Norad aircraft on patrol over the Beaufort Sea in 2021. Photo: Norad
Canada’s northern premiers have issued a statement broadly welcoming the findings of a Senate report on Arctic security.
After a year of research and hearings with experts, the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence released its findings on June 28.
“Canada’s Arctic is in crisis,” stated a press release announcing the report. “The urgency results from decades of neglect and disregard, climate change and lack of infrastructure.”
After a week of meetings at a western premiers’ conference, NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane said she, Nunavut’s PJ Akeeagok and Yukon’s Ranj Pillai “welcome the recommendations around multi-purpose infrastructure that meet local and territorial needs, improve broadband internet connectivity, and provide social and economic benefits for Arctic communities.”
Cochrane has been vocal this week about the need to improve northern infrastructure in order to secure the region. In an interview with the Canadian Press, she said establishing an effective military presence would be difficult without reliable telecommunications and all-season roads.
In the report, the Senate committee’s priorities appear to alternate between climate change and securing domestic assets.
Sections of the report advocate for rapid expansion of extractive industries in the North, especially around rare-earth minerals, to ensure they don’t end up in the hands of China or Russia.
“The Canadian Arctic has vast untapped economic potential but, without the infrastructure to access and transport its resources, we are leaving enormous wealth in the ground,” said Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais, deputy chair of the committee.
“If we do not start to make use of resources that the world needs, it will not be long before other countries seek to exploit them.”
The report identifies climate change as a “major concern,” with the potential to seriously impact northerners, but subsequent paragraphs also characterize rapidly melting Arctic sea ice as an opportunity with economic benefits like the opening of international shipping routes, room for more cruise ships, and improved access to natural resources.
The committee asks that policymakers explore expanding the definition of “Arctic security” beyond a strictly military interpretation, to incorporate environmental, social and cultural health.
Its report includes a quote from Lassi Heininen, a professor of Arctic Politics at Finland’s University of Lapland, who observed that “military security is a very narrow definition of security,” and that a paradigm shift is needed “to secure the everyday life of Arctic inhabitants because of climate change.”
But while the report places climate change at the root of many serious infrastructure issues – threatening housing, roads and runways – none of the committee’s recommendations include action to combat or address climate change.
The report also calls for increased military capability in the North, though it acknowledges a larger military presence would likely have a negative environmental impact.
“The Arctic is my home,” said Senator Dawn Anderson, who is from the NWT, in a press release.
“When the committee travelled to Tuktoyaktuk, I showed them where houses once stood that had to be moved because our Arctic coastline is eroding.
“The situation is beyond urgent — it is desperate. Canada has taken so much from us in the name of Arctic sovereignty.”
The committee recommends that the federal government include Indigenous peoples in a roundtable on Arctic search and rescue, and that Ottawa ensures its standards for the cruise sector “complement management plans developed by Indigenous governments and organizations.”
On the subject of Indigenous involvement in defence, the committee says the federal government should “obtain their views about security and defence in the region.”
The report also recommends that provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments be briefed annually on national plans for Arctic-related security and defence.
In the statement released by the three territories, premiers expressed approval.
“We are pleased to see the recommendations reflect the importance of having Indigenous governments and treaty rights-holders at the table,” stated Cochrane.
“It is of the utmost importance that the Government of Canada not only actively listen to and involve local, territorial and Indigenous leadership from our three territories when developing defence policies around Arctic security, but it is critical that Canada takes action and invests in the Arctic.”