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Canada Canada's Arctic Council leadership to be handed over at Iqaluit meeting

Leona Aglukkaq, chair of the eight-nation Arctic Council, says an international economic council will be established to drive a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities of Arctic business development.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canada will voice its concerns over what it calls Russia's military aggression in Ukraine during a meeting of the eight nations that make up the Arctic Council this week.

"Canada will use the Arctic Council ministerial meeting as an opportunity once again to deliver our tough message to Russia for their aggression against Ukraine," said federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's representative to the group and its chairwoman for the last two years.

But while the U.S. is sending its top foreign affairs official, Secretary of State John Kerry, the Russians won't be. Aglukkaq said she'll be making Canada's concerns known to Russia's environment minister, not Foreign Minister Dergei Lavrov.

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In an interview before handing over leadership of the council to Kerry, Aglukkaq defended Canada's accomplishments during its two-year term.

Using that term to create a new forum for businesses operating in the North to get together should help create more opportunity in the region, Aglukkaq said.

"I am most proud of the signature initiative around the Arctic Economic Council," she said. "The Arctic is going to develop and it's the private sector that's going to develop the Arctic."

The Arctic Council brings the eight countries at the top of the world together to talk about shared issues and mutual co-operation. Canada has led the group for the last two years and will hand off the chairmanship to the U.S. at a meeting in Iqaluit later this week.

The body can't discuss military or defence matters. But it has gained in importance as the Arctic grabs more global attention and has even negotiated one legally binding treaty.

Some have said the economic council is a way to shift the Arctic Council's focus away from it traditional role of research and advice to promotion of resource development. They point out most of its representatives are from large mining or energy companies and only a few from northern businesses.

But in an interview, Aglukkaq made no apologies for emphasizing business.

"I talked to people from the Arctic on the ground for their ideas," she said. "It was so clear to me that the work of the Arctic Council has to be relevant to the people of the North, should be about supporting the development for the people of the North and that's how we shaped Canada's agenda."

The American priorities for the Arctic Council are significantly different. The U.S. has said it plans to put climate change at the centre of its two-year term and has outlined a program of measures to protect the Arctic environment, such as developing better ways to deal with marine pollution.

The Americans will also start considering the development of a network of marine protected areas.

But Aglukkaq said many of the items on the U.S. agenda will be a continuation of work begun under Canadian leadership, such as research on what impacts airborne black carbon drifting up from southern facilities is having on the North. The Americans will also continue work on finding alternative fuels for northern communities, which now largely depend on expensive and relatively dirty diesel generators.

Aglukkaq said other work accomplished under Canada's chairmanship includes the first-ever circumpolar meeting on mental health, held recently in Iqaluit.

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