Canada needs new approach to meet Arctic challenges, conference hears

“The slumbering giant of the Canadian consciousness is being awakened because of geopolitical factors and climate change in the North,” David Collenette, chair of the  NATO Association of Canada, and former transport minister under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, told Eye on the Arctic on Thursday. (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

If Canada wants to tackle the triple threat of climate change, Russian aggression, and the Arctic infrastructure deficit, it must rethink its approach to the North and incorporate long-term planning that transcends partisan politics, a Canadian conference heard on Thursday.

“We need to look at a vision for the North beyond the electoral cycle and start planning for 20, 30 and 50 year outlooks where important infrastructure can be built and finalized,” Conservative MP John Nater told Eye on the Arctic

“It’s important for northern communities and ensures the world knows, including some of our more concerning neighbors, that the Arctic is ours and we can protect and defend it.”

Nater was one of several panelists at the Arctic360 conference in Toronto who spoke on Canada’s long-time lags on modernizing defense, social, and transportation infrastructure in the North.

Panelists stressed no particular political party was to blame, but rather that election cycles stymied the kind of long-term planning necessary for realizing major projects in Arctic Canada, where long term planning and commitments are required to see projects through to the end given the high costs, limited infrastructure and challenging conditions.

“If this isn’t the moment , I’m not sure when it is,” Conservative MP John Nater (right) told the Arctic360 conference of the need for long-term planning in the North. (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought home how vulnerable Canada is in the North, and northern premiers have become increasingly vocal about their concerns.

David Collenette, chair of the  NATO Association of Canada, and former transport minister under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, said the crisis could be an opportunity for governments to do things differently, no matter who’s in power.

“It behooves us to try to make the point that there should be consensus going forward and it should be a priority,” he said. 

Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy is one example of a project that has carried on from the term of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and continued under Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but more projects are needed, said panelists.

Critical infrastructure 

Canada’s North lacks critical infrastructure in almost every sector, including communications and technology, defense, and energy. 

The gap has implications not only for Arctic security but also for the environment and the transition to renewable energy sources.

“[The whole push towards decarbonization] is a big challenge when you go into the Arctic and there isn’t the necessary energy production or energy replenishment infrastructure,” Paul Barrett, Davie Shipbuilding’s chief communications officer, said.

“What that means is that a lot of the so-called renewable solutions are actually more in the moonshot territory right now. Hybrid diesel and electric is still going to be the preferred propulsion as we move forward until we can get other renewable sources of fuel.”

Barrett said the company is working with Laval University to explore alternative options, such as ammonia, but finding a viable renewable energy source remains a significant challenge.

Impact on northern investment 

“In the 1950s, the Canadian government worked hand in glove with industry to develop Canada’s North,” Alex Buchan, the director of Nunavut affairs and stakeholder engagement at Agnico Eagle, told the conference via video from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. “Some of the legacies of that are being enjoyed in places like the N.W.T. where hydro projects built for things like the Pine Point Mine or the gold mines in Yellowknife are being used to provide power to N.W.T. communities.” (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Alex Buchan, the director of Nunavut affairs and stakeholder engagement at Agnico Eagle, a gold mining company, says the lack of renewable energy infrastructure is also affecting investment in Arctic Canada.  

“The challenge we have in Nunavut is we have no energy infrastructure and have no other option but to use diesel to power our operations, so we’re no different than the communities we’re adjacent to, so we have very high carbon intensive  gold production. The investment community is looking at our company, along with many other options, and saying ‘Why would we invest in a company that is diesel dependent when we can invest in a company that is on a clean hydro energy  source.’ 

“This problem will get greater as time goes on.”

The conference, put on by the Arctic360 think tank, ran February 21-23. 

The theme of this year’s event was Tilting the Globe: Accelerating Cooperation, Innovation and Opportunity and focuses on business development and the changing geopolitical context in the North.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at) 

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Arctic Canadian community says oil moratorium renewal doesn’t go far enough, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Russian shoppers take Norway’s Schengen shortcut to Arctic Finland, Yle News

Greenland: Historic Hans Island agreement with Canada moves from Copenhagen to Greenland, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Climate, integration & Arctic among priorities in Iceland’s Nordic Council of Ministers program, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Last Norwegian businessmen in Murmansk mum on customers, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Arctic oil-driller Gazprom Neft creates its own private military company, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden, Norway and Finland cooperating to attract workers to the Far North, Radio Sweden

United States: A year after Russia invaded Ukraine, a walrus discovery is caught up in geopolitics, Alaska Public News

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

One thought on “Canada needs new approach to meet Arctic challenges, conference hears

  • Sunday, April 23, 2023 at 07:05

    How-2 subscribe to Eye on the Arctic. My wife Claudette Fortin worked at the Arctic Council and we would like to maintain a good source of information about the plan regions out of personal interest.


Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.
Netiquette »

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *