David Sproule When Mongolians have such a unique and strong culture, that’s an asset you should utilize

Gogo Mongolia is pleased to introduce new interview section with honored ambassadors working in Mongolia. The first interview guest is David William Sproule. He is serving as Canadian ambassador to Mongolia since 2017. He was first appointed as a Head of Mission in 2004, serving as High Commissioner to Bangladesh, then as Ambassador to Afghanistan, followed by Ambassador to Thailand, after which he was appointed as Ambassador to Norway, and more recently as Ambassador to Libya before his current position as Ambassador to Mongolia.

-There have been photos posted on your page with ambassadors of Australia and Great Britain visiting your home. Are you close with other ambassadors serving in Mongolia?
-I’ve been very close with the British and Australian ambassadors. In part, as we are from countries which have very similar values. Many of the things we are doing in Mongolia are very similar in terms of development and business. But it’s quite natural, because these Ambassadors happen also to be neighbors of mine. But I’m very close to other ambassadors. For example, the Czech ambassador is also my neighbor and a good friend. We do a lot of things socially and we share an interest in helping Mongolia develop its hockey. And I’m also a good friend of the Japanese ambassador. He shares my passion for long distance running. We both ran in the Ulaanbaatar half marathon last spring. I have other very good colleagues in the diplomatic community and very much appreciate their friendship and support.  

-Could you share with us your most unforgettable experiences or significant projects you have implemented in the countries you have served?
-I’ve served in nine countries and I’ve had six ambassadorships. It’s difficult to choose. I have both good and bad memories during my ambassadorship in Afghanistan. It was very difficult. We had 3,000 soldiers there and had many deaths and injuries. Even one of my diplomatic staff was killed. I remember these sacrifices that were made by Canadians in Afghanistan to assist the country to develop a democratic system, a good economy, and be free from the injustices of the past. 

I had two assignments in Thailand, one as a political officer and once as ambassador. When we were there my wife and I adopted Thai children who are now part of our family. So, Thailand will always be a special place for me. I enjoyed my assignment to Bangladesh too. We had a very large development program and I felt that we are doing important things for the Bangladeshi people. I also learned how lucky we are as Canadians. We take a lot for granted because not everybody in the world has our advantages. 

-Canada and Mongolia has been in diplomatic relations for 45 years. What is your feedback on this matter and what remarks would you give? How did you commemorate this significant anniversary? 
-In 2018, we celebrated the 45th year anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and Canada. Also it coincided with the 10th year anniversary since opening our embassy in Ulaanbaatar. Indeed, 2018 was a very significant year for us. We had a number of activities in conjunction with the anniversary. At the beginning of 2018, we organized an essay contest among students to write about Canada. We developed a special maple grove at the National Garden Park with trees and benches. We had two receptions: one hosted by Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and another one by the Canadian Embassy. I also want to mention the hockey project we’re organizing in Mongolia. The embassy staff and Canadian companies in Mongolia are making this project happen to assist Mongolian youth hockey. Mostly in the form of providing equipment, and skates donated by individual Canadians and specialized coaching for Mongolian youth Hockey. 

1. The Embassy of Canada to Mongolia hosted the reception to commemorate the 45th year anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Mongolia. | 7 images

-You have delivered your New Year speech in a hockey gear, which was very unique. Do you play this sport? Also, you have mentioned that you would like to support Mongolian youth playing this sport.
-I have to use the past tense regarding hockey. I certainly played hockey quite a lot when I was a boy. I have not played for many years now. But maybe I will put skates on for the Canada and Mongolia annual hockey game this year. 

We have a very big program to assist the youth hockey development in Mongolia.  Individual Canadians have sent thousands of pieces of hockey equipment  for boys and girls who want to play this game. Also, a week ago Canadian professional hockey coaches have arrived to help Mongolian upgrade their skills. Hockey is really natural here. You have a climate where you can make  ice very quickly and you can enjoy a long winter season. During the Soviet era hockey was developed  at the youth level and even at the adult level. That went away a little bit, but it is coming back. Canada would like to help bring it back. We think it is a very natural partnership for our countries. 

-You were appointed as the ambassador of Canada to Mongolia in 2017. What have been the highlights of your work in Mongolia during this time? 
-I am very pleased to have been actively working on development programs. We launched a number of special projects aimed at assisting Mongolia. Namely, we are implementing projects in the mining industry, how to manage it, how to maximize the benefits from it, how to protect the environment. We have a new, very strong emphasis on helping women and girls. So that women are empowered and are provided equal opportunities in Mongolia. Besides these projects, we implement 10 to 12 projects through our Canada Fund which are aimed at grassroots assistance, particularly for the most vulnerable. 

I have also been enjoying my travels throughout the country. I have been to many provinces such as Dornod, Khentii, South Gobi, Dornogovi, Selenge and Bulgan. And this summer I’m hoping to get to the west of the country to get to know that part of  Mongolia better.  I have made a lot of Mongolian friendships in all walks of life. They help me to understand this country, perspectives on its political system, legal system, social life and its history. 

Mongolia is fascinating, because it has had democracy and a free market economy for only 30 years. I want to try to understand where it is now and where  it came from. As a diplomat I am fascinated by Mongolia’s unique situation.   

-Tell us more about your experiences of traveling to rural areas of Mongolia. 
-It reminds me quite a lot of Canada. Vast open spaces with few people, lots of farmland and herders. It reminds me that Mongolians are very close to the land and that we tend to forget that while living in a busy city like Ulaanbaatar.  Mongolians had to overcome a lot of the elements and real natural challenges to build a country. Canada have had to do the same in our harsh climate, and sometimes in an  inhospitable wilderness. Therefore, traveling in Mongolia actually reminds me a lot of Canada. 

-Canada and Mongolia have almost the same climate. This severe climate creates obstacles for development of infrastructure. What solutions Canada can share as the best experience?
-Energy is critically important for both our counties. We have to heat our homes for 6-7 months of the year in a harsh climate. We have learned how to utilize energy, how to extract from the ground and how to distribute it. We have to understand  how to construct cold weather  housing and how to insulate it so that it protects and conserves energy.

We need to take advantage of the winter and learn how to enjoy the outdoors, including  sports and recreation. The challenges we face because of climate are  probably greater than for many countries which do not have to worry about those factors. 

-Every country has their own cultural uniqueness. For instance, Mongolia is known as country of nomads. What is the identity for Canada?
-Canada is known for number of things. First, its wilderness, vast spaces and relatively small population. The other fact is that we have overcome severe climate weather conditions to build our country.

We are also known for being a strong democratic country with democratic values, diversity, and human rights. Canada has strong judicial system. We have succeeded economically and much of that success came by utilizing our natural resources wisely. I think we can share some insights with Mongolia in that regard.

Canada is also known as country which is active internationally. We are a very committed  member of the United Nations and many other organizations. We have large development programs to help other countries and their people. These are the values that Canadians practise. treasure. Another important aspect worth mentioning is Canada  is a country of immigrants. I’m a first generation Canadian. And there is a  very large proportion of Canadians either first generation or second generation. So, most of us are quite new. 

Therefore, we are very tolerant of each other. It is hard to define Canada in a stereotypical way. We are a mixture and a blend of people from all around the world who get together and figure out what kind of country we  want. I believe what we want is an economically prosperous country, based on a free market system with strong democratic institutions, tolerance and welcoming attitude to those who wish to lead their lives in a particular way. 

-A month ago, the Canadian Prime Minister announced that Canada will accept nearly 1.5 million immigrants in the coming three years. What is the common requirement for immigrants?
-There are a number of criteria for accepting immigrants. The world knows that Canada accepts very large number of refugees who come escaping persecution in their own countries. But even more so, we have many immigrants who come because we need their skills  particular skills Canada has need for. We also have families, which we reunify, so they sponsor relatives to come to Canada. It is another category of immigrants. 

I should mention that now we have special provisions for foreign students studying in Canada to obtain employment after their studies. Special concessions have been  made to facilitate their stay as immigrants. We believe immigrants are a real asset of our country.  We do not bring immigrants just because we think it would be nice for them. We bring them primarily because we think it will be good for Canada. 

-The younger generation here prefers to study in Australia and Canada and receive government scholarships. How many Mongolian students are attending universities in Canada with the government scholarship?
 -Due to privacy restrictions it’s difficult to say, but our best estimate is 300 Mongolian students are studying in Canada. I believe we can have more, because Canada offers relatively reasonably priced education: tuition isn’t that expensive; a high quality of education; and the cost of living is reasonable. Canada is very a very attractive place to study. We offer special provisions, which make it even more affordable. For example, foreign students are allowed to work on weekends and in summer to support their education. This also gives them a  chance to practice within their profession or field of their study that they are pursuing.  

1. School No.9 located in Songinokhairkhan district is one of five local schools that now has a specially designated facility that will allow its students and parents receive psychological counselling from professional counselors. | 2 images

-Embassy of Canada grants the award in investigative journalism in Mongolia. The embassy sponsored the award for Girls’ Rights in Mongolia contestant for Baldorj Foundation Prize Awards. What are the reasons for Canadian Embassy to pay such close attention in Mongolian journalism?
-We are trying to support journalism because we believe that it is an important pillar preserving a strong democracy. If you have strong media, which promotes transparency, it makes sure government actions are accountable and it helps people to understand what’s going on. It gives them information. Sometimes government officials like me get a little nervous because the media looks into what we do, questions, and makes sure that what we do is in the public interest. It’s very healthy for society and we want to assist Mongolia in terms of developing that part of their democracy. 

There are various ways we work with the Mongolian media sector. Last month we had a seminar with journalists and discussed the economics of mining. We helped the Baldorj Foundation establish a special award for journalists who have done the best story on women’s issues over the last year. 

We also have assisted in the past sending Mongolian journalists for courses on investigative journalism abroad. Because that is another area that takes special skills and practice. I think it is healthy for democracy to have a strong media community to make sure the public knows how they are being governed. 

-With the support of the Canada Fund, five schools are introducing a specially designated facility for students and parents to receive psychological counselling. What are the advantages of giving psychological counselling for students in a school environment? 
We became aware that this is one of the big needs in Mongolian schools, particularly, some of the schools in the ger-areas. Students face a lot of challenges including family economic struggles, pressures  of growing up into adolescence, social life and even challenges with the environment. All these come together to put particular pressures for young people in schools. I believe schools now recognize the need of special programs  for the students to have counselling. However, some of the schools did not have the means to set aside special areas or to hire qualified counselors. They approached us and asked whether the Canada Fund might be able to help them to develop projects of this nature. We are now very anxious to see the results. Maybe other organizations or other embassies will also see the need and assist. 


-Let’s talk about the mining sector. How do we maintain sustainable benefit from natural resources for generations to come, not just the current generation?
-I’m from a province in Canada where the well-being of its residents has been directly related to the availability of natural recourses. In Alberta’s case it is mostly oil, but we also have minerals, and rely heavily on agriculture as well. We realize how important the land is, but the land is something that has to be protected too. Canada is trying to help Mongolians to the extent that we can to ensure that mineral resources are exploited in a very responsible way so that the next generation has access to those natural resources and governments can get revenues from taxes and in turn provide services for their people. 

Moreover, we want to make sure that your civil servants have a good sense of how to proceed in an efficient way. For example, we assist Mongolia to maximize its revenues by creating an efficient tax system. We also pay attention to how Mongolia develops communications and dialogue with local communities so the average person has an opportunity to say how they would like to see the mining industry affect their community. These are long standing programs to last beyond this generation, if they are put in place well.

-What expertise in Canadian mining sector you wish Mongolians could implement here? 
-Canada has been mining for a long time, more than a hundred years. We have made some mistakes in our mining. I’m hoping that with our quite large programs to help ministries such as Ministry of Mines and Ministry of Environment, we can assist Mongolia to avoid some of the mistakes that we’ve made in Canada. We are at a pretty good place now. We have learned  by trial and error. For example, how do you ensure that investors keep coming to your country to invest their money - because they take big risks in doing so.  

We talk a lot to the government about how to make sure it gets the right balance between taxes while also providing incentives for businesses to actually invest money and do the exploration that’s necessary. We also advise how to help Mongolian employees be trained to take over leadership roles in this industry.  

Hopefully we can help Mongolia do a good job. Mongolia is starting their mining industry on the basis of the free market economy, not the old style, where the state makes major decisions based on non-market factors. We believe the market economy will provide opportunities to develop the mining industry for the benefit all Mongolians in an efficient and responsible way. That’s our experience undertaking mining in a free market economy. We’d like to help Mongolia do so as well. 

-You said that Canada and Mongolia are competitors in mining sector during the seminar with journalists. Are Canada and Mongolia really competitors in the mining sector?
-People think that Canada is here primarily to encourage Canadian companies to invest in Mongolia. We would like Canadian company to be successful and we would like them to benefit from those investments such as the supply goods and services and providing employment for Canadians working here. That said, it is much more beneficial for us to have investments come to Canada. 

When a Canadian company decides to invest in Mongolia instead of Canada, it is okay, because we think Mongolia can really prosper by having the investment. But I think there is an assumption that investment by Canadian companies here is of tremendous benefit for Canada. It’s nice, but if they invest in Canada, it benefits more Canadians. But if a Canadian company finds the environment and opportunity is not good here for investing, I’ll tell them to go back to Canada and invest there. Because we want their investment, taxes, employment of our residents, and all of the opportunities mining provides for Canada. 

-What are the regulations for natural rehabilitation, prevention and protection of the environment that miners in Canada must follow? 
-In Canada, mining is overseen and regulated by provinces not the federal government only. The rules change depending on what province. Generally, they are very strict. Companies, if they want do mining in Canada, have to develop a plan, have to be able to show how they are going to protect the environment, and how they are going to ensure that they don’t sit on their licenses but go ahead and use them. Then the province will check to make sure that they are doing what they said would.  

In Canada, mining companies have learned how to ensure that they get community acceptance for their projects. Before the start of the project they usually have a very extensive consultation process. They speak to the local community, the businesses, average citizens and sometimes indigenous groups to ensure when the project goes forward and gets approval and that it is smooth and everybody accepts it. And that’s a very good investment of time early in their efforts to develop a project. 

-Canada has stated it has still more to do for Human Rights protection around the world during 70th anniversary of the Declaration of the Universal Human Rights. The Mongolian Constitution ensures every citizen has the right to choose where to live. On the other hand, this has become the main cause of air pollution in Ulaanbaatar city. What could be the possible solutions to ensure the human rights while reducing  the congestion of the population in the city and creating  the favorable living conditions for every citizen in Mongolia? 
-Canada is a strong advocate for human rights. But I don’t think I will suggest to Mongolia what kind of land tenure system they should have. And my understanding is that there are some historical and constitutional reasons for your country. But it is recognized by everyone that air pollution is a large problem in Ulaanbaatar. It is serious when it comes to investors coming to  Ulaanbaatar. They  will start to question whether the opportunity outweighs the risks to  their health. 

As  somebody living here, I’m also concerned about how  pollution affects the average Mongolian. Particularly, the impact on the young, because pollution has an especially damaging effect in the long term. On the other hand, there are many solutions being  put forward, including how to change the kind of energy used, the city has special provisions for free energy off hours during evenings, and there is  talk about limiting traffic in central areas. You have also mentioned  restrictions on migration into  the city.  

Canada would not suggest any particular solution except if we can be helpful in terms of our experience and how we deal with issue of air pollution and climate change, we will be happy to do so. In fact, last month we brought experts to Ulaanbaatar to speak to officials of the Mining and Environment Ministries. They discussed what Canada is doing about the problems of climate change. So, like with climate change, if there are areas we have expertise and experience that would be helpful to Mongolia, we are more than glad to assist. 

-How do you protect yourself, your family and embassy employees from the air pollution during the winter time?
I’m very careful with  my son, my  wife, and I in winter. We wear masks when we are  outside. We have air cleaners here in our office and at home.  Experts have come to explain how to our staff to  protect ourselves.  We take it very seriously. We don’t want either our families or our employees to have long term health damage. Lately you can see out in the streets and if you are visiting Mongolians at their home that they are also increasingly recognizing the importance of protecting themselves.  For example, I now see many more people are wearing masks and I think that’s a very good thing. 

-Canadian government leads annual civil service reform program for other government. So, did Mongolian government civil service staffs participate in this program? 
-Canada and United Nations Development Program here in Ulaanbaatar have a special project to assist Mongolia develop a more professionalized civil service. Canada has been rated as having the  most professional and transparent civil service in the world. We have seen how important it is in terms of our development. Mongolia now recognizes it too and government leaders have passed a new civil service reform law. We would like to help them to implement it and for it be effective. 

Every country needs an efficient, transparent, neutral and capable civil service.  Canada  can help develop the expertise and assist the civil service to deliver goods and services to its people in a more  effective way. One of those ways is to ensure that the professional civil service remains in place no matter what government comes to power. If you change your civil service after every election, people never gain the expertise they need. Sometimes they might say that people are not appointed because they are the best qualified, but because of their  personal connections. This  should not be the criteria. You need to choose the best qualified people and let them feel that they can make a career in professional public service and assist the government over the longer term.  

-Could you share with us your opinion what are the opportunities for Mongolia in the international field? 
-Mongolia has very unique past. It has  historically very strong and close relations with its two big neighbors, one to  the south and one to  the north. I think Mongolians have learnt how to manage those relations so that the country remains independent and not dominated by one or the other. As a result Mongolia has learned a lot about diplomacy and how to manage relationships internationally. You have seen  that through adoption of the third neighbor policy, Mongolia’s effort to assist the situation on the Korean Peninsula benefits from Mongolia’s experience with North Korea. 

Finally, I should say that Mongolia has very unique culture. People have instant images of Mongolia that are  very positive. There are  images of herders, of horses and the sports they play – the wrestlers, archers and horse riders. Of course, we know about Genghis Khan. When you have such a unique and strong culture that goes back so many centuries, that’s an asset you should utilize. I think Mongolia is going to increasingly utilize that by  becoming a very popular place for tourists.  I believe with the  market economy and democratic institutions that Mongolia has developed,  its opportunities to reach out to other countries are greater than they have ever been.   

-Thank you for your interview.

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