Canada to hand off Arctic Council leadership next spring

Canada is to host its final meeting as head of the circumpolar world next spring after a term in which some say this country’s greatest achievement has been simply holding the Arctic Council together.

Canada is to host its final meeting as head of the circumpolar world next spring after a term in which some say this country’s greatest achievement has been simply holding the Arctic Council together.

“It hasn’t imploded,” said Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary’s Centre for Strategic Studies. “Ukraine has sucked all the nature of true co-operation and friendship at the highest levels out of the room.”

Canada took over as chair of the Arctic Council — the eight nations that ring the North Pole — in May 2013. On Friday, the government announced it would hand the leadership off to the United States next April in Iqaluit.

Canada’s intent for its term was to encourage development that benefited northerners. But almost from the start, diplomats found themselves in rough waters as one of the council’s main players — Russia — began imposing its will on neighbouring Ukraine, annexing the Crimea and supporting Russian separatists in the westward-looking country.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last spring that Russia’s actions were “aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic” and a grave threat to world peace.

“When we’re sitting there saying that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin represents a return to the bad old days of the Soviet Union, how does that not influence the direction the Russian officials are getting?” asked Huebert.

Canada did boycott one low-level council meeting in Russia. But it hosted Russian officials several times for meetings in Canada.

“(The government) did not burn bridges with Russia in the Arctic,” said Michael Byers, professor of international law at the University of British Columbia. “Someone in the Prime Minister’s Office or the foreign minister’s office understood the necessity of keeping those channels of communication open.”

Huebert agreed.

“The fact they kept the meetings going, I give them credit for that.”

Canada also achieved its main goal of creating the Arctic Economic Council, a group of businesses operating in the North that is intended to share best practices and encourage economic development.

“This was something that everybody on the Arctic Council wanted,” said Anthony Speca, a U.K.-based consultant and former high-level Nunavut bureaucrat — although he points out the council is currently dominated by large companies such as Russian energy giant Rosneft.

“The people there aren’t necessarily northerners.”

People in the North aren’t always sympathetic to industry, said Speca, who gave as an example heavy Inuit opposition to seismic testing in the Davis Strait.

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who sat as chairwoman, said the Harper government is proud of its record during its term at the helm.

“Our government has made the North a priority,” she said in an email. “Through our chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Canada has placed the well-being and prosperity of people living in the North at the forefront of the Arctic Council’s priorities.”

Byers said the council’s creation is small beer compared to other issues that haunt the Arctic. Canada showed little leadership on such issues as climate change, he suggested.

“Given the scale of the challenges, we accomplished very little — but we didn’t set out to,” Byers said. “The Harper government set out to act as a placeholder for two years.”

A government environment spokesman disputed that. He pointed out that Canada is co-chairing a task force on short-lived climate changers such as black carbon and is helping share best practices on climate adaptation.

The Americans are already drafting an ambitious agenda for their term, Byers said. The former commander of the U.S. Coast Guard, a four-star admiral, is to be their top Arctic official.

“Clearly, under (President Barack) Obama they are trying to highlight the importance of the Arctic Council,” Huebert said.

Just Posted

WATCH: Rappelling down Red Deer’s Stantec Building a thrilling, scary experience

Advocate reporter chronicles his trip down the 13-storey buildling

Red Deer raises $60,000 for Make-A-Wish Foundation

27 brave residents rappell down Stantec Building

People hurt in rollover near Red Deer

Occupants of a vehicle that rolled south of Hwy 11A were airlifted… Continue reading

Eager-beaver cannabis entrepreneurs already waiting outside Red Deer City Hall

Appications will be accepted on a first-come basis starting on Tuesday

Like father like son: Red Deer area Dreeshen family dedicates life to public service

There are three jobs that could be considered the Dreeshen family business:… Continue reading

WATCH: Gazebo groundbreaking in Waskasoo

Fifty per cent of the $100,000 project is funded by a provincial government grant

Evacuation numbers remain at nearly 1,000 as B.C. wildfires rage on

SUMMERLAND, B.C. — Officials in British Columbia’s Okanagan region hope that fire… Continue reading

WWII hero’s lost Purple Heart returned to his family

NEW YORK — A lost Purple Heart medal has been returned to… Continue reading

California girl, 2, accidentally shot and killed by boy, 4

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Authorities say a 4-year-old boy accidentally shot and… Continue reading

A hairy issue: Sailors tell the US Navy, ‘We want beards’

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Now that women in the Navy can wear ponytails,… Continue reading

PHOTOS: River Town Saints rock Red Deer

River Town Saints play Westerner Days Friday in Red Deer

PHOTOS: Dogs, horses and more animals at Westerner Days

Westerner Park’s pavilions were filled with animals during Westerner Days

Red Deer residents can’t get enough mini-doughnuts

Mini-doughnuts were the biggest draw to Westerner Days according to a Red… Continue reading

Four-car crash, including RCMP vehicle, on Highway 2

Two sheriff vehicles were also involved in the collision

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month