Copyright © 2019 Senator Dennis Patterson.

Speech – Motion to Strike a Special Committee on the Arctic

May 30, 2017

Honourable senators, I am eager to support my colleague and long-time friend Senator Charlie Watt in his motion to establish a special committee on the Arctic. Senator Watt is the only Inuk in the Senate, though not the first, and he has devoted his career to representing Inuit in his home region of Nunavik, which borders on and shares many of the same demographic and geographic challenges as my home region of Nunavut.

We have worked together on many issues respecting Aboriginal peoples in the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and even on some issues which touch on the Arctic regions, such as our recent study on housing in We Can Do Better: Housing in Inuit Nunangat.

However, First Nations and Metis outnumber Inuit by a factor of five to one, appropriately drawing the attention of the Aboriginal Peoples Committee to southern-based issues. The striking of this special committee on the Arctic will allow a focus on a region that is sparsely inhabited but that occupies a huge part of our great northern country, the “true north strong and free.”

Three northern territories of Canada that form Canada’s longest coastline, longer than the East and West Coasts of Canada combined, alone constitute 40 per cent of the landmass of Canada. For the purposes of this proposed committee to study recent significant and rapid changes to the Arctic, Senator Watt and I both agree that the Arctic is much more than the lands and waters north of the 60th parallel. So it should also include Senator Watt’s home region of Nunavik, known elsewhere as Ungava, Quebec, and Nunatsiavut, otherwise known as Labrador.

The Arctic is also more than just the Canadian Arctic. As Senator Watt pointed out in speaking to this motion, we are part of a circumpolar Arctic world in which Canadian Inuit are involved as indigenous permanent participants through the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Canada is also involved as a member of the Arctic Council, a regional forum dedicated to the Arctic regions of the circumpolar world, which was formed at the insistence of Canada and has led to significant examples of cooperation and collaboration.

Honourable senators, I believe there is a current danger of Canada falling behind other nations with Arctic interests. Within the last seven years, 11 countries, including those well-known polar nations Japan and Singapore, have realized the need to appoint their own Arctic ambassadors. These ambassadors are used for analysis and situational assessments in the emerging “grand Arctic game,” as it is described in some quarters, with the ultimate aim of exploiting mineral resources, using the Arctic route for shipping cargo from Europe to Asia.

Should Canada, a great Arctic nation, consider re-establishing an Arctic ambassador position?

According to the publication The Diplomat, China has stepped up Arctic and Antarctic research. Between 1985 and 2012, Beijing initiated five Arctic and 28 Antarctic expeditions. It has also built in the Arctic the state-owned Yellow River Station and entered into an agreement with Finnish company Aker Arctic to construct a second icebreaker in 2014. Last year, China released a 365-page publication entitled Arctic Navigation Guide (Northwest Passage), comprised of charts and detailed information on sea ice decline and weather.

Meanwhile, Russia has built three nuclear icebreakers, including the world’s largest, to bolster its fleet of around 40 breakers, six of which are nuclear. No other country has a nuclear breaker fleet, used to clear channels for military and civilian ships. Russia’s Northern Fleet, based near Murmansk, in the Kola Bay’s icy waters, is also due to get its own icebreaker — its first — and two ice-capable corvettes, armed with cruise missiles.

Russia has also reopened or constructed six military facilities. They include an island base on Alexandra Land to house 150 troops able to survive autonomously for 18 months. Moscow’s biggest Arctic base, dubbed “Northern Shamrock,” is meanwhile taking shape on the remote Kotelny Island, some 2,700 miles east of Moscow. It will be manned by 250 personnel and equipped with air defence missiles. Soviet-era radar stations and airstrips on four other Arctic islands are being overhauled, and new ground-to-air missile and anti-ship missile systems have been moved into the region, with the Kremlin heavily investing in the winterizing of military hardware.

On February 27, 2015, in the U.K., the House of Lords Arctic Committee tabled their report, responding to a changing Arctic. In it, they put forward recommendations that touch on a number areas, including Arctic fisheries, oil and gas exploration, shifting sea ice levels, scientific exploration and geopolitical considerations.

Since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, there have been indications that the United States may counter the agreement for a joint approach to Arctic policy reached last year with Canada. The United States Department of the Interior is in a position to evaluate a request from oil and gas company Eni SpA to drill an exploration well in the Beaufort Sea, off Alaska. Since the area in question was previously leased from the federal government, it is exempt from the directive put in place by President Obama. This is bringing attention to ways in which the United States is pulling away from the agreement.

In March 2017, President Trump met with Senator Lisa Murkowski, head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Senator Dan Sullivan, senator for Alaska; and Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior, to discuss energy development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Regarding the talks with the President, Senator Murkowski said:

What was very clear was a recognition that what Alaska has to offer is considerable, important and we need to be working to undo much of what the Obama administration did in terms of locking up these resources.

Where is Canada in all of this?

The federal government has announced that they are developing a new Arctic policy. Having been involved in the former government’s Arctic policy, with its four pillars of Arctic sovereignty — social and economic development, environmental heritage and devolving northern governance — I hope that the new Arctic policy framework will build on those strong pillars. I believe that the special committee on the Arctic can contribute to the development of that new framework.

In this connection, I wish to commend the Minister’s Special Representative Mary Simon for the work she has done and the report entitled Shared Arctic Leadership Model Engagement she has recently submitted in support of this new framework. Her report underscored the importance of involving Inuit and the indigenous peoples of the North in every step of the process, ensuring that the end result was based on traditional knowledge and was culturally appropriate to the original inhabitants of the North. Among her recommendations is the proposed “indigenous protected area” that would enable indigenous peoples the opportunity to determine for themselves what would constitute the appropriate use of lands and waters that are of cultural significance and importance to them.

This raises another important issue on which Senator Watt has been champion: What is the appropriate role for Inuit as rights holders in managing the offshore in the Arctic and being consulted on Arctic issues?

Our input as parliamentarians from Arctic regions is important, as the government has already unilaterally imposed policy changes that have major implications for northerners. In December last year, an oil and gas moratorium in the Canadian Arctic, for instance, was announced to the shock and disappointment of northern leaders. I myself received a call two hours in advance of the announcement. This decision directly contravenes two devolution agreements: one devolution-agreement-in-principle and at least two comprehensive land claim agreements in that region.

We must also pay attention to the pressing issue of our Northwest Passage and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea process now under way. Many countries reject our claim over this area using the straight baseline method of claiming the Northwest Passage as internal waters and are insisting that the Northwest Passage is an international strait. Without proper search and rescue capabilities, infrastructure and personnel in the North, our ability to assert our sovereignty in that region and force foreign flags to comply with the requirement that they seek our permission before traversing the passage is severely hampered. If we cannot control who goes through the passage, we cannot mitigate the potential harm they could cause to our waters, and we are failing our northern communities.

In conclusion, honourable senators, I believe it is time for the Senate to focus its attention on current issues affecting the Arctic through the establishment of a special committee. I am eager to support Senator Watt’s motion, and I am gratified to learn, as I understand, that other honourable senators — as am I — from Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec are interested in participating. This is a special committee which will have a limited time frame and mandate. We need to take full advantage of the experience of Senator Watt in the final years of his distinguished Senate career. Thank you.