After a Throne Speech that pledged a focus on the North, Environment Minister and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq is Yukon-bound to kick off Canada’s term at the helm of the international Arctic Council. She’ll use it to push for expanded resource development and more indigenous involvement in research on subjects such as climate change.
Representatives of the world’s eight Arctic countries are gathering in Whitehorse, beginning Monday, as Canada’s two-year term begins with a focus on development, safe shipping and sustainable communities, and with plans to create a circumpolar business forum.
“Our overarching theme for Canada’s chairmanship is development for the people of the North,” Ms. Aglukkaq told The Globe and Mail.
“My meeting with them is to launch that, to talk about the priorities, the importance of working together moving forward,” she added.
Research and environmental protection of the North are pillars of the council’s mandate, and the meeting comes after Ms. Aglukkaq this month said there’s “debate” about the effects of climate change, a subject not mentioned in Wednesday’s Throne Speech. Ms. Aglukkaq now says climate change science is “absolutely clear” and that “scientists mostly agree that human beings are also contributing to climate change.” But, through the council, Canada would launch a “framework” to add more aboriginal input to science.
“Traditional knowledge of indigenous people – that is, a lot of times, missing in the research that’s done,” Ms. Aglukkaq said, adding that, for instance, polar bear research falls short.
“A lot of time, scientists latch on to the wildlife in the North, to state their case that climate change is happening and the polar bears will disappear and whatnot. But people on the ground will say the polar bear population is quite healthy. You know, in these regions, the population has increased, in fact. Why are you [saying it’s] decreasing? So the debate on that … My brother is a full-time hunter who will tell you polar bear populations have increased and scientists are wrong.”
The inclusion of traditional knowledge isn’t meant to reject science, she added. “Absolutely not. I would say it’s enhancing science. The people’s knowledge of the North is valuable information that has not been tapped into. It’s complementary,” she said.
When research helps drive groups to ban hunting bears or seals, “it has a really negative impact on the people, the indigenous people, that depend on the wildlife for their livelihood,” Ms. Aglukkaq told The Globe. (Canada lists polar bears as a species at risk, with some subspecies declining in population and others increasing.)
Ms. Aglukkaq was pressed on the subject of climate change Thursday, during her first Question Period since becoming Environment Minister in July. She told the House of Commons she is “a very strong advocate for taking actions against climate change.” That left her questioner, NDP critic Megan Leslie, shaking her head.
“You’re the Minister of Environment. You’re not an advocate for action – you are the action. I mean, give your head a shake. It’s not about other people coming up with the solutions,” Ms. Leslie said, adding she doesn‘t see Canada taking a leadership role on the North. “I know we have a formal leadership role in occupying the chair, but I can’t imagine we will actually lead any of this.”
The three-day meeting of the consensus-based Arctic Council, launched by Canada in 1996, is expected to include representatives from the United States, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and several aboriginal organizations. Canada is pledging a push for responsible Arctic resource development and safe Arctic shipping, while committing to “sustainable circumpolar communities,” including eliminating “short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon and methane.”
The circumpolar business forum would be launched in Ottawa next June, Ms. Aglukkaq said.