Dr. Sarah Taylor hit the ground running after she was officially named Canada’s Ambassador to the Kingdoms of Thailand and Cambodia, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. In the first few weeks she was here she hosted the annual Canadian BBQ at her official residence, was a speaker at CanCham Thailand’s Women in Leadership conference, and was a panelist at the FCCT’s seminar on the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). And we get the feeling, she’s just getting started.

Dr. Taylor brings with her over three decades of experience dealing with Asia, including diplomatic assignments in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Jakarta. She also served as Deputy Head of Mission in China from 2011 to 2015.

The ambassador succeeded Donica Pottie, so after never having a woman as head of mission in Thailand the Canadian embassy in Bangkok now has had two in a row.climbing up the ranks.

Ed Ambassador Taylor addressing the WiL conference

Dr. Taylor was born in Ottawa, which is actually rare for a member of Canada’s Foreign Service. Her father was in the foreign service, so she grew up moving around the world every three years or so. Half her childhood was in Ottawa; the other half, in various countries around the world. Her father, James, nicknamed “Si” was also an ambassador and his last post before he retired was as Canada’s ambassador to Japan. He also served as Ambassador to NATO; Director-General of European Affairs and Undersecretary of State for External Affairs and was the Chancellor of McMaster University.

Dr. Taylor says being the child of a diplomat affects you to one extreme or the other: either it gets in your blood and you want to travel the world or you say “that’s it, I have done enough moving, I am staying in one place.” This is even reflected in her own family where a sister is also in the foreign service, while the other three siblings have stayed home in Canada.

In university, Ambassador Taylor became interested in archaeology, anthropology, and East Asian studies. When she was at university, there was a big re-opening to China in the aftermath of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution as the universities were re-established and China sent a large exhibition of archeological finds to Canada and other countries.

So along with archaeology, the ambassador decided to study Mandarin at the University of Toronto for her undergraduate degree. After graduation, she went on an exchange program to Beijing University, which was an eye-opener for her. She continued with her graduate studies at Cambridge University in the UK, starting with an M. Phil. and then earning a doctorate in East Asian archaeology.

Her initial interest was China, but as it was difficult to do fieldwork in China at the time, she gravitated to do work on Japan and Korea. When she came close to finishing her doctorate, she started questioning whether she wanted a career as an academic and the academic job market was quite difficult as well. So, she sat the Foreign Service exam in 1990, and the rest is history.

Ed The ambassador hosting a meeting with CanCham Thailand

When the ambassador first joined the Foreign Service she spent a year in Ottawa on three short assignments. The first was on women’s rights in the bureau of human rights (that was when the UN and international organizations were starting to get more active on women’s rights in a global context leading up to the big Beijing Conference on Women in 1995. Before that, women’s rights were handled within the broader area of human rights; this was the first time Canada’s foreign ministry had a stand-alone division for women’s rights).
She also worked on the China Desk, managing a trip to Ottawa by the Dalai Lama (yes, she did get to meet and talk with him), and then she worked on the Gulf War Task Force, providing crisis management and support to Canadians affected in the region.

Dr Taylor feels she was fated to become our ambassador. The reason being, after a one-year stint in Hong Kong to brush up on her Mandarin, her first foreign posting was to Beijing from 1992-95. In the last year of her assignment, her two fellow political officers were Phil Calvert and Donica Pottie, her two predecessors as Canada’s ambassador to Thailand. The three of them have been friends to this day. Also, worth noting was that Canada’s ambassador to China at the time was Fred Bild who had previously served as – you guessed it – Canada’s ambassador to Thailand.

Ambassador Taylor then returned to Ottawa to work in the Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy’s office – a lot was going on including formalizing the Ottawa Treaty on Landmines, and establishing diplomatic retains with North Korea. The ambassador says that at that time we developed a lot of programming in areas that crossed over between foreign policy and development assistance – the so-called human security agenda.

With the Cold War over, there was growing concerns about global issues like terrorism and transnational crime, and ways needed to be found to engage on those issues and find needed resources for programs. Traditionally the people who spent money on programming were development agencies, not foreign ministries. Minister Axworthy identified that gap and set up human security programs that we still use today. For example, under these programs, since 2010 Canada has spent about CAN$16 million in ASEAN to develop the capacity to fight both terrorism and crime.

From 1998-2000, the Ambassador was Deputy Director of the Southeast Asian division working on ASEAN and political relations with each member nation. It was an interesting time in the aftermath of the fall of Suharto and the Asian financial crisis.

Fellow attendees

Next up, from 2000-2003, she was political counselor in Jakarta, in Indonesia’s early democratic period. Following the Bali bombing, the focus of her work in Indonesia shifted more towards counter-terrorism.

In late 2003, she went back to Ottawa to headquarters and worked as Deputy Director and later Director of the Development Policies and Institutions Division. This division worked closely with the then CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) and Finance Canada on the coordination of Canada’s international development policy and its role in the international financial institutions.

In 2006, she took a detour and joined the Privy Council Office (PCO), as director responsible for the strategic direction and the oversight of assessments relating to the Asia Pacific region within the International Assessments secretariat. In 2008, she was made Deputy Executive Director of the secretariat and from 2010-2011 she was the acting Executive Director.

Next, she was named deputy head of mission in Beijing from 2011-2015, the number two to the Ambassador. This was at a period of high activity in the Canada-China relationship with expanding trade and visits by the Governor-General and the Prime Minister.

From 2016 to 2019, Dr Taylor was back in Ottawa where she served as Director-General for North Asia and Oceania, and as “Champion for Women” in Global Affairs Canada, Canada’s foreign ministry. She was tasked with advancing equity for women and women’s leadership in the foreign ministry. Today, almost half of our Canada’s ambassadors and heads of mission abroad are now women.

Canada has long-standing employment equity legislation that recognizes four groups that were, and sometimes still are, underrepresented in the public service. Global Affairs has a champion for each group (women, visible minorities, persons with disabilities, and First Nations). Part of their goal is to close gaps in representation and more generally to make Global Affairs a more welcoming and diverse work environment. Seen from outside Canada does well on gender equity, but internally the Ambassador says we still have some gaps: Global Affairs is still short of women in our senior rotational Foreign Service roles, in senior management, and in the IT sector.

The Here and Now

The ambassador has a number of objectives and roles; a key one is to advance trade relations between Canada and Thailand. As such, the ambassador says part of Canada’s trade diversification strategy is pursuing an inclusive approach to trade that seeks to ensure that all segments of society, both domestically and internationally, can take advantage of the opportunities that flow from trade and investment.

This approach is enhanced by an ongoing dialogue with a broad range of Canadians, including groups often underrepresented in international trade, such as women, SMEs, and Indigenous people.

The aim is to ensure that more Canadians benefit from increased trade and investment by ensuring a more diverse group engages in international trade, and by including in our international trade agreements provisions on labour rights, the environment, SMEs, gender equality, and Indigenous peoples.

Ambassador Taylor believes that trade policies should be responsive to the interests and opportunities of the many and not just the few. In doing so, more Canadians can be better equipped to build their own prosperity and to contribute more to broader economic, social, and environmental objectives.

The ambassador says by applying a feminist perspective to trade policy we can help ensure that Canada’s free trade agreements do not perpetuate economic barriers that often work against women.

Gift

That’s why she says events such as the “Women in Leadership” conference are so important. “By promoting and supporting women’s leadership in business in Thailand, we are contributing not just to helping women succeed, but also to advancing the Thai economy and to sustainable prosperity for

In house, the ambassador says the Bangkok mission must “walk our own talk” and look at hosting gender-balanced events, not “panels”, as well as promoting career development and support for female staff members and an inclusive workplace.

Ambassador Taylor is keen to increase the volume of trade between the two countries as she sees lots of unexplored potential; she notes Canada and Thailand have a smaller trading relationship than Canada and Vietnam, even though Thailand is the wealthier country.

And the ambassador notes that if Thailand joins the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or if Canada and ASEAN hammer out a free trade agreement, tariffs would go down significantly and trade between the two countries could increase considerably.

Canada is seen positively in Thailand but still doesn’t have a high profile here – the ambassador says the embassy has to make better use of social media, the wave of the future. “You don’t need a huge presence, you just need to be smart about it — but we really need to up our game when it comes to our social media presence.”

The ambassador’s son, Cass, is in high school here in Bangkok, while her husband, Patrick Kavanagh, is a professional writer who worked with the IDRC for many years. He has also published a novel, partly based on his experiences growing up in Newfoundland called, Gaff Topsails. The ambassador’s daughter Mairi is currently finishing her final year of high school in Ottawa.

We are lucky to have Dr. Taylor as our ambassador in Thailand and she is backed by a superb team led by superstar Senior Trade Commissioner Sanjeev Chowdhury and his all-star team at the Trade Commissioner’s Service. The ambassador also has great help from her Executive Assistant Susan Shu-Mei Hsu, Social Secretary Darin Dararuja, and Khun Akapong Sungtet, her trusted chauffeur.

Find me on...

facebooktwitterinstagram