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Abmbassador Wilkins has his eye on Canada but his heart is in South Carolina

November 19, 2007 was given the opportunity to shadow the U.S. States Ambassador to Canada for three days. We were with him twenty four hours a day we even stayed at his personal residence in Ottawa. No reporter/interviewer has been granted such total and unfettered access to the Ambassador.

After arriving in Ottawa I was driven to the Ambassador’s residence “Lornado” – named after a favorite novel of the original owner. It is a ten acre estate that is perched atop the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers and offers remarkable views of the Gatineau Hills in Quebec. It has 32 rooms and I was assigned a room on the third floor overlooking the river. The residence is located in one of the most beautiful parts of Canada and many ambassadors have residences in this area including the Holy See! (The Pope)

The residence is not cold but full of life everywhere you look. There are many pictures everywhere of the Wilkins’ family, President Bush and the Ambassador, and of South Carolina. Another reason it is so inviting is the Wilkins’ two dogs Speaker and Lilly running around and sniffing which make it seem like a true home that you can live in.

Next is lunch at the residence and as you can imagine it is no ordinary thing. This day it is lunch with Minister Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defense (our equivalent of Secretary Robert Gates) who is here for special meetings with an advisor to Dr. Rice from the U.S. State Department and other military personnel at the US Embassy – all total I think it is about 15 people. They are going to discuss Canada’s role in Afghanistan. The Ambassador introduces me to all of these people and I am like a deer in the headlights talking to these high ranking government officials.

Minister Peter McKay recounts a recent time when he visited Afghanistan and his convoy was fired upon and how he escaped with the help of a black hawk helicopter. All I can do is listen and marvel at where I am and with whom I am speaking.

The Ambassador has lunch with his guests and I have lunch with Mrs. Wilkins on the sun porch.

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We have a wonderful time talking about many things but Mrs. Wilkins is quick to point out that she is an avid gardener and how when they first arrived in Canada they took a trip to the market, bought some flowers and planted them in the front yard.

We have to rush off to Parliament hill for Question Time. This is where the opposition party gets to ask questions of the Prime Minister for 45 minutes. Imagine if everyday Congress is in session President Bush and his entire cabinet had to take questions from Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. As you can imagine it is not a calm affair. There are cheers and howls on every question and most of the response are insults hurled back at the person who asked the question. It is grand political theater at its best.

After Question Time the Ambassador has a meeting with Minister Jay Hill, Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip they talk a bit about the Canadian American days (CANAM) in Myrtle Beach which are scheduled for mid March and the Ambassador invites him to Myrtle Beach to participate in it. They also talk about funding for a plaque on the Alaskan highway. American GI’s participated in building this highway during WW II and a number of them lost their lives. Mile “0” of the highway starts in British Columbia and the Ambassador is planning to travel there in May where a ceremony is slated to be held to in honor of the American soldiers who helped build the highway.

We leave with the Ambassador back to the Embassy. This is my first time riding in the car with him. The US Ambassador has protection from the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP) and his car has bulletproof glass and many other security measures that we cannot discuss. The Ambassador cannot leave his residence without the RCMP. He can go anywhere in his residence but if he leaves the gates of his residence he will need the RCMP. Just as a side note here there are only three Ambassadors in Canada that have protection of the RCMP.

Then I got my first glimpse of the US Embassy in Ottawa. It is cold and sterile on the inside and the only thing you notice beside the hallways and the stone on the inside are several quotes on the fourth floor.

Here is one quote that is by John F. Kennedy about Canada.quoteembassy.jpgOn the executive level of the Embassy there are a couple of interesting facts. I had to turn off my cell phone and leave it down the hall from the Ambassadors office. State Department rules prohibit any electronic equipment – radios, blackberries, even televisions near high-security offices because they can be compromised and turned into eavesdropping devices.

Ambassador Wilkins’ office has all the flavor of South Carolina and Canada. There is a clock with the South Carolina state seal on one wall and a map of Canada on another wall. Looking out his window you can see Parliament Hill but if you look on that same wall you will see a picture of the South Carolina Statehouse. There is no doubt he keeps his eyes on Canada but his heart is in South Carolina.

The Ambassador has an interview with nationally syndicated columnist Deirdre McMurdy talking about the copyright laws in Canada. Canada has the weakest copyright laws of the G-7. Just recently it passed an anti-camcorder act in parliament but has yet to act on strengthening the full copyright laws. Needless to say, the US and other nations would like Canada to change its laws and this is one area Ambassador Wilkins is working on. You can see the whole article here. Copyright act key to Canada’s industrial strategy.

Around 4:30 PM the Ambassador tells me he forgot to tell me but I will need to leave the office because he will be receiving a classified briefing from a top level law enforcement agent on world affairs. Soon a woman comes to his office holding about 8″ of paper with a folder marked TOP SECRET. I wait outside in the hall while he receives his briefing.

The time arrives for us to go back to the residence and freshen up before the reception of the night. This night it is to benefit the U.S.-Canadian Forum on Mental Health. There are about 160 people in attendance and the Ambassador has agreed to open his house and show some Southern Hospitality. He makes a speech about the house and then talks about the friendship the United States has with Canada. After they all leave we sat down to eat the leftover hors d’oeuvres but before we do he asks his wife to say a blessing for the food. He tells me this is a just a typical day that starts early in the morning and keeps on going into the evening.

“We host one or two of these events a week like this,” he says, while eating some of the leftover shrimp. After we are finished he helps gather up the plates to take them into the kitchen. He then asks the staff to have breakfast ready at 7:15. He looks at me and says we need to leave by 7:40 for the radio station where he is being interviewed tomorrow. So ends our first day in the life of the Ambassador.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Fred Jack permalink
    November 19, 2007 3:40 AM

    A lot of us here in Canada view the United States actions up here as a resource grab and the future will prove us right… it has nothing to do with being friends and everything to do with the U.S. spending itself into bankruptcy militarily…

  2. November 19, 2007 5:34 PM

    Update: Globe and Mail Article – “Suspicious package spotted at U.S. embassy”

    Suspicious package spotted at U.S. embassy The Canadian Press

    November 19, 2007

    Ottawa — A suspicious package found at the U.S. embassy on Sussex Drive snarled traffic in Ottawa yesterday.

    Police set up a 30-metre perimeter around the building after receiving a call from embassy personnel.

    Bomb disposal crews later determined there was no threat of explosives, and RCMP say an investigation is under way.

    No description of the package was released.


  1. Abmbassador Wilkins unplugged » The Palmetto Scoop

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