Canada is losing friends in the Arctic

By Joel Plouffe

iPolitics Canada

The Harper government’s foreign policy approach has often been described as “transformative” because it represents a great shift with Canada’s traditional liberal internationalism. Writing earlier this year in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson called Harper’s policies a “Big Break,” arguing that it represents “a rupture from everything that had come before.”

Nowhere is this rupture more clear than in Harper’s approach to the Arctic. His policy on the region is not only rhetorically different than anything we’ve seen before – it’s a narrative based on fear of external threats that produces ideologically-driven policy objectives – but its aspiration to break with Canadian internationalism is also colliding with U.S. objectives in the North.

Canada led the way in establishing the Arctic Council as a multilateral forum to address common concerns around sustainable development and the environment in the North. That spirit of engagement was not seen in this Fall’s Arctic Circle Assembly — to which the Harper government did not deem it necessary to dispatch its minister for the Arctic Council, Leona Aglukkaq. In fact, Canada’s representation was outnumbered by the delegation sent by Quebec — about twenty government delegates and the premier himself, Philippe Couillard.

In 2015 the United States will take over the chairmanship of the council from Canada. It plans to set an aggressive agenda that will address the “impacts of climate change in the Arctic,” advocate for stewardship of the Arctic Ocean and improve “economic and living conditions.” The new U.S. approach is designed to be more engaged and influential in establishing new policy networks on various Arctic issues.

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