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Politics

Prime Minister meets territories over Arctic sovereignty


The three territorial premiers are meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday to discuss Arctic sovereignty, a meeting they had requested last month.

Trudeau’s office said the virtual meeting would begin at 3:30pm MT on Monday with the NWT’s Caroline Cochrane, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, and Nunavut’s PJ Akeeagok in attendance.

Defence minister Anita Anand will also attend.

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The three territories jointly requested a meeting with Trudeau a month ago following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has long held a variety of interests in the Arctic and climate change has made the waters around northern Canada increasingly navigable.

Yellowknife is home to Joint Task Force North, a Canadian Armed Forces branch that holds partial responsibility for the enforcement of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty. Annual exercises, such as Operation Nanook, are held to demonstrate and refine Canadian military prowess in the far north of the country, though they often focus on search-and-rescue capabilities.

“Across the three territories we all have concerns,” Premier Cochrane told MLAs in the NWT legislature at the start of March.

In an email to Cabin Radio on Monday, Melissa Bannister, a spokesperson for the NWT’s cabinet, said Cochrane would raise with Trudeau “the need to start advancing priorities under the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, the importance of healthy and resilient communities to sovereignty, and the mutual benefit of infrastructure investment in the North.”

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The Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, published in 2019, is a key document intended to unify efforts by the three territories, Indigenous peoples, and Ottawa to develop infrastructure and quality of life in the North.

However, assessments of the document’s actual worth – and the extent to which the federal government has delivered on it – vary.

Ottawa has previously been criticized by northern premiers for introducing the framework without, in their view, attaching clear spending targets and timelines to the ambitions outlined.

Major projects the NWT wants the federal government to support within that framework include the Taltson hydro expansion, Mackenzie Valley highway, and Slave Geological Province all-season road. 

Speaking in the legislature last week, Cochrane said she defined the concept of northern security to include such big-ticket infrastructure items.

“It is also about building strong, resilient communities through significant investment in critical infrastructure like roads, telecommunications and energy,” she said.

“It also means strong healthcare and education systems and the elimination of gaps between north and south.

“Decisions about the North must be made by northerners. After all, northerners have the biggest stake in a strong and sustainable Arctic.”

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