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Statement on Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy

Published June 3, 2013

This strategy states the Canadian government's priorities in the Arctic, including economic and social development, environmental protection, governance, and Canadian sovereignty.


The Way Forward

The rapid pace of change and growing importance of the Arctic requires that we enhance our capacity to deliver on Canada's priorities on the international scene. Facing the challenges and seizing the opportunities that we face often require finding ways to work with others: through bilateral relations with our neighbours in the Arctic, through regional mechanisms like the Arctic Council, and through other multilateral institutions.

The United States is our premier partner in the Arctic and our goal is a more strategic engagement on Arctic issues. This includes working together on issues related to the Beaufort Sea, on Arctic science, on Aboriginal and Northern issues, and on a common agenda that we might pursue when first Canada and then the United States chairs the Arctic Council starting in 2013. We are also working with Russia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland to advance shared interests such as trade and transportation, environmental protection, natural resource development, the role of indigenous peoples, oceans management, climate change adaptation and scientific cooperation.

However, the key foundation for any collaboration will be acceptance of and respect for the perspectives and knowledge of Northerners and Arctic states' sovereignty. As well, there must be recognition that the Arctic states remain best placed to exercise leadership in the management of the region.

Canada was the first chair of the Arctic Council (1996-98) and will be chairing the Council again starting in 2013. The Arctic Council is the leading multilateral forum through which we advance our Arctic foreign policy and promote Canadian Northern interests. It is a consensus-based, high-level intergovernmental forum that promotes the environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic region. The unique structure of the Council brings both the eight Arctic states and the six Arctic Indigenous Permanent Participants together around a common agenda—enhancing the strength and effectiveness of this unique multilateral forum.

Canada will engage with Northern governments and Permanent Participants to ensure that the Arctic Council continues to respond to the region's challenges and opportunities, thus furthering our national interests.

From Canada's perspective, the Council needs to be strengthened to ensure that it is equipped to address tomorrow's challenges. Canada will act on several fronts.

First, we will pursue a greater policy dialogue within the Council. The Council has traditionally played a strong role in science, research, monitoring and assessments, and the development of guidelines (e.g. for oil and gas) in some select areas. Canada will play a proactive role as the Council moves forward to encourage the implementation of guidelines, the development of "best practices" and, where appropriate, the negotiation of policy instruments. The current negotiation of a regional search and rescue agreement (the first ever attempt at a binding instrument under the rubric of the Arctic Council) will serve as an important test case and will inform the scope for future policy endeavours. Canada will also work to ensure that the research activities of the Council continue to focus on key emerging issues to ensure that solid knowledge underpins the policy work of the Council.

Second, Canada will lead efforts to develop a more strategic communications role for the Arctic Council. As the profile of the Arctic increases, the image of the Council and information about the broad range of cutting-edge work that it is doing need to be bolstered. In this vein, a greater outreach role for the Council will increase both the understanding of the interests of Arctic states and people, and of the Council and its mandate.

Third, Canada will work with other member states to address the structural needs of the organization. While the current informal nature of the body has served Canada well for many years, the growing demands on the organization may require changes to make it more robust. Canada will work with other Arctic states to develop options, including with respect to the role of the Council, related "secretariat" functions, and funding issues.

Beyond the Arctic Council, Canada will work through other multilateral institutions such as the International Maritime Organization and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change towards global solutions to issues like polar shipping regulations and climate change. Arctic-specific organizations such as the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians for the Arctic Region, the Northern Forum, and the University of the Arctic are important partners on a variety of issues.

The increasing accessibility of the Arctic has led to a widespread perception that the region could become a source of conflict. This has led to heightened interest in the Arctic in a number of international organizations including NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Canada does not anticipate any military challenges in the Arctic and believes that the region is well managed through existing institutions, particularly the Arctic Council. We will continue to monitor discussion of Arctic issues in other international forums and intervene when necessary to protect Canada's interests.

Canada is taking other steps to demonstrate leadership, such as the 2010 Arctic Ocean Foreign Ministers meeting. In addition, a new Arctic regional policy and program centre at Canada's Embassy in Norway has been established, strengthening our on-the-ground interaction and influence in the region. This Canadian International Centre for the Arctic Region is part of a broader concerted effort to support Canada's foreign policy goals and commercial linkages through analysis, advocacy and outreach—further enhancing Canada's presence on Arctic issues abroad.


Through our Arctic foreign policy, we will deliver on the international dimension of our Northern Strategy. We will show leadership in demonstrating responsible stewardship while we build a region responsive to Canadian interests and values, secure in the knowledge that the North is our home and our destiny.

Through our Arctic foreign policy, we are also sending a clear message: Canada is in control of its Arctic lands and waters and takes its stewardship role and responsibilities seriously. Canada continues to stand up for its interests in the Arctic. When positions or actions are taken by others that affect our national interests, undermine the cooperative relationships we have built, or demonstrate a lack of sensitivity to the interests or perspectives of Arctic peoples or states, we respond.

Cooperation, diplomacy and respect for international law have always been Canada's preferred approach in the Arctic. At the same time, we will never waver in our commitment to protect our North.

"The True North is our destiny…To not embrace its promise now at the dawn of its ascendancy would be to turn our backs on what it is to be Canadian…As Prime Minister Diefenbaker 1961, 'There is a new world emerging above the Arctic Circle.' It is this world, a new world for all the peoples of the Arctic regions that we in Canada are working to build." Prime Minister Stephen Harper, August 2008, Inuvik, Northwest Territories

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