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Excerpt from Canada and the Changing Arctic: Sovereignty, Security, and Stewardship by Franklyn Griffiths, Rob Huebert, and P. Whitney Lackenbauer

From the Foreword by Hugh Segal

It is rare that a territory seen by so few can be emotionally, spiritually, and personally so compellingly important to so many. Yet that is a modest and understated description of the relationship between Canadians and their Arctic region and territories. It is a passionate, possessive, patriotic, and nationalistic relationship second only to our embrace of hockey. It is not yet jingoistic, which is a good thing. But it is also prone, as is often the case with visions seen from a great distance, to substantive and dangerous distortion. To suggest that the relationship is simply geo-strategic, or narrowly territorial, or militaristic, or simply about the oil and gas, is to oversimplify. Because the relationship between Canadians and the Arctic is about all of the above and a highly romantic quality, understanding the dynamics of the romance, its sustainability and attendant risks, is not only constructive but actually vital to the kind of public, defence, and foreign policies essential to maintaining the relationship at its optimum clarity and balance.

The political, environmental, and international law prospectus for the Arctic is complex, as are the instruments available for Canada and Canadians to secure our interests. Canada and the Changing Arctic is essentially a careful unpacking of the challenges that are most germane to Canada’s Arctic purposes and of the instruments available to deal with them. It is very reflective of Canada’s history and the postwar growth and aspirations, which strongly shaped who we are today through events and clarion calls in the 1950s and 1960s, that Mike Pearson’s universal health insurance is totemic for many and that John Diefenbaker’s “northern vision” of “roads to resources” is as totemic for others. And in fact, in a way that confounds sterile assumptions dividing right from left, many of the same people had their sense of Canadian identity imprinted by both.

That another Canadian prime minister from the West should, half a century later, re-engage both the symbolism and the promise of the Arctic and make substantive policy announcements and yearly visits part of three election campaigns and his regular schedule, speaks to the enduring impact of the Arctic challenge on Canadians. That vote-rich southern Ontario or the B.C. Lower Mainland remains interested in this issue and attracted to coherent policy for the North underlines the seminal roll the North plays in people’s sense of what Canada is and who we are as Canadians.

Some may view Prime Minister Harper’s championing of a northern policy as shrewd political strategy. That may or may not be true. My own sense is that it also reflects an Ontario-born reflective and intuitive political leader rooted in the political culture of the West whose own sense of Canada has always been shaped not only by a clear affection for hockey but also by the Arctic reality of our national identity. It is a reality, after all, that agitates no interregional animosity, language tension, or beggar-thy-neighbour confederal friction. Prime ministers avoid engaging this kind of challenge at their peril. Deciding for the right reasons to articulate a nation’s hopes and core elements of identity is what prime ministers at their best do well. The present focus on diverse aspects of Arctic policy, and on the instruments to achieve that policy, whether already available or to be designed, not only in this book but also in a growing cottage industry at think tanks, in the private sector, at universities and foundations, and within the First Nation Arctic family, owes much to Prime Minister Harper’s determined thematic coherence on the challenge of the North.

For Canada and Canadians this is a defining issue, for it embraces every aspect of our way ahead. Sovereignty, not as an end state but as an instrument for the national and public interest, is a vital issue. Fundamental components of this are real military capacity, procedures, training, and location. Working alliances with former Cold War enemies matter, as does how we manage them on this issue. Hydrographic competence and acuity join climate change policy impacts as defining subforces that will contribute heavily to how our northern prospects are sustained and evaluated.

This book helps us through the maze by offering realpolitik analysis as well as helpful instrumental precision around issues such as the law of the sea, defensible perimeters, and joint environmental protection priorities. And, as is often the case when a bright and intellectually honest light is shone on assumptions and fears, the paths to a rational way ahead appear less murky and less risky and the supportive policy choices necessary to clear those paths begin to emerge. Canada and the Changing Arctic sheds a measure of helpful light, not unlike a candle in the dark, on the true import of Arctic policy choices. Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Foreign Affairs, and the Department of National Defence should make this monograph compulsory reading for all of their staff who have present or potential responsibilities for Arctic policy and delivery issues. It is one of my great joys that in the initiating work I did to assist the Canadian International Council over three years ago to stand up its peer-reviewed research program, I was able, with Bill Graham, Janice Stein, John English, Jim Balsillie, Pierre Marc Johnson, Douglas Gould, Jennifer Jeffs, Tamara Zur, Jodi Whyte, Don Macnamara, Eddie Goldenberg, and others, to work with this book’s co-authors in what was one of the first new peer-reviewed and CIC-sponsored strategic research projects of the newly created council. That the academic research committee of the CIC would have chosen established and younger scholars of the compelling depth and skill of the three co-authors to work on the Arctic reflects the importance of research to policy development that is well founded and based on a competent understanding of the variables—the underlining of which is a key goal of the CIC and its antecedent organizations, the Canadian Institute for International Affairs (CIIA) and the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS).

The Arctic is Canadian identity writ large. Foreign diplomats who serve in Canada often remark that in all their travels while stationed here, they never really understood the full measure of Canada and Canadians until the Arctic tour that Foreign Affairs Canada and DND arranged for them during their time here. This book helps all of us who care about realizing the full potential of our country, internationally, domestically, economically, and in a way that is environmentally responsible, better understand some of the choices relating to the Arctic that need to be better appreciated. One need not agree with all the analyses or conclusions to admire the integrity, thinking, balance, and insight that fuel this book. Every romance needs engagement and reflection. Our romance with the Arctic requires nothing less.