Ideas for Action

Ideas for Action

The federal election call of 1997 put much of the government's legislative and investigative agenda on hold. This included the Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada and the Circumpolar World. At the time of the CWG meeting in early October, 1997 and through the next two months there was little response to the report and essentially no public opportunity in the parliamentary schedule to offer comments. The Standing Committee expects to convene meetings in early 1998 to receive the government's response to the report and to hear from interested parties. The CWG discussed a number of action possibilities.

The record of the CWG should be distributed widely. Organizations and individuals should be encouraged to use the report for their purposes and make their views known to the Standing Committee, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, other federal ministers and ministers of territorial governments, members of Parliament and northern legislatures, administrative officials in Ottawa and the regions, other interest groups, and the media.

Organizations and individuals should be encouraged to participate in the 1998 National Forum on Canada's International Relations. The theme for the forum will be Circumpolar Relations and the report of the Standing Committee will be a key background document for the Forum's agenda. This will be a important opportunity to build a public case for strengthening Canadian initiatives in the circumpolar Arctic.

In attempting to influence national policy on circumpolar issues it will be important to encourage the flow of ideas between interested groups and thus enhance prospects for a broadly based, efficient, and effective advocacy. There must be a kind of "porosity" between organizations that links jurisdictional, scientific, technological, cultural, political, and environmental interests in order for there to be substantial, collaborative, and effective responses from across the country.

On the matter of support for circumpolar and northern research in Canada, the record of corporate Canada in this regard leaves much to be desired, especially in those cases where very large revenues and profits are won in resource development. Whether this comes in the form of new corporate research initiatives or from royalties and taxation, passed through governments or some combination of the two, is a matter to be decided. This is not about research to serve purely corporate agendas. It is about paying a fair share towards publicly agreed on research needs. Sound knowledge is always a wise investment. The current round of profit taking in the North should be the springboard to a deeper and broader understanding from research for the ventures of the future.

In May 1998 Whitehorse, Yukon, will be the site of the Circumpolar Conference and Workshop, Sustainable Development in the Arctic: Lessons Learned and the Way Ahead . This will be an important opportunity to promote policy perspectives on a wide range of circumpolar issues. An international gathering such as this is an opportunity to develop public and stakeholder support and encourage political and administrative leaders here in Canada to be open to innovative approaches to meeting circumpolar needs on into the future.

As Senior Arctic Officials' discussions move (albeit too slowly) the Arctic Council towards its inauguration, there is a need to begin the process of linking the Arctic environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) to the Council. Research and analysis on ways to link the two is required in the near future. Both the National Forum on Canada's International Relations and the Sustainable Development Conference in Whitehorse present useful opportunities to develop a strategy publicly. Such an initiative should be accompanied by complementary advocacy initiatives with officials in Canada and through networks in the other parts of the circumpolar world, officials there too.

What Canada lacks at the present time is a permanent forum in which northern and circumpolar issues are dealt with on an on-going basis. Too often in government one or another agency "takes the lead" and in many cases captures the agenda. Single-mindedness may ensue, but so too may lethargy and neglect. What is needed as we head towards a regional commitment in the circumpolar Arctic is a mechanism that links the interests of DIAND, NRCan, DOE, DFO along with such agencies as CIDA and IDRC. A forum in which these agencies intersect and are required to focus on joint problem-solving, opportunity-taking, and responsibility-bearing is clearly in the interest of shared visions, thematic and interdisciplinary approaches and collaborative enterprise.


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