Yesterday, 2nd of September 2014, Minister Aglukkaq opened the founding meeting of Arctic Economic Council, a body meant to help northerners become "the decision makers" , as she said in the opening speech. As reported by the News Release of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, "[t]he creation of the AEC is a priority initiative during Canada's 2013-2015 Arctic Council chairmanship, which is focused on development for the people of the North. Canada co-chaired the Arctic Council task force that was established at the Arctic Council's May 2013 Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, to facilitate the creation of the AEC. The AEC will work to foster sustainable development, including economic growth, environmental protection and social development in the Arctic".
The meeting, taking place now in Iqaluit, Nunavut (Canada), is closed to the public, but copy of her speech was sent to the main newspapers. The Arctic Journal has published the speech online:
Speech for The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, P.C., M.P.
Inaugural meeting of the Arctic Economic Council
Iqaluit, Nunavut September 2, 2014
Check Against Delivery
I am pleased to welcome you to Canada's most northerly capital city.
I recognize that many of you have travelled long distances from across the circumpolar region to be here today, and I thank you for recognizing the importance of this week's meetings. Iqaluit is the largest community in Nunavut, and one of the three largest in all of Canada's northern territories – which amazingly between the three of them account for almost 40% of Canada's land mass.
The territory of Nunavut alone, which is the federal riding that I represent, is approximately the size of all of Western Europe but only has a population of roughly 36,000 people. You can imagine the unique challenges that such a jurisdiction would have.
For example, the communities in Nunavut are fly-in only. That means if it's a foggy day, the airplane isn't taking off and you aren't leaving town. Certainly circumstances like this mean doing business in Nunavut is vastly different than doing business in California.
Coming from across the Arctic many of you are likely aware of some of the challenges faced in the North as they are shared by all Arctic Nations. These include things such as higher costs of living, higher costs of construction, skilled labour shortages, and harsher weather to name a few.
It's these common challenges and experiences that perfectly demonstrate why the Arctic Council is so important. By bringing together countries, stakeholders, and businesses from across the North we have a dialogue that is Arctic-to-Arctic and allows us to work together to tackle common problems. By doing this we make Northerners the decision makers which is completely appropriate as these decisions affect them directly.
It is actually this reason that I first entered public service – to give Northerners a stronger voice. As I have already mentioned, I am the Member of Parliament for the territory of Nunavut, and I was honoured when my constituents chose to elect me in October 2008. That same month, Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, asked me to join his Cabinet. The Prime Minister had just appointed the first Inuk to Cabinet in Canadian history.
Building on this, in August of 2012, Prime Minister Harper appointed me as Canada's Minister for the Arctic Council.
Appointing a dedicated minister who was born and raised in the North reflects the importance that the Canadian government has placed on the North and to our Arctic Council chairmanship.
Canada has made a very loud statement about the importance that we place upon the traditional knowledge of Northerners. Further, it highlights the importance we place in allowing Northerners to make decisions about their future.
Indeed this is why, when shaping the priorities and direction of Canada's Arctic Council Chairmanship, I wanted to know how we could make sure that Northerners are at the table and have control when it comes to making decisions about their future.
To achieve this I consulted directly with Northerners from across Canada's Arctic to hear what they thought Canada's priorities should be. After all, the people of the Arctic are the world's Arctic experts.
The outcome of these consultations was simple: the wellbeing and prosperity of Northerners has to come first. As a result, we have made the theme of our chairmanship, "Development for the People of the North."
This is not to imply that development must happen at any cost. In fact the opposite is true; development has been and must continue to be done in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner.
What Canada's overarching theme means is: The Arctic is our home, the Arctic is where we've grown up, it's where we have raised families, it's where we have spent our lives, and it is where we will continue to live for generations. So we need to prosper and benefit from activities that take place here.
This is why during our Chairmanship; we have worked with the Arctic States and Permanent Participants to establish the Arctic Economic Council. The AEC will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table to facilitate business opportunities, trade, and investment in the best interest of Northerners.
Eventually the AEC will be able to facilitate discussions and information sharing with the Arctic business community that will help states and indigenous peoples make informed decisions in support of responsible resource development.
This is, of course, in addition to domestic efforts to advance and facilitate responsible development within the Arctic States. For example, in Canada we have created the Northern Projects Management Office which provides guidance to industry and communities on northern regulatory systems and processes. It coordinates all federal efforts through the entire regulatory review process of major projects. And it tracks the progress of projects to bring transparency, timeliness and effectiveness to the regulatory system.
These types of domestic efforts to encourage sustainable development in the North can be complemented by creating a government-to- business link on a larger, circumpolar scale.
And today, I am proud to welcome all of our business representatives here, to take the necessary steps to make the Arctic Economic Council operational. I would also like to personally thank our Canadian representatives, Tom Paddon, Lillian Brewster, and Peter Tapatai.
For me, the AEC is unique for three reasons. First, it establishes a business-to-business network across the Arctic, allowing industries to share best practices and technological solutions for the benefit of Northerners.
Second, the AEC will serve as a link between business and government. Through the AEC, businesses from across the Arctic will be able to inform the work of the Arctic Council, and vice versa.
And third, the AEC, like the Arctic Council, includes Arctic Indigenous peoples in the decision-making process. This ensures that those living in the North are active participants in the decisions affecting their communities. By working side-by-side with the industry and businesses in the region, we are developing the North for Northerners.
Through collaboration and by sharing best practices, the AEC will help create made-in-the-North solutions. This approach will allow Northerners to take control of their future.
The opposite of this is when we sit back and allow other groups to take control of our future by putting their interests ahead of Northerners.
Perhaps there is no better example of this than environmental groups who often try to portray themselves as speaking for Inuit or Aboriginal people while at the same time campaigning against traditional ways of life. These groups do not base their campaigns on what is in the best interest of Northerners, they don't even base their campaigns on science. They base them on what their agendas are.
For example, in the 1970s some environmental groups began their famous campaign of misinformation against the seal hunt. This campaign was destructive and portrayed an entire people as if they were repulsive.
Recently the primary organization responsible for this campaign of disinformation apologized by writing a letter to the editor. An apology is nice but in this case it doesn't cut it. No letter to the editor will ever undo the damage done through this campaign.
We need to remember that groups like these have their own agenda. To them Northerners are only tools that they will use to achieve their goals; once they don't need us anymore they will throw us out.
This is a perfect example of why the approach of the Arctic Economic Council is so important. We need to promote Arctic-to-Arctic opportunities and communication between our indigenous peoples and business community.
We also need to encourage more collaboration between Arctic partners. Northerners are experts on the Arctic. When we have a challenge we need to look to each other for support and for best practices. When we have concerns or questions, we should ask each other, what were the experiences in other Arctic nations, how did they deal with this problem.
This is how we will truly put Northerners first – by taking charge, working together, and appreciating the value of our knowledge and experiences.
With that said, I would like to thank our Arctic Council partners for all their work in facilitating the creation of the AEC. This initial meeting of the AEC is a historic moment for the Arctic Council in its efforts to advance sustainable development in the Arctic.
I would also like to thank the business representatives for your commitment to this initiative and for the work you will undertake here in Iqaluit to launch this new body. Although this meeting is a key milestone for the AEC, the AEC's important work is only just beginning.
I wish you success over the next two days as you further develop the AEC's purpose, operations, and next steps.
I am confident that the AEC will be a strong and effective body that will help enhance pan-Arctic economic cooperation, for the benefit of Arctic communities and its people.
Thank you. Qujanamiik