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Reflections on the New Abnormal – Khawar Nasim, Acting Consul General of Canada in New York

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May 18, 2020

Khawar Nasim, Acting Consul General of Canada in New York (right) with New York Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul.

The arrival of COVID-19, which saw New York emerge as the international epicenter of the pandemic, was an acute shock to the city that never sleeps.

New York City’s unique charm is in everything that was crippled by this crisis— the density, the hustle, the human connections. The outbreak brought a sudden end to all of that. Economic activity ground to a near-halt practically overnight. At the Consulate General, our operations were quickly disrupted. One of our largest events of the year, the annual Women in Business Conference, was cancelled at the eleventh hour, a few days before Broadway went dark and New York public schools shuttered.

The crisis had a destabilizing impact on all of us, including me and my family. As a diabetic, and as the crisis in New York City intensified, I returned to Canada from where I continue to telework.

In adapting to this new abnormal, I quickly recognized the contradictory nature of “virtual diplomacy.” At a time where global cooperation is needed more than ever, the pandemic has upended the core diplomatic conventions— the handshakes, the face-to-face meetings, the private dinners and the personal touch that has always been so fundamental to our work.

I consider myself fortunate to work on the Canada-US relationship, which is defined by such deep connections and powerful, multi-layered historic, social and economic ties. Building on the extensive and personal relations we have built over the past three years, particularly in our campaign to maintain and strengthen NAFTA (or USMCA, as it will officially become on July 1st), it has been relatively easy to call on an extensive array of political and business leaders to discuss how we navigate the stubborn realities of this pandemic together, but also how we grow back stronger once it subsides.

Even during this time of isolation, our shared border has remained open to commerce, preserving the vast network of supply chains that has been around for centuries, and ensuring that families and communities in both countries benefit from a predictable supply of food and consumer goods. The flow of medical personnel and other essential workers has also continued uninterrupted. It has been amazing to hear the stories of Canadian nurses and doctors working on the frontlines in American hospitals along the border—they are a great demonstration of the profound friendship between our countries.

And thanks to the wonders of technology, my days are arguably even more productive now that all these meetings can take place without having to travel anywhere. Although I really miss the road trips with my team all across our territory.

As challenging as this crisis has been, I am encouraged by my engagement with our U.S. partners, and the unanimous refrain I hear on the importance of preserving and expanding the most important bilateral relationship in the world.

I am also encouraged by the worldwide solidarity and humanity we have seen— from Wuhan, to Milan, to Manhattan. With the impact of this pandemic tragically being felt in every corner the world, my hope is that it can have a galvanizing effect, and reinforce the role of international collaboration. And while it may look very different when we emerge from isolation, diplomacy will be more important than ever.

Khawar Nasim
Acting Consul General of Canada in New York

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