Address by Parliamentary Secretary Pamela Goldsmith-Jones at Arctic Circle Assembly


The Arctic Council at 20 years: More necessary than ever

October 8, 2016 - Reykjavik, Iceland

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Canada’s North covers 40 percent of our territory and is home to more than 100,000 people, more than half of whom are Indigenous. For Canadians, the North captures our imagination like no other part of our country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken of the strength and resilience of Northern peoples and is making the Arctic a priority for our government. His commitment was expressed last March in Washington, D.C., through the United States-Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy and Arctic Leadership. As Arctic nations, our shared future rests with the people who have made the North their home.

Also, our minister of Indigenous and Northern affairs, Carolyn Bennett, is consulting across Canada, from coast to coast to coast, about the best approach for the North. She has surrounded herself with some of Canada’s most competent experts, including scientists and those who bring traditional knowledge to the table. Mary Simon is the minister’s special representative, a remarkable Inuit leader who helped create the Arctic Council 20 years ago.

For Minister Bennett, socio-economic development for northern peoples is the main goal. This means more opportunities for children, improved mental and physical health for the people, building resilience overall and preserving of language and culture. These are universal values.

As the Arctic attracts increased economic activity, as its resources are increasingly sought after and as its navigation routes open and its ecosystems become increasingly fragile, what is Canada’s responsibility?

We see the North as an essential part of our future and a place of extraordinary potential. In March, when Prime Minister Trudeau was hosted in Washington, D.C., by President Barack Obama, the two leaders announced a new partnership to understand the opportunities and address the challenges in a changing Arctic. They announced four goals:

  1. Conserving Arctic biodiversity through science-based decision making. To achieve this, we will work directly with Indigenous partners and state, territorial and provincial governments. We will play a leadership role in engaging all Arctic nations to develop a pan-Arctic marine protection area network. I find it very encouraging to see how the World Wildlife Fund [WWF] and Guggenheim Partners, LLC, have helped us in making good decisions.
  2. Incorporating Indigenous science and traditional knowledge into decision making at all levels of government. On this, I can speak from personal experience. In a recent environmental assessment process for a major energy project in Howe Sound, British Columbia, the Squamish Nation conducted its own environmental assessment and published its own conditions, and the project’s proponent paid strict attention. The initiative of the Squamish Nation is helping governments and businesses make better decisions.
  3. Building a sustainable Arctic economy, including shipping, fishing, and oil and gas exploration and development, to establish a shared, science-based standard for considering the life-cycle impacts of commercial activity in the Arctic. Carter Roberts [President and CEO of the WWF] was compelling when he said this has to be balanced with “political science.”
  4. Supporting strong Arctic communities. This includes providing innovative renewable energy and efficiency alternatives to diesel and advancing community climate change adaptation.

The model of collaboration between the Prime Minister and the President reflects the spirit of the Arctic Circle Assembly. To address the challenges we face, Canadian foreign policy is dedicated to inclusion and consultation, and it is a privilege to listen to your input this weekend.

We are profoundly troubled by the negative effects of climate change. This is disproportionately felt in the Arctic—as well as in the Pacific islands, where sea level rise due to melting ice presents a clear threat. This is a powerful example of our interconnected world and a stark reminder that we are in this together.

Mitigating these consequences is possible only if all countries act seriously and effectively, notably to meet COP 21 [the 2015 Paris climate conference] targets—as [UN Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon just said. Last week Canada ratified the Paris Agreement and announced the price we will put on carbon pollution. By 2022, this will be $50 a tonne, and this is just the beginning.

Also last week, we participated in the first-ever White House Arctic Science Ministerial in Washington, D.C. International collaboration, together with collaboration with Arctic Indigenous peoples, in science and decision making, was recognized as essential to advancing research in the Arctic.

In this same spirit of collaboration, I would like to talk about the Arctic Council, the Indigenous Permanent Participants, and the eight sovereign countries who have been working for 20 years as one. The Arctic Council is a model of non-partisanship and cooperation. It is the product of collective diplomacy.

Canada and our Arctic neighbours are committed to protecting the North. We are joined by 12 other countries with observer status, as well as the European Union. Canada welcomes and values the contributions of these observers.

The Ottawa Declaration on the Establishment of the Arctic Council was signed 20 years ago. Here are some of the council’s achievements:

  • Partnership with Indigenous peoples—we need their knowledge, and we always have;
  • Two binding agreements between eight Arctic states: one on search and rescue, in 2011, and one on oil pollution preparedness and response, in 2013;
  • Landmark studies on environmental pollutants, shipping, tourism, safety and search and rescue, conservation of biodiversity, oil pollution response, human health, Indigenous languages and, of course, climate change;
  • The Framework for Action on Enhanced Black Carbon and Methane Emissions Reductions; and
  • The creation of the Arctic Economic Council.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment is that we have laid a strong foundation for the greater challenges ahead.

I am pleased to see both the Government of the Northwest Territories and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada represented on this panel today. I am also pleased that the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the territory of Nunavut, are also represented. Equally important are the contributions made at this assembly by the many other Canadians here, including activists, academics and scientists, especially those starting their careers. Your voices are critical.

Diplomacy and cooperation are essential in the Arctic. The North is not a place for military confrontation or buildup. Canada needs to work with all of our partners, even those we fundamentally disagree with. It makes no sense, for example, for Canadian and Russian scientists not to be working together. Although we can collaborate in the Arctic, Canada has a profound disagreement with Russia’s unacceptable actions in Ukraine and Syria. Canada’s policy of renewed engagement is designed precisely so that we can face the world’s difficult challenges. This is not an easy path.

Our government will build stronger relationships with all Arctic states, and we look forward to the next Arctic Council chair, Finland, which will build the UN Sustainable Development Goals into its chairmanship program. Last night at dinner with Quebec’s Premier Philippe Couillard, Nunavut’s Deputy Premier Monica Ell-Kanayuk and business leaders from Iceland, I saw the energy within our country for innovation and collaboration across the Arctic.

After two decades, Canada’s vision for the Arctic Council has:

  • Strengthened our identity as an Arctic nation;
  • Strengthened our relations with our Arctic neighbours; and
  • Strengthened the profile of the Arctic at home and internationally.

It is a privilege to speak to you. In the tradition of the Coast Salish peoples from Canada’s West Coast with which I am most familiar, we are all witnesses to this day.

Canada is committed to the Arctic and its people.

I look forward to meeting you and working with you, in the strength and safety of the circle we share.

Thank you.


Chantal Gagnon
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Media Relations Office
Global Affairs Canada
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