Address by Minister Cannon to Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Canada’s Arctic Foreign Policy

No. 2010/70 - Moscow, Russia - September 15, 2010

Check Against Delivery

Thank you for your kind introduction. This is my first visit to your country.

First, I extend my sincere condolences to the families of those killed last week in a cowardly act of terror in Vladikavkaz. Canada stands with Russia in our continued fight against terrorism around the world.

As northern countries and G-8 partners, Canada and Russia have a great deal in common, and we have long enjoyed a multifaceted and productive relationship.

Russia is an important global player on issues of concern to Canada, including counterterrorism, nuclear proliferation, Afghanistan, the Middle East and, of course, the Arctic.

Canada’s commercial relationship with Russia demonstrates great potential.

In 2009, bilateral trade between our two nations totalled $2.5 billion, an increase from $1.8 billion in 2004, with exports more than doubling during that period.

Canada and Russia are also major Arctic powers, as together, we account for more than three quarters of the coastline of the Arctic Ocean.

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 souls.

The Arctic has always been a part of us. It still is, and it always will be.

But we have neighbours in the Arctic, as we do on our other frontiers.

It only makes sense for neighbours—and we are neighbours in the North—to discuss things if issues arise between them.

We have worked together on Arctic transportation routes, issues affecting indigenous peoples, environmental protection and in many other areas.

And, of course, our scientific collaboration in the Arctic is long-standing.

During my visit to your country, I will discuss a wide range of bilateral and multilateral issues with my colleague, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

But today, I would like to talk more specifically to you about the Government of Canada’s perspectives on Arctic developments and our recently released Arctic foreign policy.

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

  • exercising our sovereignty;
  • promoting economic and social development;
  • protecting our environmental heritage; and
  • improving and devolving governance.

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

We must always advance international policy that is in the national interest, and the recent global economic crisis has underlined this important fact in a way that has not been 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 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, fortunately, seeing signs of a sustained recovery, 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.

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 ongoing 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 a sometimes harsh and unforgiving climate.

It is home to a wealth of natural resources and burgeoning economies. Above all, it is home to more than 125,000 Canadians who live, work and thrive in bustling yet remote communities.

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

Canada’s sovereignty is long-standing, well established and based on historic title, founded in part by 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, both today and 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 available for commercial activities, it is incumbent on governments to resolve differences and to ensure that appropriate regulatory regimes are in place to provide certainty and stability for the region. Without clarity on boundaries, its viability and sustainability could be at risk.

That’s why making progress on outstanding boundary issues is a priority for Canada.

We are encouraged that Russia recently settled its Barents Sea maritime dispute with Norway after 40 years of extensive negotiations.

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 partners for data collection and information exchange to expedite this process.

Canada will make its submission to the UN, on schedule in 2013, in conformity with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.

We are also engaging with the United States and Denmark on the remaining disputed boundaries in the Beaufort Sea and around 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. Canada is strengthening its presence in our North.

From the procurement of new and modernized patrol ships to expanded military training facilities, to ongoing military exercises and surveillance operations, our commitment to exercising our sovereignty remains the foremost pillar of our Arctic policy.

In addition to that, our investments in the RADARSAT project allow us to defend our Arctic sovereignty, and protect the Arctic environment and our resources in the North.

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.

In some cases, multilateral actions are necessary. But what those actions are, and when they are exercised, are largely for Arctic states to decide.

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 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, we have committed ourselves to work with other nations, and that commitment remains the basis for our candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the period 2011-2012.

Through the Arctic Council, Canada, along with Russia and the six other Arctic nations, as well as 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 in Nuuk 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.

The current approach to the observer question needs to be updated.

We must also take into account the growing interest of many countries, some very far away from the North, for the possibilities that the Arctic presents.

We believe that objective, principles-based criteria would provide guidance and structure, which would be of benefit to Arctic Council members and observer applicants.

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

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

I look forward to working with my Arctic Council colleagues to advance this issue.

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

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 instrument is signed at the next Arctic Council 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 through our work with Arctic coastal states in identifying and preparing to address the emerging issues that will result from thousands of miles of more accessible coast lines.

Public safety, for example, will have many new dimensions in a more open, but very harsh climate.

The coastal states meeting I hosted last year gave impetus to our work on these issues.

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

Canada is working to develop an appropriate international enabling environment for sustainable development in the Arctic.

This involves both understanding the opportunities and the challenges of Arctic resource development and 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.

Canada has already taken the lead on important initiatives in the Arctic Council, and we will do more.

Canada has long been a leader in the protection of the Arctic environment. We were the first country to pass legislation to protect our Arctic waters.

We recently finalized and implemented 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. Theyindicate 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.

Sharing our expertise with others and developing common approaches will go a long way toward promoting the sustainable development of our interconnected marine systems.

We will contribute to and support international efforts to address climate change in the Arctic, including both mitigation and adaptation strategies for the region.

We will seek to ensure that the Arctic’s unique challenges are considered in all relevant forums.

We will enhance our efforts on other pressing environmental issues, such as Arctic biodiversity and contaminants, including through the promotion and strengthening of international standards.

We will continue our commitment to science.

Canada’s legacy to the International Polar Year will be the 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. We will never waver in our commitment to protect Canada’s North.

While 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.

But we look forward to working with our Arctic partners to advance shared priorities and to address common challenges to fulfil our vision of the Arctic as a region of stability, where Arctic states work to foster sustainable development, as well as to exercise enlightened stewardship for those at the heart of our Arctic foreign policy— Northerners.

I very much appreciate your interest in Arctic matters, an area of growing importance to both of our countries.

Thank you.