by board member Rob Huebert
A Senate Committee and a Canadian Government walk into a bar. They then bet who will come up with the better Arctic Policy. When the Senate Committee comes up with a well-researched and balanced report, the Government laughs and says “I win.” The Senate Committee says I don’t understand, where is yours? The Government says, “we never agreed that it had to be written did we…”
We are still waiting for the long-promised government policy on the Arctic. With the October election now dominating the focus of the Canadian Government it is increasingly apparent that if the document is actually released it will not be a policy document outlining the Government’s policy regarding the Arctic and instead will only be part of the Liberal party platform. There is no longer any time to implement anything that could differentiate any new Trudeau initiatives from the existing status quo. As it stands, almost all the actions that the current government has been able to do in the Arctic – such as building more Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels – flow from policies that were initiated by the preceding Conservative Government. There of course have been important domestic actions taken, such as restoring the rail line to Churchill, investing in an Inuit suicide strategy, and the recent announcement on marine conservation in Nunavut. But this still does not justify the lack of a specific policy framework that was promised as soon as the Liberals took power.
The real problem is of course that despite how much the different parties may pretend there are huge differences between them in regards to Arctic policy there is actually little difference as to the core issues and what can be done to address them. There needs to be attention given to protecting the environment, advancing the economy, promoting northern science, protecting and promoting the interests of northern peoples – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and needing to protect northern sovereignty and security. Different governments can give topic areas different names, but the issues remain the same.
This was made clear in the recent Senate Arctic Committee Report – Northern Lights: A Wake-up call for the future of Canada. The Senate committee, with a substantially smaller budget and staff than what the government has at its command, was able to come up with an excellent re-consideration of the issues as they affect all of Canada. At the heart of the report was the recognized need to be able to respond to the needs of Northern Canadians. The Arctic has a unique environment that needs to be protected. But the Arctic is not a park. As the Berger inquiry pointed out so many years ago, the Arctic is a homeland. As such, the ability of northerners to be able to achieve a sustainable lifestyle must be the core domestic objective of any government. The Senate Report makes this crystal clear and provide an excellent path as to how this can be done.
But the question remains. How is it that the Senate is able to prepare such an thoughtful and balanced approach to the many challenges facing the Canadian north, while the government continually promised Canadians that they are going to give Canadians a much better policy than anything the folks before them ever could do – but then never quite delivering it throughout a five year term.