OTTAWA - The Harper Conservatives are foisting their Arctic policy
on northerners without adequately taking their concerns into account,
say senators who have recently completed a tour of the North.
The Senate committee on energy, the environment and natural resources
says in a report that northerners feel the federal government isn't
respecting their needs or contributions toward ensuring Canada's
sovereignty over the Arctic.
"The people of the North feel that quite deeply," said Liberal
Senator Grant Mitchell. "Aboriginal people in particular would feel
that quite deeply."
Fellow Liberal Tommy Banks agreed.
"It's more than consultation," he said. "It's an involvement."
The report released Thursday suggests northern needs should come first in determining Arctic policy.
"If we are to maintain our Arctic sovereignty, it is very
important that we support the indigenous people in their way of life
and in their presence in the North because that's the kind of argument
that can be used in international courts of justice to determine
sovereignty," Mitchell said.
The report, by both Liberal and Conservative senators, contains
a number of recommendations that have long been on a wish list of the
Northwest Territories, such as replacing winter ice roads with
permanent all-weather links. It also says northern governments should
get control over their natural resources, something now handled out of
Ted Yeomans, a spokesman for Northern Affairs Minister Chuck
Strahl, said the government's integrated Northern strategy was designed
with and for Northerners.
"Our strategy focuses on protecting the North's environment,
social and economic development, sovereignty, and governance and
devolution," he said. "We are well engaged with Northerners and
Minister Strahl and (Health Minister Leona) Aglukkaq are helping this
Conservative government improve the lives of all Northerners."
The document comes a few days after a different Senate
committee recommended increased enforcement and military capacity in
the North. That report suggested arming coast guard icebreakers and
turning the Rangers - a largely aboriginal force used in a scouting and
reconnaissance capacity - into full reserve units in the army.
The senators acknowledged the need for a military presence in
the North. But they called for an end to thinking about the Canadian
Arctic as a frontier to be exploited or manipulated for the benefit of
southerners. Mitchell referred to Harper's catchphrase, 'Use it or lose
"The importance of the North shouldn't be defined by
southerners," he said. "It is very important that the future of the
North be defined by northerners.
"The North is not a frontier to be exploited."
The report also says climate change is a fact in the North.
Existing infrastructure is deteriorating at the same time that access
to resources and transportation routes is growing, adding even more
urgency to Arctic policy.
Derek Lindsay, mayor of Inuvik, N.W.T., told the committee that
it will already cost his community $140 million to replace buildings
damaged by melting permafrost.
Funding for scientific research in the North should also be increased, the report says.
"One of the things that I found was how much of scientific
research in the North is being funded and done by other countries,"
said Liberal Senator Lorna Milne.
Recommendations include increased funding for Canadian research that deals with long-term climate change trends.
"We need to have a comprehensive, world-leading aggressive climate change policy to begin to fix this problem," said Mitchell.
The report did not include cost estimates of its recommendations.