It’s time for Canada to act like the northern nation it proclaims to be

Dr. Jessica Shadian Op-Ed on the Reports of the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic, “Northern Lights: A Wake-Up Call for the Future of Canada”, available here.

This is a repost of the original article which appeared on the National Post , Here.

Twelve years ago, Stephen Harper stated that when it comes to defending Canada’s sovereignty over the Arctic, “we either use it or lose it.” Harper’s comments came a full 50 years after prime minister John Diefenbaker announced his government’s Roads to Resources Program. Ten years prior to that, prime minister Lester B. Pearson announced his vision of the north as “a land of the future.”

As the Senate Report on the Arctic, Northern Lights: A wake-up call for the future of Canada, went to press last week, the north as Canada’s “land of the future” is still yet to be realized. Canada has not only failed to “use it” to defend its sovereignty, it has also failed to see the human and economic potential that is the key to the future of this country and its role in the world.

Canada has … failed to see the human and economic potential that is the key to the future of this country

The Senate report lays bare that despite decades of political rhetoric and the never-ending stream of new programs, piecemeal, unco-ordinated policies backed with just enough financial resources collected from a myriad of different agencies have kept Indigenous communities and the north in a perpetual state of dependence and underdevelopment. The monetary scarcity and lack of co-ordinating policies have not only caused Canada to fail to live up to its rhetoric on its north at home, but have equally failed the country in asserting its sovereignty in the wider realm of global geopolitics.

The Senate report offered two critical recommendations that would help turn the corner on this history. First, it is high time for Canada to create a Ministry for the Arctic — thereby joining its Arctic neighbours and a growing number of non-Arctic states around Asia and Europe that have dedicated ministries at home and ambassadors abroad for the Arctic.

Canada’s only fully domestic Arctic file is Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada; its mandate is to strengthen nation-to-nation relations and improve legal structures of the federal government — it has no attached budget of its own and no strategy for the north. On the world stage, Canada’s solely dedicated Arctic file currently sits under the European file of Global Affairs Canada. Not only is the Arctic a global and not European issue, it does not speak to Canada’s own reality that it is part of the North American Arctic, distinct from the European and Russian Arctic.

A group of youths play basketball just before midnight, ahead of the Toronto Raptors’ Game 5 NBA finals game against the Golden State Warriors, about 400 km south of the Arctic Circle in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, on June 9, 2019. Cody Punter/Reuters

A prosperous Canadian north is essential to securing and asserting Canada’s Northern sovereignty and security globally. Northern Canada’s colossal infrastructure deficit, stagnant economies, stranded resources, and bare-bones civil or conventional military presence undermines Canada’s ability to protect much less assert its Arctic sovereignty.

A Ministry for the Arctic must begin by recognizing that Canada’s north is key to its future strength on the world stage. It must include ambassadors who interact with diplomatic and financial institutions around the world and domestic ambassadors who educate and interact with other ministries in Ottawa as well as with key private-sector institutions to educate Canadians about the north.

It is high time for Canada to create a Ministry for the Arctic

Second, the Senate report recommends the creation of an Arctic Infrastructure Bank: Invest in Canada was set up to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country. The Canadian Infrastructure Bank (CIB) then became another tool to help spur third-party investment — specifically for infrastructure projects. The needs, regulatory issues, governing realities, and fundamental differences between the provinces and the Canadian north, however, require that Invest in Canada and the CIB pay, at least, equal attention to the north as the rest of Canada combined, provide double the resources, and be equipped with a group of financial and policy specialists who have spent much of their careers living and working in the north.

Thus, the Senate recommendation for an Arctic Infrastructure Bank could entail a northern desk in Invest in Canada and another within the office of the CIB. Each would have its own director and team around it, as well as its own distinct budget for the north. The Invest North Desk and the Arctic Infrastructure Bank desk of the CIB would both work directly with the Ministry for the Arctic to create the underlying strategies for both.

A maple leaf sculpture by Edmonton designer Wei Yew is seen outside the Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, in file photo from 2017. Wei Yew/Postmedia News

It is time for Canada to act like the northern nation is proclaims to be. Its vast north cannot be partitioned out to serve as small peripheral appendages of Canada’s many ministries. A Canadian Ministry for the Arctic would be the home of an Arctic strategy and a budget that directly co-ordinates with federal entities from international trade to Global Affairs Canada, the CIB, the military, Coast Guard and others in order to build the northern infrastructure that will connect Canada’s resources to global markets, protect and assert Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, grow the Canadian economy, and most fundamentally, finally provide northerners, in earnest, the means to build prosperous and self-sustaining communities.

Jessica M. Shadian is the founder and CEO of Arctic360.

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