21 April 2015

The Arctic—the U.S. conserves, Canada exploits

Federal cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq wears a number of hats. She is Minister of the Environment as well as Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency. Being a member of a Harper cabinet, the latter is of course the top hat. She illustrated this in her recent two-year term as chair of the Arctic Council, the organization that brings together eight northern countries to discuss shared issues and mutual co-operation.

Handing the chairmanship over to the U.S. for the next two years, she announced that Canada's most important achievement during her term was the creation of an economic council as a forum for businesses interested in the north. Most of the representatives on the forum are from large mining or energy companies with only a few from northern businesses. True to form, the government puts exploitation of the north ahead of environmental responsibility.

Not so the U.S. The Americans intend to place climate change at the centre of their term. They have outlined a program of measures to protect the environment, such as developing better ways of dealing with marine pollution. They will also work on developing a network of marine protected areas and on finding alternative fuels for northern communities.

The Americans may be acting altruistically or simply recognizing the simple fact that the economy depends 100 per cent on the environment—if we are to have a healthy economy in the future we must have a healthy environment. A delicate ecosystem such as the Arctic requires special attention. The Prime Minister, despite his economics background, has great difficulty grasping these fundamental facts. It is the Environment Minister's job to explain them. Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to have the stomach for the job.

It's hard not to sympathize with the poor woman. Mr. Harper is the boss, is the boss, is the boss, and the boss is rigidly committed to resource exploitation über alles. Overcoming his dogma is no doubt an unenviable task. I fear there is only one means of escape from our status as an environmental pariah and for that we will have to wait until October 19th. In the meantime, the Arctic will have to depend on the Americans and other members of the Council for the respect it deserves.

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