Address by Minister Cannon on Canada’s Arctic Foreign Policy to Norwegian Institute for International Affairs

No. 2010/69 - Oslo, Norway - September 14, 2010

Check Against Delivery

It is good to be here again in Oslo today. I had the opportunity to be in Norway in the spring of 2009 to inaugurate the Canadian International Centre for the Arctic Region, based at the Canadian Embassy, and to attend the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Tromsø.

I also had the opportunity to meet with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre in March 2010, on the margins of the Arctic Ocean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Chelsea, Quebec. So I feel I am among old friends here.

Canada-Norway relations

As Northern countries, Canada and Norway have a great deal in common, and we have long enjoyed a multi-faceted and productive relationship. This was confirmed yet again in my meeting yesterday with Minister Støre.

Over the years, our two countries have co-funded several global initiatives, and we work together on the international security agenda. As founding members of NATO, Canada and Norway benefit from a strong partnership in pursuit of European and global security. Our defence cooperation is solid and ongoing, tracing its origins to World War II, when Norwegian pilots trained at the Little Norway airbase in Muskoka, Ontario.

Our commercial relations are also thriving: Norway is Canada’s most important Nordic trading partner. The Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Free Trade Association, which entered into force on July 1, 2009, provides preferential access for Canadian business and a strategic platform for expanding commercial ties in Europe.

On the Arctic, Canada and Norway share the privilege of being great Northern neighbours. Our discussion yesterday reinforced my sense that Canada and Norway also share a common vision for this vital region.

But, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said, our sovereignty in the Arctic and our borders are not negotiable. Sovereignty is Canada’s number one Arctic foreign policy priority.

The Arctic is fundamental to Canada’s national identity, embedded in our history and culture and in our soul. The Arctic has always been a part of us. Still is. Always will be.

We have neighbours in the Arctic, as on our southern frontier. And it only makes sense for neighbours to discuss things calmly and openly when issues arise between them.

That is why our two nations have worked together—through the Canada-Norway Northern Dialogue—on education, energy, climate change and many other areas. And, of course, our scientific collaboration in the Arctic is long-standing.

During my visit to your country, I discussed a wide range of bilateral and multilateral issues with my colleague Foreign Minister Støre. But today I would like to talk more specifically to you about the Government of Canada’s perspectives on developments in the Arctic and our recently released Arctic foreign policy.

Canada’s Arctic foreign policy

This policy parallels Canada’s Northern Strategy, which rests on four pillars:

  1. Exercising our sovereignty;
  2. Promoting economic and social development;
  3. Protecting our environmental heritage; and
  4. Improving and devolving governance.

Our Arctic foreign policy is the international mirror of our Northern Strategy.

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 in 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 Harper, Canada has weathered the economic storms of the past year better than most countries. We have a sound financial system and a resilient private sector.

Although we see signs of a sustained recovery, there are many challenges ahead, and our government will remain vigilant and focused on the task at hand—improving our economy while creating hope and opportunity for Canadians.

Last June in Muskoka, we refocused the G-8 on its strengths: development, peace and, of course, global security challenges.

In Toronto at the G-20 Summit, all leaders recognized that fiscal consolidation is not an end in itself. There will be a continued role for stimulus in the short term as we develop the framework for strong, sustainable and balanced growth.

Economic recovery, then, remains our first priority, at home and abroad. But the Arctic is also always on our mind.

The North is home to complex and fragile ecosystems that must constantly adapt to survive in a sometimes harsh and unforgiving climate.

With 40 percent of its land mass in the territories, 162,000 km of Arctic coastline and occupying 25 percent of the entire Arctic region, Canada is undeniably an Arctic nation.

The well-being of our Northern people is at the heart of all of Canada’s actions in the Arctic. 

Through international leadership and stewardship, Canada is promoting a vision for the North that we can all share. That vision is of a stable, rules-based region with clearly defined boundaries, dynamic economic growth and trade, vibrant Northern communities and healthy and productive ecosystems.

Boundary issues

Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic is long-standing, well-established and based on historic title. It derives in part from the presence of the Inuit and other Indigenous peoples since time immemorial. Canada’s Arctic foreign policy is about fulfilling our obligations to the people of the North and all Canadians today, for generations to come.

Collectively, we view the Arctic as a region of stable, capable and responsible states that take their stewardship of the Arctic seriously.

As the North becomes increasingly accessible for commercial activities, it is incumbent on governments to resolve differences and to ensure appropriate regulatory regimes in order to provide certainty and stability for the region. Without clarity on boundaries, the viability and sustainability of the Arctic could be at risk. That’s why making progress on outstanding boundary issues is a priority for Canada.

We were encouraged by the example set by Norway, which recently settled its Barents Sea maritime dispute with Russia after 40 years of extensive negotiations.

Although such issues have been well-managed and pose no security challenges, lingering questions create uncertainties and fuel misperceptions of conflict. After all, as good neighbours, we should be able to figure out where our Arctic yard ends and others’ begin.

Our government has given high priority to our work on securing recognition for the full extent of the extended continental shelf. We are increasing our collaboration with our partners on data collection and information exchange to expedite this process.

Canada will make its submission to the United Nations on schedule in 2013, in conformity with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We are also engaging with the United States and Denmark on the remaining disputed boundaries in the Beaufort Sea and on Hans Island.

But sovereignty isn’t just about resolving boundary issues. Canada exercises its sovereignty daily through good governance and responsible stewardship, whether related to social and economic development, Arctic science and research, environmental protection, the operations of the Canadian Forces or the activities of our Coast Guard. We are increasing our capacity in the North to monitor, protect and patrol our land, sea and sky.

Arctic governance

Our foreign policy places a high priority on addressing Arctic governance. Canada does not accept the premise that the Arctic requires a fundamentally new governance structure or legal framework, as some have suggested. But we do accept that the North is undergoing significant change and that it will require forward thinking to address emerging issues.

Regional approaches and solutions, be they joint research, information exchanges, regulatory cooperation or binding instruments, are all important avenues.

Canada considers the Arctic Council to be the leading forum for cooperation on Arctic issues and an important multilateral organization.

Whether it is through the Council, the United Nations or NATO, we have committed ourselves to working with other nations. And that commitment remains the basis of our candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the period 2011-12.

Through the Arctic Council, Canada—along with Norway, the six other Arctic nations and the six Indigenous Permanent Participant organizations—will set the agenda for cooperation on sustainable development in the Arctic. I look forward to advancing this agenda at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting next May.

In order to achieve these collective objectives, the Council will require some adjustments, both in how it operates and in what it does. For example, a permanent secretariat and permanent funding need to be considered.

Canada has also long called for objective, principles-based criteria to be developed for those interested in becoming  observers to the Arctic Council.

We must also take into account the growing interest of many countries, some very far away from the North, in the possibilities that the Arctic presents. We believe that objective, principles-based criteria would provide guidance and structure, which would benefit both Arctic Council members and applicants for observer status.

It would be ill-conceived to proceed with observer applications until fair criteria and a clear role applicable to all are in place.

Canada has long advocated a heightened policy role for the Council.

Development of the North is not a hockey tournament open to all nations. Unlike Antarctica, which has no permanent population and is subject to an international treaty, the Arctic is composed of sovereign countries that are responsible for the well-being of their inhabitants.

We are now negotiating a legally binding instrument for Arctic search and rescue—a first for the Arctic Council. This project is extremely worthwhile, and I look forward to Canada playing an active role in ensuring that this search-and-rescue instrument is signed at the next Arctic Council ministerial meeting. This will serve as a test case and could well pave the way for other such instruments down the road.

Canada is also leading the way by working with Arctic coastal states to identify and prepare for the issues that will result from thousands of miles of more accessible coastlines.

The coastal states meeting that I hosted last year gave impetus to our work in these areas.

Marine safety is another area of growing importance as more and more vessels enter Northern waters and encounter difficulties.

Canada will use other avenues to ensure appropriate governance in the North. We want to enable Northerners to shape their own political and economic destiny.

As an example: Canada is working to develop the appropriate international enabling environment for sustainable development in the Arctic. This work involves understanding the opportunities and the challenges of Arctic resource development, as well as establishing relevant guidelines, best practices and standards.

Developing a mandatory polar code for shipping, implementing robust oil and gas regulations for safe and efficient drilling, and providing hydrographic services for safe navigation will remain key priorities in our work at the international level.

Through all this, we cannot lose sight of our central objective: to enhance the well-being of all who live in the North. Canada has already taken the lead on important initiatives in the Arctic Council and we will do more. We will continue to encourage greater understanding of the human dimension of the Arctic to improve the lives of Northerners.

Environmental stewardship

That said, we know that stewardship and good governance must begin at home. Canada has long been a leader in protecting the Arctic environment. We were the first country to pass legislation to protect our Arctic waters.

We recently finalized and put into force new regulations that require vessels to report when they are entering and operating within Canadian Arctic waters. The goal of these regulations is not to interfere with navigation but to protect sensitive ecosystems and our Northern communities. They are an indication of Canada’s resolve to exercise its stewardship over Canadian lands and waters.

And we have made a strong commitment to Arctic science—the foundation for sound policy and decision making on the environment. Indeed, Canada was the single largest contributor to the International Polar Year, taking partnerships in circumpolar research to new levels.

At the international table we are building on this solid foundation in the following ways:

First, we will promote an ecosystem-based management approach with our Arctic neighbours. Canada is considered a leader in this field. Sharing our expertise with others and developing common approaches will go a long way toward promoting sustainable development of our interconnected marine systems.

Second, we will contribute to and support international efforts to address climate change in the Arctic, including the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies for the region. Canada will remain active in advancing the Copenhagen Accord as the basis for negotiations. In addition, we will seek to ensure that the Arctic’s unique challenges are considered in all relevant forums.

Third, we will intensify our efforts on other pressing environmental issues, such as Arctic biodiversity and contaminants, including by promoting and strengthening international standards. The negotiation of an effective international framework for mercury should, over the long term, have significant positive repercussions for Northern people.

And fourth, we will continue our commitment to science. One legacy of the International Polar Year will be Canada’s establishment of a world-class research station in Cambridge Bay in the High Arctic. The opportunities this will bring to Canada and to the global research community will be enormous.

Although actions outside the Arctic are having an impact on the Northern environment, changes in the Arctic are in turn affecting the global environment.

We all have a role to play in protecting the people and environment of the Arctic. Canada is taking responsibility for environmental protection in our North and the well-being of all who live there.

I will work to encourage the international community to work together to ensure that the potential of the Arctic is not squandered by pollution and near-sighted actions. And as we move forward, cooperation, diplomacy and respect for international law will be the hallmarks of our approach to advancing Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and the interests of the peoples of the North.

We will never waver in our commitment to protect Canada’s North. But we look forward to working with our Arctic partners to advance shared priorities and address common challenges. In this way, we intend to fulfill our vision of the Arctic as a region of stability, where Arctic states work to foster sustainable development and exercise stewardship for those at the heart of our Arctic foreign policy—Northerners.

Northerners are the keystone of sustainable social and economic development and environmental protection in this magnificent region of the world.

Thank you.