"Learning about Cuba, having some food." -- Jeff Spicoli
The United States and Cuba wanted to get together and talk about normalizing relations. But the leaders of the countries were concerned about meeting in each other's country. So they needed a secret tree clubhouse where they could comfortably meet without people finding out.
So they picked Canada.
Canada hosted about seven secret meetings from June 2013 and November 2014 in Ottawa (6) and Toronto (1).
"Canada was pleased to host the senior officials from the United States and Cuba, which permitted them the discretion required to carry out these important talks," Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper played down Canada’s contribution, pointing out in an interview that Canada did not mediate or direct the talks. Given the buildup to Canada's federal election in 2015, rare these days to hear the prime minister be so humble.
We learned about the secret meetings when U.S. President Barack Obama announced that his country would normalize relations with Cuba.
"I think it's very clear that the Liberal Party and Canadians in general have had very positive friendships with both the United States and with Cuba, and to see the welcome steps of building ties between the two countries appear today is a very good piece of news," Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau said in Vancouver. "I look forward to Canada playing a positive role in bringing together those two countries."
“Today is a great day for those who believe in engagement as the most effective tool of diplomacy. We should see more of this constructive approach in Canadian foreign policy,” NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said.
Canada was one of only 2 countries from the hemisphere not to break diplomatic relations with Cuba. The trade and travel advantage that Canada had in the hemisphere is about to disappear.
Travel restrictions will be lifted to travel to Cuba from the United States.
Licensed American travelers to Cuba can bring back up to $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol under $100. As for importing Cuban cigars, we still need to learn more information. Short term, Canada will be a great source for Cuban cigars. Why fly to Havana when you pick up some cigars in Toronto.
Again, we'll have more when those rules are more clear about Cuban cigars. The economic embargo is under the lid of Congress. Given that the GOP controls both houses, the embargo will likely stay until at least 2017.
Canada has had a traditional role of peacemaker, a country that could be trusted to solve world problems in a low-key manner. This is a great example of where Canada has been, which is why you saw the NDP and Liberals as pleased if not more than Stephen Harper.
This act of diplomacy should be a talking point in next year's debates leading up to the 2015 federal election. This should be an example of where Canada should be on the world stage.
Glad to see Canada play a role in a significant diplomatic mission in the Western Hemisphere. The impact on Canada, United States, and Cuba will be a delicate path that we will see unwind in the months to come.