“For the vast amount of people in Northern Ireland with relatives in North America, Canada is quite often seen as a second home,” Ken Brundle remarks as he reviews the links between the province and the world’s second largest country.
Despite their vastly different sizes, Canada and Northern Ireland have close relations developed through centuries of migration and two decades of investment by Bombardier, for whom Brundle is Vice-Chairman in Belfast.
Around 2.5 million Canadians, out of a population of 33 million, claim some ancestral link to Northern Ireland.
Originally from the East of England, he joined Shorts in 1973 and worked in IT, operational research and project management. Shorts was acquired by Bombardier in 1989 and he was appointed Vice President and General Manager in Belfast in 1996.
Between 2000 and 2004, he was based in Montréal as Executive Vice President (Operations) and “thoroughly enjoyed” his time there.
The role involved overseeing a 26,000-strong work force and a $6.5 billion budget with the help of “very supportive” Canadian colleagues. “I promised my wife four years there and, at the end of four years, we came back,” he adds.
An honorary consul must be either a Canadian citizen or have “significant links” with the country. The post is re-appointed by Order-in-Council every two years and most honorary consuls serve several terms. He cannot “park in places he shouldn’t park” but has some limited diplomatic privileges e.g. access to Canadian citizens and secure communication with the Canadian Government.
The consul’s primary role is support Canadian citizens in Northern Ireland.
“I had a guess that there maybe was about 60 Canadians in Northern Ireland,” he quips. “It turns out there are nearly a thousand people who are resident in Northern Ireland and then visiting businessmen who come in and out.”
Brundle acts as the “first point of contact and the person on the ground” in an emergency. Canada takes its consular responsibility for citizens “very, very seriously” and it’s important to act quickly as it will take time for Canadian High Commission staff to travel from London to Belfast.
2013 also brings two major events in Northern Ireland, in which Canada will be involved.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is due to attend the G8 summit at Lough Erne on 17-18 June and Brundle has been advising the High Commission on transport and logistics. A “fairly significant team” from the Canadian Government will accompany Harper.
The World Police and Fire Games will then take place on 1-10 August. The last two games, in Vancouver and New York, attracted 10,000 Canadian visitors and he expects that several thousand will make their way to Belfast.
“There has always been a significant amount of travel between Northern Ireland and Canada,” he continues. Much of this has been family-related but Canada also sees the province as “an opportunity for trading relationships.”
Brundle would like to use his time to improve trade and transport links between the two countries. Direct flights in the summer between Belfast and Toronto were discontinued in 2009 and the nearest service now runs through Dublin.
“I actually think it’s a missed opportunity for the Canadian airlines because they could get a lot of transportation and onwards transportation from people from Northern Ireland,” he adds.
Invest NI estimates that between 2003 and 2012, Canadian investment in Northern Ireland totalled £1.14 billion and created 2,269 jobs.
“Now that we have a more active local administration, I think that developing good relationships with the Stormont ministers is essential,” he comments. He knows several ministers from his other commitments, including Chairman of the mental health charity Praxis.
“As soon as my details went on to the website, immediately I started to get emails from Canadian citizens in Northern Ireland,” he adds. Most queries to date have been on immigration issues.
“It is an incredibly beautiful country,” he says of Canada, adding that it is “very diverse in its nature” due to its size. He finds its people honest, open and friendly. Many are drawn from other nations.
Referring to one Vancouver company, Brundle comments: “The senior manager’s Sikh. None of them were born in Canada. They are from Colombia, Morocco, Belgium, Lebanon. They all are very proud Canadians and they have moved to Canada to build a better life for themselves, and they work incredibly hard for themselves and their families to make a successful new life.”
Canada has “all the attributes of a country that wants to grow” but its low temperatures, naturally, also stand out: “I was in Ottawa three weeks ago and it was minus 40 [oC], and that is cold.”
From his experience in Bombardier, he has found that “Belfast people and Montréal people get on so well together” as they value family, hard work, getting the job done and having a sense of responsibility. Many “very close friendships” have been built between the two sites and that, in itself, is an example of this strong relationship across the North Atlantic.
Canada House move
The Canadian High Commission is currently split between two buildings in London but is moving to one location: Canada House on Trafalgar Square. The timescale is not yet finalised but work is due to start this year. The high commission will also expand by purchasing the adjacent building, which served as the Canadian Army’s overseas HQ during the Second World War. In the meantime, economic and immigration queries will still be handled at Macdonald House on Grosvenor Square.