Feds confirm $67.3 million for ArcticNet research network
ArcticNet plans more Inuit involvement, projects on health and education
QUEBEC CITY — The ArcticNet research network is seven years closer to fulfilling its ambition to become Canada’s first national polar institute.
The Quebec City-based group brings together more than 30 universities, Inuit organizations like Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Government of Nunavut and the Kativik Regional Government, other government agencies and hundreds of researchers in its studies on climate change and its impacts in the Arctic.
ArcticNet’s scientific director, Louis Fortier, gleefully accepted the renewal of federal money for ArcticNet — a total of $67.3 million, noting that Canada does not yet have a polar institute, like many other Arctic nations.
“We have ideas for you and your government,” he told Christian Paradis, the federal industry minister, at a Sept. 15 news conference held at ArcticNet’s home at Université Laval.
ArcticNet’s ideas include having input into the science program of the future Canadian High Arctic Research Station, set to open in Cambridge Bay in 2017.
While many Canadian researchers are criticizing the Harper government for cutting its Arctic research programs, Fortier said ArcticNet’s new millions speaks to the fact that “this government is a government of the Arctic.”
Now, ArcticNet will be able to make plans for its future, and pay for them.
These plans include renewing 22 research projects, two research chairs and 12 new projects focusing on Inuit health and education and on the North’s social and economic situation.
Much of ArcticNet’s research takes place on the Coast Guard research icebreaker, the Amundsen, which spends its summers travelling throughout the Canadian Arctic, from its Quebec City port through to the Beaufort Sea and back.
From its start in 2003, ArcticNet has proven to be clever at stretching its research money.
As Fortier explained during his Sept. 15 presentation that every dollar that ArcticNet receives is multiplied three to five times thanks to its partnerships.
These partners include oil companies such as BP, whose money helped cover some of the $80,000-a-day cost of sailing the Amundsen.
Asked if he saw a conflict of interest between researching the impacts of climate change in the Arctic and accepting research money from companies whose bread-and-butter, that is, fossil fuels, contribute to Arctic warming, Fortier said no.
Fortier admitted that these partnerships may seem “paradoxical,” but he said that ArcticNet research carried out through these partnerships could reveal the presence of undersea oil deposits whose use would be much cleaner and less harmful to the environment.
“It may displace some of the dirtiest fossil fuels,” such as coal and oil from Alberta’s tar sands.
Arctic development must be controlled and based on the best scientific information possible, he said.
“We have to do things correctly with the people who live there and with the ecosystem.”
As for Inuit involvement, Fortier pointed to the six per cent of ArcticNet’s budget which is spent annually on outreach programs, which include its Schools on Board program, incentives for Inuit researchers and involvement in ITK’s Inuit Qaujisarvingat Inuit knowledge center.
During the next seven years, Fortier promised more “innovative partnerships with Inuit,” with more Inuit doing the studies, instead of being studied.
He called the state of Inuit health, which ArcticNet helped study during the recent Inuit health surveys on board the Amunden, “appalling.”
Paradis, whose department which handed out money to ArcticNet from its “Networks of Centres of Excellent” program, praised ArcticNet for its collaborations and partnerships, saying its “work is of tremendous importance to Canadians.
ArcticNet is the largest recipient of his department’s program to date, having received $46 million over its first seven years.
That money comes with no strings attached, such as defending Canadian sovereignty, he told reporters — although ArcticNet’s objectives dovetail with the “four pillars” of federal northern strategy as well as Quebec’s Plan Nord, several speakers at the news conference noted.