2015 Fredericton Encaenia - Ceremony C

Lyons, Deborah

Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)

Orator: Davies, Gwendolyn


to be Doctor of Letters

Little could Ambassador Deborah Lyons have anticipated years ago when she graduated with an arts degree from UNB -- and addressed an encaenia such as this one as the class valedictorian -- that she would someday represent Canada in the field of international diplomacy in places as diverse as Washington, Tokyo, and Afghanistan. A native of Chatham, and one of nine children in a family where there was a focus on the importance of education, she returned to the Miramichi after graduation to work first in tourism and then consulting. Her experience as a young independent business woman, she noted in a You Tube interview in Afghanistan in 2014, taught her how to work hard, how to work with people, and how to value staff as one's most important asset in business.1 These are values that she has carried into her subsequent career, joining the federal government service in 1982 where she rapidly rose in responsibility with the Department of Natural Resources, the Privy Council Office, and ACOA. As Director for Trade and Technology at ACOA, she worked for over six years on energy conservation and on establishing the first "pan-Atlantic trade agreement" within the four Atlantic provinces.2

However, it was her enrolment in an international studies programme at the National Defence College in 1993 that changed her professional directions, encouraging her to go into the diplomatic corps.3 Joining the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development in 1999, she was posted to Tokyo as counsellor for high-tech industries; was appointed as Director, International Finance; became Director-General, North American Commercial Affairs; and was made Asst. Deputy Minister for Strategic Policy and Planning and Chief Strategist. In 2010, Ambassador Lyons was appointed Deputy Head of Mission at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, a role, where according to one of her nominators for this honorary degree, she was "held in very high regard by those working with her and was highly respected for her accomplishments".4

Ambassador Lyons was appointed Canada's representative in Afghanistan in 2013, affirming as she took office that she would represent our national position on issues such as human rights (in particular the rights of women and girls), good governance, and freedom of the press."5 She also has placed great importance on working with the business community in order "to explore economic support for Afghans"6 -- and initiatives focusing on education, health programmes, rule of law, and human rights have become central to her daily agenda, particularly when they advance the cause of girls and women. During her ambassadorship, she has thus far witnessed rapid changes in Afghanistan, including the departure of Canadian and other NATO International Security Assistance troops in 2014; the transfer of power to the Afghan National Security Forces; the unprecedented 75% voting turn-out in the presidential election; the rise in school enrolment to nine million children (40 per cent of them girls); the increase in women parliamentarians (now 25% of parliament); and the nearly complete eradication of polio (due partly to a vaccination programme in which Canada played a central role).7

However, as Ambassador Lyons has noted in MacLean's in January 2015, many challenges remain in Afghanistan, including a weak economy, corruption, and on-going danger from insurgency (for example, she rides in an armoured car with 350-pound doors and has guards). But in the nearly hour-long interview from Kabul recorded on You Tube on April 6, 2014, Ambassador Lyons discussed with a young Afghan woman reporter the importance of Afghanistan?s fostering national progress through the advancement and empowerment of women:-by creating a secure environment for girls and women, by empowering them with literacy, by opening opportunities for them to be part of the political process, and by giving them economic tools. Medical knowledge (particularly in the area of maternal, newborn, and child health), voting confidence, political candidacy, and business acumen are part of the vision that she embraces for Afghan women and that she so personally and skilfully is fostering as part of the Afghanistan-Canadian partnership emanating from her office.

Ambassador Lyons has enjoyed a distinguished public career serving Canada both at home and abroad, culminating at this juncture in her being Canada's Ambassador to Afghanistan (and, I might add, the only woman ambassador in Afghanistan). It is with great pleasure that the University of New Brunswick now honours her achievements and her contributions to her country by conferring upon her the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa.

1 "In Conversation With Canadian Ambassador Deborah A. Lyons in Afghanistan April 6, 2014," YOU TUBE.
2 Sally Armstrong, The Silk Road to recovery, MacLean's Magazine (24 March 2014), 34-35.
3 Armstrong, 35.
4 Julie McKenna to Ms. Sarah Devarenne, University Secretary, University of New Brunswick, 4 September 2013.
5 Message from the Ambassador, Dispatches from KABUL-October 2013, www.afghanistan.gc.ca, accessed 22/05/2015.
6 Ibid.
7 Sally Armstrong, The interview: Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan Deborah Lyons, Macleans (16 January 2015), www.macleans.ca/news/Canada/ambassador-deborah-lyons-on-corruption-and-investment-in-afghanist, accessed 22/05/2015.

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