Canada unveils new Arctic foreign policy statement
“The Arctic is part of us. Was. Is. And always will be"
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon launched a new Arctic foreign policy for Canada Aug. 20 in Ottawa, but offered no new promises of money for the Arctic Council, said nothing about the re-appointment of an Arctic ambassador position or an increased role for Inuit in international negotiations.
“L’Arctique est une partie de nous. Depuis longtemps. Aujourd’hui plus que jamais. Et pour toujours… The Arctic is part of us. Was. Is. And always will be,” Cannon said in a short statement delivered in French and English, noting that the importance of the Arctic and Canada’s interests in the North “have never been greater.”
It makes sense to define Canada as an Arctic power, he said.
To that end, Ottawa intends to promote Canada’s Arctic vision through international leadership and stewardship, “but firmly rooted in our commitment to sovereignty in the North,” Cannon said.
This vision includes “a stable, rules-based region with clearly defined boundaries, dynamic economic growth and trade, vibrant northern communities and healthy and productive ecosystem,” he said.
But sovereignty is the “absolute priority,” Cannon said in French — in the North as well as over the rest of Canada — and Canada is ready to defend that as needed, he added.
The long presence of Inuit, other native peoples and Canadian explorers like Joseph Bernier means Canada’s sovereignty over the Arctic is “well established,” Cannon said.
Speaking in French, Cannon said Canada exercises that sovereignty at home every day though good governance, sound management and concrete actions.
Internationally, Canada plans to continue to work with the other seven Arctic Council member nations, he said, mentioning his plans to travel to Norway, Finland and Russia early next month to discuss “Arctic matters.”
As for the new Arctic policy, Cannon called it the “international lens” of the “four pillars” of the 2009 northern strategy: exercising Canada’s sovereignty, improving and devolving governance, protecting the Arctic’s environmental heritage and promoting economic and social development.
But most of Cannon’s Aug. 20 statement focused on Canada’s plans with respect to exercising its sovereignty and settling outstanding boundaries with other Arctic nations, such as securing recognition for the full extent of the extended continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean to meet the 2013 deadline for United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Under UNCLOS, countries can claim offshore territory beyond their 200-nautical mile economic zone if they can prove underwater geology is an extension of their continental shelf.
At stake in the Arctic is control over the potentially huge oil, natural gas, and mineral reserves that scientists believe lie under polar waters.
Cannon said Canada will also work with the United States and Denmark to make an on the remaining disputed boundaries in the Beaufort Sea and Hans Island, the tiny rocky island between Ellesmere Island and Greenland.
And he said Canada does, “and will continue, to exercise our sovereignty through good governance in the North” — although Cannon said Canada doesn’t accept the premise that the Arctic requires “a fundamentally new governance structure or legal framework,” such as a circumpolar treaty.
The Arctic Council will remain the forum where Canada and the other Arctic nations will “set the agenda” for cooperation on sustainable development in the Arctic, he said.
As for the lack of detail in the new Arctic foreign policy, that’s because it’s a policy, Cannon told reporters after he delivered the statement.
A policy is a reference document to give the government direction and offer “those who are interested in the Arctic the Canadian position in a more formal sense.”
The NDP Northern Affairs Critic, Dennis Bevington, the MP for the Western Arctic, who had not yet had a chance to look at the text of the Arctic policy, told Nunatsiaq News that he’s concerned about the representation and role of Arctic residents and indigenous peoples in the policy.
The fact “we don’t have an Arctic ambassador, that we’re not taking the lead as we have in the past on Arctic Council issues” is something that the Conservative government has been also been “very much a failure on.
“I think it should be there. It goes along with international negotiations,” he said.
Later in an official NPD statement, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar sounded cautiously optimistic about the new foreign affairs policy, saying that it marked “a major shift from the Conservatives’ confrontational posture on the Arctic. Conservatives are late-comers to cooperation and engagement – but better late than never.”
But Dewar said “we can’t take this policy statement seriously if change does not materialize.”
In a statement issued on the afternoon of Aug. 20, the Inuit Circumpolar Council also offered a cautious welcome to Cannon’s Arctic foreign policy announcement, and said Inuit must be more involved in forming Canada’s Arctic policy, which means they should get more money to help them participate.
“I think Mr. Cannon understands, through this statement, that Inuit need to be at the centre of implementing Canada’s Arctic foreign policy if it is to have any chance of success — and by deduction to have resources to do so — and for that I am extremely pleased,” Duane Smith, the president of ICC Canada, said in a news release.
Smith also said he liked the policy statement’s focus on “the human dimension” of the Arctic, and its focus on the marine environment, Arctic shipping, and oil and gas development.
Nunavut premier Eva Aariak said the overall policy statement was consistent with what three territorial premiers’ Northern Vision document of 2007.
The key for the Aug. 20 policy stated, “as always, lies in the implementation,” Aariak said in a news release.
“I look forward to working with the Government of Canada as we continue to grow the true north, strong and free,” she said.