Federal budget hints at content of Canada’s Arctic Policy Framework: expert

Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday March 19, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
The federal budget tabled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau on Tuesday provides important clues to the outline of the Liberal government’s much-delayed Arctic policy white paper, says an expert on Canadian northern policy.

The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to spend $700 million over the next 10 years for Canada’s North, with money coming for post-secondary education in the North, new infrastructure and Arctic research.

Heather Exner-Pirot, an expert on Canada’s northern development and the Arctic, says this spending provides insights the Arctic and northern policy white paper the Liberals have been working on since December 2016, when Trudeau announced plans to co-develop a new Arctic Policy Framework in conjunction with Indigenous, territorial and provincial partners.

“If you look at this budget, it pretty much gives away their hand of where the money is actually going to go for this Arctic and Northern Policy Framework,” Exner-Pirot says. “In a way we know now what’s in the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework.”

The policy framework was developed in close consultation with northern leaders and aims at identifying shared priorities, goals, and objectives in Canada’s Arctic and North, through 2030. It is expected to be released in June.

“And you can see what their wish list was,” Exner-Pirot says.

Money for education and mental health services
Yukon College’s Whitehorse campus. Yukon College has been promised $26 million over the next five years for a new science building on campus. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

The budget includes new funding for post-secondary education in the three northern territories – Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon – as well as enhanced infrastructure resources to connect northern and remote communities, increased economic development programming, and more funding for Arctic research.

The federal government will also provide annually increasing and unconditional Territorial Formula Financing transfers, which will be over $3.9 billion over the next fiscal year, according to the budget documents.

Ottawa plans to spend more than $1.7 billion over 12 years for infrastructure development in Nunavut, NWT and Yukon through bilateral agreements.

The Liberals are also proposing to spend $400 million over 11 years on transportation infrastructure in the northern territories under the National Trade Corridors Fund and $84 million to enhance the climate resiliency of northern communities by improving the design and construction of northern infrastructure.

The budget also includes a promise – though no specific funding numbers – to create an addictions treatment facility in Nunavut, which doesn’t have any such facilities.

The federal government also pledges to continue funding programs with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, such as $50 million over 10 years for the Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy, which was first announced in 2016.

That is the exact figure Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami asked for in its pre-budget submissions.

Closer engagement with the Arctic Council
The flags of the eight Arctic Council Member States and six indigenous Permanent Participant organizations at the the first SAO meeting during the US 2015-2017 Chairmanship held in Anchorage, Alaska on Oct. 20-22. (Linnea Nordström/Arctic Council Secretariat)

The budget also provides some clues to Canada’s Arctic foreign policy priorities, says Exner-Pirot.

It includes $34 million in funding for “Global Affairs Canada to enhance Canada’s global Arctic leadership, by strengthening Canada’s engagement in the Arctic Council, creating the first Arctic Council-related permanent secretariat in Canada (for the Sustainable Development Working Group),” according to the budget document.

Joël Plouffe, a Canadian Arctic policy expert who works as an adviser at the Arctic Council Secretariat in Tromso, Norway, welcomed the announcement in a tweet.

Exner-Pirot says the announcement also pledges to increase the participation of northerners in Arctic Council and Arctic research activities, and provide northern youth with international learning opportunities.

The budget also proposes to provide Natural Resources Canada with up to $7.9 million over five years, to continue the scientific work in support for Canada’s claim to its extended continental shelf in both the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.

“This will ensure that Canada’s sovereign rights in the Arctic Ocean are internationally recognized, with a strong claim supported by science and evidence,” the document says.

Related links from around the North:

Canada: Federal budget promises $700M for Canada’s North over next decade, CBC News

Finland: Budget cuts threaten international Sámi language cooperation, Yle News

Russia: Northern Sea Route needs €143 billion in private funds to meet shipping goals: report, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish PM Stefan Löfven unveils new cabinet, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska governor faces tough criticism over proposed budget cuts, Alaska Public Media

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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