The Canadian Arctic is a stunningly beautiful environment. It has been the home of Inuit and northern First Nations peoples since time immemorial. And this highly sensitive region is now on the front line of climate change.
Reports from scientists and elders indicate that the Arctic will be free of summer sea ice within the next several decades. This is a profound change that will impact not only the Arctic, but the entire planet. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.
The North is already experiencing high levels of development pressure from oil, gas, and mining; these are expected to increase as the ice melts, with additional pressures arising from commercial shipping, fishing, and tourism. One can argue whether the development has more positive or negative effects, but there is no doubt that the impacts threaten to irreversibly change the northern environment and the unique way of life enjoyed by indigenous and northern peoples.
In recent years, we have also experienced pressure on our Arctic sovereignty. The offshore boundary between the Yukon and Alaska remains in dispute. Several nations claim that the Northwest Passage through our Arctic archipelago is an international waterway.
While the Arctic continues to melt, the United States Geological Survey has released a detailed study estimating that the Arctic holds approximately one-quarter of the world’s oil and gas reserves. These factors have effectively created a land rush by those nations wanting to lay claim to parts of the Arctic. The North has now become politically significant on a global scale.
40% of Canada’s land mass and much of its identity lies in the North. Rapid change is now inevitable. And it is a dark irony that the global use of oil and gas is melting out the Arctic, which in turn is providing access to the last great storehouse of oil and gas. We need to move quickly beyond the issue of sovereignty for its own sake, and chart a path forward that will sustain us through and beyond the challenges ahead.
The Green Party is committed to working with Northerners as the North realizes its true potential as a healthy and prosperous region within a strong and sovereign Canada. Decision making and action must build on the northern tradition of respect for the land and on the principles of responsible and sustainable development. And it is time we honour the intent of our Land Claims Agreements (see Section 4.10.5 on Aboriginal policy).
There is a clear rationale for Canada to claim as much of the sub-sea Arctic territory as possible. However, it is critical, at the same time, for the Canadian government (in close partnership with northern peoples) to establish a vision for how the Arctic will develop and how it will be protected. This vision should build upon the federal government’s Northern Strategy in close collaboration with the three northern territories. Through the Arctic Council, we should seek to extend this vision throughout the Circumpolar North.
Green Party MPs will:
Recognize and respect that our Arctic sovereignty is already established through the presence of Canadians in the North, including the continuous use and occupation of Arctic lands and waters by indigenous peoples;
Reinforce Canada’s Arctic sovereignty through community infrastructure development, regional sustainability projects, northern research, northern culture, and other regional socio-economic activities rather than through military presence;
Honour the spirit and intent of Land Claims Agreements, and uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
Expand funding for Arctic research, including support for and recognition of traditional knowledge, particularly critical in light of the increasing climate change threat;
Improve and increase monitoring of indigenous food (e.g. caribou, salmon, etc.) to ensure Inuit and First Nations, particularly pregnant women and nursing mothers, are not being over-exposed to persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals that build up through the global food chain and pool at high levels in the Arctic. Work to develop collaborative community based education programs to promote the consumption of food with less toxicity;
Address issues of food security and the unacceptably high prices for food for Canada’s Northern peoples;
Invest in renewable local energy sources to avoid the dependency on very expensive and polluting imported diesel;
Support training and equipping the Canadian Rangers, many of whom are Inuit and First Nations people who live in the North and are experienced survival experts on land and sea, to comprise the backbone of emergency support throughout the Arctic;
Commission a major class of icebreaker, capable of rescue work with any likely depth of ice;
Develop a comprehensive pan-Arctic waste management strategy that addresses issues like dumping of wastes into water and open dump burning on land, and that integrates community, mining, fishing, tourism, shipping, and military waste management strategies;
Establish, with the partnership of indigenous peoples, protected areas – terrestrial, marine, and ice – in an ecologically- representative network in the three northern Territories;
Restore the post of Ambassador to the Circumpolar North;
Extend Canada’s sovereignty of Arctic sub-sea resources through a submission to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Engage Canadians in an open discussion to create a development/protection plan for any new sub-sea territory and include in that discussion northern voices;
Advocate for the Arctic Council to be the primary forum for the diplomatic resolution of Arctic territorial disputes and the negotiation of multilateral treaties, thus allowing for the formal participation of territorial and indigenous leaders;
Seek a constructive multilateral Arctic maritime treaty, negotiated through the Arctic Council, to regulate all maritime activity in the Arctic, with the exception of traditional Aboriginal activity, such that the health and well-being of the Arctic ecosystem and its northern inhabitants are safeguarded;
Promote the creation of an internationally- recognized Arctic Protected Zone where no mineral exploration will be permitted by any country, similar to the internationally- recognized Antarctic Protected Area.