Economic development in the North will be the number one priority of the Arctic Council when Canada takes over the rotating chair’s position from Sweden in May, according to the minister in charge of the council.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who was made chair of the Arctic Council last August, said her two-year term at the helm will be focused on responsible resource development in the Arctic.
“The development of natural resources is important to the economic future of the Arctic and to the long-term prosperity of its people,” Aglukkaq told attendees of the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway on Jan. 21.
“The potential for wealth and job creation through resource development in the Arctic is great. Canada is determined to see Northern communities benefit from the economic boom that is unfolding in the region.”
Aglukkaq said Canada will continue enhancing the relationship between the business sector and the Arctic Council.
“Businesses in the Arctic have the experience including lessons learned and best practices, in many areas important to the circumpolar region,” she said. “Canada will work with its Arctic Council partners to find more opportunities for business to engage with the council, in order to share best practices and lessons learned in the circumpolar region.”
Canada’s second priority as chair will be safe shipping and oil spill prevention in the Arctic, Aglukkaq announced.
“An oil spill from one of the many ships that will soon be crossing the Arctic waterways as the shipping season extends could have serious consequences for the environment and the livelihoods of Northern people,” she said.
Lastly, she said, Canada will also be focused on sustainable community development.
“My family, friends and all Northerners are facing new challenges as a result of the impacts of climate change,” she said. “It is critical that the council help people adapt to these changes, including by sharing best practices.”
She said Canada will continue scientific work in the Arctic, but do more to put science into practice.
“Now we must make sure that we are applying the findings of that research in a practical way that will help improve the well-being and prosperity of the people living in the Arctic,” she said.
Official Northern Development Opposition critic Dennis Bevington said the priorities announced by Aglukkaq are forcing the Arctic Council backwards.
“The Arctic Council is for working on international issues, not national ones, and economic development is a national issue,” he told The Journal. “Canada, in its two-year time there, by doing this show and tell exercise to promote economic development, will put the agenda back from international cooperation. I find it to be the wrong approach.”
Bevington said Canada should continue with Sweden’s work over the last two years on the global issues of climate change, ecosystems management and fisheries.
The Arctic Frontiers conference came at the end of Aglukkaq’s Nordic Arctic Council tour, which began in Stockholm, Sweden in December and saw her visit the capitals of Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Norway in January.