Notes for an Address by the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations "Our Sovereignty in the Arctic: A Priority for the Government of Canada"

No. 2009/14 - Montreal, Quebec - March 27, 2009

Check Against Delivery

For nearly 25 years, the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations has been instrumental in extending the influence of Montreal throughout the world.

By opening up less familiar horizons to a new generation of business people, public administrators and academics, the MCFR is also promoting an awareness of the realities that have transformed our world in a very short period of time. So I do thank you for your kind invitation.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

This historic milestone in the evolution of the Canadian government’s international function comes at a time when our country and the world around us are going through a period of unprecedented economic uncertainty and instability.

It is not even entirely accurate to talk about “foreign” affairs any more, since international issues now have such a significant impact on our daily lives.

For example, the crisis we are currently experiencing erupted in the United States, but one pernicious effect of globalization is that all economies are now feeling the shock waves.

And the only way we are going to emerge from it successfully is if the international community manages to come together in resisting the temptation of protectionism and adopting the multilateral measures that the situation requires.

It is also entirely natural, given this problematic context, that Canadians are expecting their government to demonstrate enlightened, energetic leadership, including in foreign policy.

Our Priorities

Let us be clear: the principal focus of our foreign policy is to protect the security and prosperity of Canadians. This is the first responsibility of government, and we will pursue it with all necessary energy and focus.

In our view, we will succeed if we concentrate our efforts on a limited number of priorities and objectives. And that’s the Prime Minister’s intention at the upcoming G20 conference in London.

Our Economic Interests

Accordingly, we will be focusing first of all on promoting our economic interests, notably with our main trading partner, the United States, but also with the rest of world, particularly the emerging markets.

We have taken a strong interest in a variety of emerging markets, including China, India and Brazil.

And although these countries, like all the rest, are suffering from the global economic downturn, we continue to see them as offering opportunities for trade and investment.

The United States and the Americas

Our relationship with the United States, which is imposed on us naturally by geography, history and economic imperatives, is a priority.

Trade between our two countries is worth $1.5 billion per day, representing the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world.

Our mutual security and prosperity are inseparable, and our relationship is built on respect, shared values and a long-standing tradition of cooperation.

I have had the opportunity to meet three times already with my U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and I have no doubt that relations between our two countries are going to be productive and positive in the years to come.

Canadians will have also noted with satisfaction that President Obama’s first visit was to Canada, on February 19.

Canada also intends to renew and strengthen our relations with our other partners on the American continent. That is why the Prime Minister recently named a Minister of State with specific responsibility for the Americas region.

Strengthening ties with the Americas, the government will continue to foster opportunities for trade by building on the momentum created by the free trade agreements signed with Colombia and Peru.


On this continent, however, Haiti—the native country of some 150,000 Montrealers—remains a prisoner of cruel underdevelopment.

Haiti is already the second-largest recipient of Canadian foreign aid, and our government has committed to providing $555 million over five years for reconstruction and development efforts in that country.

We are placing the emphasis on state strengthening; access to basic services, namely health, education and infrastructure; and rapid socioeconomic improvements.


There are also times when, as individuals and countries, we have to shoulder responsibility for events that were not our responsibility in the first place.

That is why we agreed, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to deploy Canadian troops to Afghanistan—to combat terrorism and to help the Afghan people gain access to freedom and development.

We are now transforming our engagement in Afghanistan, focusing more on reconstruction and development and preparing for the end of our combat mission in 2011.

I had my first visit to Afghanistan about a week and a half ago, and I can assure you that all Quebecers and all Canadians can be very proud of what we’re accomplishing there.

The Arctic

In addition to these main international priorities, we must add another, one closer to home, which is the affirmation of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.

Canada is an Arctic nation and an Arctic power. The Arctic and the North make up 40 percent of our land mass. The Arctic and the North are part of our national identity.

We would also like to see this region participate more fully in the economic life of the country.

I am committed to ensuring that the international spotlight stays focused on the challenges and opportunities facing the Arctic.

One way to do this will be through a renewed focus on the role and importance of the Arctic Council, the premier international forum for Arctic cooperation.

The Council brings together Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

Integrated Northern Strategy

That is why our government has announced an Integrated Northern Strategy resting on four pillars: protecting our environmental heritage, promoting economic and social development, exercising our sovereignty, and improving and devolving governance.

Our foreign policy delivers on the international dimension of each of the four elements in this strategy, thereby affirming our leadership, stewardship and ownership in the region.


Since 2006, the Canadian government has taken many steps to protect and preserve our unique Arctic environment.

We will build on this solid foundation to respond to emerging issues, from

chemical pollutants, shipping safety, and search and rescue, to climate change.

We recognize that climate change is having a disproportionate impact on the Arctic and its inhabitants, although experts do not agree on the pace of this dramatic change.

Some experts, for example, predicted recently that the entire Arctic could be ice free in summer by 2013; others say this will not happen until 2050.

Our own Canadian Ice Service, however, believes that the Northwest Passage will likely not be a reliable commercial shipping route for decades owing to extreme ice variability.

But there can be no doubt that we must be ready to act now, understanding that we hold in trust a treasure for future generations.

We will work through the appropriate multilateral institutions on international mechanisms like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address these challenges.

And we will continue to play a leading role in the development of guidelines for Arctic shipping through the International Maritime Organization.

Canada has long been at the forefront in protecting the Arctic environment. During his latest visit to the Arctic, on August 27, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the Government of Canada would extend the application of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act beyond its present 100 nautical mile zone. Our purpose is to regulate all shipping in zones up to 200 nautical miles from the baselines of the Canadian territorial sea.

In addition, the Prime Minister announced that Canada will establish new regulations under the Canada Shipping Act that will require mandatory reporting for all ships destined for Canada’ s Arctic waters within the same 200 nautical mile limit.

The Government of Canada has also pledged enhanced surveillance and a heightened military presence in Canada’s Arctic waters.

Creating a world-class research station in the High Arctic constitutes an investment for future generations.

In the 2009 budget, our government undertook to spend $87 million over two years to improve science and technology facilities in the Arctic and to plan for the Arctic Research Station.

Economic and Social Development

The human dimension of the Arctic—ensuring economic and social development in a sustainable way that benefits Arctic inhabitants, particularly Indigenous peoples—is a key objective for Canada.

This includes learning from traditional knowledge and supporting traditional economic activities such as the seal hunt.

This cooperation also focuses on the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, due out shortly.


Activity in Arctic lands and waters is increasing, and so has our capacity in the North. Our first duty as Canada’s national government is to exercise, responsibly, Canada’s sovereign rights in the region.

On August 10, 2007, the government unveiled three new initiatives to further demonstrate Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic:

  • the establishment of a Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre;
  • the expansion, currently under way, of the size and capabilities of the Canadian Rangers; and
  • the development of a deepwater Arctic docking facility.

A new polar-class icebreaker is being built—the John G. Diefenbaker, who was a lifelong champion of investing in and protecting the Canadian North.

The Canadian Forces, as part of their mandate, frequently conduct patrols in the Arctic. Regular exercises such as Operation Nanook demonstrate a visible Canadian presence in the region.

The Canadian Forces play an important role in the region and ensure that Canada can assist in responding to any emergency.


It is also important to determine where Canada can exercise its sovereign rights. That is the point behind the work being done to delineate the outer limits of Canada’s extended continental shelf.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) explicitly recognizes Canada’s sovereign rights over its continental shelf and sets out a process for a coastal state like Canada to secure international recognition for the precise limits of its continental shelf.

And that’s precisely what we’re doing.

The process to delineate the extended continental shelf is orderly and lengthy; it is not adversarial and it is not a race. It is a collaborative process based on a shared commitment to international law.


Improving and devolving governance is a domestic priority in Canada.

Through our Arctic foreign policy, we affirm and strengthen our domestic efforts toward strong governance in the North.

In this regard, we recognize and value the important leadership role that Indigenous groups and northern communities have played in shaping our international actions.

We will continue to provide opportunities for engagement, further strengthening the voices of our northern communities in decision making.

Arctic Council

Canada and northern Canadians played a leading role in the establishment of the Arctic Council. We would now like to re-energize the Council.

The Council’s first mission is to provide a means to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants, on common Arctic issues.

Since its inception, the Council has successfully developed a common agenda among Arctic states and permanent participants. But as the region changes, so must its institutions.

We need more research on some of the key emerging issues with regard to sustainable development and environmental protection facing the Arctic.

We need to deepen our exchange of best practices and explore a more rigorous discussion on policy issues and coordination.

I will be discussing these issues with my counterparts and with the permanent participants when I attend the Arctic Council Ministerial in Tromsø, Norway, in April 2009.

strong>Bilateral Relationships

The United States is our premier partner in the Arctic, and I look forward to raising the issue of a more enhanced level of cooperation on Arctic issues with my colleague, Secretary of State Clinton, when I am in Washington on April 6.

Obviously, our two countries have many shared interests and common purposes: including the environment, search and rescue, safety, security and sustainable resource development.

Moreover, I will explore with my Russian counterpart how we might work more closely, including through our Arctic and North Working Group.

I will also explore common interests with our other Arctic neighbours—Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.

I met the foreign ministers of Norway and Finland on the margins of the NATO meeting this month and had a discussion on the Arctic.

We are also working with non-Arctic states on Arctic issues. The most recent example would be the cooperation between Canada and the United Kingdom on Arctic and Antarctic polar science research. We also welcome [Quebec] Premier [Jean] Charest’s expressed willingness to support the development of northern Quebec through the Northern Plan.

I am making it a priority to further strengthen our bilateral engagement with Arctic states, and I will be meeting soon with all my fellow foreign affairs ministers from the Arctic countries to discuss this.

Through the international dimension of our Northern Strategy, we will protect our environmental heritage, promote economic and social development, exercise our sovereignty and encourage more effective international governance in this vital region.

Through the strength of our domestic and international partnerships, we will continue, together, to seize opportunities and address changes and new realities.

It is up to our generation to rediscover the Arctic so that we can proudly and confidently hand down to our children and grandchildren this world jewel in all its rich splendour.

Thank you.