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Arctic-focused Norwegian ambassador hangs up her diplomatic hat

By Kristen Shane      

Mona Brøther is retiring after more than 40 years as a diplomat.

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Norwegian Ambassador Mona E. Brøther has wrapped up her Canadian posting, her last after more than 40 years as a diplomat.

She and her spouse Åsmund Baklien, along with their two-and-a-half-year-old Canadian golden retriever Sheiba were set to fly back to Oslo on Jan. 16 after three and a half years in Canada.

Reflecting on her time serving her country in a Jan. 7 interview, Ms. Brøther said she looked up on Wikipedia that she served 15 foreign ministers (some she remembers more than others) since starting into diplomatic life as a student in Spain in the late 1970s.

She’s since completed three ambassadorial postings. Besides Canada, she headed Norwegian posts in Venezuela and Chile.

In Canada, she said, “the headline during my period has very much been the Arctic.”

The Arctic is a key foreign policy priority for Norway, a small but prosperous oil-producing Scandinavian country of five million people.

“A demonstration of how important Norway is is that 80 per cent of maritime traffic in the overall Arctic, circumpolar Arctic, is in Norwegian waters. So we have a huge responsibility and also a possibility to influence politics up north,” said the ambassador.

“But we need allies—we need countries like Canada, both to see the importance of it, and to be an ally in research, to be an ally in security thinking and to be in ally in the overall development of the High North for the benefit of its peoples.”

Her posting coincided with Canada’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council from 2013 to 2015. The council is an intergovernmental forum for co-operation among Arctic states and indigenous groups on issues like sustainable development and environment as well as search and rescue capabilities.

During Canada’s chairmanship, ties between many Western countries and Russia soured over the latter’s presence in Ukraine, which some labelled as aggression and an illegal takeover of a part of a sovereign state.

The situation to some extent boiled over into the Arctic Council. Canada’s responsible minister said she planned to bring up Ukraine with the Russians during a Canadian-hosted meeting. With tensions high over Ukraine, Russia sent a delegation led by its environment minister instead of its foreign minister (who had attended every council ministerial since 2004) to meet with other ministers in Iqaluit at a meeting last spring.

Ms. Brøther said it’s important to Norway that thorny relations with Russia in other contexts don’t spill over into Arctic matters. Norway has taken part in boycotts against Russia to hurt it economically because of its actions in Ukraine, but when it comes to day-to-day work in the Arctic, she said, it’s important to engage with Russia.

“We co-operate mostly on the environment, sustainable development…which are all vital interests for all the circumpolar countries, and we cannot do it without Russia,” she said, “so we have tried and been actually spokespersons for low tension in the North. And let us deal with the Russian matters as they are.”

Looking to Canada on migration

More recently in her posting, refugees have grabbed headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. The world is watching Canada closely as it works to resettle tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in the Great White North.

In Norway, Ms. Brøther said the country anticipates receiving as many as 60,000 refugees this year, close to twice the 36,000 it saw arrive in 2015.

“So this is the big challenge at home now. And I really think that we can look to Canada to see how you deal with it.”

Norway could learn from Canada on migration in general, she said. Canada is seen from the outside as successful in its integration of newcomers.

When it comes to advice, she has a few words of wisdom of her own for new diplomats.

In Canada, she said, it’s important to remember that it’s a big and diverse country. The economy and the people change depending on the province.

In general, she stressed the need to be a student, always.

“You have to have an open mind, you have to study, you have to learn in every new country,” she said.

It’s important to be courteous, respectful and remember that you’re being hosted by another country, she said, and to be sensitive to cultural differences and careful not to exclaim something publicly that is not part of national policy.

“It gives me energy and it gives me pleasure. You open new doors in your own mind with that attitude.”

Returning to Norway, she’ll likely be opening a few new doors herself. She’s had some offers for next steps in her retirement, though she said she didn’t want to take on anything specific in the first six months.

“I will try and taste my freedom to see how this life will develop,” she said. She’s a grandmother now, with a second grandchild on the way in May.

On the day she spoke to Embassy she said she had a long conversation about perhaps engaging in politics.

“Experience as a diplomat is not such a bad background,” she said with a smile.

When asked whether she would be interested in working for a political party, though, she would only say “let’s see what happens.”

Her successor in Canada is set to be Anne Kari H. Ovind, who according to Twitter, has already been palling around in Norway with Canada’s ambassador there, Artur Wilczynski. He posted a photo of the two “attempt[ing] Christmas kayaking,” on Dec. 15.

Canadian ambassadors to UN, US named

In an unusual Saturday press release, the Canadian government named its much-anticipated ambassadors to powerful posts at the United Nations and United States. Neither is a career diplomat and both have ties to the Liberal Party.

Marc-André Blanchard, most recently chair of one of Canada’s largest law firms, is set to become ambassador to the United Nations in New York, starting April 1. He’ll take over from career diplomat Guillermo Rishchynski.

David MacNaughton, most recently head of the public affairs firm StrategyCorp, is set to become Canada’s chief diplomat in the United States, replacing a former NDP premier, Gary Doer.

Mr. MacNaughton co-chaired Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election campaign in Ontario, while Mr. Blanchard was on Mr. Trudeau’s transition team.

Aside from those high-profile entrances, the government shuffled Susan Harper in to head the consulate general in Miami, effective immediately. Formerly Canada’s Senior Arctic Official, she will take over from Roxanne Dubé, whose family was struck by tragedy last year when one of her teenaged sons was killed and the other charged in connection with a drug deal that led to a shootout in Miami.

Angela Bogdan, a familiar name to foreign diplomats in Ottawa as Canada’s most recent chief of protocol, is set to become consul general in Sydney, Australia. And Marie-Louise Hannan will become Canada’s ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Indonesia.

kshane@embassynews.ca
@kristenshane1

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