Evidence of meeting #29 for Canadian Heritage in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was national.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Margaret Huber  Chief of Protocol of Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  • Calvin Christiansen  Director General, Border Operations Centre and Major Events Directorate, Operations Branch, Canada Border Services Agency
  • Charles Reeves  Associate Chief of Protocol and Director, Official Events Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  • Doug Goodings  Executive Coordinator of Certification and Accreditation, Ontario Fire College, Office of the Fire Marshal of Ontario
  • Stewart Kellock  Chair, Canadian Police Ceremonial Units Association
  • Robert Kirkpatrick  President, Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation
  • John Sobey  Director, Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation
  • Glen Gillies  Honour Guard Member, Toronto Emergency Medical Services Honour Guard, National Alliance of Canadian Emergency Medical Services Honour Guards

11:35 a.m.

Chief of Protocol of Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Margaret Huber

That's a very interesting question. Thank you.

The way you phrase it, “set in stone”, is something that we, operating on the protocol side, on the visits, on the logistics side.... Setting in stone is not something that would come naturally, because we are governed by very fluid environments in which we must operate.

The focus is much more on the end result, which is delivering a first-class visit or event that meets objectives. The nimbleness that is required means that, yes, you do rely on standards of treatment, you do rely on past history for what is expected or appropriate for a visit or an event, but you also look for opportunities to bring innovation, to bring a bit of a fresh approach, obviously in consultation and in accordance with the wishes of those concerned.

Setting in stone would not be something we would gravitate towards. But we certainly would like our partners to have the comfort of knowing that our approach consistently will be to deliver first-class visits or events and to avoid surprises in the sense of undesirable outcomes, or the 0.1% that you were referring to.

I might add that we're aided in this as well by tools such as orders of precedence, such as records, much of which, by the way, may be found either on our website or on the websites of partners, such as the Department of Canadian Heritage.

It's not that we're making it up as we go along; on the contrary, but we do like to reserve the ability to be flexible to respond to changing circumstances, changing needs.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Thank you.

I want to get to the idea of reflecting who we are as a country in the various events and procedures that your office is involved in. I would like you to comment generally about how that's done. In other words, the sense I have, that we have, is that Canada is a country with some rich traditions, but also we're a country that evolves over time. I wonder how you manage that.

11:35 a.m.

Chief of Protocol of Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Margaret Huber

We do indeed, and although it wasn't covered earlier, among the responsibilities we have, for example, is working with Rideau Hall on the presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors—it's a good illustration of the point you raise—in which we aim for a mix of tradition, of pageantry, but also of Canadian warmth and some informal touches as well.

The ceremonies have over the years been modernized. For example, we no longer bring heads of mission to Rideau Hall in horse-drawn carriages. They no longer wear tails or even, in the morning, long ball gowns in the case of the ladies.

By the way, I was interested when a colleague who had recently presented his credentials in Europe sent photos demonstrating that there they still do it. I think it's great that they do, but I'm very proud of the way we also mix some Canadian informality—something that also shows who we are.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Cash.

Mr. Simms.

May 8th, 2012 / 11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Thank you, Chair, and thank you to our guests.

You talk about, as I guess was discussed earlier, the pitfalls of doing your job. They can be many and very subtle, and certainly I would have a hard time with that part of the job—finding out the subtleties of making a faux pas.

When the Prime Minister or the Governor General is tasked to go to another country, to what extent do you become involved in discussing what we cannot do, what we can do? Are you involved in that process in any way—obviously, from a ceremonial point of view?

11:40 a.m.

Chief of Protocol of Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Margaret Huber

We make sure that briefings are available. For example, on visits by His Excellency the Governor General to various parts of the world—his trips to Asia most recently, to Brazil and the Caribbean—we make sure that he is aware of any possible local sensitivities. But since he's a very well-travelled gentleman, there's not much you need to instruct him on.

But yes, we do, and not just for the principals on such a delegation, but because there are other members of the official delegation or the accompanying delegation, we do provide that kind of advice.

We also provide advice, when requested by those who contact us—say from a municipal or a provincial level of government—asking for particular advice. When we don't know, we find out, in consultation with others who would have more up-to-date or more detailed information.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

That's another part of my questioning. I had this line of questioning at the last meeting. It seems to me that on international visits, when I listen to Canadian ambassadors or ambassadors from other nations, they talk about visits from the premiers. They're not heads of state, but it's almost as if they talk of them as such. We've had several in Newfoundland. We've had Iceland and Norway sign memorandums of understanding.

Maybe you could comment on this as well. We had an incident a while ago—I won't call it comical, but it was a real eye-opener—in which the former leader of Libya was leaving New York and heading back home. He decided he wanted to stop in Newfoundland. He didn't. Obviously, Mr. Cannon put short work to that.

What happens when these dignitaries come over and stop in a place such as Gander? They're not there for an official visit; they're just there to stretch their legs. What happens then? Do you go into...? I don't know what you do.

11:40 a.m.

Chief of Protocol of Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Margaret Huber

I was not chief of protocol at the time, but I'm sure that the then chief of protocol consulted with the provincial authorities and various others about that visit, which as you know did not take place.

Are you from Newfoundland, may I ask, Mr. Simms?

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Yes.

11:45 a.m.

Chief of Protocol of Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Margaret Huber

May I take this opportunity to thank Newfoundland, because just 10 days ago there was an economic mission of nearly 50 ambassadors based in Canada who visited Newfoundland for an economic mission and were wonderfully received. It's part of our outreach program. Thank you very much.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

I'll pass it on to...the provincial government was probably....

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

[Inaudible—Editor]

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

What's that? That's why we call them progressive.

11:45 a.m.

Chief of Protocol of Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Margaret Huber

As I mentioned earlier, our office works very closely with our provincial and territorial colleagues across Canada. We make a point of getting together once a year to compare notes on best practices, new approaches—for example, the use of iPads rather than large briefing books—what works, what doesn't. It's very useful, and it makes it that much easier to pick up the phone when you need help or when you want to offer help.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Would you say that the partnerships, the relationships, with the provinces have strengthened in recent years because of their...? It seems to me they're reaching out more internationally. That's why I ask.