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Norwegian ambassador at home in Canadian outdoors

By Kristen Shane      

Having already competed in the Gatineau Loppet, she’s itching to take her kayak out for a run on the Ottawa River.

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At the end of a half-hour interview with a reporter, Norwegian Ambassador Anne Kari Hansen Ovind stands her tall frame from her seated spot on a sleek chair and moves across a fuzzy brown rug to the other side of her 13th floor office.

Seated on a counter leaning on a wall beside a portrait of the Norwegian king and queen is a photo printed on aluminum of a tip of a red kayak in water so smooth and grey that it blends in with the sky above.

A navigational buoy in the water sits straight ahead of the kayak and islands appear on either side in the distance.

Ms. Hansen Ovind, who officially started her Canadian posting on Jan. 26, used to kayak this route while still living on an island just outside of Oslo in Norway. She was kayaking with her husband, Tom Oscar Ovind, when he took the photo. The kayak is pointed southwest, in the direction of Canada, she says with a laugh.

“For me, this picture is also a reminder of keeping your goals right up there, and…keep[ing] on going [on] the right track. So that’s why I like to have it in my office, really,” says the ambassador with a big smile. “I love it.”

When her family moved to Canada, they shipped over two kayaks from Norway now sitting in their Rockcliffe garage waiting to be used on the Ottawa River.

Ms. Hansen Ovind says she’s trying to do as the Canadians do, which includes cheering with her family in the stands of an Ottawa Senators game as well as eating a beavertail and skating the open parts of the Rideau Canal.

But when it comes to the outdoors, she doesn’t much need to try. She’s already accustomed to the snow and is a keen skier.

Only about a month after presenting her credentials, she competed in a 51-kilometre cross-country ski race as part of the Gatineau Loppet, which she completed in four hours and 41 minutes, placing 10th of 17 in her category of women aged 50 to 54, and 40th of 81 women overall.

She was also on hand to shake hands with members of the Norwegian cross-country ski team in Canada for a world cup series of races, one of which took place in Gatineau soon after the Loppet.

Ms. Hansen Ovind has a background as a high-level athlete, according to her embassy’s website, having once been a member of the Norwegian Junior National Team for speed skating.

Her sons, Victor, who just turned 14, and Oscar, 17, have also embraced their family’s Canadian posting, she says. They go to school at Ashbury College, within walking distance of their new home.

Ms. Hansen Ovind’s husband is able to work in Canada part time as a director of internal and external communication for the Norwegian Armed Forces. He’s also set to commute every eight weeks to Oslo for the job, says the ambassador.

“And for the kids and for the family, we can be together—he works then part-time, and the rest of the time he is an important part of the team,” she says. “We are a team.”

Canadian family connection

While she’s been busy getting to know the embassy and Ottawa and hasn’t travelled much outside of the city since arriving, Canada is not new to Ms. Hansen Ovind.

She came to the Great White North as a tourist in 1988 and visited family members.

Her great uncle immigrated to Canada from Norway in 1928, arriving in Halifax, moving west, working at a logging camp and eventually raising a family including five children.

Descendants of her great uncle are now scattered throughout Canada, in places including Alberta, Toronto and Thunder Bay. Ms. Hansen Ovind says she keeps in touch with them and is planning to visit during her posting.

She’s also visited Canada for work in her previous role leading for the past six years her foreign ministry’s Section for the High North, Polar Affairs and Resources in Oslo.

Ms. Hansen Ovind’s past roles make her well suited for the Canadian gig. Besides the Arctic, including bilateral co-operation experience with Russia, she worked from 1998 to 2002 on NATO affairs, first at headquarters in Oslo and then for three years as first secretary at Norway’s delegation to NATO in Brussels, Belgium.

Canada and Norway, whose strong diplomatic ties date to 1942, co-operate on issues including the North and defence through NATO.

She’s held other posts related to the environment and sustainable development and nuclear safety since joining the foreign service in 1996.

Her academic background includes degrees in business administration, European integration economics and sea use law.

In Canada, she remembers her goals as the 3 Es. She’s hoping to explore new areas to co-operate on geopolitical hot topics like fighting the Islamic State or ISIS and supporting the people of Syria and Iraq. She says Norway is following with great interest the Liberal government’s new plan for diplomatic, development and defence engagement in the region.

“I think that we have very much the same approach to dealing with, to looking at how we can assist, how we can help in a comprehensive, long-term way,” she says.

She’s also interested in expanding trade and investment by helping Norwegian companies and their Canadian partners. There are 73 Norwegian companies established in Canada, she says, mainly in fisheries, aquaculture, and oil and gas sectors as well as emerging high-tech work.

And she wants to enhance knowledge and understanding, including boosting research co-operation and student and cultural exchanges. There are some 330 Norwegian students in Canada and 208 Canadian students in Norway, she says.

“I think there are potentials to increase these numbers,” she says.


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