SEEN UP NORTH: Widening the Canadian link
A distinct Bajan accent resonated in his voice as Haynesley Benn reflected on what he has done since assuming duties in Toronto as Barbados’ Consul General. Benn, a product of St Peter who served as Minister of Agriculture in the David Thompson cabinet, assumed duties last year in Canada’s financial and multi-cultural capital where one of the largest communities of Bajans in North America exists.
And in keeping with the provision of the 1963 Vienna Convention on “consular relations,” which regulates how diplomatic officers function around the world, Benn is seeking to protect the interests of his birthplace and its nationals, whether individuals or “bodies corporate” within the limits of international law.
“A priority for me is building on the already good relationship that has always existed between Canada and Barbados and on what other consuls-general have done in the past,” he said, during an interview with the Sunday Sun recently.
“I am also seeking to increase the number of people who continue to see Barbados as a place in which to invest their money and to visit in large number. I am doing that in association with Invest Barbados and the Barbados Tourism Authority which are part of a team within the Consulate-General.”
Stated simply, his priorities include the economic and social welfare interests of Barbados in Toronto, a place where upwards of 5 000 Bajans live, work or study.
“One of my priorities is to expand on what we used to call the farm labour scheme. Actually, it has gone beyond the farm labour and we now have Barbadians coming to work in Canada in the services sectors and it is not simply a matter of working in Ontario [the province which includes Toronto],” he said.
“We have Barbadians who have been recruited to work in hotels in Edmonton and also in the fast food sector. I have been to the (Toronto) airport several times since coming here in order to welcome Barbadians who were recruited for employment in Canada.
“I went to a number of farms between September and November last year before the very cold weather set in and I met with employers and many of them expressed a preference for Barbadian workers. They are hard-working, respectful and loyal to the work. Actually, some Barbadians have been working on farms for between 15 to 20 years.
“In addition, Barbadians are also working in abbatoirs and in an official supply chain of stores.”
That special effort fits into the provisions of Article 5 of the Vienna Convention which states consular officials are entitled to further “the development of commercial, economic, cultural and scientific relations” between their own country and the nation to which they are assigned.
With Barbados going through what is perhaps its worst economic crisis in 20 years, thousands of people losing their jobs, University of the West Indies students being asked to pay 20 per cent of the economic costs of attending the region’s premiere tertiary level institution; servicing a mountain of debt; and reducing a wide fiscal deficit, Benn seemed focused on broadening the role of the Consulate beyond issuing passport and travel documents to nationals, a traditional function of the diplomatic mission.
“We are reaching out to different areas,” he added.
Admittedly, that’s not entirely new. In fact, for the past two decades, the Consulates-General in Miami, New York and Toronto embraced the concept of the “country-team,” also comprising officials of the Barbados Tourist Authority and Invest Barbados.
They linked arms to boost travel to the country, attract investment, promote the country as a tourism destination and a domicile for foreign investors interested in the offshore financial service area; and recruit workers for hotels, the hospitality industry and other areas.
“We work with the BTA and Invest Barbados as a team,” Benn said.
“At the same time we are boosting relationships with Barbadian organisations in Toronto trying to reach young people of Barbadian descent who came to Canada as youngsters or who were born here, encouraging them to become more involved in the Barbadian community or in Barbados itself.
“We have been doing some work, much work relating to Barbadians in the diaspora,” he said.
“We are referring to Barbadians who have lived in Canada for years and have maintained their contact with the country.
“ . . . Many of them are still committed to development of Barbados and they continue to raise funds for many causes, particularly the schools they attended. I have been working with them, attending their functions since I came here.”