No. 2009/42 - Gatineau, Quebec - July 26, 2009
As Minister [of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians Chuck] Strahl said, our government has made the Arctic a priority, one we believe all Canadians share. Canada is an Arctic nation and an Arctic power.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I meet with my Arctic Council counterparts on a regular basis. In our discussions, I reiterate how important the North is to Canadians. The North is an integral part of our national identity; it played a role in our past and continues to play one in our present. The North is also critically important to future generations.
As you know, the government is now asking the European Union to reconsider its ban on the trade of seal products.
Together, the Arctic and the North make up more than 40 percent of our land mass and are home to more than 100,000 Canadians, many of them Inuit and First Nations members whose ancestors have inhabited the region for millennia.
Our Arctic foreign policy supports Canada’s Northern Strategy, which we are here today to announce, and demonstrates our leadership and stewardship in the region.
But policy is only as good as the actions it inspires.
Northerners are at the heart of our strategy for the Arctic.
For this reason, Canada has played a leading role at the Arctic Council, which is the main international forum for discussing circumpolar issues. Along with our partners, we have produced the Arctic Council’s Arctic Human Development Report, the Oil and Gas Assessment and the recently released Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment. And we will work closely with our partners on future work dealing with Arctic biodiversity and search and rescue. Work in these areas helps foster healthy, safe and prosperous communities in the North.
Internationally, we work through our Arctic embassies and with state partners to identify new economic opportunities for Canadian companies, including possibilities for foreign investment.
Our ultimate goal is to ensure that economic spinoffs benefit Northerners first, contributing to vibrant, sustainable communities.
In the North, climate change, melting ice and rising contamination levels result from activities that take place thousands of kilometres away from the region but still have a disproportionate impact on its environment.
Canada has been a pioneer of protective measures in the Arctic. In fact, in recent years, our government has made great strides in preserving not only the Arctic environment, but Arctic communities and ecosystems as well.
In 2007, the government announced a five-year, $60-million commitment, as part of the Health of the Oceans Panel initiative, to protect Canadian waterways from shipping pollution. We have enforced regulations and improved monitoring capacities; we also support research on pollution prevention.
Canada is also a leader in the development of shipping guidelines for the Arctic through the International Maritime Organization. It wants to protect its own interests by ensuring that these guidelines will be enacted.
Also in 2007, our government announced new regulations for the prevention of pollution from ships and for dangerous chemicals. These regulations make it illegal to deliberately, negligently or accidently discard pollutants in the marine environment.
We also updated the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, dated 1970, to protect the marine environment.
These are concrete measures Canada promotes when collaborating with multilateral institutions to solve major environmental problems.
Canada’s sovereignty over the Arctic lands and waters is long-standing, well established and based on historic title. We exercise this sovereignty through our governance and stewardship of the Canadian Arctic. This is reinforced by the operations of the Canadian forces and the activities of the Canadian Coast Guard.
We have committed new resources to protect and patrol the land, the sea and the sky. All of these resources help to reinforce our presence in the region, and ensure we can respond to emergencies.
At every opportunity in my discussions with foreign ministers of other countries, I reiterate that our country will continue to affirm its Arctic sovereignty.
An essential component of our government’s commitment to the Arctic is our ongoing program to delineate the outer limits of Canada's continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. This will determine where Canada can exercise its sovereign rights over its extended continental shelf.
We are working with our Arctic neighbours the United States, Denmark and Russia to ensure international recognition for the maximum extent of Canada’s continental shelf in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Canada’s Arctic foreign policy also supports governance in the North, ensuring that Northerners have a say in decisions that affect them.
Last April, I was particularly pleased to be accompanied by territorial ministers and by Aboriginal permanent participant leaders at the table for the Sixth Arctic Council Foreign Ministerial Meeting in Norway.
We value the role played by the leaders of indigenous groups and Northerners in international talks on stewardship.
We will continue to provide opportunities for engagement through groups such as Canada’s Arctic Council Advisory Committee.
Increasing activity in the Arctic has shown the need for international cooperation among Arctic players.
A key element of Canada’s Arctic foreign policy is to foster an international environment that will allow us to advance our Northern strategy. Canada has led the way, through bilateral engagement with our Arctic neighbours and other countries with an interest in the region, engagement in various multilateral institutions to reach common agreement on Arctic stewardship, and by taking a leadership role in the Arctic Council.
We have achieved significant consensus through cooperation on credible, science-based projects. These have resulted in important findings and policy options for the region. But there is still much work to be done.
Canada believes that a better understanding of the realities of the Arctic, including the culture and practices of Northerners, must be at the heart of policies that affect it. This requires a wide range of creative solutions at the national and international levels: solutions that balance conservation, sustainable use and economic development.
The Government of Canada is committed to finding these solutions, and to ensuring the international spotlight remains focused on the opportunities and potential of the Arctic.