Northern Public Affairs Politics

Canada to Develop New Arctic Policy

Canada’s government is creating a new arctic policy.

In a joint statement last month, Canada’s ministers of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Global Affairs announced the development of an Arctic Policy Framework directing Canada’s “priorities, activities, and investments in the Arctic” though to the year 2030.

Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, leads the development of the policy.

The release date of the new policy has yet to be determined as the “time lines are being discussed with partners” says an Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada spokesperson in an e-mailed statement.

Before the framework is published the government will collect submissions from the public until the end of January and hold invitation-only roundtables. Meetings have already been held in four Northern communities and it plans on hosting three more roundtables on dates to be determined.

In August of 2016 the Canadian government appointed Mary Simon – an Inuk, former Canadian diplomat and former leader of Canada’s Inuit organization – to meet with Arctic governments, Indigenous groups, industry associations and Arctic researchers to come up with ideas of what to include in the framework.

Simon submitted her findings in March of 2017 and included recommendations concerning education, research, infrastructure, broadband, housing, energy, conservation and mental health in Canada’s North.

The report also made specific recommendations for developing the new Arctic policy: a meeting of the Prime Minister with the Northern premiers and Indigenous leaders to develop “principles of partnership for policy processes” and a review of funding formulas for transfer payments to Northern jurisdictions with the goal of “maximizing impactful results and policy innovation to Arctic citizens and communities.”

Asked if the departments have scheduled a summit of the Prime Minister and Northern leaders or reviewed the funding formulas the department responded that Minister Carolyn Bennett “has engaged with Territorial Premiers and Indigenous leaders” but made no mention of a funding review.

As to Simon’s recommendation of “greater action to address the serious challenges of mental wellness” in Canada’s arctic Indigenous Affairs responded that Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor is working in with First Nations and Inuit communities to reduce suicide rates.

Indigenous Affairs underlined a June 2016 announcement of $69 million in additional funding over three years split between Ontario, Manitoba and Nunavut to create four new Mental Health Crisis Intervention Teams, to provide training for front-line workers, to assist in implementing the National Inuit Suicide Prevention strategy and to support the launch of a national toll-free crisis response line for Inuit and First Nations  people operating in French, English, Cree, Ojibwe and Inuktut (the Inuit languages).

Health Canada has also worked with Indigenous partners “to help prioritize truth and reconciliation commission efforts and identify opportunities for closing the gap in health outcomes.”

“Progress has been made on improving infrastructure in communities such as health facilities and nursing stations, as well as additional assistance to children through Jordan’s Principle” according the statement.

The Government of Nunavut did not comment on the progress towards achieving Simon’s recommendations but said that it “continues to work with the federal government and the other partners on this initiative. Nunavut is committed to supporting healthy Arctic communities and we remain focused on this priority; we are hopeful this will be an area of priority in the final federal Arctic Policy Framework.”

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit organization also did not comment on progress on Simon’s recommendations saying only that “we have nothing to add on the government’s process.”

The new Arctic policy will replace Canada’s Northern Strategy released in 2010 and Statement on Canada’s Arctic Foreign Policy released in 2009.

 Image credit: Brian Pehora.

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