The surprise and unilateral announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the suspension of oil and gas development in Canadian Arctic waters will be greeted positively by many.
U.S. President Barack Obama will appreciate it as short-term support for his legacy as a pro-environment president – until president-elect Donald Trump reverses all that he has done.
Saudi Arabia will also appreciate the gesture. Its November 2014 decision to allow oil prices to plummet was based partly on its desire to drive North American oil producers – including those considering Arctic production – out of the market.
And the international environmental movement will applaud the decision.
What is not so clear is how appreciative Canadians who live in the region will be of this action. The premiers of the two territories most affected by the move – Northwest Territories and Nunavut – have already expressed their dismay at not being consulted on such an important decision.
No doubt some people who live in the region will approve of the suspension of oil and gas development. But there will also be those who hoped that development would provide economic opportunities that do not currently exist in the region. The hopes of these people are now dashed.
All Northerners, however, will be concerned that, as usual, decisions about their home are being made in the interest of others and without their input. Regardless of the arguments for and against oil and gas development in any part of Canada, the announcement once again illustrates how the people of the North do not have the same political rights as other Canadians to determine their own future.
The environmental destruction caused in 2010 by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been used as a justification to prohibit Arctic oil and gas development. The impact of that disaster was huge, and such a catastrophic spill would be even more harmful in the Arctic.
But if we are being honest with ourselves and say that our policies regarding offshore development are predicated on preventing such a disaster, why is Mr. Trudeau not announcing the closure of the oil and gas developments operating off the east coast? If the Prime Minister believes he needs to act unilaterally to stop oil and gas development in Canada's Arctic region, why doe he not act unilaterally to shut down all offshore development? A Deepwater Horizon-level disaster on the east coast would still be a disaster.
The fact that Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are allowed to enjoy the economic benefits of offshore oil and gas development, and that Nunavut and Northwest Territories are not even allowed to discuss it, illustrates that regardless of the much-vaunted devolution of federal power in the North, the most important decisions affecting Northerners are still being made in Ottawa.
Thus we know that Mr. Obama will be happy with Mr. Trudeau's actions. The environmental movement based in Southern Canada and around the world will be happy. Saudi Arabia will be happy.
But, as usual, we will not know if Canadian Northerners will be happy, because no one thought to ask them.
Rob Huebert is an associate political science professor at the University of Calgary and an author on Canada's Arctic.