Climate change pushes Arctic to the top of foreign affairs file

Northern Canada will be a federal priority over the next couple of years, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told territorial and aboriginal leaders during a whistle stop in Whitehorse this week. "There are a lot of issues

Northern Canada will be a federal priority over the next couple of years, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told territorial and aboriginal leaders during a whistle stop in Whitehorse this week.

“There are a lot of issues a foreign affairs minister can be involved in, but this is my priority, ” Cannon told about three dozen people in the Westmark Whitehorse Hotel on Wednesday afternoon.

“There are a lot of international issues; there are a lot of inquiries that a minister of foreign affairs can embark on in terms of foreign issues, but this, I think, is the most important one,” he said.

Cannon already has a lot on his plate.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the Taliban will never be defeated in Afghanistan. Canada is talking with the United States on a proposal to build a continental cap-and-trade system. And the worst global recession since the 1930s is forcing an unprecedented multilateral response to lost jobs and slipping trade around the world.

On Wednesday, Cannon jotted another issue on his to-do list.

The Arctic front.

“We recognize that climate change is having a disproportionate impact on the Arctic and its inhabitants, though experts don’t agree on the pace of that dramatic change,” he said.

Cannon wants to inject some life into the multilateral forum known as the Arctic Council. It should co-ordinate research and bring grassroots northern issues to the fore, he said.

The aboriginal dimension of climate change must not be forgotten, Ta’an Kwach’an Chief Ruth Massie and Kwanlin Dun Chief Mike Smith said in comments before Cannon’s speech.

“We have lived here for thousands of years and we are seeing changes,” said Smith.

Both called for a renewed effort to regulate chemicals that are coming up North through the atmosphere.

That issue will be dealt with through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said Cannon.

However, the convention doesn’t deal with contaminants.

“When you look at it as a holistic approach, É that is one of the forums where it can be dealt with,” he said.

Cannon also met with the Arctic Council Advisory Board, which is made up of territorial, federal and aboriginal representatives, including the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the Gwich’in Council International and the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

We will have to work with the aboriginal people of northern Russia, said Cannon, citing a memorandum of understanding between Indian and Northern Affairs and Russian Regional Development to explore co-operative projects with indigenous people.

“I will explore, with my Russian counterpart, how me might work more closely,” said Cannon.

There will also be an effort to manage the dawn of Arctic shipping lanes.

“The Canadian Ice Service estimated the Northwest Passage probably won’t be a viable commercial shipping lane for decades because of the volatility of ice,” said Cannon.

“We will continue to play a leading role in the development of guidelines for Arctic shipping through the International Maritime Organization,” he said.

The 2009 budget allocated $85 million to upgrade Arctic science and technology studies, and $2 million to begin a feasibility study for a high-Arctic research station, he said.

There will also be $100,000 in graduate student fellowships offered over the next two years to encourage students to come north and study the changing Arctic, said Cannon.

“We are looking at helping young Canadians with a grant of $5,000,” he said. “This is to encourage young Canadians to come here and be interested in this.”

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

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