National Statement by Minister Aglukkaq at the Eighth Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council

May 15, 2013 - Kiruna, Sweden

Check Against Delivery

It is most fitting that we are meeting in the city where the Sami Parliament is located. I had the pleasure and honour yesterday of visiting the Parliament.

I am so pleased to represent Canada, and in particular northern Canadians, here in Kiruna.

The Arctic is very important to Canadians. It is a fundamental part of our heritage and our national identity.

With nearly 40 percent of Canada’s land mass, and a coastline that is twice as long as its Atlantic and Pacific coasts combined, Canada’s Arctic is a vast and diverse region.

I am proud to count myself as one of the approximately 110,000 Canadians who call this uniquely beautiful part of the world home.

Today, we have come full circle as the Arctic Council.

Since the signing of the Ottawa Declaration in 1996, the Council has marked more than 16 years of cooperation on common issues faced by our countries and our Indigenous peoples.

The Indigenous element in the Arctic Council, which Canada worked tirelessly to promote, was trailblazing, as it was one of the first times that governments would sit at the same table with Indigenous organizations on a permanent basis.

Including Indigenous peoples in the planning and implementing of policy, so that it can be adapted properly to their situation, was and still is paramount.

Canada is proud of the leadership that the Arctic Council has taken on issues of importance for the people of the North.

When the Council was created 16 years ago, it had two primary objectives. The first was to promote environmental protection, which followed from the work of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, to address environmental issues affecting the entire region.

The second objective of the Arctic Council concerned sustainable development as it related to the economic circumstances of the Indigenous people and other residents of the Arctic.

I’m happy to say that these two objectives are still very much at the core of the Council’s work.

This morning, for example, Arctic ministers will sign the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic.

An oil spill could have serious impacts on the livelihoods of Northerners. By acting together here at the Council, we are enhancing our collective ability to respond.

In its first 16 years, the Council has done very important scientific work and shaped global policy on key issues such as mercury.

Under Sweden’s chairmanship, some very important reports have been completed, including on biodiversity and ocean acidification.

This work provides new insights for the sustainable development of northern communities. The recommendations will help policy-makers take better-informed decisions regarding the circumpolar region.

I strongly feel, however, that it is time to make sure that the science is directly relevant and is for the benefit of Northerners.

We must make sure that we apply the findings of that research in concrete, practical ways that will help improve the well-being and prosperity of people living in the Arctic.

For instance, I know how important it is to the Inuit of Canada that Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or traditional knowledge, be included in scientific research and policy-making.

We need to combine the knowledge of the people who have lived in the North for generations with what we have learned through our scientific research and technology.

Over the last eight months, since being appointed Arctic Council chair for Canada, I have heard a clear message during all of my domestic and international consultations: the well-being and prosperity of people living in the North must be at the forefront of Canada’s Arctic Council priorities.

I believe that the Council must play a strong role in ensuring that this goal is achieved. Our work must speak to the people on the ground. We must also work to increase awareness of the importance of Arctic Indigenous peoples’ traditional ways of life. This could help to avoid actions by other countries that directly or indirectly threaten those ways of life.

Today, the Arctic is receiving unprecedented international attention. We find clear evidence of this in the growing list of countries and organizations outside of the circumpolar region applying to be accredited observers to the Arctic Council.

Canada supports the consensus decision of the Arctic Council ministers today. Observers are making a positive contribution to the work of the Arctic Council.

Observers also have an opportunity to better understand the impact that their policies have on the lives of Northerners.

We must ensure that the Council’s work remains focused on matters that directly affect our Arctic countries and our people.

We must also make absolutely certain that with the addition of more observers, the role or the voice of the Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council is not diminished or diluted in any way.

To this end, I thank Sweden for the work done on the new Arctic Council observer manual. Clearly defining the role of observers is a very important step toward achieving more certainty and safeguarding the integrity of the Arctic Council.

During my lifetime, the North has undergone monumental transformations. These transformations are what first inspired me many years ago to run for office. I wanted to influence the course of change—to ensure that change would directly benefit Inuit and Northerners. The same inspiration drives me today.

The time has come to embrace the Arctic and realize the tremendous potential and opportunities it has to offer to us all.

As incoming chair, Canada will build on a number of Sweden’s accomplishments. For example, the Swedish chairmanship put an important focus on sustainable development, on adapting to change and on engaging with business. Canada has woven these threads throughout its proposed initiatives.

With the help of our Arctic Council partners, we will focus on creating economic development and sustainable northern communities.

However, this development must be done in a responsible and environmentally sustainable manner so that the land, water and animals that many northern people still depend upon are not negatively impacted.

As someone who was born and raised in the Arctic, who has many family and friends currently living in the North, I am keenly aware of how our cultural, social and economic well-being is tied to our unique environment. 

I’m confident that by working with our Arctic Council partners, by continuing to face our common challenges together and by building on the experience and knowledge gained over the last 16 years, we will advance strong, healthy, sustainable and vibrant communities in the circumpolar region.

In closing, I congratulate Minister Bildt [Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs] and his entire team for delivering a very successful chairmanship. It has been a most productive and effective two years, and we are all grateful for your efforts.

I am looking forward, with much optimism, to the next two years.

Qujannamiik. Thank you.