An Afternoon with the Ambassador of Canada

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Being posted to Kuala Lumpur as the High Commissioner of Canada has been a homecoming of sorts for Her Excellency, Judith St. George. Having first graced our shores in 1989, St. George has spent a considerable amount of time in the Southeast Asian region. “I was first posted to Kuala Lumpur in the late 80s as a Trade Commissioner, before returning to South East Asia two other postings in Manila and Ho Chi Minh City,” she explains.

Hailing from the town of Oakville, Ontario, St. George harboured dreams of becoming a veterinarian while growing up, before the realities of biology class set in. “I didn’t enjoy the dissecting part of it,” she laughs. After pursuing an Arts degree in History and Literature from Queen’s University, St. George decided on the field of public service. “I got my Masters in Public Administration and that brought me to Ottawa where I worked in the auditing field,” she says. “I then decided I wanted to combine my love for travel with public service and passed the Foreign Service exam – and that was the end of my auditing career!”

Having first been posted to Minneapolis, Minnesota, St. George was itching for a more exotic locale for her second stint in the Foreign Service. “I enjoyed Minneapolis but it was next door to Canada and quite possibly the only place colder than where I was from!” she quips. “Fortunately, the Kuala Lumpur posting came soon after. I’m excited to be back for a second time.”

And what a posting it has been thus far. St. George arrived in Kuala Lumpur at the end of April 2013 and hit the ground running, establishing relations with her Malaysian counterparts and working on a variety of projects. “It is good time to be here work-wise. Trade and investment is strong and growing; we’ve got security cooperation particularly on illegal migration, as well as educational links. We are also working on human rights and democracy, as well as religious freedom,” she explains. “Canada’s engagement in ASEAN is quite strong, especially in Malaysia as we’ve had diplomatic ties here since 1957. We are also hoping to become a member of the East Asia Summit, which Malaysia will be hosting in 2015. So, yes there’s quite a lot on my plate!”

A particularly interesting development has been the Petronas investment into Canada, which St. George says has brought the bilateral relationship to a whole new level. “The total investment amount is 36 billion Canadian dollars (108 billion ringgit) and it involves building a pipeline from Northern British Columbia across the province to the west coast, as well as the construction of an LNG facility. Currently there’s no pipeline, so the building of this would allow for Canadian gas exports to Asian markets,” she states.

Not surprisingly, trade investment comprises of a large portion of St. George’s work here. “There are lots of Canadian investors in Malaysia. There’s Talisman in the oil and gas sector, Scotiabank and Sun Life in the financial services sector, Manulife insurance, and Bombadier, which provides rail cars and signalling systems for the LRT and MRT,” she says. “There’s also some electronic components manufacturing, and CAE flight simulators are used to train all Air Asia pilots here.”

With a full-on schedule comes a steep learning curve. “I suppose when you first arrive in a country, you don’t always understand the full breadth of the relationship one nation has with another,” she confesses. “But it does get easier as you go along. You learn to look at all aspects, and talk to people who know the ropes. In the end though, I often find that there are more similarities than differences between us all.”

A standout moment for St. George came in the form of the visit by Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper in October 2013. “There’s a lot of work that goes into a high profile visit, and I think those moments are fantastic opportunities for both sides,” she explains. “Our teams worked really well together and the visit was a success, which is something I’m very proud of. In this kind of role you do have access to leaders of countries as well as royalty, which is such a huge honour. There’s so much pride associated with representing your country abroad.”

Despite her undeniably hectic schedule, St. George has managed to find time to explore parts of the country, and fuel her love for the outdoors. “I go hiking, explore nature trails and visit animal sanctuaries. I’ve visited the elephant sanctuary (in Kuala Gandah), seen the orang-utans, sun bears, proboscis monkeys and the bird park,” she says enthusiastically. “My biggest passion is scuba diving and on a trip to Pulau Redang, I was pleased to find that 20 years later, the diving is just as good. I was expecting to be disappointed but visibility was great, and the coral and marine life were thriving.”

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Source: The Expat Magazine March 2014

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