From the Montreal Gazette:
Canada’s top ambassadors, once accused by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of spending too much time clinking glasses at cocktail parties, have seen their hospitality budgets slashed dramatically due to recent cost-cutting.
Government restraint resulted in a sharp decline in early 2010 in spending on meals and other social events for ambassadors in key capitals including Washington, Tokyo, Paris, Moscow, and Berlin, as well as at the European Union mission in Brussels and the United Nations mission in New York.
The reduced spending, which reflects restraint measures taken last year, has sparked criticism from one of several retired senior diplomats who have accused the Harper government recently of not respecting the importance of cultivating social relationships with key officials and politicians in foreign capitals.
Paul Heinbecker, former ambassador to the United Nations, said chaining diplomats to their desks means the huge cost of establishing and running embassies abroad is squandered.
In an opinion piece published this week in the Ottawa-based weekly newspaper Embassy, Heinbecker cited the work of Allan Gotlieb, the ambassador in Washington during the Canada-U.S. free trade negotiations.
Gotlieb and his wife Sondra were famous in the 1980s for their lavish parties that drew the biggest political names in Washington.
He quoted Gotlieb’s recent comment that an ambassador without an entertainment allowance is “a dead duck, frankly.”
Harper, while in opposition, signalled his mistrust of Canadian diplomats during a 2005 campaign speech when he said he would extend Canada’s fisheries jurisdiction off the East Coast even if it resulted in a diplomatic row.
“When a country’s national interests are at stake . . . we won’t hesitate to have diplomatic battles,” Harper said. “That’s what foreign services is for — not just to clink glasses at cocktail parties.”
The year after winning power in 2006 he told a meeting of journalists from Canada’s multicultural communities that Canadian diplomats often undermined the government’s foreign policy.
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