Address by Minister Aglukkaq to the Economic Club of Canada

June 5, 2013 - Ottawa, Ontario

Check Against Delivery

I am pleased to accept the invitation to join you at the Economic Club today to have the opportunity to talk to you about a topic that is not only very important to me personally, but to our government: Canada’s Arctic.

As someone born and raised in Canada’s North and who proudly calls the North home today, I am proud to be part of a government that has focused so much on the North and strengthening Canada’s sovereignty over the area that makes up 40 percent of Canada’s land mass.

The North is an essential part of Canada’s collective heritage and its future—and that is why in 2007, our government launched Canada’s Northern Strategy: Our North, Our Heritage, Our Future.

The Northern Strategy builds on four priority areas:

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

We are taking action in these four key areas to protect Canada’s interests, both domestically and on the world stage. These actions are based on our rights and responsibilities as an Arctic nation and as an Arctic power.

In August of last year, I was honoured to be appointed by Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper as Canada’s Minister for the Arctic Council, which is the leading body for international cooperation on Arctic issues.

Obviously it’s an honour to serve Canada in any capacity, but there are two reasons in particular that this was especially humbling for me.

First, the appointment of a dedicated minister for the Arctic Council is a first for Canada. It reflects the importance that our government attaches to the North, to the Arctic Council and to our chairmanship of the Council over the coming two years.

Second, the appointment to this role of someone who was born and raised in the Arctic is a first and reflects the importance placed on the unique knowledge and experience that people of the North can bring to the table.

The positive reactions and welcome that I have received from Arctic States and Northern indigenous peoples has been humbling. Last month, when Canada assumed the Arctic Council Chair in Sweden, many expressed to me their pride that a woman from the North is, for the first time, sitting at the head of the Council table.

Taking over the Chair of the Arctic Council allows Canada to bolster how we carry out our Northern Agenda and the Arctic Foreign Policy Statement by working with our international partners.

Since our agenda really flows from the four pillars of our Northern Strategy, I wanted to share with you today the highlights of Canada’s agenda for the Arctic Council. You’re the first group of people within Canada that I’ve addressed about our agenda, and I’m pleased to begin to share this information with Canadians.

And I’ll close my talk with a call to those of you with business backgrounds to consider getting involved in one of the fastest-growing economies within the federation.

Since the creation of the Arctic Council in Ottawa in 1996, Arctic countries and indigenous people have worked together at the Council on common issues.

When the Council was created sixteen years ago, it had two primary objectives.

In a nutshell, it focused on economic and social development in the region that would happen in an environmentally responsible manner.

Since then, each Arctic State has had a chance to chair the Council. I’m happy to say that these two objectives are still very much at the core of the Council’s work as we begin the second cycle of chairmanships.

Canada will continue to advance these goals during its time as chair. However, we will bring a unique focus to the table.

As I have consulted with Northerners since being appointed Minister for the Arctic Council, I have heard a clear message: the well-being and prosperity of people living in the North must be at the forefront of the Arctic Council’s priorities.

I believe that Canada must play a strong role in ensuring this goal is achieved; that the activities of the Council speak to and actually make a difference in the lives of the people on the ground.

This stems from my upbringing in the North and the frustration I have personally experienced with people who have been interested in studying us from afar and making proclamations on how we should live but who have little interest in actually helping build sustainable, healthy communities.

As the Arctic continues to receive unprecedented international attention, there is a growing list of countries and organizations outside of the circumpolar region that have applied to be accredited observers to the Arctic Council. Canada supported the consensus decision taken by Arctic Council ministers to welcome several new countries as observers to the Arctic Council.

We also agreed to defer a final decision about the European Union until the concerns related to the EU ban on seal products are addressed.

This consensus decision shows that under Canada’s leadership, when other countries make decisions that affect the quality of living in Northern communities—as the uninformed, politically driven seal ban has done—then we will not hesitate to speak up.

With that being said, observers have an opportunity to better understand the impact that their policies have on the lives of Northerners. I look forward to working with the EU to try and bridge the gap between our two sides on this issue.

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

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, and that is why our chairmanship will focus on the people.

Over the next two years, the Arctic Council’s overarching theme will be Development for the People of the North. Very simply, we will put the interests of those who live in the Arctic first.

During Canada’s chairmanship, the Council will focus on responsible resource development, safe Arctic shipping and sustainable northern communities.

I am proud to say that making sure development in the North benefits Northern communities is not just something we say at the Arctic Council; our government is living this out here in Canada.

That’s why we are investing in projects such as the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, or CHARS. This will be a world-class research station located in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. With its Arctic-based operations, CHARS will support the government’s role in fostering both domestic and international collaboration, research and innovation in the circumpolar region.

Our government is also investing in Aboriginal health research, which for the first time requires researchers to collaborate with Aboriginals in four priority areas: suicide, tuberculosis, obesity and oral health.

By focusing on collaborations between health researchers and Aboriginal communities, we will see more meaningful health solutions that can be successfully implemented, leading to healthier communities.

These are only two examples of projects our government has invested in that we will bring to the table as examples to other Arctic states of how we must ensure that people remain the focus.

Development in the Arctic 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.

In Sweden last month, Arctic ministers signed the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response.

A potential oil spill could have serious impacts on the livelihoods of Northerners. By acting together at the Council, Arctic states have enhanced our collective ability to respond.

Now we must increase our focus on preventing oil spills in the Arctic waterways. A new Task Force will develop a concrete action plan on oil pollution prevention and recommend how to implement it. It will consider what measures and actions could be taken to prevent future spills and how these can be advanced by the Arctic Council or Arctic states.

The Council will also establish a Circumpolar Business Forum. The Forum will enable indigenous and non-indigenous business and industry to engage with the Arctic States and Permanent Participants. Using trade shows and expos, for example, the Forum will build Arctic-to-Arctic partnerships, increase cooperation and share best practices on common issues such as emerging Arctic-appropriate technologies, clean energy, permafrost, transportation and infrastructure gaps, and social and environmental concerns.

The creation of the Business Forum comes at an important time for the Arctic. As interests continue to grow in the region, we must ensure that the people on the ground, living in the North, are active participants, side-by-side with the industry and business that are developing the North.

What I want to underscore is that as we develop this new Business Forum, we will also continue the important scientific research that has been done by the Arctic Council.

However, we must make sure that the science is directly relevant to and for the benefit of Northerners.

We must also 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 quayimayatuqangit or “traditional knowledge” is included in scientific research and policy-making.

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

That is why the Council will develop recommendations for better incorporating traditional and local knowledge into its work during Canada’s chairmanship.

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

The quickly changing state of the Arctic region will present a new frontier for all of us in the next few years.

I’d like to close with a few words geared to the more business-minded folks in the crowd here today. As members of a group named the “Economic Club,” I’m sure there must be several of you who are interested in economic matters.

Consider these facts:

  • The GDP in the three territories will collectively grow by more than 7 percent in both 2012 and 2013—easily outpacing the Canadian average of 2.1 per cent this year.
  • Mining exploration in Nunavut reached $395.5 million last year—the most for any territory and, relative to GDP, the highest level in Canada.
  • In Nunavut, we have modern land claim agreements and established regulatory regimes. We have modern environmental assessments that allow Inuit to work directly with the private sector on the feasibility of mining projects.
  • And last year, the fastest-growing economy belonged to the Yukon Territory, which clocked a 6.5-percent growth rate on the strength of mineral exploration.

The North is open for business. There are massive opportunities “north of 60” in everything from natural resources to the service industry.

Specifically, for anyone who can seize the opportunity and adopt a socially responsible approach to business, there is an untapped work force that, with targeted training, wants to make a living and invest in local communities because this is their home.

As the North continues to grow, we will be faced with challenges and opportunities—some will be positive, some perhaps not.

But if we are to successfully navigate the future of the Arctic, we must build a bridge between the traditional knowledge of the people who live there and the new realities of the present.

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

Qujannamiik. Thank you.