Canada needs a clear plan to develop and strengthen our Arctic.
Senators are helping to provide one.
Canada is one of just eight countries with Arctic territory — territory that is greatly increasing in strategic importance as melting sea ice opens up new commercial shipping opportunities.
Despite this, Parliament has never had a committee dedicated to studying the Arctic — until now.
The Special Senate Committee on the Arctic was formed late last year with a mandate to study “the significant and rapid changes to the Arctic, and impacts on original inhabitants.”
The need for this special committee became clear after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former United States president Barack Obama announced a shared Arctic leadership model in 2016, which in turn prompted the federal government to revise Canada’s Arctic policy.
The so-called Arctic Policy Framework is being developed in conjunction with Indigenous, territorial and provincial leaders to meet the challenges of life in the North and to harness emerging opportunities.
The significance of the committee’s opportunity to help draft this framework cannot be overstated. We will be able to advocate for Northerners so their priorities, concerns and realities are reflected in the decisions and policies of Canada.
As the only parliamentary committee dedicated to studying Canada’s Arctic, we are particularly well placed to craft this important policy that will guide the government’s approach to the North until 2030.
We will build on the excellent work that has already been done by other Senate committees. I was deputy chair of the Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples committee when it investigated the state of housing in Inuit Nunangat, a vast expanse of territory spanning parts of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec and Labrador. I was also fortunate to be a member of our energy committee when it examined how we can improve the way we power our territories.
But unlike these studies — the focus of which was limited to the committee’s specific mandates — the new Arctic committee can take a holistic approach in its study of the north. Indeed, it will be the first committee to be empowered to do so.
The committee will be structuring its studies around the same six themes identified by the federal government, which include: Arctic peoples and communities, economic development, infrastructure, protecting the environment and biodiversity, Arctic science and Indigenous knowledge, and the Arctic in a global context.
Our first assignment will be to examine economic development and infrastructure.
In Nunavut alone, five out of the six major infrastructure project applications were recently denied, the cost of living continues to be sky-high and the territory still faces a carbon tax despite its lack of energy alternatives.
Alaska, meanwhile, boasts redundant communication infrastructure, alternatives to diesel and a government-subsidized mail system that helps to lower the cost of living for its residents.
Other Arctic nations, such as Russia, have also made significant investments in infrastructure. Russia is spending money on new icebreakers, supporting new and emerging Arctic technologies and relocating an entire military unit to their far north.
International interest in the Arctic is increasing, which provides a measure of urgency for Canada to develop a detailed Arctic policy.
In recent years, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, China and the United States have developed their own Arctic policies. China has even developed a lengthy guidebook entitled, Arctic Navigation Guide (Northwest Passage). This makes it imperative that we update our Arctic policy and overall approach to our northernmost region so that Canada is not left behind.
Northerners face unique challenges every day. I believe the committee will serve as a vehicle to address these complex issues and to propose a way forward. Our committee’s time is limited, which, in a way, reflects the urgency Canada faces in addressing the issues facing the Arctic.
Despite our short timeframe, I believe we will succeed.
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson is chair of the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic. He recently provided a northern perspective for the federal government’s defence policy review.
This article appeared in the May 16, 2018 edition of The Hill Times.