Just months after being excluded from cabinet, Haynesley Benn has a new job as Barbados’ top diplomat in Toronto and three other Canadian provinces.
The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) member replaces Dr. Leroy McClean who returned home 13 months ago to become chief executive officer of the Barbados & Industrial Development Corporation. Consul Ferdinand Gill acted as consul general until Benn took up the post at the beginning of the month.
Benn, whose diplomatic reach extends to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, is looking forward to his first Foreign Service assignment.
“It’s definitely a new challenge,” he said. “A year ago, I was a minister in the government and I fully expected to be still in that position. However, it’s an honour when you are called upon to serve your country and I will do my best to advance our interests and be a worthy representative of Barbados in my new environment.”
Increasing Barbados’ participation in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and enticing Canadian businesses to expand investment in the Eastern Caribbean country are high on his list of priorities.
Canadian companies make up nearly 75 per cent of the international financial community in Barbados and the country has developed its financial regulatory structures largely to address Canadian rules and reporting standards.
Barbados has participated in the SAWP since 1967 and Canada’s temporary foreign workers program engages Barbados with several up-market hotels in Ontario.
Benn is familiar with Canada having made several visits here during his 10-year association with the Canadian Co-operative Association that represents almost nine million co-operative and credit union members from over 2,000 organizations.
He spent six weeks in Canada in 1983 as part of a study tour of co-operatives and credit unions and returned four years later to help select Holstein cattle to improve Barbados’s dairy industry. In 1990, Benn attended the International Dairy Congress in Quebec.
A University of the West Indies graduate with a Master’s in Business Administration, Benn managed a large retail outlet for two years and was a marketing manager with Dacosta Mannings Retail Ltd. before entering politics seven years ago.
“I have always had an interest in politics,” he said. “In fact, late Prime Minister Errol Barrow came to my home in 1986 and asked me to consider running in St. Andrew. I turned that request down, because I am from St. Peter which was the only constituency I was interested in representing.”
A relative of former West Indies left-arm spinner, Sulieman Benn, the new envoy comes to Toronto seven months after failing to unseat his cousin and former Prime Minister Owen Arthur in St. Peter riding which the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) has held since 1976. This was his second straight election loss to Arthur who won 65 per cent of the votes in the 2008 elections.
The Minister of Commerce & Trade prior to the last elections, Benn did not hide his disappointment after losing his cabinet position.
“I felt I had done enough to be back,” said Benn who also held the Agricultural & Rural Affairs portfolio. “If I am unhappy about a situation, I will let it be known without any show of disrespect or insubordination. That’s just me. I figured I merited a recall based on the high standards I have set for myself.”
For now, Benn’s political career is on hold.
If Arthur quits politics and relinquishes his seat in the next year, he will consider running in a by-election.
“If Owen goes beyond that until the next general elections, I will not run,” Benn added. “I feel that two new candidates should contest the seat at that time and I will throw my full support behind the DLP contender.”
Benn is the second straight consul general based in Toronto who is a longstanding DLP member.
Two years ago, McClean – a personal assistant to Barrow who died in 1987 – contested the St. John constituency by-election following the death of Prime Minister David Thompson in October 2010. Thompson’s widow, Mara, won the seat.