With Canada set to begin chairing the Arctic Council in May, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was back home in the North doing some homework for her new job.
Aglukkaq is the minister responsible for the Arctic Council – a cooperative forum of the eight circumpolar countries including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the U.S. She was in Whitehorse on Nov. 2 to meet with territorial leaders, aboriginal groups and stakeholders to discuss what issues they want raised at the council.
“It’s important to me as a northerner and as the new minister for Arctic Council to consult with northerners on ideas they may have, related to what our priorities may be during our chairmanship,” said Aglukkaq.
Those priorities include protecting Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, promoting economic and social development and ensuring the people of the North are part of a dialogue as resource development increases in the Arctic, she said.
Ruth Massie, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, took part in the meetings last Friday. She’s encouraged by the minister seeking input from the Yukon’s First Nations.
“The biggest issue that’s on their agenda is sustainable development in the North and opening of the Northwest Passage. She was very correct to come to meet with the people in the North. As she said, she wants to chair it for the benefit of the people of the North,” said Massie.
The CYFN is a permanent member of the Arctic Council.
Massie said she hopes that the dialogue continues once Canada takes over the Arctic council chair.
“It’s good relationship building, but in time we will also require her support for our initiatives and concerns,” said Massie.
The biggest one is climate change.
“I don’t think that they (the federal government) have enough information, and I’m glad that they are conferring with us because we have that information. We have been doing projects in the North for some time, and we have research stations here in the North as well. Canada is in some ways just catching up to the discussions. She needs to know that this information exists, and if we can support her as the chair, all the better,” she said.
The Arctic council works on a consensus model, and Massie has experience dealing with it in the past.
“I had an experience at the 1998 Arctic Council meeting in Whitehorse. I went to the opening remarks, and ended up chairing the meeting for the whole day. When you’re sitting there with so many heads of state from countries all over the place, when you can actually add value to the conversation with common sense, it’s great,” said Massie.
Aglukkaq said that Canada will hold 30 meetings with stakeholders over the course of its two-year chairmanship. She said her new Minister’s Regional Office in Whitehorse will be an important link between northerners and Ottawa.
“We have a team here on the ground that is a direct link to ministerial offices in Ottawa. It’s important for our government to work with northerners to move our policy forward,” said Aglukkaq.
The office, tucked away behind a key-pad locked door on the third floor of the Hougen Centre, cost $826,926.40 to set up, and will require an expected $304,105.73 a year to maintain.
Aglukkaq was unclear about exactly how the new office will benefit Yukoners, saying only that it brings the Yukon up to par with the provinces, which have had similar offices since the 1980s.
“It’s an opportunity again for my staff here to work with local people, to send our message out, to have an office to come to meet with my staff. It’s very important,” she said.
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