He doesn’t carry a full-fledged diplomatic passport but Christos Sirros is Quebec’s top diplomat in the United Kingdom.
As Agent-General at the Quebec Government Office in London, his job is to represent the interests of the French-speaking Canadian province not only in the UK but also Ireland, the Nordic countries and Iceland.
Canada’s federal model allows its provinces to set up quasi-diplomatic missions abroad and most provinces have offices abroad.
‘One step further’
But Quebec has one of the most developed diplomatic networks in the Confederation: with over two dozen offices in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as representatives at the International Organisation of La Francophonie and UNESCO.
“There are other provinces that have representation in other countries but theirs is more focussed or circumscribed, I should say, around the question of economy and commerce and trade, which is also at the heart of what we do,” Sirros said in interview from Quebec City. “But we have taken it one step further and it’s been like that for about 50 years now.”
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The veteran provincial politician and former Liberal cabinet minister turned diplomat said Quebec takes the approach that if something falls under the provincial jurisdiction at home, then it’s something the provincial government also has to look after on the international level.
“If we’re responsible for something here, it makes sense to promote it and defend it, and to see how it’s evolving on the international scene,” Sirros said. “So we have extended that not just to the economic sector but also to the cultural sector.”
Provincial representatives abroad promote Quebec artists and its unique culture, he said.
“It’s also an opportunity to have Quebec be better known via its cultural specificity,” Sirros said. “We also deal with public affairs. We try to, sort of, create opportunities and events that highlight who we are as a people here in North America and in Canada.”
Quebec has also taken an active role in politically promoting the role of federated states in the question of climate change, he said.
“We feel that if all governments work together, federal and provincial in this case – and Quebec is certainly a major component of the Canadian federation – then we can see better results hopefully,” Sirros said.
Quebec government offices abroad maintain very close contact with Canadian embassies and diplomatic missions in their respective countries, he said.
“Canada’s presence on the international scene offers us in many cases a platform from which we can project this specificity that I was talking about before, focus our efforts in attracting investments specifically to Quebec,” Sirros said.
To Brexit, or not to Brexit
Set up in 1961, Quebec’s London office is one of the oldest. But as Britain gets ready for a historic referendum on June 23 on whether to leave the European Union Sirros’s job is about to get a lot more interesting.
One question that immediately comes to mind is what will happen with the Canada-EU free trade agreement if Britain votes to leave the union, Sirros said.
“If the UK decides to leave the European Union, then it will be outside of the trade zone that was negotiated with the European Union,” Sirros said.
In the event of the so-called Brexit, the UK might have to rejig its relationship with the European Union and the EU trade deals with Canada, he said.
“It’s an interesting process to watch from the perspective of someone who’s gone through a couple of referendums over here,” Sirros said. “We know how divisive that can be. But I don’t sense the same kind of divisiveness, it doesn’t raise the same amount of passions the question (of Quebec separation from Canada) here had raised.”