Ron Wallace: Canada’s proud moment in the Arctic
by Ron Wallace
May 10, 2013
Ahead of Canada assuming chairmanship of the multi-national Arctic Council this month, the National Post presents a week-long series where defence experts at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute offer advice on what Ottawa should do with this opportunity.
Canada is about to enter an entirely new phase of heightened diplomatic responsibilities in the circumpolar Arctic in assuming the chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Made up of the U.S.A., Russia, Denmark (including Greenland), Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden, among others, the Arctic Council’s member states will rotate the chairmanship to Canada this month. This event will present Canada with an opportunity to demonstrate tangible international leadership in the circumpolar Arctic region. In parallel, the Arctic Council is about to consider requests by several countries for permanent observer status — this developing interest in the polar Arctic is also coming at a time when Canada plans to make its first submission under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), scheduled for the end of this year. Additionally, Canada will soon assume chairmanship, from 2014 to 2018, of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) that also acts as a permanent representative on the Arctic Council.
All these events represent very real diplomatic and national opportunities, and responsibilities, for Canada’s strategic interests.
Into this complex political and diplomatic whirlwind is soon to step Canadian cabinet minister and designated Arctic Council chair Leona Aglukkaq. She will hold the post for two years. Ms. Leona Aglukkaq became the first Inuk to be sworn into the federal cabinet on Oct. 30, 2008, as the Minister of Health. She was subsequently re-elected to a second term in May 2011 and retained her appointment as the Minister of Health but was also accorded new duties as Minister for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
Quite significantly, in August 2012, when Prime Minister Harper deftly selected an Inuk to be the Arctic Council Minister for Canada who would eventually assume the role of Chair of the Council, he positioned Canada to be seen internationally as a leader in the development and promotion of the interests of aboriginal peoples in the north. This comes at a time when regional environmental, strategic and commercial interests are fast assuming increased importance to member, and non-member states, all across the globe.
Canadians should not squander the opportunity to support an Inuk woman who has demonstrated that she is capable of meeting significant political and managerial challenges. Aside from past biased, one-sided, political sniping that has accompanied her nomination to the Council, we should cherish the opportunity for Canada to demonstrate responsible international capabilities through the service of a distinguished Canadian Inuk woman. Her appointment, coming at a time when the plight of indigenous peoples of the circumpolar north has become an increasing focus for governments, is surely a credible demonstration of Canada’s long-standing commitment to our aboriginal peoples and to working to secure their right to self-government with associated increased self-determination.
The high-profile Arctic Council Chairmanship falls to a Canadian aboriginal woman and Cabinet Minister precisely at a moment when these issues will unquestionably emerge into this intergovernmental forum.
Canada, with its high-profile participation on the Arctic Council, may have a unique opportunity to work with other international agencies to elevate and inform future discussions about the circumpolar region — particularly with the key issue of Arctic industrial activities that may directly impact indigenous interests, land claims and social-economic development. The high-profile Arctic Council Chairmanship falls to a Canadian aboriginal woman and Cabinet Minister precisely at a moment when these issues will unquestionably emerge into this intergovernmental forum. It’s not only high time that a distinguished northern aboriginal leader be allowed to assume the duties of Chairmanship of the Council, but that we should reflect with pride that it is Canada that has brought forth such capable, and diverse, aboriginal leaders to the global circumpolar diplomatic stage. All Canadians should proudly be supporting her and providing all the technical, scientific and diplomatic support that we can muster. Anything less would be a disservice to Canada, our northern aboriginal heritage and the international community.
Ron Wallace is a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute.