The UB Post is Mongolia’s only English language newspaper that is distributed to all the embassies in Mongolia. We make an effort to work closely with all ambassadors and other accredited representatives as we acknowledge the crucial role they play in establishing and sustaining good international relationships. For our 20th anniversary we are introducing a new regular feature story to The UB Post, “Ambassadors in Depth”, to give our readers a closer look at our esteemed ambassadors as individuals and to learn about the work they do. We are grateful for the work these individuals do and are eager to learn more about them with our readers.
Canada’s third resident Ambassador to Mongolia since 2008, His Excellency Ed Jager, was appointed on January 9, 2015, and has been serving as Ambassador since March 2015.
With a law degree from the University of Western Ontario, Ambassador Jager has gained a wide range of international experience in the business and trade sectors of Indonesia, Peru, Afghanistan, and Brazil while representing Canada. Ambassador Jager also contributed to the negotiation of Canada’s air transport agreements from 2011 to 2014.
During his leisure time, the ambassador tries to be as active as he can. He jogs in the morning, rides his bicycle for 35 km stretches, enjoys horseback riding, wandering around the city to discover nice places, as well as taking time to read good books, mostly non-fiction.
One of the books he is now reading is “Sinophobia: Anxiety, Violence, and the Making of Mongolian Identity”, which takes an academic look at the psychological aspect of Mongolia’s relationship to China. He is also reading a book written by Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of International Trade.
Ambassador Jager says he appreciates his job in the foreign service and the opportunity to represent his country abroad and deliver its foreign policy respectfully. The Ambassador values family, and he and his wife have five children and seven grandchildren. He is engaged in many community activities, including helping children who want to see the world and building a great future for the children of Mongolia. In our interview with the ambassador, we learn more about his diplomatic mission and life for him in Mongolia.
You arrived in Ulaanbaatar a little over a year ago. Could you please highlight some activities you have initiated as ambassador?
If I may, I prefer to concentrate not so much on myself, but on the work of my team. Because although I have been here a year, I lead a really excellent team, and it’s the work of the entire embassy that I think is worthy of discussion; not just the work that I have done, but a great team effort.
Last year, we did some interesting things on the political relations front. We re-initiated the Canada-Mongolia roundtable discussion between high-level officials of the governments of both countries. This is something that we initiated 15 years ago, but 2011 was the last time we had one of these roundtables. So, in October of last year, we had another. While doing that, we had a good representation of senior officials from Canada in front of a very active and interested crowd of Mongolian officials. This was a very useful conversation, bringing our relationship up to date and discussing various elements of it, and it is something we hope to continue again this year.
On the commercial front, we continue to have a real interest in Mongolia. Yes, our interest is still primarily in the mining sector. Yes, mining is in a bit of an economic slump right now, and the commodity market is as poor as it is, but we are looking at the long-term; not only in terms of bringing additional Canadian companies to do mining exploration and mining development in Mongolia, but also in terms of the Oyu Tolgoi project. It is a very important project and it brings a lot of opportunities for Canadian participation in that project as well. But again, that’s not a matter of this year or next year, but it’s a matter of the next forty to a hundred years, so it is a long-term project.
So, on the commercial side, we have been focusing on those sorts of things. We are also looking for cooperation in agriculture and construction, but quite honestly, those are things that we’ll really take up in terms of a commercial relationship only once the economy gets stronger. While the economy is weak, Mongolian companies don’t have the same capacity to engage with Canadian or other foreign companies. We are doing our best. When things start to improve, the relationships will come forward quickly and very profitably for both sides.
On the development side, we have an active development cooperation program with Mongolia. As we sit here today, in April of 2016, we have about seven projects that are either underway or close to underway – projects that were not in place at this time last year. So, we have made real headway on projects in the areas of sustainable economic growth, and we are doing projects in the area of advancing democracy in Mongolia, projects which total 40 million CAD over the next five years. Those are very exciting initiatives as well. So I can say that in the three main work areas of the embassy – our political relationship, our commercial relationship, and our development relationship – we made some real headway last year.
You have been engaged in multiple conversations and public events in Mongolia on various issues. Can you share your observations on the main issues Mongolia should be concerned about and resolve first?
Certainly, my biggest impression of Mongolia is that Mongolia is a country of transition. I have worked in different countries around the world in the last 15 years, where the countries have also dealt with transition of some sort. Those include Indonesia, Peru, Brazil, even Afghanistan, but I don’t think I have seen quite the same level of transition in any of those countries that I am seeing here in Mongolia.
I have begun to understand that Mongolia is undergoing social transition, economic transition and political transition. Some of these transitions are long standing. Change in the country from an agricultural and nomadic country to a more urban and sedentary lifestyle was something which had already begun in the Soviet era, since the 1920s. But the political change that has taken place only in the last 25 years is perhaps the most fascinating; watching this country grapple with the principles of democracy. It’s one transition that is truly not yet complete. No one from outside would believe that it could happen in only 25 years. Our country has a democracy of 150 years. That’s how long it has taken us to get where we are today. Happily, I can say it’s been 150 years of peaceful democracy as well, a claim very few countries around the world can make.
When you ask what Mongolians should do, my only thought would be to continue as you are now, and you need to continue to find that space in the world – for Mongolian democracy is strong and open – that is transparent, that is responsive, and that the electoral class really seeks to do what is best for the people of Mongolia.
I believe that as the transition continues from what we saw 25 years ago to what we will see 25 years from now, there will continue to be dramatic change and dramatic differences in terms of the way Mongolia operates.
We know that you are involved in various youth activities here, such as the International Classroom Connection program at the Youth Development Discovery Bridge last December. Mongolia is a youthful country. What work can be initiated by youth organizations in collaboration with the Embassy of Canada?
One of the delights of this job is the opportunity to meet with young people in Mongolia. As you say, Mongolia is a young country, and so it’s also quite clear that the riches of Mongolia are its youth. There is a lot of talk about the mineral resources of Mongolia and how rich Mongolia is in that perspective. Quite frankly, I think the real wealth of Mongolia lies in the intelligence, enthusiasm, and hard work of its youth. I have had opportunities to interact with children as young as 10 and 12 years old, but I’ve also had quite pleasant opportunities to meet with people in their twenties and thirties. I really do believe that the future of Mongolia, and the reason why I am convinced as to its continued growth and success, is because of a strength I see in these young people, whether they are 10, 20, or 35 years old.
And while we do not have formal programs that directly link the embassy to these youth, through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, we grant and support projects from youth organizations and NGOs. Since 1997, we’ve funded over 430 projects throughout Mongolia. Moreover, I will continue to look for opportunities to interact and to share our background and the experiences of Canada with the Mongolian youth, where we came from. But also, frankly, I can learn from you. I think Canada and Canadians need to have a better understanding of Mongolia, and how different it is from its neighbors. Mongolia is a small country far away, and does not have a lot of profile on the Canadian scene. That is a natural outcome of geography and the reality of the world. But at the same time, I would like very much for Canadians to have a better understanding that Mongolia is not a country just like one of its Asian neighbors, but that Mongolia is a different kind of place; a bright place and a hopeful place, despite the weather some days. It’s a place that Canadians need to know more about.
Can you give us the approximate number of visas that were granted to Mongolians last year? Among them, what percentage of them are for study, immigration, and other reasons?
The numbers are not available to me right now, as we have a separate visa application center in Ulaanbaatar that forwards the applications to our consulate in Hong Kong. However, I know that there is an increasing number of Mongolians who are visiting Canada each year. Especially as more and more Mongolian students are choosing Canada to get the best education in the world. The majority of visa applications get approved. Applicants who provide accurate information and honest answers that fully demonstrate the reasons for their travel and their intention to return receive visas. In the other direction, the number of Canadians visiting Mongolia also appears to be increasing. This two-way exchange of people contributes to people-to-people engagement and an enhanced understanding of each other’s culture.
On Twitter, you’ve mentioned things that you don’t enjoy in Ulaanbaatar, such as air pollution, of course. What other things annoy you here?
The pollution is, of course, something we all would like to be diminished. I believe we would also prefer a little less traffic on the roads, but I am lucky that I do not need to be jammed in traffic. I walk from my place to my office in 10 minutes. If I have meetings in the center, I just walk. The city center is walk-able and I like to walk around. Generally speaking, the city is safe to walk, and sometimes sidewalks make it little harder to walk, but I walk year round. Compare that, for example, with my experience in another city where I had to drive for half an hour to cross the street because the traffic was really bad. You couldn’t walk there because it was too hot, complicated, dangerous and uncomfortable, but I don’t have any of those issues in UB.
For young people who would appreciate studying and working in Canada, what skills does that require?
First of all, Mongolians need to be able to speak either one of the official languages of Canada, we are speaking today English, but of course, Canada is also a French speaking country. So it’s important that a Mongolian has a language capacity for one of these languages. Beyond that, of course, Canada is a country seeking and welcoming immigrants from countries all around the world, and it has a diverse economy with a wide range of needs and skills. We are certainly looking for people with skills in the high tech sector, in computer sciences, and the education sector. As well, we are looking for people with skills in the manufacturing sector. It comes down to specific skills, and it depends on the economic needs at a particular time. In fact, our government puts information on a website that provides a list of high demand jobs in Canada.
Mongolians are eager to learn foreign languages, including French, since Canada is officially a bilingual country. Are there any activities related to language or cultural programs that encourage people to learn French?
Specifically, at the embassy, no. But, yes, in cooperation with Francophone partners here such as Alliance Francaise de Mongolie, which is an important partner to us. Every year, in the month of March, they put together a whole month of activities for the public relating to the promotion of the French language, Francophone Month, and we participate and provide some films and Quebec movies. My colleague participated in the opening of the event and I went to the final event at the end of last month. We cooperate and participate in activities with other French speaking countries’ representatives, such as the French Embassy and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. And the good news is that the quality of the French that Mongolians are learning is very good. There is good French language teaching here for students to be able to learn French. The result is that young people are participating in French speaking activities and doing it very well, and it is very impressive. There are a lot of Canadians who would wish to speak French as well as some Mongolians do.
You have been interacting and communicating daily with Mongolians. Besides the hospitality and easygoing manner of the people, what do you think we can change?
On a personal level, Mongolians are wonderful people to meet with. Their directness, a level of respect, a sense of humor, and resilience are really appealing aspects of the Mongolian character, and I really enjoy my interactions with Mongolians because of all those aspects. I find that if you deal with Mongolians with respectful directness, it is reciprocated very quickly. I am not sure I am in the position to be able to suggest what you can change, but I think this is a fascinating country to live in because of its people most of all. The countryside is beautiful, the politics are interesting, and commerce offers interesting opportunities, but Mongolia’s people really make it a great place to live.
How have you adjusted to the daily lifestyle here, such as the food you eat? Are you a big meat eater in cold weather?
Of course, I haven’t completely adapted to all aspects of the Mongolian lifestyle and cooking, but certainly, I have had delightful opportunities to sample it from time to time. I have had to adapt to life in Mongolia a little bit, like wearing even warmer clothes in winter time than I do in Canada, but I actually find the adaptation is very straightforward. It is very possible to live a life here in UB which is very similar to the life I lived in Canada. The biggest problem for me is not in adapting to what I have to deal with here, but in adapting to being far away from my family. My wife has things to do and has adapted to Mongolian life very well, and she enjoys city life and outdoor activities here. We are very happy here. We just wish some of our five children were living here with us.