Clearly, a parliament, a democratically-elected parliament no less, deserves much respect as an institution and in its proceedings. How appropriate then, that a visiting Governor General would address the Mongolian parliament.
As I was not a part of the official Canadian delegation, I had to rely on contacts in Mongolia to procure an invitation to the event, but was certainly delighted to be able to attend.
I learned during this visit that the Governor General’s role is not only limited to a largely symbolic one, but that this limitation extends to his visits abroad as well. I was therefore somewhat disappointed that David Johnston did not announce the bilateral aid program for Mongolia during the visit. This program has existed in stealth mode for some time now with a CIDA officer posted in Mongolia for over a year and even a reference to such a program on the CIDA webpages. As a program, it has yet to be announced officially and thus continues to exist in some kind of limbo where some projects appear to be underway.
So, the bilateral aid program did not make it into the speech to parliament or any other announcements.
The parliamentary session was naturally presided over by Enkhbold Z, chairman of the Ikh Khural, who sits at the centre of the back wall. Seats for the 76 MPs are arranged in a horseshoe formation facing each other and the chairman. President Elbegdorj sat to the right of the chairman and an additional chair was placed ahead of him for the Governor General. Official members of the Canadian delegation were sitting in a line behind MPs to the right of the chairman while another row of chairs was behind the MPs to the left of the chairman where Mongolian officials, such as H.E. Zalaa-Uul, the current ambassador to Canada, were seated.
The incoming ambassador to Canada, R Altangerel, was quite involved in this event as in other events, since his current position is as chief of protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Mongolia.
David Johnston crossed the floor (literally, not metaphorically) to his chair together with Enkhbold.
After Enkhbold formally opened the session, everyone stood as the Mongolian anthem was played. The Governor General was then invited to deliver his speech. As always, the text for the speech was carried and then placed for him on the lectern by a military attendant who provides a mobile aura of political theatre for the Governor General everywhere.
I was able to observe the proceedings together with Canadian officials and members of the delegation and members of the foreign diplomatic corps from the balcony.
The speech was attended by over 50 of the 76 members. It only lasted 12 minutes or so, in part because David Johnston may be one of the fastest talkers in the history of his office.
The speech quite naturally focused on the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Mongolia and discussed a number of similarities and common interests between the two countries. While there was no explicit mention of a bilateral CIDA program, the rational for and focus of such a program was summarized in the following paragraphs,
We are working together for improvements in public service management, better policing practice, legal and judicial reform, and enhanced local government capacity.
We are also working to develop the administrative and legislative strengths of this critical institution, the State Great Khural.
Canada is partnering with Mongolia in these endeavours because we believe that building strong, transparent and efficient judicial, public service and legislative institutions is both the “smart” thing to do and the “right” thing to do.
Given that there has been some sustained Canadian involvement in training the Mongolian military for peacekeeping missions, this aspect of the relationship also received specific mention.
The full text of the speech can be accessed on the Governor General’s website.
For an overview of the main themes of the state visit, see my piece for the Canadian International Council.