At the time this article was written
Charles Caccia represented Davenport in the House of Commons and was Chair of
the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. This article
is based in part on the June 17, 1996 Report of that Committee.
In September 1996 a new international
organization, the Arctic Council, was established. Earlier this year the Second
Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region took place in Yellowknife.
This article looks at the background of the parliamentarians and their attempts
to form a working relationship with the Arctic Council.
The Second conference of
Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region was attended by members from seven of the
eight circumpolar nations, including Canada, Denmark, Greenland, Iceland,
Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. Unfortunately the Congress of the United
States was absent. Also in attendance were representatives of the Sami
Parliaments, the Nordic Council, the West Nordic Parliamentary Council and the
International Arctic Indigenous People’s Organizations.
The Canadian delegation was headed
by Clifford Lincoln and included MPs Karen Kraft-Sloan, John Finlay, Monique
Guay, Keith Martin, and Senator Raynell Andreychuk. The Canadian delegation
also included David Schindler, Professor of Ecology from the University of
Alberta and Cindy Gilday.
The Canadian delegation articulated
a definition of sustainable development that included elements around the
environmental, social, economic, spiritual, cultural, historical and political.
The presentations on each theme emphasized
the unique characteristics of the Arctic region and the need for broader
co-operation among the eight Arctic countries. The Arctic is an important
region globally and presents parliamentarians, governments and northern
residents with profound cultural, socio-economic, political and environmental
challenges and opportunities.
The Arctic region and its peoples
are extremely sensitive to activities both within the region, and far from the
Arctic. The parliamentarians were particularly struck by the number of speakers
who raised the immediate and critical issue of toxic contaminants and their
effect on the Arctic environment and its peoples.
The conference focused on four
themes of importance to the Arctic: first, achieving sustainable development in
the Arctic Region and use of renewable and non-renewable resources; second,
environmental contaminants in the Arctic; third, challenges for Arctic
governments; and finally, security issues.
The immediate and urgent threat to
the Arctic environment of radionuclide contamination from various sources,
including nuclear tests, scuttled nuclear submarines, and ice-breakers, and
radioactive waste material, also was stressed. All governments were urged to
co-operate and address this issue with haste.
Unanimous support from all
delegations, in the form of a Recommendation, called for the immediate and
expeditious establishment of the Arctic Council. An Arctic Council is
considered to be the most effective way to harmonize the many diverse bilateral
and multi-lateral activities and initiatives currently being undertaken on
Other key Recommendations
formulated by the parliamentarians in the Consensus Statement from the
Conference included the following:
The recognition of a broader definition of security in national policies
and international arrangements that shift the predominantly military focus of
security to one encompassing values, lifestyples, and the cultural identity of
indigenous northern societies.
The meaningful inclusion of indigenous peoples in the decision-making
process at all levels.
The sustainable and rational utilization of the living marine resources
in the Arctic region, including marine mammals.
Continued co-operation in the development of regional infrastructure, including
communications, transportation systems, and commercial activities throughout
the Arctic, consistent with environmental protection and cultural values and
The Conference articulated and
strengthened these specific recommendations through requests to the national
government of each circumpolar nation. Among other things, the parliamentarians
requested each representative national government to:
encourage and foster co-operation among Arctic states;
address the value of traditional ecological knowledge;
support the need for improved scientific knowledge through the
continuation, under the aegis of the proposed Arctic Council, of existing
programs such as the AEPS and other national and scientific research
ensure appropriate and inclusive environmental assessments for all
activities that may impact Arctic landscapes and waters;
ensure the development of co-ordinated programs and activities to give
expression to the cultures and histories of indigenous peoples, recognizing the
particular role and contribution of Arctic women; and
support the efforts for a ban on nuclear-weapons tests and encourage and
support appropriate decommissioning and disposal of nuclear reactors and
The Third Conference of
Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region is to be held in Salekhard, Russian no
later than 1998.
A Link with the Arctic Council
Perhaps the most important
recommendation of Yellowknife was the strong and unanimous support for the
immediate establishment of an Arctic Council. This recommendation was put
forward at the Third Ministerial Meeting on the Arctic Environmental Protection
Strategy held in Inuvik March 19-21, 1996.
The initiative to create an Arctic
Council was led by Mary Simon, Canada’s Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs. John
Finlay, MP attended the Inuvik Conference on behalf of he parliamentarians and
reported on the recommendations of the conference. The ministerial meeting
recommended an Arctic Council "that will enhance international
co-ordination and co-operation on issues of Arctic policy, environmental
protection, sustainable economic development and cultural diversity.
In May 1996 the House of Commons
Standing Committee on Environment discussed hearings on the possibilities of
circumpolar co-operation. Several members spoke in favour of the creation of an
Arctic Council with parliamentary involvement. However, I added a word of
caution at that time.
If you compare the text of the
parliamentary declaration in Yellowknife, with the ministerial declaration in
Inuvik, you will notice the Yellowknife declaration is strong, very
action-oriented and very little process-oriented. It has a very precise sense
of mandate. The ministerial declaration is very much process-oriented. Also it
speaks about environmental protection of the Arctic and that is all it says,
In the creation of the Arctic two
things could happen. Either the thing goes more and more into process under the
auspices of a council that will be larger and perhaps heavier. Or, if the
parliamentarians are present and effective and influential, it becomes more
action-oriented, with specific initiatives. This is why this period leading to
the formation of the Arctic Council has a certain significance. The
intervention and participation of parliamentarians therefore becomes important,
because it could go either way. It is there in this undefined balance between
the two roles.
It is worthwhile to compare the two
statements to see the difference in content. We are running the risk that if we
do not watch it, the Arctic Council will become a well publicized and most
desirable institution that will be launched, but because of its broader
composition it may become even more process-oriented.
On June 17, the Standing Committee
presented its first report. We called on the Standing Committee of
Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region to have a permanent and substantive role
on the Arctic Council.
We also recommended:
that the Government of Canada make appropriate representations in
support of the proposition that the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of
the Arctic Region have a substantive and permanent role in the Arctic Council.
that the Parliament of Canada, through the Canada-Europe Parliamentary
Association, consider the advisability of recognizing the Standing Committee of
Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, and provide adequate financial and other
support for representation by a Canadian Parliamentarian to the Standing
The Arctic region and its people
require more than ever before tangible and substantive action for the
protection of their health and ecosystems. For too long they have been
"downwind" to the pollution created by the industrial activities to
the South. For too long they have sat impotent in front of ecological degradation.
For too long they have heard political declarations of good intentions.
Does the Arctic Council bode well?
If an international agreement can be concluded for the reduction of persistent
organic pollutants and heavy metals which pose a risk to human health and the
sensitive Arctic environment, yes! If the protocol concerning the Control of
Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds or their Transboundary Fluxes is
ratified and brought into effect, yes! If steps are taken to monitor the
emissions and transport of air pollutants and their environmental effects, yes!
If the pristine Arctic waters will be protected from oil tanker traffic, yes!
If the Arctic’s biodiversity will be protected and strengthened, yes! If traces
of PCBs in mother’s milk will be eliminated, yes! And, if lifestyle and culture
of Arctic Aboriginal people will be respected and allowed to flourish, yes!
The gap between the Ministerial
Inuvik statement and the Yellowknife Parliamentary statement must be narrowed
and eventually eliminated. If not, the Arctic Council runs the risk of becoming
an empty shell, a temple for the invocation of good intentions, another
institution devoted mostly to process at the expense of substance.
Editor’s Note" A meeting of
the Senior Arctic Affairs Officials was held April 17-19, 1996 to finalize
negotiations for the Arctic Council. It was officially established at a
ceremony in Ottawa on September 19, 1996.