Larry Bagnell met with European politicians in Brussels, Belgium, last week in response to escalating European interest in the Arctic.
Sinking villages in Sweden, contaminants in aboriginal food in Greenland and Arctic Ocean shipping laws were just some of the concerns brought to the European Parliament at the first Northern Dimension Parliamentary Forum on February 25 and 26.
The Europeans are wrapping their heads around the cluster of new laws that need to be drawn up for the Arctic and the Baltic Sea region. Bagnell was part of a two-man envoy sent to defend Canadian interests.
“Europe is trying to get more involved in our Arctic policy in certain ways, which is good, but we don’t want them to infringe on our sovereign rights in our area,” said Bagnell in a phone interview.
There were seven different parliamentary groups representing Europe at the forum, a sign of the growing interest in Arctic politics. The legislative overlap among some groups means there’s still a long way to go in streamlining international efforts to regulate the Far North.
With Arctic ice shrinking faster than expected, oil and gas exploration is a priority, said Bagnell.
“There’s more and more (oil and gas exploration) happening,” he said. “We want to make sure the right shipping and development rules are in place because it’s inevitable and some of it is already occurring.”
An Arctic oil spill would have devastating effects, he said.
“Oil spills under or near the ice and in these rough conditions are a lot harder to clean up. They’re still developing process for that.”
And Canada is still catching up to the tourism industry, which sends cruise ships full of Europeans to the ice-filled seas of the Far North.
“The rules for ships going through ice-filled waters is a big concern here,” said Bagnell. “There will be more tour ships (in the Arctic) and we don’t have the search-and-rescue capacity in the area to deal with these cruise ships that are already going there.”
Northern fisheries will also be deeply affected by climate change, said Bagnell, and regulations need to reflect that.
On top of oil and gas, tourism and fisheries, the Arctic may soon open up to more trade shipping, especially between Atlantic and Asian East Coast markets.
“There are huge financial savings to using (the Northwest Passage) when it does open up, which will be in the very near future, so governments are getting ready to regulate it,” said Bagnell.
The passage is a contentious issue between Canada and the United States. While Canada believes the waters between the Arctic islands are its own, the United States argues the waters are international because they connect two areas of open seas.
Canada was in Brussels to make sure Europe doesn’t develop legislation contrary to our interests, but that isn’t easy with unpopular policies in Canada’s North, such as seal hunting.
“There’s a huge range of topics to work on and we need to make sure Canada is involved so that anything that is our sovereign right or legislative area is not impinged on by others,” said Bagnell.
Bagnell was the only northern Canadian MP at the forum. He represented Canada along with James Bezan, the Conservative chair of the Environment Committee.
Back home, Canada is finalizing changes to the Arctic Waters Pollution Protection Act, which will extend the area under its control to 516.6 kilometres from the shore from 257.5 kilometres, said Bagnell.
He’s also put forward a private member’s bill that would ban the Canadian Navy’s policy of dumping sewage in the Arctic.
“But I’m very far down the list, so it will be a long time for that to come up,” Bagnell said.
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