Address by Minister Cannon to Third Annual Arctic Shipping North America Conference

No. 2010/89 - Montreal, Quebec - November 15, 2010

Check Against Delivery

Ladies and gentlemen, to understand Canada, you must know the Arctic. It is embedded in our history, in our culture and in our soul.

The Arctic also represents tremendous potential for Canada’s future, given our extensive Arctic coastline, its Northern energy and natural resource potential and the fact that 40 percent of our land mass is situated in the North.

This potential, however, is of growing interest not only to Canada, but to other Arctic states and, increasingly, to others far from the region itself—as far away as Asia.

Canada and the seven other member states of the Arctic Council—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States—are taking our stewardship responsibilities seriously.

In addition, by virtue of their sovereignty and jurisdiction in large areas of the Arctic Ocean, the five coastal states—Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States—have unique responsibilities in the Arctic Ocean. Last March in Gatineau, Quebec, I hosted an Arctic coastal states meeting to deal with the emerging issues we will face resulting from thousands of miles of more accessible coastlines.

On August 20 of this year, I launched our government’s Arctic foreign-policy statement, which sets out Canada’s approach to the Arctic on the international stage. This policy gives an international perspective to the four pillars of our Northern Strategy:

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

The policy also sets out for Canadians, and for the international community, the actions that the government is taking internationally to promote Canada’s interests in the North. The Government of Canada’s vision for the Arctic is a stable, rules-based region with clearly defined boundaries, dynamic economic growth and trade, vibrant Northern communities, and healthy and productive ecosystems.

Exercising our sovereignty over Canada’s North is our number one Arctic foreign-policy priority. As an Arctic nation, an Arctic power, Canada has both a right and a responsibility to its people to exercise our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the region while realizing the full potential of Canada’s Arctic.

Canada’s sovereignty is long-standing, well established and based on historic title, founded in part by the presence of Inuit people and other indigenous peoples since time immemorial. And we exercise that sovereignty daily through good governance, responsible stewardship and concrete actions.

This government has ensured our armed forces have the tools, the readiness and the personnel to continue to meet any challenges to Canadian sovereignty with a robust response.

We are making new and targeted investments, such as patrol ships, a new polar-class icebreaker, reinforcements to our Canadian Rangers, better monitoring of our air space and seas, and the list goes on.

As you well know, new opportunities and challenges are emerging across the Arctic and the North, in part as a result of climate change and the search for new resources, and of course, the potential for new shipping routes.

In September, I had the opportunity to meet with members of the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association in Oslo. I was struck by how engaged the industry already is in preparing for the new opportunities that the opening of the North will bring. One key example is the collaboration between Norway’s shipping and petroleum industries, fostering innovative approaches tailored to the unique Arctic environment. The Norwegian-controlled fleet represents approximately 10 percent of the world’s total merchant fleet, and makes Norway one of the four largest shipping nations in the world.

As we move forward, there will be challenges, and major investments needed by both industry and governments.

I know that opinions are divided about the viability of Arctic routes, and also about how quickly new routes will be open.

Reduced ice cover is only one factor that will determine whether northern routes are viable marine transport options. Long periods of darkness, narrow and shallow channels, lack of charting and marine infrastructure and shifting ice patterns will mean that northern seas won’t turn into the Pacific or Indian oceans anytime soon, but it is not farfetched to imagine that the Arctic will one day become the gateway to trade between Asia and North America.

We must plan for the future—whenever it comes upon us. Governments in particular have a key role to play in ensuring a level regulatory playing field for the industry and for creating certainty and predictability in policies so the industry can undertake its long-term planning.

Much of what the Government of Canada is doing, both in the context of our Northern Strategy and our Arctic foreign policy, is indeed aimed at providing the appropriate enabling environment for development in the North. Many of our actions are or will be of direct interest to the shipping industry and will be of significant benefit in ensuring safe navigation.

I would like to focus on four key areas today that I think will be of most relevance to your industry:

  1. Progress on boundary issues;
  2. Key regulatory measures and strategic investments;
  3. Collaboration with our Arctic partners on transboundary matters; and
  4. Investments in science.

A top priority in Canada’s Arctic foreign policy is about making progress on outstanding boundary issues. Not only is this an important step in exercising our sovereignty, it is about creating the conditions and providing the certainty that the industry needs to operate in the North.

Maritime disputes exist between the United States and Canada regarding the maritime boundary in the Beaufort Sea, and between Canada and Denmark over a small part of the maritime boundary in the Lincoln Sea. We are also committed to resolving the dispute on Hans Island, a 1.3-km2 Canadian island that Denmark claims.

Although these disputes are well managed, an early resolution to the issues will allow for more certainty in terms of navigation and exploration. We are confident that we will soon be able to resolve these differences in a peaceful and orderly way, in accordance with international law.

Surrounding the Northwest Passage, there is a disagreement between Canada and several countries over the legal status of the waters, not about ownership or sovereignty.

All waters within the Arctic archipelago, including the waters of the Northwest Passage, are internal waters of Canada by virtue of historic title. Canada has an unfettered right to regulate them, as it would its land territory. Although some contend otherwise, we believe that no strait used for international navigation exists through these waters.

Canada and the United States had agreed to disagree on the legal status of the waters for many years. However, the 1988 Arctic Cooperation Agreement signed between Canada and the United States ensures that the U.S. will seek Canada’s consent prior to any voyage by a U.S. icebreaker through the Canadian Arctic archipelago.

Our government is also working to delineate the outer limits of Canada’s extended continental shelf in the Arctic and the Atlantic thereby determining with precision the area in which Canada may exercise sovereign rights over the natural resources of the seabed and subsoil of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from coastal baselines.

We are continuing close collaboration with our Arctic neighbours as we prepare to make our submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in December 2013.

Let me now turn to regulatory measures and some strategic investments that we have made and are making that I believe will be equally important for your industry. These actions are critical for the sustainable development of the North, in terms of both protecting the fragile environment and ensuring safe navigation.

In 1970, Canada unilaterally adopted the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, asserting Canada’s right to enforce a strict pollution-prevention regime in its ice-covered waters out to 100 nautical miles from its lands or islands. In August 2009, the application of the Act was extended from 100 to 200 nautical miles, consistent with Article 234 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In addition, regulations requiring vessels to report when entering and operating within Canadian Arctic waters have been finalized, and have been in force since July 1, 2010. Mandatory ship reporting under NORDREG [regulations of the Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone] was adopted to prevent, reduce and control marine pollution from vessels by enhancing the safety of ships in Canada’s northern waters and allowing for any safety and environmental concerns to be addressed as early as possible.

These regulations are not about preventing access. They are about allowing access, while at the same time ensuring responsible management of a particularly vulnerable marine environment.

We are also working to create conditions for safe oil and gas development in the Arctic. The Canadian National Energy Board is in the process of assessing our regulations to ensure that they are appropriate for the unique challenges of an Arctic environment.

Beyond these various regulatory initiatives, we are making significant investments in infrastructure, all of which will contribute to safe navigation in the North, such as:

  • a new generation of satellites;
  • new deepwater fuelling facilities; and
  • investment in meteorological navigation in key zones.

As the potential for traffic increases in the North, it is critical that Arctic states have the capacity to respond in the event of an incident. We are well advanced in our negotiations regarding a search and rescue agreement within the Arctic Council, and I am hopeful that we will have results as early as next May at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting.

Another key priority area for collaboration of direct relevance to the shipping community is the follow up to the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment—a study that Canada was instrumental in developing, and where a number of forward-looking recommendations were identified. One of the key recommendations is the establishment of a mandatory Polar Code under the International Maritime Organization, which is progressing well.

We have learned an enormous amount in recent years about the impact of a change in climate in the North. But frankly, we have just scratched the surface.

That is why, for example, we are establishing the world-class High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, a year-round, multidisciplinary facility exploring the cutting-edge of Arctic science and technology issues.

In conclusion, I want to thank and congratulate all of you for the passion and dedication you bring to the future development of the Arctic.

It is my fondest hope that one day, we will be able to look back and say: this was the challenge of my generation, and we kept the faith with our ancestors and helped fulfill the dreams of our children.

Thank you.