Canada’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework is heavy on vision, but light on plans. It may not even represent government policy.
The governing Liberals promised a new Arctic policy shortly after their election victory in October 2015 and delivered the policy framework September 10, 2019, a day ahead of the October 2019 election call.
The framework consists of an overarching document describing a shared vision and goals, a chapter on safety, security and defence, a chapter on international issues confronting the Arctic circumpolar region, and individual chapters written by four of the 31 governments and Indigenous organizations that contributed to the framework’s development.
More chapters may follow, and the federal government makes clear that the chapters authored by the contributing governments and organizations may not reflect federal government policy.
It may not matter. This series of policy documents is merely intended as foundation, the government admits. More discussions will follow that will settle on details of implementation.
For now, the framework lists eight goals that leave plenty of room for interpretation:
- strong, sustainable, diversified and inclusive local and regional economies
- Canadian Arctic and northern Indigenous peoples are resilient and healthy
- the Canadian Arctic and North and its people are safe, secure and well-defended
- strengthened infrastructure that closes gaps with other regions of Canada
- the rules-based international order in the Arctic responds effectively to new challenges and opportunities
- knowledge and understanding guides decision-making
- Canadian Arctic and northern ecosystems are healthy and resilient
- reconciliation supports self-determination and nurtures mutually-respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Of these, the seventh specifically addresses environmental issues, and under it, 11 goals are listed:
- accelerate and intensify national and international reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and short-lived climate pollutants
- ensure conservation, restoration and sustainable use of ecosystems and species
- support sustainable use of species by Indigenous peoples
- approach the planning, management and development of Arctic and northern environments in a holistic and integrated manner
- partner with territories, provinces and Indigenous peoples to recognize, manage and conserve culturally and environmentally significant areas
- facilitate greater understanding of climate change impacts and adaptation options through monitoring and research, including Indigenous-led and community-based approaches
- enhance support for climate adaptation and resilience efforts
- enhance understanding of the vulnerabilities of ecosystems and biodiversity and the effects of environmental change
- ensure safe and environmentally-responsible shipping
- decommission or remediate all contaminated sites
- strengthen pollution prevention and mitigation regionally, nationally and internationally.
The next steps will involve the co-development, with the 31 governments and Indigenous organizations, of an investment and implementation plan. The parties will also develop mechanisms to ensure that they regularly collaborate, share information and assess progress on framework implementation.