PM Harper: Nunavut MP Aglukkaq will chair the Arctic Council
Canada assumes council chairmanship in May 2013
(Updated 9:55 a.m., Aug. 24)
Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq will serve as chair of the Arctic Council next year, when the chairmanship of the eight-nation body passes from Sweden to Canada.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the announcement Aug. 23 during a visit to Cambridge Bay.
“I am delighted that Leona, who has such a deep understanding of Canada’s North and its peoples, has accepted to act as Canada’s chair of the Arctic Council,” Harper said.
Harper said also that he will name Aglukkaq as “minister for the Arctic Council” in cabinet and that she will serve as ambassador to the council.
Canada last held the chairmanship of the council between 1996 and 1998.
Aglukkaq is no stranger to the work of the Arctic Council. In May 2011, she represented Canada at a ministerial level meeting of the international body held in Nuuk, Greenland.
At that meeting, member states produced a a binding agreement on search and rescue, the first such binding agreement to be produced by the Arctic Council.
The next such meeting will be held in Kiruna, Sweden in May 2013, when Canada takes the chairmanship, which it will hold until 2015.
Founded in 1996, the Arctic Council held its first ministerial meeting in Iqaluit in 1998, under the chairmanship of Lloyd Axworthy, then the foreign affairs minister.
In its early years, the Arctic Council concentrated on environmental co-operation among circumpolar nations, as well as social and cultural issues.
But in the wake of increasing concern about climate change and perceived territorial disputes among Arctic nations, the body now enjoys far more prominence.
Non-Arctic players with a strong interest in marine transportation and resource development, such as China, South Korea, Singapore, Italy and the European Union are stepping up demands for permanent observer status on the Arctic Council.
The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Poland, and Spain already hold permanent observer status on the council.
But the idea of expanding the Arctic Council to include more permanent observers is a controversial issue for international aboriginal organizations, such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which enjoy permanent participant status — because they fear their influence could be diluted.
Norway also opposes the granting of permanent observer status to China.
At the May 2011 ministerial meeting in Nuuk, members agreed to set up a permanent secretariat for the council in Tromsø, Norway by the time Canada takes the chair next year.
Harper said Aglukkaq will start work immediately to develop an Arctic Council program for the period between 2013 and 2015, including meetings with aboriginal groups, territorial governments and other Arctic states.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council welcomed the news of Aglukkaq’s appointment.
Aqqaluk Lynge, the international chairperson of the ICC, said he looks forward to work with Aglukkaq..
“The Arctic Council will once again be led by an Inuk from Canada, whose experience in international Arctic cooperation she surely will make good use of,” Lynge told Nunatsiaq News.
Aglukkaq’s appointment also came as “good news” to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s president, Cathy Towtongie, who said Aug. 24 that this will give Aglukkaq and Inuit “the opportunity to balance our own choices in Canada with knowledge gained from understanding the social, cultural and financial realities of life in other circumpolar nations.”
Another group to welcome the appointment is the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program’s director, Sara French.
“We congratulate Minister Aglukkaq on her appointment; she is a natural choice as Canada’s Minister responsible for the Arctic Council. As a northerner she has an intimate knowledge of the issues affecting the region and will no doubt be able to provide strong leadership for Canada as the Council’s Chair. We are eager to see the workplan she will put forward for 2013 to 2015 when Canada will lead this important body,” French said in a written statement.
The Munk-Gordon centre produced a set of recommendations for the Arctic Council this past May, in a document called Canada as an Arctic Power: Preparing for the Canadian Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.
Duane Smith, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council’s Canadian chapter, also welcomed the announcement.
“ICC believes that this appointment means the Canadian government is serious about working more closely with Arctic residents, and this is good news especially for its indigenous peoples,” Smith said.
The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami welcomed the news as well.
“Canada needs strong leadership as it prepares to take on chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and Leona Aglukkaq is well placed to deliver that leadership,” ITK president Terry Audla said in an Aug. 24 statement.
The ITK statement said Aglukkaq’s appointment continues a legacy of “strong Canadian Inuit leadership of the council,” referring to former ITK president Mary Simon’s career as Arctic ambassador and ambassador to Denmark.
“Mary Simon was one of the chief architects of the Arctic Council and served as its first chair,” ITK said.
Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak, on Aug. 24, added her voice to those who are pleased with the decision.
“Canada’s appointment of a Nunavummiutaq to this important position is a very positive step… In terms of its geography, history and spirit, Nunavut is at the heart of Canada’s Arctic,” Aariak said in a statement.
Aariak also said Canada’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council “will be an opportunity to showcase Canada’s and Nunavut’s achievements and for Nunavummiut to put forward the ideas and priorities that will build a stronger future.”
Okalik Eegeesiak, the president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, also chimed in on Aug. 24.
“This is fantastic news. I am glad the Prime Minister has the vision to appoint Minister Aglukkaq to this chairmanship. Given that she was born and raised in the Arctic, and has an in-depth knowledge and personal and professional experiences of the opportunities and challenges facing people here, her appointment is a welcome one,” Eegeesiak said.