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Arctic priorities: a northern perspective.

Ulluukut. Good Morning. Bonjour. Thank you for your kind introduction. Let me also thank the Canadian International Council for convening this conference and your interest in the role of the North in foreign policy.

With climate change, national security concerns and rapidly expanding resource development our northern coast is once again receiving broad media coverage. What needs to be included in this mix of issues and opportunities are the strengths and aspirations of the citizens who live in Nunavut.

The Inuit of Nunavut have lived for millennia off the knowledge of our land and the bounty of our seas. The fabled Northwest Passage is virtually synonymous with Nunavut. Anything that touches the Passage touches us. And ever since Europeans first came to our shores, the world has known of the riches and strategic importance of our waters. Any discussion of Northern sovereignty and security must begin from this point and recognize continuous Inuit use and occupation of our traditional territory. Northerners are the embodiment of Canada's Arctic sovereignty. We are its human dimension. This idea is not new. It has been the basis of Canada's argument internationally. The historic activities of Inuit are the essence of the sovereignty claim. The continued Inuit presence is actively engaged in managing and exercising jurisdiction throughout Nunavut.

It is now time to build capacity in the North and create a vision of Arctic stewardship in which Nunavummiut play a significant role. A Nunavut that is thriving cannot help but be recognized as validating our northern claim. The Government of Nunavut is doing its part. We are moving forward and preparing our citizens.

We are seeing results. Our high school graduation rate has increased by 50 per cent since 1999. We are building schools that will ensure Inuit culture, language and heritage remain strong in our communities. We recently approved the Official Languages Act, which marks a significant achievement in protecting our linguistic diversity and strengthening Inuit culture. We are building houses in every Nunavut community. By 2010, over 725 new public housing units will be built creating jobs, training and apprenticeship opportunities along with over $36 million in wages for Inuit. It is a fact that Nunavut's economy is growing by leaps and bounds. It grew by 13 per cent in 2007, even surpassing Alberta. Since the creation of Nunavut, over $1 billion has been spent on exploration in the territory. And while mining is a key driver, other sectors such as fisheries, cultural industries and tourism are contributing to Nunavut's growth.

Yet for all these accomplishments, much work remains to be done. We are missing critical pieces of the puzzle. For example, unlike our provincial counterparts, we have yet to gain territorial control of our resources. In Nunavut the federal government still owns the resources on Crown Lands, controls their development, and receives the tax benefits of what should be our resource.

We are seeking the devolution of province-like powers from Canada to the territorial government so that Nunavummiut can become the principal beneficiaries of our resources. For us, gaining control of our resources is a critical step toward greater self-reliance. Devolution will reduce our dependency on federal transfers and help Nunavummiut achieve a standard of living comparable to the rest of our country. It would also represent an important step in putting behind us the period of colonial rule that has been in place for the last century.

For us devolution must include not only the land-based resources, but also the resources that lie in the seabed beneath our internal waters. Including the internal waters is essential for our future. For that is where Nunavut's enormous petroleum resources lie--both on the islands of the High Arctic and beneath the waters surrounding them. By some estimates Nunavut has 15 percent of Canada's oil and gas reserves. In the Sverdrup Basin alone, there are reserves estimated to be worth over a trillion dollars.

The legal aspect of the internal waters issue is very interesting. Internationally our national government claims that the waters of the Arctic Archipelago are internal to our country. However, domestically Canada has treated these waters differently than internal waters in the rest of the country. All we seek is that we be treated like Canadians in the rest of our country. If I were the Premier of B.C. or Newfoundland and Labrador, my government would be the beneficiaries of development in our internal waters. We are seeking no more than what our fellow Canadians enjoy and we should not settle for less than Canadian status.

The federal position could create an opening for other countries to challenge Canada's legal position on sovereignty. The basic question is how Canada can make its legal case for sovereignty on Inuit use and occupancy, and then refuse to acknowledge that these same waters fall within the territory created for Inuit? We have received assurances from Prime Minister Harper that this inconsistency will be addressed through a devolution process. We have been preparing for devolution talks since the end of 2004. Nunavut is ready but the lack of a comprehensive federal mandate has delayed the start of these crucial negotiations.

I would urge in the interest of economic development and sovereignty that devolution negotiations begin sooner rather than later. If done properly, devolution stands to benefit all parties. Devolution can put us on a path toward fiscal independence and making our territory a net contributor to our country's economic wealth. Devolving authority over our internal waters provides an opportunity to back up the international claim to the Arctic Archipelago and the Northwest Passage through domestic legislation and policy. It would add a new political dimension to our sovereignty strategy complementing the existing legal and military components. By enabling us to build economically vibrant communities in the north, the fiscal benefit from devolution will help ensure a sustainable presence in these lands and waters.

Ultimately, we need to decide on a vision for the North. Over the past 50 years, successive governments--including the current one--have found plenty of stirring words to describe the North. Much of the current discussion centers on sovereignty and strategies around a military presence, surveillance and enforcement. From my perspective, it must also be about building the human and infrastructure capacity so that Nunavummiut can play a significant role. We must recognize that Arctic sovereignty is inextricably linked to Nunavut.

Nunavut features two-thirds of our country's coastline, yet we lack even a basic port to assert our sovereignty. Each summer, the Canadian Navy patrols the Arctic. Without a deep sea port in Nunavut, they take on fuel from passing oil tankers or in Greenland. The truth is Canada does not have the ability to independently patrol the Northwest Passage.

Our country should be doing far more to sustain vibrant Northern communities. Projects such as the proposed military port and refueling station in Nanisivik will only provide access for the few months of the year that the water is open. The federal priority should not be investing in dormant ports that will minimally benefit one community, and leaving the other 24 communities with nothing. They should be acting on their own reports that have called for at least seven ports to be built in Nunavut. This should not be seen as any form of special treatment for Nunavut. It would in fact be exactly how the rest of Canada has been treated.

I find it disappointing that in the last budget the federal government failed to treat Nunavummiut as full and equal partners in confederation. This recent federal budget commits to expanding the existing breakwater in Pangnirtung into what is still an undefined port project. This is a small step forward. But the federal government must recognize that this is not enough. We require a significant investment in our coastline infrastructure. Throughout the rest of Canada there are ports and roads paid for by the federal government. It is called nation building and in Nunavut we are still waiting to be provided with the same infrastructure that has allowed other parts of our country to realize their potential.

Last summer during his visit to Resolute, Prime Minister Harper said that federal investments in northern sovereignty will "... tell the world that Canada has a real, growing, long-term presence in the Arctic." On this we can agree.

Our presence in the Arctic is very real. We have been there for millennia. But now and into the future the sustainability of Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic must be asserted by building prosperous communities in the North.

The time has come to exercise sovereignty by investing in its human dimension.

Qujannamik. Thank you. Merci

The Honourable Paul Okalik

Premier of Nunavut
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Author:Okalik, Paul
Publication:Behind the Headlines
Geographic Code:1CNUN
Date:Jul 1, 2008
Previous Article:Introduction.
Next Article:Arctic waters: cooperation or conflict?

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