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FAAE Committee Report

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The House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development studied a part of Canada, and a region of the world, which is undergoing profound change. Sea ice that had once blanketed the circumpolar Arctic is receding and breaking apart. The long-term trend is toward a more accessible maritime space. That is generating interest in the viability of Arctic shipping routes, including on the part of a globally ambitious China.

The alteration of the region’s maritime geography is occurring alongside a deterioration in the global security environment. Russia has been rebuilding and modernizing its military capabilities and has demonstrated a willingness to challenge the international rules-based order. Perhaps most alarming, with new missile technology, Russian aircraft and submarines can now strike targets at great distances, including from launch points well outside of North American airspace and waters. There is a need for deterrence through the collective will of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The aging components of continental defence must also be revitalized.

Even so, a measured and resolute response at the strategic level does not preclude engagement on matters specific to the Arctic. As a region within which states have professed their commitment to peace and cooperation, the Arctic has proven itself resilient against the spillover of tensions brewing in other domains. For the sake of advancing scientific research, making improvements in maritime safety, and protecting the natural environment, such practical cooperation must continue, when possible. There is an important role for Canada to play in science diplomacy.

Many of the recommendations in this report are focused on ensuring that the government is able to assert, now and decades into the future, exclusive and effective control over Canada’s Arctic waters and territory through domain awareness, regulation, stewardship, and enforcement, all of which can be solidified through meaningful partnerships with Canada’s Arctic inhabitants.

Canada’s challenges in the Arctic are not limited to security and defence. There is also the national imperative of ensuring vibrant communities. Yet, the Canadian Arctic continues to suffer from an infrastructure deficit. The needs are extensive and well-known. The absence of needed infrastructure is inhibiting the economic development of the North, perpetuating a sense of precarious isolation, and maintaining the cost of everything at a prohibitively high level. In choosing to tackle such issues in a report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, a direct line is being drawn between Northern and Indigenous empowerment and the assertion of Arctic sovereignty. As the title of this report makes clear, vigilant foreign and defence policies are not, on their own, enough. That approach must be combined with nation-building at home, pursued from the basis of meaningful partnerships.