SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you so much, and greetings, Mission Canada. Bonjour, tout le monde. I am so pleased to be with you. Thank you to Charge d’Affaires Katherine Brucker for that very kind introduction, and especially for your leadership. And thanks also to Jennifer Tierney for her hard work as the primary control officer for this week’s visit. And let me emphasize: This is an experiment. This is the first virtual visit I think we’ve done, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I know that it puts a different kind of strain on the embassy team, especially all of our technical and technological officers. I was talking to the charge about what kind of wheels-up party you’re going to have after I leave, so I look forward to hearing about that.
But in all seriousness, I am disappointed we can’t be together in person. But testing this virtual travel with you is something I was looking forward to, and I very much look forward to being in Ottawa someday soon.
I was also reminded that the very first trip that I took as a State Department employee – in 1993 I was working in the front office of EUR as a special assistant. And in those days – this is how long I go back – Canada was in EUR. And the first trip I took accompanying the assistant secretary was to Ottawa, just around this time of the year. So I remember it very, very well.
But thanks to you we have a robust schedule for my first trip to Canada as Secretary. It includes meetings with leaders across the Canadian Government and a conversation with a group of young people from the program Students on Ice, which leads expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic to make sure future leaders understand the importance of the polar regions – something I’m sure everyone at Mission Canada already knows very well.
It’s no accident I’m traveling to Canada as part of my first virtual trip as Secretary. The relationship between our countries is one of the most important that we have. Ours is the most comprehensive bilateral trade relationship in the world, and of course before COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of people crossed back and forth across our shared border every single day. Our governments worked together on everything from national security to climate change, to the opioid crisis, to managing the Arctic region. It’s a vast, deep, immensely important diplomatic relationship, and it’s thanks to you.
Whether you’re a direct hire, locally employed staff, a family member, whether you work for the State Department or for one of the many other U.S. Government agencies represented here – from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Defense, to the commercial service – I am deeply grateful for everything you do every day.
And I’ve got to mention one person in particular who has served the U.S. Embassy in Canada for 32 years as a locally employed staff member, most recently at the Financial Management Center in Ottawa, and whose well-deserved retirement begins tomorrow: Debbie Cowell. Debbie, I’m honored to be part of your last day, but thank you for every day you’ve dedicated to serving this mission.
Even in a less eventful era, the work you all do was often difficult. But I know that during COVID-19, during this pandemic, it’s become so much harder. I know the border crossing restrictions were painful, especially for those with families on the U.S. side. Some of you have gotten sick. You’ve had loved ones get sick. It’s been a difficult and even devastating time for so many families.
I want you to know that stopping this pandemic is our number-one priority. Nothing matters more to me than your health and safety. So we’re going to make sure that all our Mission Canada employees and eligible family members are vaccinated as soon as possible in every consulate across the country. It’s no secret there have been logistical challenges. But the administration is working fast. We’re going to get you as much information as we can as quickly as we can, and make sure that our vaccination plans are known, and that we’re executing on them. And we need to partner in this every step of the way.
I know you’ve been working hard to keep a lot of essential work going throughout the pandemic. You’ve worked with your Canadian partners to maintain critical supply chains. You’ve kept the border open to essential travel. You’ve made sure critical law enforcement and security operations have continued. Whether you know it or not, and whether they know it or not, all of your work has made a difference to the lives of Americans during an incredible, difficult time.
So my message today is really simple. It’s to say thank you. Thank you for all you’re doing every single day to keep the ties between our countries strong, and to help grow them even stronger. And I have to tell you it is the honor of my lifetime to be your Secretary.
In my first remarks as Secretary, I said that we have work to do as a department to rebuild trust and morale. We’ve got to do a better job of listening to the people of the State Department when formulating policy. We’ve got to invest in diversity and inclusion. We’ve got to build a workplace culture of collegiality, teamwork, and respect. And I want to be clear: That doesn’t just apply to the people at Main State. It applies to you and all your colleagues in embassies and consulates around the world. We are all part of this community, and I’m deeply committed to doing everything I can to support you, your work, and your families.
So thank you again for helping make my first virtual trip to Canada a success, and thank you, thank you for your service to the United States.