Address by Minister Aglukkaq at Yukon College

October 21, 2013 - Whitehorse, Yukon

Check Against Delivery

Good afternoon everyone.

I am pleased to join you today to talk about a topic that is very important not only to me personally, but also to our government—Canada’s Arctic.

As someone born and raised in Canada’s North and who still proudly calls the North home, I am happy to be part of a government that has focused so much on the North and on 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.

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 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. As indicated in the video you just saw, the Council is the leading body for international cooperation on Arctic issues.

It’s a great honour to serve Canada in any capacity, but there are two reasons in particular that being appointed Minister for the Arctic Council was especially important to me.

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

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

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

Throughout my consultations 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.

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 both 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.

With the help of our Arctic Council partners, we will focus on creating economic growth, strong and sustainable Northern communities, and healthy ecosystems. During Canada’s chairmanship, the Council will focus on three sub-themes to guide our work.

The first is responsible Arctic-resource development.

The development of natural resources is important to the economic future of the Arctic and to the long-term prosperity of its people.

Canada is determined to see Northern communities benefit from the economic boom that is unfolding in the region. 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.

We believe that the council must play a strong role in making sure that this goal is achieved.

Canada will work with its Arctic Council partners to find more opportunities for the business sector to engage with the Council in order to share best practices and lessons learned in the circumpolar region.

Safe Arctic shipping is our second sub-theme.

Canada will continue the council’s work on oil-spill prevention in the Arctic. This is essential.

An oil spill from one of the many ships that will soon be crossing Arctic waterways as the shipping season becomes longer could have serious consequences for the environment and the livelihoods of Northerners.

Canada foresees the development of guidelines for Arctic tourism and cruise-ship operators. This work will support the new Arctic search-and-rescue agreement signed by all Arctic Council states in Greenland in 2011.

The third and final sub-theme is sustainable circumpolar communities.

My family, friends and all Northerners are facing new challenges as a result of the impact of climate change.

It is critical that the council help people adapt to these changes, including by sharing best practices. We must also explore together how best to advance work on short-lived climate-forcing agents, like black carbon. Although these agents come from industrial centres far from Northern communities, they have significant impacts on Northern lifestyles.

We must make sure that the science and research resulting from the work on our themes and initiatives are directly relevant to, and for the benefit of, Northerners.

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.

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

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

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.

We will look to those of you here today, our next generation of Arctic researchers, to build that bridge. It is essential for us to engage youth as the circumpolar region prepares to face the future.

So allow me to start with you here today. I would like to know what you think about the work of the Arctic Council under Canada’s chairmanship. What are your thoughts on the themes and initiatives I have just outlined?

I invite you now to step up to the microphone and share your thoughts and feedback—please don’t be shy!

Thank you. Qujanamiik.