No. 2009/58 - Toronto, Ontario - November 23, 2009
Check Against Delivery
The focus for national governments at any time must be the security and prosperity of its citizens.
We must always produce international policy that is in the national interest, and the recent global economic crisis has underlined this important fact in a way not seen for decades. In these challenging economic times, our national well-being is interrelated with the political stability and dynamic commerce of the broader world.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada has weathered the economic storms of the past year better than most. We have a sound financial system and a resilient private sector. We are fortunate to see signs of a sustained recovery surfacing, yet there are many challenges ahead, and our government will remain vigilant and focused on the task at hand—that of improving our economy while at the same time creating hope and opportunity for Canadians.
The need for continued cooperation and resolve at the international level was made clear at the recent G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. Canada, along with its G20 partners, made some very important commitments, including building a framework for sustainable, balanced growth.
Next year, Canadians will be offered a unique opportunity to see the international community in action at this critical juncture in the world’s economy. Canada is hosting the G8 leaders meeting in Muskoka [Ont.] in June 2010. Canada will also host the next G20 Summit in June 2010, and the Prime Minister has offered to co-chair that summit with the President of the Republic of Korea, who will host the subsequent G20 meeting in November of next year.
A few days ago, on November 11, we paid tribute to the Canadians who served their country, and often gave their lives on foreign soil, for the sake of justice and peace.
Their sacrifices, and those of their brave successors in Afghanistan today, are the most eloquent testimony of how Canada’s and Canadians’ interests and commitment extend beyond our borders.
Last week, I was in Afghanistan, where I had the opportunity to meet with several colleagues from other countries who contribute to our collective mission in that country, as well as with President [Hamid] Karzai.
President Karzai recently made a number of important commitments on establishing a strong, stable, democratic Afghanistan.
Canada stands ready to assist the new Afghan government, but major challenges lie ahead. It is expected that a new cabinet will soon be named; Canada encourages the appointments of cabinet ministers and governors based on merit.
The presidential elections were a significant step, mobilizing millions of Afghans to organize, campaign and vote, but they were not without significant problems. It is important that these problems are addressed quickly to help secure free, fair and transparent future elections.
It is also essential to the democratic development of Afghanistan that immediate action be taken to address corruption and continue to reform the justice system. The people of Afghanistan deserve the rights to freedom, equality, security and opportunity.
A big task lies ahead for President Karzai. He must give his people hope in their future and confidence in their government.
We made a commitment to the people of Afghanistan and to our allies that we will combat threats of global terrorism. Afghans and our allies can count on Canada to help. However, our commitment to the mission in Afghanistan will remain consistent with the recommendations that were made in the Manley Report and the motion passed in Parliament to bring home our troops in 2011.
Another tradition that brings us hope for the future is the Winter Olympic Games, which will take place in Vancouver in less than 100 days.
Perhaps no event, other than the Games themselves, symbolizes the spirit of collective goodwill and humanity more than the Olympic Torch Relay. For all of us, the coverage of that epic and remarkable journey has been a reminder of just how large our country is, particularly the vast territory of the Canadian North.
Appropriately, the northernmost point on that trek was the weather station at Canadian Forces Station Alert, on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut. There, the Olympic flame literally lit up the Arctic night. For decades, the installation at Alert served as a vital part of our defence in the midst of the tensions of the Cold War. Alert remains an important symbol of our sovereignty and security in the North.
The importance of the Arctic and Canada’s interest in the region have never been greater. This is why our government has launched an ambitious Northern Strategy. We have a timeless responsibility, echoed by our national anthem, to keep the “True North strong and free.”
We are putting the full resources of the Government of Canada behind exercising our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the Arctic.
The government’s Northern Strategy lays out four areas where we are taking action to protect Canada’s interests both domestically and internationally. These actions are based on our rights and responsibilities as an Arctic nation and as an Arctic power.
Our Northern Strategy rests on four pillars:
This is a time of significant change for the North. That’s why Minister [of Indian and Northern Affairs, Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency Chuck] Strahl and I released the Northern Strategy Progress Report and launched the Northern Strategy Vision on July 26, 2009, in Gatineau [Que.].
Along with articulating our vision for the North, we also highlighted our extensive progress to date, including major investments we have made as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan.
There is great interest from other nations in the potential found “north of 60.” Because of the interest from other countries, including nations that are geographically far removed from the north, Canada’s Arctic is increasingly becoming a focus of foreign and defence policy.
Without question, our government has taken deliberate and demonstrable actions to say to the world, “It’s our land; we will continue to use it, and we will not waver in our commitment to keeping Canada’s Arctic the ‘True North, strong and free.’”
In exercising and affirming Canada’s national sovereignty, the first pillar of the Northern Strategy, nothing is as fundamental as protecting our territorial integrity—our borders, our airspace and our waters. In the past few years, Prime Minister Harper has announced a number of initiatives to enhance our capacity in the North and to responsibly exercise our sovereignty there.
There has been considerable progress on protecting all three with the establishment of a Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre in Resolute Bay, the expansion of the size and capabilities of the Canadian Rangers, and the development of a deepwater docking and refuelling facility in Nunavut.
Canadian Forces Operation Nanook, an annual exercise in Canada’s Arctic, shows our government’s commitment to protecting and demonstrating control over the air, land and sea within our jurisdiction, and responding to emergencies there.
The government is also dedicated to providing the navy with Arctic/offshore patrol ships. That’s because the government acknowledged some time ago that the Canadian Forces have a real role to play in defending our sovereignty in the North and responding to potential security challenges. These ships will be able to patrol Canada’s exclusive economic zones off all three coasts and will be capable of operating in first-year ice as well.
Being a global leader in Arctic science is also important. Canada made the largest single-country investment for International Polar Year research. We committed to establishing an Arctic research station, and invested further to upgrade the existing network of Arctic research infrastructure.
In addition, we are working toward the mapping of the outer limits of our extended continental shelf and are investing significantly to ensure that Canada secures international recognition for its full ownership in the Arctic and Atlantic. As well, within the next decade, we will launch a new polar-class icebreaker, appropriately named for that great champion of the North, John Diefenbaker.
In other words, our government is taking concrete and appropriate steps as we continue to exercise Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.
When we talk about economic and social development, the second pillar of our Northern Strategy, our goal is for sustainable development. This includes ensuring that people in the Arctic, in particular the Aboriginal peoples, receive benefits.
Ensuring sustainable development in the region involves working closely with the territorial governments and Northern peoples.
It also means working through institutions like the Arctic Council, to build healthy, sustainable communities.
Our commitment to economic and social development involves more than just job creation. It also reflects our deep respect for traditional knowledge, work and cultural activities. That is why we so vigorously defended the seal hunt, and will continue to do so. We have indicated our intention to challenge the [EU] ban [on seal products] at the World Trade Organization.
Since taking office, the Prime Minister has made regular visits to Canada’s North, and this past summer I attended a historic meeting of the federal cabinet in Iqaluit. This follows on the many visits from my Cabinet colleagues to all parts “north of 60,” which have happened on a regular basis.
Also, as was announced last week, Minister [of Finance Jim] Flaherty will be hosting a meeting of the G7 finance ministers in Iqaluit. This is further proof of the importance that we attach to Canada’s North.
And, for the first time in Canadian history, a senior member of the Cabinet calls the North home. My colleague, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, has been serving as Canada’s Minister of Health—leading the way at home and around the world in the fight against the global H1N1 pandemic.
The third pillar of our Northern Strategy is protecting our environmental heritage.
The Prime Minister has often said Canada is emerging as an energy superpower. Perhaps one fifth of the world’s petroleum reserves lies in the Arctic. Canadian companies, assisted by government, are developing technologies that will allow Canada to tap into this potential wealth.
Canada was the first country to pass legislation to protect its Arctic waters. In June 2009, this government amended the act to extend its application to ensure the highest standards of environmental protection. We are also implementing regulations that require foreign vessels entering our Arctic waters to report to the Canadian Coast Guard.
These initiatives are tangible expressions of our determination to develop and protect our “True North.”
Climate change has a disproportionate impact on the Arctic, and we are undertaking major initiatives nationally and internationally to address climate change in the Arctic. Canada has been playing an active role with a view to achieving a comprehensive and ambitious agreement. We will continue to play that role in Copenhagen and beyond.
Acting internationally on all pillars of our Northern Strategy is sending a clear message to the world: Canada is in control of its Arctic lands and waters and takes its responsibilities seriously.
Our leadership in the North involves consultation, collaboration and, in some cases, the settlement of disputes or differences with our Arctic neighbours. All of the Arctic states work closely together in the Arctic Council, which Canada and Canadians did so much to develop.
Make no mistake, however: when an issue of national importance is raised at the Arctic Council, our government does, and always will, stand up for our interests and ownership over the Arctic. This is why we react so strongly when other nations, like Russia, engage in exercises and other activities that appear to challenge our security in the North and undermine the cooperative relationships that we have built.
Many states and institutions that have historically not paid attention to the Arctic are now turning their attention there. We have seen various actions and initiatives that demonstrate a lack of sensitivity to the interests and perspectives of the Arctic peoples and states. Canada will continue to address these situations firmly.
We will continue to work with allies such as the United States on areas of shared interest, and will respond appropriately when other nations push the envelope when it comes to Canada’s Arctic.
Our government is taking all steps necessary to ensure that the region reflects our collective values and interests, and will always remain Canadian.