Scott Murray recently caught up with H.E. David Sproule, Canada’s Ambassador to Thailand, and Laos. The following is a chronology of the Ambassador’s career as well as excerpts taken from the interview.

GETTING HERE

Ambassador David Sproule was born and raised in Edmonton. He studied at the University of Alberta, earning two degrees; his first, an Honours Degree in Political Science; the second, a Bachelor of Laws Degree (LLB). Upon graduation, he had some doubts though as to whether he wanted to practice law in the traditional sense, so he took the Foreign Service exam. He did well, and was offered a position with the Canadian government. He accepted because it gave him an opportunity to practice law, and get involved in international affairs and foreign policy.

After joining the department in 1981, he spent his first two years as a Foreign Service Officer in Ottawa. Then in 1983-85, he was given his first foreign posting to Singapore, where he worked as an administrative and consular officer, specifically as the Third, and then Second Secretary to the Canadian High Commissioner there.

He then went back to Ottawa and from mid-1985 through to mid-1989, he worked as an Analyst with the Intelligence Assessments Divisions of the Department of External Affairs, and then as a Legal Officer with the Legal Operations Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

In July of 1989, he came to Bangkok for the first time. Posted here as the Embassy’s First Secretary, he worked extensively in the political section looking after Vietnam, Laos, and particularly, Cambodia. This was a lead up to the Cambodian Peace Agreement of 1993, brokered by the UN, and Ambassador Sproule did a lot of work with the Cambodian exile community in Thailand, and on the border camps. In the first two years of that assignment (1989-91), Canada did not have an embassy in Vietnam, so the Bangkok embassy, and David, dealt with Vietnamese issues as well.

In August 1993, he was cross-posted to Washington, as the Counsellor for the Canadian Embassy. In the first part of his posting his focus was on US foreign policy in Asia and Latin America, and in the later half he was Ambassador Raymond Chretien’s executive assistant.

In July of 1997, he returned to Ottawa for seven years. The first year saw him as the Director of Intelligence Assessments for Asia for the Secretariat of the Privy Council Office. Then in August of 1998, he became the Deputy Director of the Economic Policy and Summits Division for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Staying with that department, in March of 1999 through to August of 2001, he was Deputy Director, of the Human Rights Law Section. Then in September of 2001, he became Director of the Oceans and Environmental Law Division through to August of 2003, when he became Director of the Human Rights, UN and Economic Law Division until July of 2004. (During this while time - from April 1999 to December of 2004 - he was also the Counsel/Deputy Agent for Canada, in a case concerning Legality of Use of Force, Yugoslavia vs. Canada, in the International Court of Justice.)

Then in August of 2004, he became Canada’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh, where he was Chair of the western Ambassador’s Group. At the time, Canada’s development program in Bangladesh was the country’s second largest in the world. But he was there for only 13 months, before being cross-posted to Kabul as the Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan in October of 2005 (Ambassador Sproule was single then; you can’t serve in Afghanistan with family, or dependents).

“I had to utilize skills that I never had to use before,” he recalls. Much of this skill was utilized in working with Canada’s military (Canada had 2,500 soldiers posted there). Afghanistan also was the recipient of Canada’s largest development program. Ambassador Sproule served in Afghanistan for 19 months (an extreme hardship posting like that usually lasts only one year), leaving in April of last year. He spent a few months back in Ottawa and then officially started his posting here in July of 2007.

BEING HERE

What are your goals as Ambassador?

“In the aftermath of the coup, as an elected government is established in Thailand, I’d like to see an increase in our bilateral relations, particularly between senior officials and ministers. Any opportunity I have to arrange for a Canadian minister to come and visit Bangkok, I encourage it. And vice versa. We just had the Thai Science & Technology Minister Wutipong Chaisang visiting Vancouver and the last Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama was in Quebec City for the World Heritage meetings.

“I want to work on specific initiatives and investments for Canadian companies in Thailand. When a company’s efforts have the backing of the embassy, it gives them confidence to do business here and we are happy to back a company we believe in. We also try to make sure that the playing field is attractive for Canadian companies. So we meet with senior officials in the Thai government over legislation that could potentially harm or improve Canadian investment in Thailand.

“I’m also encouraged by the increasing interaction between the Thai and Canadian academic communities, particularly when it comes to encouraging Thais to study at the post-secondary level in Canada. Thais get a high quality education in Canada at a very reasonable price, allowing some Thais the chance to study overseas that they normally wouldn’t have. I can’t think of a better way to improve people-to-people contacts between the two nations than by sending more Thais to study in Canada, so I’d like to facilitate that. There are quite a few Thais who have studied in Canada who now hold senior positions in their government, and they are big boosters of Canada.

“I also want the Embassy to assist in any way it can, particularly through our Canada Fund program, to try and increase the dialogue in the three southern provinces and ensure that the issues are resolved peacefully. Remember, we have learned how to accommodate a culturally distinct society (Quebec) within our own country. Right from the beginning, we have devolved certain authority to the provinces, and allowed them to retain jurisdiction over key areas important for preserving their identity and culture, the most important example of which is the use of the French language in Quebec.

“And finally, I want to ensure we provide top-notch consular service for Canadians visiting Thailand. We have a really good consular team, headed by Chuck Andeel, and it’s important that Canadians know and feel that their embassy is there to assist them, especially in times of distress. We currently have 180,000 Canadians visiting Thailand annually, so that’s going to be a lot of work for our consular section. (Ed note: The Political/Economic section is headed by Steven Rheault-Kihara; Immigration is headed by Richard Anderson; the Consular & Administration section is helmed by Chuck Andeel; the Commercial section ably manned by Greg Goldhawk; and the Development section, which includes overseeing the Canada Fund, is headed by Ms Pattama Vongratanavichit)

How did the Canadian government help victims of Cyclone Nargis?

“A total of CAN$14 million was allocated for victims of the cyclone. Most of this went to international organizations such as the Red Cross. The Canadian government also hatched a matching fund scheme where it matched any donation given to a reputable NGO. We also had a Disaster Assistance Relief Team (DART) ready to go in. This was 200 Canadian soldiers, trained specifically to give assistance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, by doing things like providing clean water and establishing communications. The advance team of 8 was in Bangkok, but couldn’t get visas to go in. By the way, we also have an ongoing program of assistance for the Burmese refugees living in the border camps near Mae Sot.”

Is there hope for Burma?

“I’m a great believer that for a society to work and prosper it must have strong and capable institutions. And that every country should protect individual and human rights. To do that, you have to have the rule of law; you must have a judicial system that functions and is not corrupt; you must have a capable civil service that provides social services such as health care and education; you need armed forces, whose job it is to provide the normal kind of defense a country needs (to protect against foreign threats and help provide relief when troubles and disaster hit); and the police must protect the people, not be used against them as a threat. So the judiciary, the civil service, the armed forces and the police: all these institutions must be established and kept on track, but they can’t be developed overnight. And each of these institutions has to be strong enough to make sure that no one institution wields unchecked authority. “And building them up - from the bottom up - and doing it properly, takes time. But in Burma, these institutions have deteriorated over the years due to a very, very, brutal regime.”

Is there potential for Canadian companies in Laos?

“We are hoping, in conjunction with the TCCC, to send a key Canadian delegation of businesses to Laos in the fall because the country has trade opportunities that are well-suited for Canadian companies. These include mining, education, computer programming for government management, power generation and hydro, and environmental assistance programs, so Laos can develop its resources in a positive manner. Canada has a lot of capability in all of these areas.”

What are your thoughts on the current political situation in Thailand?

“Thailand like a lot of other countries is experiencing some real economic pressure right now with huge increases in oil and food prices. This has really put pressure on the government. We welcomed the democratic election, but the ongoing political turmoil is a concern to private business.

“The political situation in Thailand is very much based on individuals, that’s why you have more political parties than you would normally have. And these parties are less ideologically-based. Rather, they have strong individuals leading them, who have support in certain areas of the country, and their supporters rally around them. This is not as conducive a system as having two or three main parties.”

What about studying in Canada & combating the cold?

“Talking to a group of 50 Thai students (all studying environmental engineering, but one) at the University of Regina recently I discovered that what they really enjoyed most about studying in Canada was that their Canadian host families treated them like they were members of the family and went out of their way to make them feel like they belonged. Then once they realized how to dress, and how to take advantage of the Canadian winters, they had a great time tobogganing, skating and cross-country skiing. They also pooled their resources and every week had a huge Thai feast.”

“So my advice to Thais thinking of studying in Canada is to learn how to protect yourselves against the cold, pool your Thai food with your friends and you’ll have a great time. And remember, we do have summers in Canada - spring and fall, too.

“Also, there are usually many Asians in the Canadian cities that Thais choose to study in, so they don’t feel that stand out and they don’t have too much trouble adapting culturally. Canada has deliberately encouraged people to come to Canada and celebrate their origins and ethnic past by sharing them with other Canadians. Freshmen Thais are usually twinned with senior Thai students on arrival who can show the ropes, where to shop, what clothes to wear in winter, what clubs to join, etc.”

Do you want to mention some specific Canadian companies doing good work here?

“Pan Orient has done some great things here. This is a small dynamic Canadian company, which in a short period of time at its fields in Petchabun has become the second largest inland oil producer in Thailand. We also have Canadoil, which is a major player in the manufacture of pipeline and pipeline-related equipment. And, Scotiabank continues to grow its stake in the Thanachart Bank.

“Thailand has also become a centre for engineering expertise for Bombardier well beyond Thailand. In their office, here in Bangkok, they have about 70 engineers who are providing services for the company worldwide. It’s an ideal fit: Thais like their country, and they like remaining in their country to pursue their careers if possible. So you have a Canadian company, which is using Thai expertise to the mutual benefit of Canada, Thailand and Bombardier’s customers. I told the former Thai Minister of Industry Khosit Panpiamrat about this last year and he got quite excited because this is the type of thing that Thailand wants to promote.”

Parting thoughts?

"The more I’m here; the more convinced I am that Thailand and Canada are a good match. There are a lot of similarities between Thais and Canadians in the way we look at the world. Canadians are modest, unassuming, easy to get along with, and generally very positive and welcoming. So are the Thais, so it’s no secret that we get along well. Canadians also have a very good reputation among Thais; we are seen as tolerant and friendly.”

Find me on...

facebooktwitterinstagram