Finland’s new envoy to Canada, Charles Murto, has diplomacy in his blood.
The career diplomat of more than 40 years was born during one of his father’s postings. After a brief boyhood dream of being a pilot—quashed by nearsightedness—he followed in his father’s globetrotting footsteps, which ended up bringing him to Ottawa.
And although glasses are an obstacle for a commercial pilot, they have not impeded Mr. Murto’s clear vision for the role of diplomacy in an ever-changing world, nor have they kept him from setting his sights on Ottawa.
“I’m certainly looking forward to my assignment in Canada,” Mr. Murto told Embassy in an interview at his office on Oct. 4. “It’s a posting that I’ve [had] my eye on for a long time.”
He continued enthusiastically: “The diversity, the size of the country—really, it’s doing very well and it has tremendous potential. I think it has a great future.”
And for Mr. Murto, the future is an attractive element of his career choice.
“You can actually not only see the world, but you can also see history in the making,” he said. “Essentially, what diplomats do, is we try for our part to shape the future. It’s an interesting business.”
Ottawa is Mr. Murto’s fourth posting as a head of mission, following stints in Australia, Spain, and France.
Mr. Murto shares his adventures with his wife, who accompanied him on his first posting only four days after their wedding.
“We’ve done the journey together,” he said, adding that he misses his children and grandchildren while he and his wife are posted abroad.
Ambitious action plan
While in Ottawa, Mr. Murto said he would focus mostly on Finland’s Canada Action Plan, which he said was approved by the Finnish government in late 2011.
The strategy covers a variety of topics including Arctic issues, co-operation at the United Nations, foreign aid policy, climate change, education, immigration, and technology.
Of particular interest for Mr. Murto is joining technological capabilities with Arctic affairs.
He said that Finland, a Nordic country, knows a lot about technology useful in the Arctic, and not just for things like icebreakers, but also to support living and working in harsh conditions.
Energy, communications, environmental concerns, and infrastructure in the Arctic should all be priorities for both Canada and Finland, said Mr. Murto.
Canada will be taking over as chair of the Arctic Council in 2013 until 2015, said Mr. Murto, and Finland will get its turn to head the assembly from 2017 to 2019.
“I see that there is a huge interest, on a global scale today, for the Arctic, and a lot of countries would like to become observers on the Arctic Council,” he said. “This, I think, is quite natural, looking at the climate change. But I think what is important is that if the Arctic is being developed, you have to look at the conditions there, you have to look at indigenous people.”
He added, “No one wants to spoil the Arctic.”
Mr. Murto said he sees “clean technology” as being a very important industry going forward, in order to preserve the pristine environment while developing the Arctic.
This generates many possibilities for Canadian and Finnish clean technology companies, he added.
Building bridges between Canada and Finland to boost co-operation on research, development, technology, as well as economics and trade is also a priority for Mr. Murto.
“Looking at our trade, it has increased a lot recently…but still there is room for improvement,” he said.
According to the Foreign Affairs website, bilateral trade reached $2.5 billion in 2011, with $754.2 million in Canadian exports.
Mr. Murto added that he has high hopes for free-trade talks between Canada and the European Union.
“I’m very much looking forward to the finalizing of the [Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement],” he said. “Our experience in Europe has been, when you open up trade and…do away with trade barriers, it has a huge effect. It does create jobs and new opportunities.”
One aspect of Canadian policy that Mr. Murto said the Finnish government could keep an eye on is immigration, adding that it could be used as an example of a system that works.
It’s “extremely good,” he said, adding that Canada successfully integrates immigrants, and helps them to find jobs, which will help with a projected labour shortage—something that Finland also faces in the future.
As Mr. Murto settles into life in Ottawa, he said he is preparing himself for winter, and hopes that National Hockey League games resume quickly so he has a winter sport to follow.
For now, Mr. Murto will be following the news, analyzing worldwide issues that are relevant to both Finland and Canada.
“It’s extremely important to try to read the trends, to try to get the early signals and try and analyze a developing situation,” he said. “This is not easy, but we’re not all doing this because it’s easy; sometimes we have to do it because it’s hard.”