New con­sulate marks city’s ties to Le­banon

Im­mi­grants love Canada as much as the old coun­try, writes Elie Ghan­imé.

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - Elie Ghan­imé is the hon­orary con­sul of Le­banon for Cal­gary and south­ern Al­berta.

This week marks a sig­nif­i­cant turn in the his­tory of Cana­dian and Le­banese re­la­tions: The of­fi­cial open­ing of Le­banon’s first hon­orary con­sulate to serve the south­ern Al­berta re­gion.

We launch with a cel­e­bra­tion on Le­banese In­de­pen­dence Day, Nov. 22, which this year is the 75th an­niver­sary of sovereignty from France in 1943.

The ex­pan­sion of con­sular ser­vices into south­ern Al­berta helps in­crease op­por­tu­ni­ties for more trade, cul­tural ex­changes and tourism be­tween our beloved coun­tries.

The new con­sulate is also the re­sult of sev­eral years of hard ef­forts and lob­by­ing by my­self and other mem­bers of the Le­banese di­as­pora, who have pro­moted Cal­gary as a ma­jor Cana­dian city with ex­ten­sive in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and cul­tural ex­po­sure.

The in­crease in Le­banese rep­re­sen­ta­tion re­flects strong ties be­tween the two coun­tries. The first Le­banese im­mi­grant ar­rived in Canada in 1882 and to­day, there are some 350,000 Cana­di­ans who are of Le­banese de­scent. About 50,000 live in Cal­gary and south­ern Al­berta.

Canada is often re­ferred to in Le­banon as the favourite des­ti­na­tion for young, bright grad­u­ates in search of suc­cess, sta­bil­ity and for­tune. Main­tain­ing strong ties with Le­banese peo­ple, wher­ever they are around the world, has helped Le­banon re­main strong and in­de­pen­dent, amid po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity. It’s re­sulted in an en­dur­ing love for the mother coun­try that lives on in the chil­dren of Le­banese im­mi­grants, their chil­dren and their chil­dren. There are gen­er­a­tions of Cana­di­ans of Le­banese de­scent con­tribut­ing to ev­ery thread of the fab­ric of Cana­dian life. But as much as they have a love for old coun­try, their love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Canada is just as strong.

As I have seen over the years that I have spent in Canada, and in par­tic­u­lar Cal­gary, my Le­banese friends have con­trib­uted to ev­ery as­pect of Cana­dian life, gain­ing promi­nence and re­spected po­si­tions wher­ever they live, and have en­cour­aged the gen­er­a­tions that fol­lowed to con­tinue to love both Le­banon and Canada for wel­com­ing them with open arms.

This re­minds me of a story of a young Le­banese busi­ness­man re­turn­ing to Canada. When pre­sent­ing his Cana­dian pass­port at the bor­der, the of­fi­cer com­mented: “You are a Le­banese who is now liv­ing in Canada, right?” The young man an­swered “Yes,” with pride. So, the of­fi­cer con­tin­ued, ask­ing: “Then which do you love more, Canada or Le­banon?”

The young man an­swered quickly: “Sir, this is not a ques­tion you can an­swer eas­ily and lightly. It is like ask­ing some­one who would he love more, his mother or his wife? Le­banon is like my mother. I was born with her and did not choose her. I love her un­con­di­tion­ally and will al­ways re­turn to her for love and safety. While Canada is like my wife: I chose to be with her, I love her and re­spect her and I part­ner with her to raise a fam­ily and be suc­cess­ful in ev­ery­thing I do,” an­swered the young man.

Both loves can­not be taken lightly or treated as one bet­ter or less than the other.

Last year, for the first time, Cana­di­ans of Le­banese de­scent — even those whose fam­i­lies came here more than a hun­dred years ago — were al­lowed and en­cour- aged to vote in the Le­banese elec­tions. They just had to reg­is­ter in ad­vance with the gov­ern­ment. An hon­orary con­sulate in Cal­gary now makes this process eas­ier.

Some claim that Le­banon has not ac­tu­ally taken in­de­pen­dence, due to the con­tin­ued po­lit­i­cal un­rest and in­ter­fer­ence by var­i­ous coun­tries in a pre­car­i­ous bal­ance of pow­ers in the re­gion. I ar­gue this is sim­ply un­true. The Le­banese peo­ple have demon­strated that they are lovers of life, progress and in­de­pen­dence. They strug­gle and fall, but they never give up. They are the ul­ti­mate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of courage and pos­i­tive think­ing.

This week’s Plat­inum Ju­bilee is proof that our Le­banese fore­fa­thers got it right. The Le­banese gov­ern­ment’s con­tin­ued open pol­icy of forg­ing close ties with the French gov­ern­ment, and many other coun­tries in­clud­ing Canada, has helped se­cure its po­si­tion as a strong and in­de­pen­dent coun­try.

It is my hope that all Cal­gar­i­ans and in­deed Al­ber­tans and Cana­di­ans, ex­pe­ri­ence Le­banon for them­selves and add it to their bucket list of must-see tourist des­ti­na­tions.

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