Does Québec Need the Arctic Council?

World Policy Blog posted an article titled, “Does Québec Need the Arctic Council?” The article reads in part as follows;

“At the 2014 Arctic Circle Assembly, in front of more than 2,000 participants from 50 countries, Philippe Couillard, premier of Québec, highlighted the province’s commitment to Arctic matters, stating, “We want, and we will be, part of the dialogue on Arctic and Nordic issues.” Playing a role in the formation of Arctic policy has been an integral part of Québec’s efforts to claim a voice on the international stage. Couillard’s words asserted his position as a key sub-national leader in Arctic issues and illustrated Québec’s determination for a seat at the Arctic negotiating table.

As a historically, culturally, and linguistically distinct region of Canada, Québec is often considered a “nation within a nation.” The Canadian Parliament legally recognized this unique status through the Québec Nation Motion of 2006, which formalized a kind of partial sovereignty for the province. The motion, while mostly symbolic in nature, provides validation for the existence of Québec as a distinct entity with its own goals and agendas, chief among them its Arctic development program. Although Québec held two secession referenda, in 1985 and 1990, it is no longer seeking complete political independence from Canada. Instead, it is leveraging its semi-autonomous status to assert a distinct identity and leadership role in international relations, especially in the Arctic.

Most actors with vested interests in the Arctic (countries, indigenous groups, and nongovernmental organizations) collaborate through the unique institution of the Arctic Council. But sub-national political units, like Québec, do not have formal status in the Council; they can only participate via their federal governments. Québec, unable to access the Arctic Council independent of Canada, has shaped regional decision-making and distinguished its own role from Ottawa’s Arctic agenda through the creation of Plan Nord and participation in the Arctic Circle Assemblies.

Québec’s government first introduced Plan Nord in 2011. The package of economic, social, and environmental development policies was designed to promote public and private investment, and improve both physical and human resources, in northern Québec (Nord-du-Québec). The creation of Plan Nord was instrumental in distinguishing Québec from Canada on the international stage by allowing Québec to formulate its own multilateral relations with other states, without Canada.”

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