BarentsObserver exclusive interview with Canada's ambassador to Norway

Ambassador Sproule pays a visit to Kirkenes, Norway.

Canadian ambassador to Norway, David Sproule, sat down with BarentsObserver on a recent visit to Kirkenes to talk Arctic relations, Canadian-Norwegian cooperation and future projects between the two countries.


Ambassador Sproule on Canada-Norway relations in the High North:

We have a number of universities and research institutes in Canada that specialize in the Arctic as do Norwegian universities and institutes. There is a particular interest in both our countries now on doing research, which will support our industries, our energy industry – so that’s very practical and directed.

We now have established, with initiatives like this, an extensive network of collaboration on Arctic issues, which is very useful and provides us with a lot of work and opportunities from an embassy point of view bilaterally, but it also benefits us regionally in terms of our work with Nordic countries.

Queue of people and vehicles at Storskog border check-point.

Ambassador Sproule on sanctions against Russia and the impact on the High North:

The focus of my visit has not been on those issues. We realize this [Kirkenes] is, interestingly enough, the only land entry point between Norway and Russia and, therefore, it has had an impact in terms of business that goes on here in Kirkenes, the kind of outlook and the relations between Norway and Russia. But no, that has not been the focus of my visit.

Ambassador Sproule on why he wanted to visit Kirkenes:

Kirkenes? Well, I was fascinated that it’s at this far corner of Norway. It’s very far north and I wanted to experience a little bit of the - at

The town of Kirkenes.

this time of year at least – the darkness and the very short daylight. There is several secretariats here…and institutes which study issues related to this region both insofar as Russia is concerned and Finland and the region generally. This seems to be the centre of that activity. It has a very unique history, the city, way back from WWI, which is fascinating. I was personally interested in finding out how it’s evolved and how it’s affected things.

Of course [Kirkenes] has a very special place in Norway’s Arctic efforts. It takes place elsewhere. I’ve been to Tromso, I’ve been to Bodo, I’ve been to Svalbard and those are all important regions for the Arctic for Norway, but this area is too.

Ambassador Sproule on the Barents cooperation compared to Canadian inter-provincial cooperation:

The Barents Secretariat is the parents company of several crossborder initiatives in the Finnmark region.

I think [the Barents Secretariat has] been a pretty effective organization thus far and in terms of making sure there is a maximum amount of collaboration and cooperation on issues of joint interest. It’s a pretty good way to make sure everyone’s interests are taken into account and it’s done in the most productive way possible.

My sense is that the provinces work together even more effectively and collaboratively than any other regional or international organization I’ve come across. I think that Canada is a model as a federated country of cooperativeness, particularly when you see our jurisdictions with their various powers, which are sometimes shared and sometimes exclusive. We have done this very well, ever since confederation.

Ambassador Sproule on Norway’s success in developing its Arctic:

Reine, in Lofoten, Norway, is a busy town in the High North that is a huge draw for industry and tourists.

I find that whereas the High North and the Arctic are certainly a foreign policy priority, the way northern Norway is looked at by Norwegians is very much as part of our country. And therefore industrial development, economic development is just an extension of what they do elsewhere in the country. And I think for that reason they provide what is necessary in terms of the kind of economic, social and social supports you see [already] and continue to make the northern areas viable. For example, they have invested heavily insofar as government infrastructure is concerned – schools, hospitals, roads – and have really provided the infrastructure and base economic wherewithal for private industry to succeed in the north.

But I think they deserve tremendous credit and the north for Norway is very much seen as the way as the future and this has never come home as much as it has in the last 30 or 40 years with development of oil and gas which has gradually moved increasing northward and provided the economic underpinning for economic activity in the north.

Norwegian and Canadian flags alongside eachother at the Canadian Museum of History.

Ambassadour Sproule on a history of Canada-Norway cooperation:

Norwegian explorers, as they are often described, have really been pioneering in terms of opening up the north and even Antarctic of course. If you look at Amundsen he was a great believer in traditional knowledge and his staying over two winters in Gjoa Haven and his success in his visits to northern Canada had a lot to do with adopting ideas which were given to him by our indigenous and our Inuit up there. How to survive in a harsh climate - and much of that is featured in terms of the Fram museum displays too.

It’s a great Canada-Norway story.

Ambassador Sproule on his two main priorities for action as ambassador:

I would go back to one of the things that we’ve done that we’re going to build on, that was this research collaboration and work among our respective research communities, both private and public. And applying their research to problems in Canada’s Arctic. So that is something that I’ve been very enthusiastic about, and see great potential in a whole lot of areas, not only in terms of more generally, people-to-people contacts, but also in terms of benefit for our industries and improving environmental protections in the Arctic and the North. It’s got a whole lot of important aspects to it and it coincides very much with the priority both of our countries put on our Arctic and our north.

Russian LGBT groups are turning to Norway as their main partner for support and funding.

A second example I think would be… our innovative collaboration with Norwegians on such issues as LGBT rights and I see possibilities of working with them on such important issues that we share like forced marriages. And then there’s the prime minister’s initiative on maternal and child health, where Norway has been a very active and big supporter of that initiative.  

Where this comes in is both our countries who share these values can try and actively promote them beyond our borders and in international fora, and in terms of our international actions.

They are actively promoting and collaborating where possible to provide that kind of protection and promotion of freedom of religion well beyond Canada’s borders, and it’s something that is clearly of value that’s shared by Norway and we can work with them in this regard.

Protections of minorities and the advancement of human rights is something that Norway is a world leader in, and it’s something that we’re supportive of. How Norway chooses to provide those protections is really a matter for Norway to decide.