March 16, 2010

It was a real thrill for me to be sitting here for the first time in this Chamber, with Supreme Court Justices sitting within the ropes, and with MPs and cabinet ministers standing in the wings.   I want to express my gratitude that the Governor General paid such attention to Canada’s great north and to Canada as a great northern country in the Throne Speech.  For many years, northerners, and I was one of them, would eagerly search Throne Speeches for a mere mention, the slightest reference or allusion to the north. We’d suspend sessions of our legislature to crowd into the member’s lounge and listen to the Throne Speech, hoping for the slightest reference to the north, too often a vain hope.  I won’t say which federal government I am referring to.

Honourable colleagues, I am greatly inspired and the people of the north are thrilled by the importance which is given to the north by our government. And I want to say how gratified we are for the support and the recognition of the Inuit as people who hunt seals just like those on the east coast, and have done so for thousands of years. The efforts of Senator Hervieux Payette and your support, Honourable Senators, when the issue of the seal hunt came up again in this house last week is much appreciated by the Inuit, I can assure you. When support is demonstrated for their traditional way of life, and traditional food, from the Governor General and Prime Minister, in Parliament and in this Chamber, it makes the Inuit feel respected, after having been lumped in by some with those who are falsely labelled as being  inhumane or cruel.

We have had lots of evidence that Canada’s north is important to this government. The federal cabinet met at 68 degrees North latitude in Inuvik in August 2008. Then the federal cabinet came to a town of 7,000 people on Baffin Island for a cabinet meeting last summer. That was another statement about the north as an important part of Canada. And when the G7 Finance Ministers and Bank Governors come in February for another serious meeting talking about forgiving the debt of Haiti and talking about the financial problems of Greece at 63.7 degrees North latitude – that is a statement about our government’s understanding of the strategic importance of the north to the world.

Our Government recognizes that, despite our small population, our sparse political representation in the House of Commons and the Senate, the three northern territories encompass 40% of the land mass of Canada and by far its longest coastline, I daresay longer than Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts combined.  Not more important, but longer – and you know what – we don’t have one single port nor a lighthouse on the whole coast. And if you include Nunavik and Nunatsiavut, Northern Quebec and Labrador, which I always include in my mind when I consider the unique situation and challenges of the north, we encompass 47% of the area of Canada – almost half the country.

By the way, and not to brag, did you know that I am privileged to represent by far the largest region, province or territory in this country. Ontario counts for 10.8 per cent of the total area of Canada and Quebec is bigger, at 15.4 %, but Nunavut dwarfs them all at 21% of the area of Canada. So of course the north is important – it’s almost half the country.

So, Honourable Senators, I’m sure I’ve made my case – hopefully not ad nauseum – that  we are indeed a great northern country, but not just because of our staggering size – yeah I do sometimes brag Baffin Island alone is bigger than all of Great Britain – but we are also important because of what we are to Canada.

The north is important to Canada, because our north – and it’s ours from coast to coast – helps define us, it gives us a big part of our identity.  We are the true north strong and free.  We, along with Russia, are a great northern nation of the world.

In this sense, confirming our sovereignty over our precious, pristine Arctic lands and waters is a matter of vital interest to every province and every region of this great country, for most provinces border the north either by land or sea. The protection of the north’s fragile eco system – the breeding ground for whales, North American migratory birds, and the repository of a staggering one fifth of the world’s fresh water supply, is in all our interests.  And as I’ve said before in this chamber, I believe it is in the nation’s interests that we develop, in an orderly manner, our untold renewable and non renewable natural resources in this undiscovered, underdeveloped part of this great country. This, too, will be an exercise of our sovereignty and our stewardship of our lands and resources. It will be good for the north and it will be good for Canada.

Finally, I believe that as the north grows to take its place as a “have” and not a “have not” jurisdiction, through wise use of our natural and human resources, I know that Canada will welcome the people of the north – including the predominantly Inuit population of Nunavut, as strong, vibrant and very loyal citizens who express the diversity and richness of our Canadian cultural mosaic – a people who are determined to retain their Inuktitut language amidst a sea of English and a people who  cherish their traditional way of life.

And may I say what one of the things I am most proud of that the people of the north bring to Canada as we take our places as equal partners in confederation, is that we bring a tradition of consensus building in public decision making. We bring a spirit of respect. I want to commend and acknowledge the good work and inspirational example provided by our MP, Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, who showed her mettle through the H1N1 pandemic, providing an example of calm, focused leadership amidst sometimes petty and over the top partisan sniping.  And I would like to think that other northern aboriginal leaders may also provide inspiration to the aboriginal people of Canada that accommodation and prosperity can be achieved where people of good will work together in common cause.

It is no secret why northern comprehensive land claims were settled ahead of all the others, beginning with the Inuit of Nunavik under the leadership of Charlie Watt, in 1975 , then the Inuvialuit of the Beaufort Delta region of the NWT in 1984, under the leadership of Sam Raddi and Nellie Cournoyea, the Inuit of Nunavut in 1993, and not to forget Yukon, Giwchin, Sah Tu and the Tli Cho…

I think it is because the people of the north have been willing to compromise and negotiate with give and take, persistence and vigour, to achieve common goals. These land claim agreements provided environmental and social safeguards while creating a stable investment climate due to certainty of title. This is all of what we bring to Canada: a huge area of land and water requiring stewardship, rich resources which can be developed for the benefit of all of Canada, and our most precious resource, people of good will who are willing and indeed eager to help Canada increase in strength and dominion over this great northern territory of ours through prosperity based on capitalizing on its rich natural and human resources.

So I am delighted with the attention paid to the north by this Government as reflected in the lofty goals set out in the Throne Speech. This focus on the north is turning Canada’s attention once again to what has sometimes been overlooked and neglected during periods of our history.  Canadians are realizing that the people of the North are a key part of Canada’s identity and the abundant resources of the north are potentially a source of wealth and economic growth for the entire nation.

The north belongs to Canada, the Throne Speech proclaims. ”We are a northern country.”

These words are music to the ears of those of us from the north who were told, patronizingly, for decades that the north is the resource treasure chest for Canada, a welfare recipient, and a place where economic policy and lands and resource management should best be directed from afar by the Northern program of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, a side of the department which doesn’t get very much attention, though its work is very important to all of Canada.

Honourable Senators, I respect every person who has ever taken the portfolio of Indian and Northern Affairs – a daunting job – and Hon. Chuck Strahl is one of the best and most sincere – but the truth is that in the area of lands and resources management, the north is a last colonial remnant run from afar.

So how encouraging it is that our Conservative government has governance as one of the pillars of its northern strategy and that last week’s Throne Speech makes the welcome pledge that Canada will take next steps towards devolution of lands and resources management to the people of the north.

Honourable Senators, the duly elected governments of the north deserve the same say in resource development decisions affecting their population and their environment as citizens in southern Canada enjoy.

Yukon has that privilege and has had it since 2003 – and is widely regarded as working well.  I am delighted that our government is supportive of moving in the same direction for the other northern territories, especially in Nunavut, where the Inuit land claim already gives Inuit a voice in resource development decisions and a 5% royalty share on any developments in Nunavut. Now it is time to provide the same responsibility and the same incentives to the Government of Nunavut, which after all must deal with the social impacts of development and growth.

The people of the north are much better placed to look after their land and resources than even the most well intentioned and benevolent Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs – and the Hon. Chuck Strahl is just such a person. I am so delighted that Minister Strahl and our government have an uplifting vision of where we should be evolving in governance in the north.  I very much look forward to working with Minister Strahl on the next steps for devolution.

What should those next steps be in devolution in the north?  For Nunavut, where discussions on devolution have taken place for three years now, with Minister Strahl’s Special Representative and very well experienced former deputy minister Bruce Rawson representing the federal government; it is clear that Nunavut lacks capacity in lands and resources management. The record of the Northern Program of DIAND for employing Nunavummiut is very poor – under 20% when I last inquired.    So the main thrust of a report by Mr. Rawson’s predecessor as the Minister’s Special Representative, Mr. Paul Mayer, now, Mr. Justice Paul Mayer, was that the capacity issue would have to be dealt with.

So in my respectful opinion, then, the next steps for devolution should be that Canada should work with the Inuit and the Government of Nunavut to implement a capacity building plan to train Inuit in lands and resource management. They already know the land. And I happen to know that a capacity building program has already been designed – in big brush strokes – by the three parties to devolution talks in Nunavut: Nunavut Tunngavik, Canada and the Government of Nunavut. Once we have begun a process of training northern lands and resource managers, then I would hope that formal talks can begin on the devolution of responsibilities from the federal government to the territorial government.

Honourable Senators, building capacity and devolving the last vestiges of colonialism to the elected governments of the north will not only realize one of the four pillars of Canada’s northern Strategy, but it will buttress Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. Sovereignty is not only about patrolling and monitoring and delineating our territorial boundaries. It is not only about who has the biggest icebreaker.  It is about supporting the permanent residents of the north – including Canada’s Arctic Rangers – who will eagerly assert Canada’s dominion over the Arctic as effectively as ships and planes.

It was once explained to me as layering. The more layers, the more sovereign we are. The Inuit land claim is a layer on top of Canada’s inherent sovereignty. Canada’s infrastructure, our economic activities, including harvesting of marine mammals and our fishery, mining and oil and gas exploration and development, our communities, and our northern government, and the authority it has, in partnership with the Inuit, over management and stewardship of its lands and waters – these are layers of sovereignty. This is how we establish dominion over the north.

In the Throne Speech delivered last week, Canada has pledged to “…vigorously defend Canada’s Arctic sovereignty” and to realize the potential of Canada’s north for northerners and all Canadians.   These are inspiring words. Since Canada’s Arctic, from Yukon, through to Labrador, straddles all of Canada and belongs to all of Canada, I strongly believe it is in Canada’s overall interests to strengthen Canada’s sovereignty and dominion over these vast lands and waters to the north. Because of this shared pride in our northern reaches – even though few Canadians are able to visit – I believe that moving forward with initiatives on Arctic sovereignty will resonate well with all Canadians in all regions of Canada. The north is one asset that all of Canada can share, from east to west.

While I agree with the spirit of the Throne Speech that we should vigorously defend the Arctic, and establish a significant military presence and capability, including the Arctic Rangers, defence should not be our only focus.

I am also delighted with the pledge in the Throne Speech that Canada will work co-operatively with other countries to settle territorial boundaries in the Arctic. The ownership and rights to develop significant renewable and non renewable resources and indeed Canada’s very jurisdiction over our internal waters and the Northwest Passage are implicated in these discussions, pursuant to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. I wish to commend Minister Cannon for his leadership in convening a meeting of the five countries whose borders are adjacent to Arctic waters, later this month, not far from this Chamber in Chelsea, Quebec, to discuss with Norway, Russia, Denmark and the United States, the delineation of territorial boundaries in the Arctic – through co-operation and the sharing of mapping and scientific information about the outline of the continental shelf and how it informs territorial jurisdiction.  The UN Convention provides the authority and credibility for an orderly and logical way of determining territorial boundaries

I commend Canada for the vigour with which we are participating in this vital exercise.  I am confident that our natural geography will be the best way of asserting our territoriality in the north.  We do not need to do so by competing to build the biggest icebreaker or the most patrol vessels or the biggest military presence. Our lands and waters, our orderly development of the untold renewable and non renewable resources of the north and most important of all, the loyal residents of communities in the Arctic, who have lived and even thrived in what some would describe as a harsh and even forbidding climate, will make the strongest case for our dominion over the Arctic.

Honourable Senators, there is some urgency to this work. This is due to the apparent thinning of the Arctic ice cap, which some have forecast might disappear completely some day. This will mean that the northern shipping route, similar to Great Circle air routes, could trim thousands of miles from shipping routes. It means that the Arctic’s natural resources, which are thought to hold 22 per cent of the world’s remaining supply of untouched oil and gas reserves, may become more accessible.

And now there is increasing interest in the Arctic from other quarters. China, has invested significant resources in polar study and has some of the world’s most advanced Arctic research labs – even though, as columnist         recently observed:  China has no Arctic coast and no recognizable right to any portion of the roof of the world.  And China, which has been known for having an Arctic coast or Arctic waters,   is now, though not officially, declaring its interest in Arctic waters. It is also building the world’s largest icebreaker – for research purposes. As an illustration of this increasing interest in the part of China in the Arctic, here is what Chinese Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo said on March 5, according to the official China News Service: “The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world as no nation has sovereignty over it. China must play an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one – fifth of the world’s population.”

This is why it is urgent that Canada assert our sovereignty over our Arctic and continue to do polar research, which we have a long tradition of doing well in Canada. We’ve supported the Continental Shelf project in Resolute Bay for years, and Canada lead an incredible boost to Arctic Research in the recent International Polar Year.  In this connection, the pledge of our government, in the Throne Speech, to establish the High Arctic Research Station in the coming year, in an Arctic Coast community, is very welcome news.  This commitment recognizes that the Arctic is the best place to do research on the Arctic.

How can we best advance Canada’s sovereignty in the north through the work of our Senate Committees? I believe standing committees of the Senate have a very important role to play in advancing Canada’s sovereignty in the north.

While it’s certainly not my place to say which Senate Committee should examine what aspect of the multifaceted aspects of sovereignty – some roles are emerging. The Defence and Security Committee will take the lead on sovereignty.  But they have acknowledged that other committees, including Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on which I sit, Fisheries and Oceans, can do useful work together to advance our common cause.

There is much work to be done in asserting Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. Let me mention but one issue that is important to me and my constituents. I will tell you about this by way of a story.

On Friday January 22, David Idlout left Resolute Bay to go seal hunting. It was minus 31 degrees C and blowing.  A large chunk of ice broke away and cast him adrift in Barrow Strait for four days. A Cormorant helicopter had to come from Greenwood, Nova Scotia to rescue him. On the way up, the helicopter had to stop in Clyde River due to weather. Fortunately, the hunter was well equipped and well experienced to survive in these gruelling conditions – including having a satellite phone – he survived the ordeal in good health and spirits.   Now just imagine if those were civilian passengers on a transpolar jet flight, who were unexpectedly down somewhere in the Arctic, in winter. It has happened in the north. In 1991, a military Hercules crash landed just a few miles from the base at Alert, on Ellesmere Island.  With blizzard conditions, it took 32 hours before SAR Technicians were able to parachute to the site. By then, four passengers had died of exposure, including the Captain, who heroically looked after the injured.

Search and Rescue is an issue we need to study and improve, and search and rescue, too, is part of sovereignty. We also have to enforce pollution laws, ensure wise interterritorial management of ocean resources, and secure our northern borders from terrorists, and smugglers of immigrants and contraband.

Our government has not been idle in this regard. Recently, Minister Baird announced detailed plans to more strictly regulate marine traffic in Canada’s Arctic waters, by implementing on July 1 a mandatory ship – tracking system for all large vessels – foreign and domestic – that travel through the Canadian Arctic archipelago. The defence and security of the Arctic also involves various federal departments:  the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, External Affairs, Coast Guard, RCMP, Department of National Defence and Border and Customs Services. I am encouraged that these departments are increasingly working together – an approach that is needed to effectively marshal our resources.

The Throne Speech also challenges Canadians to realize the potential of Canada’s north for the benefit of northerners and all Canadians. This recognizes the fact that when resource development occurs in the north, we  buy steel or lumber or machinery from southern Canada, where the ships and air transport to the North originates and is sustained. We ship and marshal from southern ports using shipping companies based in southern Canada. Our economy is famous for its leakage – our money is spent, as we say, down south.  Of course there are benefits to Nunavut as well. One gold mine – Meadowbank – owned by a Quebec headquartered firm, Agnico Eagle Mines, which poured its first brick in Nunavut last month is forecast to raise Nunavut’s GDP by 3 % this year. Mining companies now operating in Nunavut under the regime set up under the Nunavut land claim are very sensitive and eager to maximize employment and economic benefits and minimize social impacts when they seek permission to develop mineral resources.

There are many more promising mineral developments waiting in the wings: gold deposits at the Meliadine near Rankin Inlet, and at Hope Bay, north of Cambridge Bay, precious metal deposits at Izok Lake and High Lake, which have been recently been purchased by MinMetals Corporation of China, Areva’s huge Kiggavik uranium deposit and the purest iron ore deposit in the world at Baffinland’s Mary River deposit on Baffin Island.  In this connection, Minister Flaherty’s extension of flow through tax credits in last week’s budget will be very helpful in stimulating the investment required to put these world class deposits into production.

I believe that the orderly development of our resources, with socio economic and environmental safeguards, will help Canada to grow its economy out of the recent recession through economic growth –  rather than tax increases – by acting strategically to increase Canada’s GDP through development of its natural and human resources.

Let me give you one example. Baffinland Iron Ore Corporation. Mary River, Baffin Island. This is a 20 year mine which will cost $4.1B to build. It will produce $23B worth of the purest iron ore in the world just under – 68% pure. It will generate 21,080 person years of employment. Ontario’s GDP will increase by $2.3 Billion, $1.8 billion in Alberta. It is forecast that 5,433 people will be employed across all the provinces. Nunavut’s GDP will be augmented by $13.6 B.

In some regions of northern Canada, I believe that strategic investments in infrastructure can demonstrably yield abundant returns of GDP growth by fostering mineral resource development in Canada’s north.  The Bathurst Inlet Road and Port project, which has been in the planning stages for years, should ideally lend itself to a P3 partnership – an investment in making remote deposits viable.

Social and economic growth are also pillars of Canada’s northern strategy. Economic growth can only serve to relieve social problems in the north related to unemployment and despair. You know, as one longtime northern mining developer used to say, there is a certain amount of self esteem you get from money in your pocket.

It is as we give northern residents a greater say in development decisions which affect their environment and their societies, and when we support monitoring and protection of our fragile Arctic environment, wherever possible utilizing the traditional and modern knowledge of indigenous residents, that we assert Canada’s dominion over the Arctic. And two governments working in partnership with the indigenous residents of the north will be a powerful statement – layers of authority exercising Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

Canada’s sovereignty initiatives must include the indigenous residents of the Arctic, because they have established sovereignty for Canada by virtue of their continuous use and occupation of the Arctic for thousands of years. Our indigenous residents, including Sheila Watt Cloutier, an Iqaluit resident nominated for the Nobel Prize for her advocacy on climate change in the Arctic as President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, will help Canada and lend moral authority to ensure that we protect the Arctic from environmental or developmental degradation.

Establishing sovereignty over a land mass equivalent to 40% of Canada, its longest coastline and its most underdeveloped economy will not only be good for Canada through GDP growth, but  the successful development of the north will instill pride and unity of purpose in southern Canada. Every province has its own north. The north belongs to Canada.  The north is a critical part of Canada’s identity, and it’s all summed up in our national anthem: “…the true North strong and free.”

And when Canada establishes partnerships with aboriginal people and businesses and the territorial governments to develop the huge natural resource potential in the north, it sends another welcome message to Canadians – we don’t want your charity through transfer payments – we want to pay our own way. We’d rather not be grateful recipients of largesse from the federal treasury.

Honourable Senators, there are some who have been critical of our government’s Northern Strategy, saying that the four pillars are laudable goals, but that there needs to be action taken on implementation. I am proud to say that the Throne Speech and the budget tabled last week, represent strong and proactive steps to realize the Northern Strategy.

Today, I’ve focused on sovereignty and devolution and the resource potential of the north, but I also want to note that our government has not been neglectful of the social needs of the people of the north – another pillar of the Northern Strategy.

After a long period of neglect, when CMHC had no social housing programs – they were cancelled in 1993 – our government has made a much needed commitment to providing social housing in the north, continuing to roll out in the coming year, and I was delighted to see the commitment in the federal budget to continue and reform the so called Food Mail program, which will provide support for healthy food choices for remote communities off the road system in northern Canada.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate and the Government of Canada to take further steps forward in realizing the great potential of Canada’s north for the benefit of all of Canada.

Speaking Notes – Speech from the Throne Reply