Address by Minister Cannon to Association France-Amériques (France-Americas Association)

No. 2011/13 - Paris, France - March 14, 2011

Check Against Delivery

When your president [Nicolas Sarkozy] visited the city of Québec in October 2008, he said “Canadians are our friends, and the Québécois are our family.”

As a Canadian of Quebec origin, I am visiting you this week as both friend and relative, and I thank you most sincerely for your invitation.

I am here in Paris first and foremost to attend a meeting with my G-8 colleagues chaired by [French foreign] minister Alain Juppé, himself a great friend of Quebec and Canada.

Together, beginning this evening, we will be discussing a number of pressing issues, in particular the upheavals in the Arab world and the catastrophes that have struck Japan.

The Association France-Amériques [France-Americas Association] was founded more than 100 years ago—barely 40 years after Canadian Confederation.

The ties between Canada and France, however, go back much further, are much more venerable—as we were reminded a few years ago during the celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city of Québec by Samuel de Champlain.

In 1609, French writer Marc Lescarbot wrote that “only those who are enamoured of great undertakings and wish to win honourable renown through extraordinarily noble and challenging actions should go to Canada.” Our common ancestors did indeed accomplish “extraordinarily noble and challenging actions” on the American continent.

Our generation still has new frontiers to develop and new horizons to explore under difficult and often unique conditions.

That is why the Government of Canada has made it a priority to adapt its involvement in the Arctic to the region’s new climatic and economic realities.

The Arctic is fundamental to Canada’s national identity, rooted as it is in our history, our culture and our soul.

The Arctic has always been and always will be a part of us.

Canada’s modern vision for the North is that of a stable region with clearly defined borders, a region that enjoys sustained economic growth and trade, a region with vibrant communities and healthy, productive ecosystems.

As an Arctic power, Canada has the right—and, more importantly, a responsibility to its citizens—to exercise its sovereignty, its sovereign rights and its jurisdiction over the region while also ensuring that the Canadian Arctic develop to its full potential.

Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic has been well established for a long time, and as Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper has reiterated, that sovereignty is not negotiable.

Our sovereignty is founded in particular on the presence of the Inuit and other Aboriginal peoples in the region who have lived in the North since time immemorial and, more recently, on expeditions undertaken by explorers.

And we exercise that sovereignty daily through sound governance, responsible management and concrete action.

Yet the Arctic is not unchanging, not encased in its enormous frozen mass. On the contrary: it is where some of the most dramatic climate changes in the world are occurring.

The rapidly melting ice and the likelihood that the region contains substantial oil reserves and mineral deposits have sparked new international interest in the Arctic over the past few years.

The recent events in several Arab countries have reminded us of the importance of having access to stable and predictable supplies of energy. This undoubtedly explains the renewed interest in northern energy deposits, such as the oil sands in Alberta, a province where large French companies like Total are already established.

We have therefore developed a new Arctic policy, and today I’d like to summarize its broad principles. The policy has four pillars:

  • exercising sovereignty;
  • promoting economic and social development;
  • protecting the Arctic environment; and
  • providing Northerners with more control over their economic and political destiny.

Despite the irrevocable nature of our Arctic sovereignty, there are still certain border-related disputes we need to work out with our neighbours. We also want to definitively establish the limits of Canada’s continental shelf, over which we exercise sovereign rights.

To hasten this goal, we are working even more closely with our partners to gather necessary data and exchange useful information.

We will therefore be ready to present our submission to the United Nations on schedule in 2013, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

We are also engaging in multilateral cooperation with the Arctic Council, which, in addition to Canada, includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Through this forum, Canada and the seven other Arctic nations will define the program for cooperation and sustainable development in the Arctic.

Achieving these common objectives will mean making certain changes to the Council, particularly to its operation and activities.

For example, a permanent secretariat must be set up and ongoing funding put in place. These issues are currently being worked out.

We also believe that the current approach for admitting observers to the Arctic Council must be updated and based on clear principles. Six countries, including France, have already been granted observer status on the Arctic Council, as have nine international organizations and eleven non-governmental organizations. Among the countries that would like to become observers, several are geographically remote, such as China, South Korea and Japan.

For now, however, we believe it would be unwise to address requests for permanent observer status before specific criteria have been established.

Because our Arctic policy consists essentially of honouring our obligations to our northern citizens and to all Canadians, now and for future generations, we feel it is perfectly natural that a basic requirement for observer status be a good understanding of and affinity for the way of life of the people of the region, including their age-old traditions.

In the matter of interior waterways, particularly the Canadian Northwest Passage, we need to develop a mandatory polar navigation code, to implement rigorous oil and gas regulations for safe and efficient drilling, and to provide hydrographical services for safe navigation. These remain key priorities in our work at the international level.

It is true that a growing number of vessels are entering northern waters and that they sometimes run into trouble. Therefore, together with the Arctic Council, we have developed a legally binding instrument to address search and rescue in the Arctic.

Once signed and ratified, this agreement will improve our ability to cooperate and coordinate with other Arctic states whenever incidents occur, in full awareness of the special problems associated with the Arctic environment.

Obviously, to create an international environment conducive to the promotion of sustainable development in the Arctic, we must understand the opportunities and the challenges surrounding the development of Arctic resources and establish relevant guidelines, best practices and standards.

We recently issued new regulations requiring vessels entering Canada’s Arctic waters to undertake activities in the region to inform the Canadian authorities. The goal of these regulations is not to interfere with navigation or economic development but to protect fragile ecosystems and our northern communities.

And we have made a strong and sustained commitment to Arctic science—the foundation for sound policy and decision making on the environment. Sharing our expertise with others and developing common approaches will go a long way toward promoting the sustainable development of the region’s 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 must also take into account the fact that new water routes, like the Northwest Passage, and land routes are emerging and that there is increasing potential in terms of tourism and resource extraction.

For some time now, I have been discussing with my Russian counterpart the possible creation of a great northern corridor that would connect Russia and North America.

The second pillar of our Northern Strategy involves “promoting economic and social development.” Creating a dynamic and sustainable economy in the North is vital to the improvement and well-being of the people who live there and to the realization of the Arctic’s full potential.

Protecting the Arctic environment is also a pillar of our Northern Strategy. We all know that the North is home to fragile and complex ecosystems that are constantly being forced to adapt in order to survive in an often harsh climate.

Canada has long been a leader when it comes to protecting the Arctic environment, and we were the first country to pass legislation to protect our Arctic waters.

We have established numerous territorial and marine protected areas, and we plan on creating additional such areas in future.

Last, we would like to improve and decentralize governance in order to give the people of the North more control over their destiny.

I would also like to point out that in a federation such as ours, the provincial and territorial governments enjoy a certain degree of autonomy. Thus the territorial governments recently issued a statement on their “Northern vision,” and they have committed to the support of federal efforts in advancing our mutual interests in international forums. In a few weeks, the Government of Quebec will also be providing details of its ambitious Plan Nord [Plan North], which will allow young people from southern Quebec to meet with northern communities.

The eyes of the world have now turned to the Arab countries, where the dramatic events of the past few weeks are redefining the present and future of millions of people. Like France, Canada would like to play its part in building this new world with its common allies.

I will soon be discussing with Minister Alain Juppé and our G-8 colleagues the best ways of expressing and putting into action our solidarity with the forces for freedom that have mobilized in that part of the world.

As was the case during the two world wars, Canada will always be at your side whenever freedom, justice and equality need our support.

However, despite the urgency and importance of the issues we face today, I sincerely hope that we will never forget that our generation still has a responsibility to leave our children a world that they in turn will be able to pass on to their children with the same pride and confidence.

That, above all else, is what inspires our Arctic policy.

Thank you.