful and environmentally sustainable world. Hosting Canada Day festivities on July 1st or at State legislatures in cities across our territory has also been an amazing tool to bring our two nations together over a barbeque at the beach or on the floor of a legislature.
Like any other relationship, you can’t take your partner for granted. You have to put in the work to make it last.
Leaving a job is an occasion to look back and take stock, and since you were part of this journey with me, I hoped you might indulge me in sharing some of the highlights that stand out for Kim and me over the almost five years we spent in L.A. – and how we can continue to raise the bar for Canada in this corner of the world.
Helping Canada do business
The trade teams in Los Angeles and in San Diego are some of the busiest in the country. By answering over 2,000 inquiries, reaching out to more than 1,700 companies operating in the territory, facilitating meetings, and providing detailed information about opportunities, regulations, taxes, and employment laws, the trade commissioner service really does help Canadian businesses realize their global dreams.
I was proud to work with a team that delivered major, tangible benefits to the Canadian economy:
- After working closely with the consulate on drug approval protocols and trial site selection, the San Diego bioscience firm Tocagen signed contracts for clinical trials with several hospitals in Canada.
- Thanks in part to consulate-hosted workshops on Private Public Partnerships, elite Canadian companies like Bombardier have since won the bid to help design LAX’s new people mover – a contract valued at US$219 million.
- Our trade team piloted the TechWomen mission which exposes female executives from high-growth Canadian companies to California’s innovation ecosystem – a series now in its fourth consecutive year.
- The team created a new model for Clean-Tech/Infrastructure roadshows to promote Canadian water & energy technologies in Southern California, Nevada and soon in Arizona – with reported outcomes already valued at just under $16 million CAD.
- Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s hugely successful trade mission to Toronto and Montreal in 2016 shined a much-needed spotlight on the $5 billion Arizona-Canada relationship, with an annual trade valued at over $3.8 billion. There are now nearly 400 Canadian businesses currently operating in Arizona.
- Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval also travelled to Canada on a trade mission that helped launch an amazing crescendo in relations with Canada and the creation of the Business Council of Canada and Nevada (BCCN).
- Finally, I’d like to single out the San Diego trade team for producing the highest number of Science Technology Industry (STI) successes in the entire North American network!
Canadians don’t necessarily like to draw attention to our successes, but showcasing the excellence of our companies and thought-leaders is important to cementing our reputation for innovation and our commitment to free trade – and turning that into investment back home. There is no better place in L.A. for this work than the Milken Institute’s Global Conference with its more than 4,000 attendees from 65 countries including a who’s-who of corporate and political leaders. During my tenure, Canada grew its relationship with Milken, and every year we welcomed high-profile keynoters to our dinner at the Official Residence
Advocating for Canada’s interests
How do you convince your best friend to change the way they already think about you? Well, as part of our representation in the United States, that is basically what we are asked to do every day. And sometimes the rules of the game change, as they did with the renegotiation of NAFTA and unfair tariffs levied against Canadian steel and aluminum on the grounds of “national security” (which, unbelievably, are still in effect).
This was a big deal for Canada. We had always reached out to every level of government, as well as business, to advocate for Canada’s economic interests. But in response to the urgency of these issues, we doubled-down on our political outreach, travelling deeper into the territory than ever before, and sending me to D.C. several times to meet with members of Congress in a concerted effort to explain the degree to which their constituents depend on free trade for our competitiveness and prosperity. One of our strategies, which was eventually adopted by several other consulates in the U.S. network, was to identify congressional districts in which American businesses were exporting more than $250 million in goods and services to Canada annually. It turns out there were 19 such members of the “Quarter Billion Club” in our territory alone, and the “awards” we created proved extremely effective for getting the representatives on side to support Canada’s positions on getting a good deal.
No matter the role, one always brings a little bit of oneself to a new position, and in my case I tried to blend the practices of the private and public sectors in ways that could foster leadership, improve execution and help Canada better achieve its goals.
Even with these issues (mostly) behind us, we will always engage the leadership in the U.S. Like any other relationship, you can’t take your partner for granted. You have to put in the work to make it last.
It certainly doesn’t hurt when influential members of government come to help make the case. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit in February 2018 was obviously the best example of what a high-profile visitor can do. His speech at the Reagan Library, the caliber of guests who joined us for a reception at the Official Residence, and the images of his morning hike with Mayor Eric Garcetti all reverberated in the press and further enhanced the value of his visit. Welcoming him on the tarmac at LAX is something I won’t soon forget.
Assisting Canadians in distress
For most Canadians, here and at home, the Consular Services team is who they think of when they think of what the consulate does. Whether you lose a passport, are the victim of a crime, or worse, our dedicated staff are ready to respond at a moment’s notice.
When Prime Minister Trudeau visited L.A., it made me proud to see him recognize our team for going above and beyond to meet the needs of our citizens in Las Vegas.
In preparing for a post like this, you cannot predict how exactly you will be required to assist your fellow Canadians living in the United States during a time of crisis, but my team and I were faced with the most serious of challenges in October 2016, when four Canadians were killed and others injured in the mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas. I flew to Vegas to join two of our team members who were already on the ground assisting Canadians in locating loved ones, visiting the injured in hospital and contacting morgues on behalf of families back home. It was a harrowing experience and one where our team needed to – and did – perform at their very best. When Prime Minister Trudeau visited L.A., it made me proud to see him recognize our team for going above and beyond to meet the needs of our citizens in Las Vegas.
Welcoming others to Canada
Most Americans do not require visas to travel to Canada, but many other foreign-born residents do. The Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) team here in L.A. processes an extraordinary number of visa applications across a range of programs that allow entry into Canada. The work is not easy, and the demand for visas is incredibly high, but the team continually meets their targets. Talk about going above and beyond: the head of our IRCC team and our Canada Border Services officer both spent the 2015 Christmas holidays in the Middle East, vetting and processing applicants for asylum from Syria, thus contributing directly to one of Canada’s finest achievements in our lifetimes.
I want to thank everyone for their support, teamwork and friendship. It has meant a lot.
And … goodbye!
I’ll wrap this up first with a big thank-you to my wife, Kim, who never failed to make people feel at home at the Official Residence through the hundreds of events we hosted there, and whose grace and composure make everything better. Grace and Andrew were good sports about having hundreds of strangers in their backyard throughout their high school years, too.
This is a large consulate, and it has been a pleasure to work with so many talented individuals in this office. There are too many to name individually, but I want to thank everyone for their support, teamwork and friendship. It has meant a lot.
And finally, to you, my friends, colleagues, and contacts in California, Arizona, Nevada and beyond: your support, partnership and commitment to your work inspired me to always aim higher for Canada in preserving the greatest relationship between any two countries in the world.
James Villeneuve is a Pacific Council member and former Consul General of Canada in Los Angeles.
This piece was originally sent to Villeneuve's colleagues by the Consulate General of Canada in Los Angeles.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.