Canada’s Ambassador to Bhutan, Nadir Patel speaks to Kuensel on Canada – Bhutan relation. Excerpts
What is the objective of your visit this time?
A: I am delighted to be visiting Bhutan again this year, but this visit is particularly special. As we celebrate 15 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and Bhutan, it is a perfect occasion to commemorate the strong ties between our two countries. In addition, on this visit, I am pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the new Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and the newly appointed Cabinet. Canada will continue to work closely with the Bhutanese government to shape the future of the Canada-Bhutan relationship and further strengthen our bilateral and multilateral ties.
What are some of the developments in the relations between Bhutan and Canada since your last visit?
A: My last visit was in July this year, and relations between Canada and Bhutan continue to develop on a multi-dimensional positive trajectory.
It is impressive to note Canada’s legacy in the education sector, which is in large part on account of Father Mackey, who built strong education linkages between our two countries. Canada is a favoured destination among Bhutanese students for corporate training and higher education, and Canadian educational institutions are reciprocating the interest.
In 2018, the Canadian Embassy led what will become an annual Canadian Education Mission to Bhutan. This year’s Edu-Canada Showcase featured eight Canadian universities and colleges that visited Bhutan on a trade mission. Over three days, they met with more than 1,000 students who were interested in studying in Canada.
Canada’s involvement in the education sector in Bhutan has also involved providing educators to Bhutan. This has been carried out through The Bhutan Canada Foundation (BCF), a Canadian charity working in partnership with the Ministry of Education in Bhutan to encourage the growth of Bhutan’s system of universal education.
Since 1984, Canada’s Crown Corporation, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has been actively engaged in Bhutan, supporting over 23 activities worth millions of dollars. It gives me great pleasure to announce an exciting program that IDRC is presently working on that will bring young Bhutanese scholars to University of Oxford where they will participate in the launch of the International Society of Bhutan Studies (ISBS). The program is a joint initiative of the Centre for Bhutanese Studies and Gross National Happiness, Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative at Magdalen College, University of Oxford, and IDRC.
In addition to education, economic cooperation between Canada and Bhutan is continuing to develop. In 2017, Canadian exports to Bhutan increased to BTN 28,045,933.72 vs. BTN 7,398,785.90 in 2016, whereas Canadian imports from Bhutan amounted to BTN 27,474,855.42 BTN, an increase from BTN 1,223,689.33 in 2016.
On the development side, in 2018-2019, the Canada Fund for the Local Initiatives (CFLI) is funding four projects in Bhutan valued at BTN 5,433,797.79 in the areas of democracy, growth that works for everyone, and health. The projects contain a women’s empowerment angle and have been assessed through a gender based analysis lens.
Canada has placed a particular emphasis, both domestically and internationally, on empowering women and girls. Canada’s newly announced Feminist International Assistance Policy will ensure that 95% of our bilateral international development assistance will focus on advancing gender equality.
What are other plans to boost people to people interaction?
In Canada, we treat diversity as a source of strength and Canadians can trace their origins to almost every part of the world.
Approximately, 4000 Canadians of Bhutanese heritage call Canada home. It’s interesting to note that Lethbridge, in the province of Alberta, is home to the largest Bhutanese community in Canada. Bhutanese people are making significant contributions to Canadian society in a range of areas, including business, arts and culture, health care and medicine, public service, journalism, advocacy, and philanthropy.
Similarly, there are a number of notable Canadians in Bhutan, and these people-to-people ties are at the heart of our education collaboration. Many Bhutanese students have studied at the University of New Brunswick and other universities in Canada, including past and present politicians, government and business leaders.
In the areas of skills enhancement and capacity building, there is strong momentum. In the past year, Bhutanese helicopter pilots received training at Chinook Helicopters in Abbotsford, for specialized mountain flights. I hope to see more Bhutanese pilots coming to Canada in the years to come as the need for helicopter services grows. There is presently a female helicopter pilot being trained in Canada, and I would be thrilled if this trend continues.
On the cultural side, we are eager to see more collaboration in the field of performing arts, films, and literature and even culinary exchanges. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada [IRCC] – our department that is responsible for these files – is committed to holding semi-annual outreach events that will focus on delivering presentations for visitor, student, and worker applications in Bhutan.
Canada has become a popular destination for students to study and earn. Could you share an update on how many Bhutanese are studying in Canada?
More and more international students are choosing Canada for a high quality education, in a safe multicultural environment at an affordable cost. There have been 55 Bhutanese students who were approved to study since 2015, 13 students in 2018. We look forward to seeing increasing numbers of Bhutanese students pursuing studies in Canada at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and have set an informal target of 1000 students from Bhutan in the near to medium term.
There is assistance available to international students in various forms. For example, many universities and colleges offer financial loans or assistance, scholarships, support mechanisms for finding accommodation, connecting with alumni and cultural groups, healthcare etc.
Compared to the 11th Plan, how different would Canada’s support to Bhutan be in the 12th Plan?
Over the past several years, Canada’s partnership with Bhutan has evolved into a multi-dimensional relationship founded on a long history of cooperation in education and perpetuated by shared priorities, including our mutual commitment to climate change issues and youth engagement.
Canada is keen to work with and support Bhutan’s development objectives, as well as to enhance our bilateral and multilateral engagement. Furthermore, as Bhutan continues to take important steps to build a broad-based, private-sector-focused economy premised on diversification, we are pleased to offer Canadian expertise to directly contribute in the areas of infrastructure/construction, telecom, financial services, power, and water and wastewater.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to invite the wonderful people of Bhutan to engage with Canada on a more regular basis through our social media channels. Follow us on our recently launched social media platforms: @CanadainBhutan on Facebook and Twitter – and stay tuned this week for some exciting posts, live feeds and updates from Team Canada!