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FAAE Committee Report

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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE NINTH REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: “CANADA AND THE ARCTIC COUNCIL: AN AGENDA FOR REGIONAL LEADERSHIP.”

The Government of Canada has carefully considered the Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (SCFAID) entitled “Canada and the Arctic Council: An Agenda for Regional Leadership.”

The Government would like to thank the members of the Committee for this comprehensive and insightful report and welcomes their continued interest in the Arctic as a foreign policy priority for Canada. The Government is pleased to note that a number of the Committee’s recommendations align with Canada’s plans as part of its two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council (AC), which began May 15, 2013.

The overarching theme of Canada’s chairmanship is “Development for the People of the North.” Three sub-themes group the work: “Responsible Arctic Resource Development,” “Safe Arctic Shipping,” and “Sustainable Circumpolar Communities.” The themes were determined after the public engagement process with northern Canadians, including territorial representatives, northern indigenous organizations and other stakeholders, interdepartmental consultations and consensus discussions with the eight Arctic States and six indigenous Permanent Participants (PPs)(Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Saami Council, and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North). The theme and sub-themes focus on creating conditions in the North for dynamic economic growth, vibrant communities and healthy ecosystems. The Council’s work on the human dimension will be central to Canada’s chairmanship.

In addition to the ongoing work being done by the Council, 10 initiatives were developed, with the consensus support of the AC, to support the overall theme and sub-themes:

  1. Circumpolar Business Forum (CBF)
  2. Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention
  3. Guidelines for Arctic Tourism and Cruise Ship Operations
  4. Protecting Arctic Traditional Ways of Life
  5. Promoting Traditional and Local Knowledge
  6. Addressing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants
  7. Facilitating Adaptation to Climate Change
  8. Promoting Mental Wellness in Northern Circumpolar Communities
  9. Migratory Bird Conservation
  10. Strengthening the Arctic Council

These initiatives all met with the consensus support of the AC. Canada’s chairmanship will include hosting AC meetings in Canada’s North. These meetings will build awareness of the issues facing northern peoples and communities, as well as build awareness within communities and the larger Circumpolar North of the importance of our chairmanship priorities. The northern meetings will also create opportunities to showcase Canadian success stories, and to increase scientific, academic, business and people-to-people connections.

The Government agrees with the spirit and intent of the Committee’s report. As such, it is pleased to provide the following response to its recommendations:

Role, Vision and Structure of the Arctic Council

Recommendation 1:

The Committee recommends that as Arctic Council chair the Government of Canada encourage the Council to enhance its efforts to share among the member states and permanent participants best practices, knowledge and experiences regarding sustainable economic development, business and job creation, and community resiliency.

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. The Government of Canada regularly looks toward other countries as a source of best practices and knowledge to help inform its efforts to advance northern economic development. During the Canadian chairmanship, this will be a particular focus through activities such as the establishment of a Task Force to facilitate the creation of a Circumpolar Business Forum; and facilitating adaptation to climate change. These initiatives are complemented by the ongoing work of the Sustainable Development Working Group, which serves as a key mechanism to continue to advance work related to sustainable economic development. The Government of Canada also looks forward to sharing its Arctic success with its partners in the next two years.

Recommendation 2:

In support of this work, the Committee further recommends that the Government of Canada encourage Arctic states to establish a circumpolar business council that would be designed to work with the Arctic Council.

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. Establishing a mechanism to engage business and industry more directly with the AC States and PPs is a key priority for Canada’s AC chairmanship. Based on a proposal from the Government of Canada, AC Ministers approved the establishment of an AC Task Force to facilitate the creation of a Circumpolar Business Forum (CBF) at their May 15 meeting. The Task Force will be co-chaired by Canada, Russia, Finland and Iceland.

The CBF is intended to bring together businesses, industries, and indigenous businesses operating in the Arctic to advance Arctic-oriented opportunities, forge partnerships, and exchange best practices and lessons learned on a variety of issues unique to the circumpolar region. The CBF will also provide opportunities for businesses to engage more directly in the work of the AC where appropriate.

Recommendation 3:

The Committee recommends that during its chairmanship the Government of Canada continue discussions with Arctic Council member states and permanent observer states to find ways to address the capacity and financial issues facing the Council’s permanent participants.

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. The Government values the important and unique role played by the indigenous PPs at the AC. Since the establishment of the Council in 1996, Canada has worked to encourage their enhanced involvement at the Council. In 2010, the Government of Canada reiterated its commitment to support the Canada-based PPs, including financially, to contribute to strengthening their capacity to participate in the activities of the Council. Based on a proposal from the Government of Canada, AC Ministers approved at their May 15 meeting a chairmanship-led initiative on strengthening the AC; this will include identifying approaches to support the active participation of PPs and the capacity challenges facing them. Arctic States and PPs will need to work together to find new and creative solutions to ensure commitment to strong, effective results related to AC activities.

Recommendation 4:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada only support the applications of parties that are seeking permanent observer status with the Arctic Council in cases where such applicants satisfy the criteria established at the Arctic Council ministerial in 2011, which must include full compliance with the following core principles:

  • The applicant accepts and supports the objectives of the Arctic Council;
  • They recognize national sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the Arctic;
  • They recognize that an extensive legal framework applies to the Arctic Ocean, in particular the law of the sea; and,
  • They respect and have demonstrated a clear political willingness and financial commitment to contribute to the work of the permanent participants to the Arctic Council.

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. Canada led at the AC in developing the seven criteria for admitting new accredited observers (observers are not “permanent”) agreed to at the AC Ministerial meeting in 2011. At the AC Ministerial meeting held in Kiruna, Sweden, in May 2013, decisions were guided by the agreed upon seven criteria. 

At the 2013 Ministerial meeting, the Government of Canada insisted that all of the 14 prospective new observers meet the agreed criteria. The outcome at the Kiruna Ministerial meeting was that Ministers agreed to admit China, Italy, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, and Singapore as new accredited observers to the AC. Seven intergovernmental or non-governmental organizations were not admitted (Association of Oil and Gas Producers, Oceana, OSPAR, Greenpeace, International Hydrographic Organisation, Association of Polar Early Career Scientists, World Meteorological Organization). In addition, AC Ministers received the application of the European Union affirmatively but deferred a final decision on its implementation until such time as Ministers agree that concerns about impact of the EU seal products ban have been resolved.

The Council’s approach and decisions on all of the applications were guided by the agreed criteria. Additionally, as per the ministerial decision taken in Nuuk, Greenland, in 2011, the AC will, every four years, review the ongoing status of all accredited observers to ensure they continue to meet the agreed criteria.

Recommendation 5:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada pursue cooperation with the United States regarding key initiatives that are underway and proposed for the Arctic Council, with the objective of enhancing the coherence of the countries’ successive terms as Arctic Council chair.

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. The United States is Canada’s premier partner in the Arctic and our goal is more strategic engagement with them on Arctic issues, of which the AC is but one part. Canada and the United States have long collaborated in the Arctic as neighbours and friends. We have mutual interests in science, technology, environmental protection, infrastructure, and surveillance. Our strong and long-lasting partnership permits us to work proactively on many Arctic issues, including at the AC.

Three indigenous PPs at the AC have constituents on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border – the Inuit Circumpolar Council, the Arctic Athabaskan Council and the Gwich’in Council International. These organizations have long collaborated on local and international Arctic issues to the benefit of both our countries.

In carrying out the Canadian chairmanship priorities, the United States has offered to co-lead with Canada in the development of Guidelines for Sustainable Tourism and Cruise Ship Operations in the Arctic, and Promoting Mental Wellness in Northern Circumpolar Communities. Additionally, the United States has signalled strong interest in participating in the Circumpolar Business Forum, a Canadian priority initiative. The issue of short-lived climate pollutants is of particular importance to the United States and work undertaken during the Canadian chairmanship will carry over to the subsequent U.S. chairmanship of the Council.

In addition to collaborating on Canadian chairmanship priorities, Canada and the United States will take a co-leadership role (often with other Council States) on a number of ongoing Council initiatives and projects. Examples of these include the development of an Arctic Region Oil Spill Response Resource and Logistics Guide and the development of an Arctic Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue Network. We will also work together to promote Arctic indigenous languages and with the Inuit Circumpolar Council in developing a circumpolar-wide Inuit response to the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment. 

Management of Arctic Waters

Recommendation 6:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada support the finalization of a robust and mandatory Polar Code under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization; at the same time, the Government of Canada should pursue work through the Arctic Council on common shipping standards and regulations to ensure maritime safety and environmental protection in the Arctic.

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. The finalization of a robust, risk-based and mandatory Polar Code would represent a significant step in international efforts to enhance the levels of safety and the prevention of pollution from ships operating in polar waters. Accordingly, the Government of Canada, through Transport Canada, has been actively engaged in negotiations at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to develop a Polar Code that is reflective of Canada’s interests with respect to these measures. The Government of Canada has played an instrumental role in the formulation of international standards for ships operating in polar waters for some time – first with the development of international guidelines for ships operating in the Arctic, and now with the development of the mandatory Polar Code.

AC States will continue to work closely together to encourage the IMO’s efforts to develop the Polar Code. This work is captured within the Canadian initiative of “Strengthening the AC,” and in particular, as part of a broader effort to use the Council’s work to influence and shape action in other regional and international fora. Accordingly, the Committee’s recommendation is appropriate insofar as the AC is recognized as an appropriate intergovernmental forum wherein information on “common shipping standards and best practices” can be shared. However, the IMO remains the primary international forum responsible for adjudicating upon issues of vessel safety and pollution prevention, and is the responsible authority where shipping standards are ultimately set.

Recommendation 7:

The Committee recommends that as Arctic Council chair the Government of Canada facilitate a discussion within the Council regarding the adoption of tourism guidelines for the region, with particular regard to the cruise ship industry.

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. Based on a proposal from Canada, AC Ministers approved at their May 15 meeting an initiative focused on establishing guidelines for sustainable tourism and cruise ship operations. The Government of Canada recognizes that no comprehensive circumpolar guidelines for cruise ship operations currently exist, and the unique risks of this industry requires tailored oversight.

The AC’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group will continue to monitor and support IMO initiatives to strengthen passenger ship safety and work with the passenger ship industry and other stakeholders in the identification and augmentation of best practices. In addition, the Working Group will explore the development of a sustainable tourism initiative.

Fisheries Management

Recommendation 8:

The Committee recommends that as Arctic Council chair the Government of Canada initiate discussion within the Council on a common vision regarding how fisheries and fish stocks should be managed and regulated in the Central Arctic Ocean.

The Government of Canada disagrees with this recommendation. The AC is not a fisheries management body and has neither the mandate nor expertise to actively manage or regulate fisheries. Canada is currently working with Arctic Ocean coastal states to address this issue, including by responding to recommendations from AC assessments that call for fisheries resources to be managed consistent with international law; employ a precautionary approach; and, be based on the best available science, taking into account possible changes in distribution.

Developing a common approach among Arctic Ocean coastal states with regard to fisheries is the primary focus for Canada in the near term, and subsequently a broader set of states should be considered. Alongside other coastal states of the Arctic Ocean, Canada bears the responsibility of managing living resources in our exclusive economic zone, as well as the implementation of appropriate management measures for fishing stocks that straddle between our national jurisdiction and the adjacent high seas. Accessibility does not necessarily mean that there will be sustainable commercial fisheries in the high seas areas of the Arctic Ocean.

Since 2010, Canada has been part of informal discussions among the five Arctic Ocean coastal states (Canada, United States, Russia, Norway, Denmark) with respect to management of potential fisheries in the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean as the region becomes more accessible. We will continue to work with our international partners to explore options for possible interim and long term measures to prevent unregulated and potentially unsustainable fishing in the central Arctic Ocean. In this process, we intend to engage closely with our co-management partners (e.g. Inuvialuit) in the Canadian North.

Environmental Protection

Recommendation 9:

The Committee recommends that as Arctic Council chair the Government of Canada push for the negotiation of an instrument on the reduction of short-lived climate forcers in the Arctic, with a particular focus on black carbon.   

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation, and continues to work toward a negotiated instrument to reduce emissions of short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs) within the realities of a consensus-based organization. Recognizing that the ongoing work of the Council on SLCFs is a vital step in achieving this goal, Canada has been an active participant in the AC’s work on SLCFs to date. This work has focused on strengthening the underpinning science and research, providing mitigation recommendations for Arctic States to reduce emissions of black carbon and methane, and supporting pilot projects. Building on this work, Canada proposed additional work on SLCFs, including black carbon, as one of its 10 chairmanship initiatives. At their meeting on May 15, 2013, AC Ministers agreed to establish a new Task Force for Action on Black Carbon and Methane, which will aim to develop arrangements or actions to achieve enhanced black carbon and methane emission reductions in Arctic nations. Canada will co-chair this Task Force with Sweden.

Recommendation 10:

The Committee recommends that as Arctic Council chair the Government of Canada encourage work within the Council related to the prevention of oil spills and pollution in the region, as part of the Council’s ongoing work on oil spill preparedness and response.

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. Based on a proposal from Canada, AC Ministers approved at their May 15 meeting an initiative on Arctic marine oil pollution prevention. Specifically, Ministers decided to establish a Task Force on Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention to develop an AC action plan or other arrangement on oil pollution prevention, and to present the outcomes of its work and any recommendations for further action at the next Ministerial meeting in 2015. Canada will participate actively in this Task Force, working to ensure substantive progress on this important issue in time for our AC Ministerial meeting in 2015.

Canada’s Arctic Policy

Recommendation 11:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada focus its domestic Arctic policy on an approach that both facilitates sustainable economic development and prosperity and enhances community resiliency and viability. This approach must be implemented in close partnership with northern Canadians, recognizing the particular circumstances, aspirations and concerns of Aboriginal peoples in the Canadian Arctic and the context of established land claims and territorial devolution.

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. Canada’s Northern Strategy is a whole-of-government effort to realize the promise of Canada’s North. Two of the four priorities of the Northern Strategy are: promoting social and economic development; and improving and devolving northern governance. The Northern Strategy envisions a Canadian Arctic region where its vast economic potential is sustainably developed and where Northerners are key participants in and direct beneficiaries of northern development.

The Government has acknowledged the central role of economic development in building prosperity and has taken several key steps to foster increased sustainable development in the North. In 2009, the Government of Canada established the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, which works with communities and champions several initiatives that aim to help develop a diversified, sustainable and dynamic northern economy. In addition, the Government of Canada is delivering on its commitment to improve northern regulatory regimes and take actions that will lead to jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity for Northerners, most notably through its passage of the Northern Jobs and Growth Act, which received Royal Assent on June 19, 2013. This Act will not only create a more stable investment climate, but also fulfills obligations flowing from land claims. The Government of Canada continues to make strategic investments that lay the groundwork necessary to enable increased economic activity in the North, ensure development is pursued in an environmentally sound fashion and extend to Northerners the same access to economic opportunities as all Canadians.

The Government of Canada is committed to working with Northerners to improve opportunities and help meet their needs, including transferring provincial-like responsibilities to Northerners so that they have the tools to make important decisions on their economies. In March 2013, negotiators reached a consensus agreement on the terms for the devolution of lands and resource management to the Northwest Territories. The territorial government will become responsible for the management of onshore lands and mineral and oil and gas development and the power to collect and share in resource revenues generated.

Socioeconomic challenges in the North, particularly for Aboriginal Northerners, are major barriers to development and their labour market participation. Some of these barriers include poor housing conditions, high rates of mental illness and lower levels of educational attainment. The Government of Canada is working to address these unique social issues so that Northerners are prepared to be full participants in economic activity across the North. For instance, the Government is bolstering social infrastructure to address core housing needs and the social determinants of health. Over the past seven years, Canada has invested over $700 million in the North to improve the supply of adequate and safe housing. Most recently, Budget 2013 announced $100 million for the construction of new housing units in Nunavut. The Government of Canada is also working to ready the northern population for increased economic growth through investments to improve adult basic education and skills development initiatives to advance job readiness (e.g. the Northern Adult Basic Education Program, Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy, partnerships with industry to create project-specific skills training, etc.). Working with Northerners, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that Northerners, including Aboriginal people, enjoy the same education and employment opportunities as other Canadians.

Recommendation 12:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to focus investment on maritime infrastructure in the Canadian Arctic.

The Government of Canada agrees in principle with this recommendation. Global demand for more accessible Arctic resources is expected to increase marine transportation activity and result in changing marine transportation patterns. Limited marine transportation infrastructure and essential support services in the Canadian Arctic represent challenges to safe maritime navigation, responsible resource development and community resupply. As demands for maritime infrastructure and services in our Arctic waterways evolve, the Government of Canada will position itself to respond appropriately. Replicating a transportation system similar to that found in southern Canada is not feasible. As such, a strategic approach is required to focus marine transportation infrastructure and services on the most critical needs. During the next year, the Government of Canada, through Transport Canada (TC) and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, will propose marine transportation corridors in the Canadian Arctic that will provide a strategic framework from which the Government can regulate, prioritize and deploy its services and resources. As well, as part of the interdepartmental initiatives “Helping Canadians Adapt to a Changing Climate”, TC established the Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative. This initiative seeks to address some of the most significant effects of climate change on northern transportation infrastructure and operations, such as those experienced in the area of Arctic marine transportation.

Recommendation 13:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada review its capacity to implement the terms of the Arctic states’ 2011 agreement on search and rescue.

The Government of Canada remains committed to the implementation of the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic. This important agreement enhances the coordination of emergency response efforts of the eight Arctic States in this challenging part of the world, improving the safety of Northerners and those travelling through the Arctic. It also provides opportunities for the international Arctic Search and Rescue community to exchange information and best practices, to renew procedures and to discuss new technologies that could be used to enhance Search and Rescue response to aeronautical and maritime emergencies in the North.

To support the implementation of this Agreement and to demonstrate Canadian leadership in Arctic affairs, Canada hosted the first implementation exercise in Whitehorse, in October 2011, involving participation from Search and Rescue experts from all eight Arctic countries. Canada has participated in all of the implementation exercises for the Agreement, including the live Search and Rescue exercise in Denmark in 2012 and plans to participate in the next implementation exercise, scheduled to take place in Greenland in 2013.

The Government has also recently announced that it will undertake a quadrennial review of Search and Rescue in Canada to ensure that Canada’s Search and Rescue system remains up-to-date and relevant to the changing needs of Canadians and those in distress. The quadrennial review will be led by the Minister of National Defence in his capacity as the lead Minister for Search and Rescue, bringing together all federal, provincial, territorial and municipal Search and Rescue partners, the private sector and thousands of dedicated Search and Rescue volunteers to ensure Canadians continue to have the most robust Search and Rescue system possible. The first review will be conducted over the next few months and be followed by a comprehensive report.

Canadians can be confident that they have one of the most effective Search and Rescue systems in the world, comprised of a vast network of federal, provincial and municipal partners that operate across the country to ensure that life-saving resources are available to respond to any incident that may arise.

Recommendation 14:

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to fund scientific research in order to enhance knowledge and understanding of environmental changes that are underway in the Arctic, and to inform decision making on needed responses to those changes, and that it work closely with other Arctic and non-Arctic nations on international Arctic science.

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. The Government has a comprehensive Northern Strategy that is underpinned by world-leading Arctic science and technology (S&T) to help ensure sound decision making. Generally, it undertakes and funds a broad range of S&T through 25 departments and agencies who rely on S&T expertise to deliver their mandates for sound stewardship, regulation, and management of northern lands, waters, wildlife, and resources, and to enable social and economic development. The Government also invests in academic research through the three granting councils. Some key initiatives include:

  • Starting in 2012, $188.6 million over six years for the construction and S&T program of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station; and $26.5 million annually starting in 2018-2019 for the program and station operations.
  • Since 1991, the Northern Contaminants Program has fostered collaboration between communities and scientists to reduce/eliminate contaminants in traditionally harvested foods.
  • Budget 2010 announced $25.5 million over five years to improve northern regulatory regimes through the Northwest Territories Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program and the Nunavut General Monitoring Plan.
  • The Beaufort Regional Environmental Assessment is an investment of $21.8 million over four years beginning in 2011 to fill regionally relevant scientific and socio-economic information gaps that will aid in creating regulatory efficiencies.
  • The Arctic Research Infrastructure Fund provided $85 million over two years to support 20 projects at more than 40 sites to upgrade of Arctic research facilities.
  • In 2010, three Arctic scientists were named as Excellence Research Chairs and received up to $10 million over seven years to establish research programs.
  • ArcticNet invested Canadian Foundation for Innovation funding to renovate the Amundsen into a dedicated research vessel. ArcticNet was also renewed for a seven-year cycle (2011-2018) with $67.3 million to study climate change in the coastal Arctic.
  • Canada’s new flagship icebreaker, CCGS John G. Diefenbaker will have increased coverage in the Canadian Arctic and adjacent waters.
  • In 2010, Leading Operational Observations and Knowledge for the North was designated a Canadian Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research and awarded $7.1 million.
  • Pathways to Health Equity for Aboriginal Peoples is a $25-million, over 10 years initiative starting in 2012 to support issues such as suicide prevention, tuberculosis, obesity and oral health through partnerships with Aboriginal communities.
  • Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic is a $2.5-million initiative over seven years to examine ways to ensure that a larger share of resource development benefits stay in the region with fewer costs to communities.
  • The Arctic Development and Adaptation to Permafrost in Transition initiative is a Discovery Frontiers grant of $4 million over five years beginning 2011, to develop an integrated Earth systems science framework on thawing permafrost conditions in the Canadian Arctic.
  • The Climate Change and Atmospheric Research initiative will provide grants ranging from $500,000 - $1 million per year over five years focused on change in the Arctic.
  • The $100-million (2008-2013) Geo-mapping for Energy and Minerals Program is providing geo-scientific information needed to underpin private resource exploration and development.
  • The Radarsat Constellation will provide remotely sensed data for research and applications in the areas of maritime surveillance (ship detection, ice monitoring, and oil spill detection), disaster management and ecosystem monitoring.
  • The Canadian Network of Northern Research Operators has been established as a forum to share best practices and address common challenges.
  • Canada invested $156 million in the International Polar Year activities, Canada also hosted the International Polar Year 2012 Closing Conference – From Knowledge to Action in April 2012.