Dawn breaks over downtown Montréal as seen from atop the city’s eponymous peak, Mount Royal. Photo by Isaac D. Pacheco
By Liz Ategou
Canada’s provinces are all distinct. Québec stands out for its history, language, and cultural traditions, while Canada’s second largest city, Montréal, is a business and innovation hub for the energy, tech, gaming, and aerospace sectors.
In 2021, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership as a result of their first bilateral engagement during the Biden Administration. This serves as the guiding framework for the bilateral engagement for the U.S. Mission in Canada under the leadership of U.S. Ambassador to Canada David L. Cohen. As the United States finds itself fully aligned with its Canadian partners in advancing shared strategic priorities and “building back better,” the U.S. Consulate General in Montréal works to promote Roadmap goals and to keep Ottawa and Washington apprised on key developments in this vibrant city and within this unique province.
Montréal’s Consul General Ana Escrogima often tells public audiences that “Québec’s priorities make the province ‘Exhibit A’ in implementing the Roadmap.”
Within Québec, Montréal is critical to harnessing trade partners, small business owners, clean energy and critical minerals industry leaders, as well as climate-conscious politicians to advance the Roadmap. These were some of the factors that led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to pay a visit to Montréal in addition to Ottawa during his bilateral visit to Canada in October 2022.
Montréal is also a cultural hub with world class museums, restaurants, and a thriving arts and music scene, while boasting four universities: two anglophone (McGill and Concordia) and two francophone (Université de Montréal and Université du Québec à Montréal), which exemplify Montréal’s bilingualism. Add in Montréal’s population diversity and annual festivals, and it becomes clear why the city is such an exciting place to work and live—there is ample opportunity for fulfilling professional experiences and countless entertainment, sports, music, and cultural options.
At ConGen Montréal, Escrogima leads a team of 27 U.S. direct hires, and 56 locally employed (LE) and eligible family member (EFM) staff representing eight agencies, as well as 58 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and staff who facilitate travel for more than 6,000 travelers daily from Montréal to the United States. Keeping land, air, and sea borders open to travelers and trade is a critical function of Mission Canada.
ConGen Montréal plays its part by running one of the world’s busiest CBP preclearance operations, while Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers collaborate with Canadian border and law enforcement officials on cross-border security issues. DHS also works closely with consular officers to maintain U.S. national security by vetting applicants’ travel, criminal, and immigration history and conducting investigations to determine eligibility for a U.S. visa.
Fulfilling one of the highest national priorities, Montréal’s consular officers play a key role in assisting the nearly 35,000 U.S. citizens who call Montréal and the surrounding areas home, as well as the approximately 250,000 U.S. tourists who visit annually. As part of the overall consular operations for Mission Canada, ConGen Montréal is the sole immigrant visa processing post in Canada.
Montréal is also home to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the UN, which hosts an independent U.S. mission. In 2022, when U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg led the U.S. delegation to ICAO’s triennial Assembly, ConGen Montréal was honored to work with one of its key LGBTQI+ partner organizations to facilitate Buttigieg’s acceptance of the prestigious Laurent McCutcheon award for advancing LGBTQI+ rights—making him the first American to receive the award.
Under Escrogima’s leadership and with strong support from Cohen, Montréal has been at the forefront of Mission Canada’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) efforts. ConGen Montréal has worked hard to build the consulate’s contacts and relationships to reflect the diversity of Montréal’s population. Each interaction with a new contact underlines the importance of their people-to-people connections in maintaining a bilateral relationship.
This is especially true as ConGen Montréal prioritizes Indigenous and diaspora outreach to gain important perspectives on a range of issues, including border issues related to Indigenous communities that straddle Québec and U.S. territories. Both Cohen and Escrogima have visited the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve in southern Québec, deepening Mission Canada’s dialogue with this community to hear its concerns on border issues and underscoring the importance of including Indigenous communities on decisions that affect their lands and people.
Expanding the consulate’s contacts within Montréal’s many immigrant and diaspora communities has deepened Montréal’s collective understanding of nuanced perspectives that often get lost in political rhetoric around immigration. Through consulate programs and VIP visits, ConGen Montréal has engaged with Haitian, Ukrainian, North African, Chinese, Syrian, and Latin Canadian communities. These discussions overwhelmingly reveal immigrant and first- and second-generation pride in being Canadian while still facing many integration challenges in a province that enforces linguistic and cultural assimilation that assures the primacy of a Francophone Québec culture.
ConGen Montréal’s contact development effort also has implications on U.S. foreign policy elsewhere in the world. For example, Montréal is home to one of North America’s largest Haitian diasporas and ConGen Montréal leads Mission Canada’s engagement with this community to inform and advise Washington stakeholders on U.S. policy and joint U.S.-Canada policy on Haiti. Similarly, ConGen Montréal plays a key support role when it comes to shaping U.S. Arctic policy in partnership with Canada, as many of the Indigenous, business, and policy stakeholders are represented by Montréal-based organizations.
ConGen Montréal’s requirement for DEIA precepts in Department of State Foreign Service officers’ annual evaluations process pre-dated the Department’s rollout in 2022. This has propelled ConGen Montréal’s DEIA efforts forward in several areas: contact development, improved recruiting and hiring processes, a motivated DEIA Council, and a series of internal programs aimed at facilitating employees’ awareness of DEIA in different spaces and providing communications tools to broach sensitive topics.
The consulate’s Regional Security Office team initiated a webinar series on DEIA in law enforcement, raising awareness about the challenges law enforcement faces in the DEIA space, and Montréal’s DEIA Council brings together U.S. direct hires, LE staff, and EFMs to offer regular meetings and programs aimed at operationalizing and elevating ConGen Montréal’s DEIA efforts. In October 2022, Montréal’s DEIA Council hosted Mission Canada’s inaugural DEIA workshop with participation from Department and bureau DEIA stakeholders.
One advantage to working in a consulate is the ability of a relatively small team to focus on a few key goals that make sense for the particular consular district. A good example of this is the way in which ConGen Montréal’s political-economic (PE) and public diplomacy (PD) sections, as well as the Foreign Commercial Service (FCS), all work on the Roadmap goal of accelerating climate ambitions.
PE focuses on building relationships with city and municipal officials as well as climate activism organizations and clean energy industry contacts to report a comprehensive view of climate policy in Québec and ensure the United States and Canada’s shared climate goals stay on track. This is also an interesting area where subnational diplomacy is taking on a larger role given Québec’s abundance of clean energy and critical minerals.
The Québec provincial government sends a sub-national delegation each year to the Conference of the Parties (COP) Climate Summit. The city of Montréal, led by a climate-conscious mayor, hosted the COP15 Biodiversity Conference in December 2022. The city was also recently announced as host of the International Sustainability Standards Board, an organization that sets sustainability disclosure standards for companies around the world. The PE team is the consulate’s focal point for these sub-national actions, and keeps Ottawa and Washington informed on key developments.
PD leverages speaker and exchange programs, alumni, and grants to reach out to communities often left out of climate policy decisions: young people of color and particularly girls and women, who—according to Québec’s labor minister—represented only 20% of all workers in STEM careers in 2022 . PD programming aims to empower diverse youth, women, and girls through exposure to role models in the climate space and by providing tools and educational and exchange opportunities to pursue STEM careers focused on climate change, including pursuing innovation in clean energy and artificial intelligence to find climate solutions.
Finally, FCS looks at the larger trade and investment picture when it comes to climate goals. FCS is developing the electrification supply chain in North America by cultivating the ecosystems for extraction, processing, and recycling of critical minerals used in electrical vehicle (EV) batteries. A great example of this is Lithion, an FCS startup client that is innovating new technologies to recycle EV battery materials. Lithion’s work aims to reduce the environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries while reducing pressure on resource extraction.
In addition to shared climate goals, Québec and the United States share the goals of energy security, a robust and secure energy grid, and a strong and resilient energy infrastructure. This is best achieved by partnering together, and Québec and New York are the perfect example of a partnership. New York state has been purchasing electricity from Hydro-Québec for more than 100 years. Construction on the new Hydro-Québec transmission line that will supply 20% of New York City’s energy broke ground in December 2022. This project ensures New York City’s power needs through clean, renewable energy and will prevent the emission of an estimated 3.9 million tons of greenhouse gasses annually.
ConGen Montréal has an outsized role in partnering for inclusive economic prosperity on both sides of the border, given Montréal’s status as a business hub. The United States is a massive market opportunity for Québec companies. Through large annual fora such as the SelectUSA Summit, FCS provides information on how Québécois can expand their business to the United States and learn best practices for investing in the U.S. Given that 96% of all businesses in Québec are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), outreach to these businesses is a priority for both embassy and consulate leadership, particularly minority, women, and Indigenous-owned SMEs.
ConGen Montréal has also had great success in leveraging Montréal’s foodie scene to collaborate with local chefs and restaurateurs on several culinary diplomacy programs. The consulate’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) has worked with PD to promote U.S. produce, wines, and spirits in Québec while simultaneously advancing the two countries’ shared goal of advancing diversity and inclusion. Through a combination of videos and social media featuring well-known chefs, as well as highly publicized receptions such as Juneteenth, ConGen Montréal promotes diverse U.S. and Québécois chefs and restaurant owners from underrepresented backgrounds, highlighting their contributions to Montréal’s global appeal as a cosmopolitan city.
This approach has also helped FAS score wins for U.S. products in a notoriously protectionist province. A notable example of FAS success is the partnership with the Québec liquor board, which has increased market entry for U.S. spirits and wines. As a result of this partnership, the Québec liquor board has expanded its portfolio of U.S. products and promoted U.S. wines and whiskey through educational marketing campaigns.
Culinary diplomacy also provides an additional platform for ConGen Montréal to reach out to SMEs. In February 2023, when FAS and PD collaborated on a program to bring U.S. chef Chris Williams and executives from U.S. distiller Uncle Nearest for a Black History Month reception featuring Black American food and spirits, the consulate held a separate engagement with SME’s owned by people of color in the food and beverage sector to share best practices in navigating entrepreneurship.
These culinary programs embody how the United States and Canada bring out the best in each other. As neighbors, partners, friends, and allies—the United States and Canada share a vision of peaceful and prosperous democracies that benefit people on both sides of the border. The shared diversity of communities on both sides of the border provide limitless opportunities for ConGen Montréal to advance this vision from its strategic perch in southeastern Canada.
Liz Ategou is the public diplomacy section chief at ConGen Montréal.