Yukon Could Be an Arctic Leader
By Liz Hanson
It is encouraging to see that the premiers of the three northern territories have taken an interest in Canada’s chairpersonship of the Arctic Council in 2013. The Yukon is part of the Arctic, and Yukoners have a stake in what happens at the Arctic Council.
Canada, the second largest Arctic state with 162,000 kilometres of coastline, will chair the Council from 2013 to 2015. This is our country’s first time to fill this role since 1996.
The northern premiers have said they want more direct influence in shaping the federal government’s priorities for the Arctic Council to ensure the territories’ needs are addressed. This is a good position, though it is rather thin on substance.
It is time to articulate what we, as northern peoples, want to see for the future of this vast region of land and sea. It is time for Yukoners to be given an opportunity to help shape the Arctic agendas of Yukon and Canada.
This is arguably the most critical time for the Arctic Council since its formation in the early 1990s. There is growing global awareness of the region, spurred on by increasing interest in its resources and strategic location. With this comes greater urgency to put plans in place to ensure development does not put people and the environment at risk.
As Canada prepares to chair the Council, our country has a valuable opportunity to reassert itself as a leader in the Arctic and on the international stage. As a subnational government within the circumpolar north, the Yukon can and should help shape Canada’s agenda for the next two years. But what should that agenda contain?
The Yukon should advocate for the Arctic Council to strengthen its role as a forum that promotes cooperation amongst northern governments and peoples. Yukoners will not benefit if the region experiences a free-for-all resource grab with all the spoils flowing south or out of the county. Through the Arctic Council, Canada should help ensure Yukoners receive their fair share of natural resource wealth.
The Arctic is already less ice-bound due to climate change and many are eager to exploit the opportunities for natural resource extraction and shipping. Canada, and its northern territories, should embrace this emerging reality and lead the discussion on encouraging economic growth while protecting fragile polar ecosystems.
A recent report from the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program entitled “Canada as an Arctic Power: Preparing for the Canadian Chairmanship of the Arctic Council (2013-2015)” suggests that Canada, and its subnational governments including Yukon, should take a stronger position in a revitalized Arctic Council. The May 2012 report offers nineteen recommendations for how Canada can do this. The full report can be found at www.bit.ly/LGPgCJ.
Former Yukon Premier Tony Penikett was involved in authoring the report, and the Yukon Government should draw on Mr. Penikett’s expertise on these matters as it helps shape Canada’s Arctic agenda.
Canadians think of themselves as a northern people. When it comes to the Arctic Council, it is critical to involve the people who live in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut--including Aboriginal peoples, scientists, and policy makers--in the discussion. In reasserting itself as an Arctic leader and advancing issues in the national interest, Canada must ensure the voices of subnational governments, including First Nations, are heard at the Arctic Council.
The Yukon should advocate for increased participation of Aboriginal people from across the circumpolar north in the Arctic Council. The governments of Canada, Yukon and Yukon First Nations have much to offer the region, including the example of our visionary and groundbreaking self-government and land claims agreements.
The Yukon should promote discussion of whether others with interest in the Arctic, including emerging economic superpowers like Brazil, India and China, and groups like the International Maritime Organization, should participate in the Council.
The Yukon should urge Canada to use its position of leadership in the Council to develop plans to improve the socioeconomic, physical and mental health of people throughout the circumpolar north.
The Yukon should encourage Canada to lead discussions on cooperative planning for emergency management, oil spill response, critical infrastructure resilience, and collective enforcement of regulations for new or expanded Arctic industries, such as commercial fisheries.
As Canada prepares to chair the Arctic Council, we should begin a discussion here in the Yukon about our shared vision and agenda for the Arctic.
Liz Hanson is Leader of the Yukon NDP Official Opposition and MLA for Whitehorse Centre.