Steven R. Myers
It is significant that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has chosen the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq as Chair of the Arctic Council for Canada's two year term which began this May. The Harper government has a clear focus on the importance of the Arctic, and the U.S. should work closely with the Canadian Chair to support Canada's initiatives, and be ready to assume the Chair in 2015 with a cohesive approach to leadership in the Arctic Council.
Over the past four years, the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) has been engaging public and private sector stakeholders from Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories on a number of sustainable economic development issues through the PNWER Arctic Caucus. To ensure local people are included in the discussion about the Arctic, the Caucus established a coordinated approach of shared solutions to address common challenges. The Caucus has been a valuable tool for PNWER to bring sub-national concerns to national Arctic decision makers, especially in the U.S. PNWER also works to ensure the voice of the Arctic is heard across the rest of the region that includes the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, as well as Alaska, and the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The goal has been to develop action items for the region that will lead to specific solutions for common challenges.
Because the PNWER Arctic Caucus is a cross-border forum, the differences between the U.S. and Canada on Arctic policy are evident. Canada has a long established connection to the Arctic. The majority of Canadian people identify themselves as an Arctic Nation. The Canadian federal Arctic Strategy was developed in close coordination with people that live in the Arctic.
Conversely, the U.S. federal government has several agencies looking at Arctic issues but no one agency coordinating the federal strategy. Also, the majority of U.S. citizens do not identify the U.S. as an Arctic Nation. In comparison to other Arctic nations and even non-Arctic countries that want to do business in the region it has been noticeable in how little the U.S. invests federal dollars in the Arctic for search and rescue, icebreakers, and environmental protection. At a recent PNWER meeting, Alaska's U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski spoke to the PNWER delegates and stated: "we in Alaska recognize that we [U.S.] are an Arctic nation, but it's tough to get that recognition from some of our colleagues in other states. The senators from Iowa don't necessarily think that they are in an Arctic nation, but they are by virtue of the state of Alaska."
The Senator went on to say, "the disconnect between the interest of the United States in investing in the Arctic compared to other nations was made all the more clear at a recent Arctic Council meeting in Sweden. While other nations with no Arctic coastline but plenty of interest jockeyed for a place as observers to the Council take action, the United States was only just putting forth a policy for future investment in the region."
The Canadian government has called for the development of a Circumpolar Business Forum, which has been initially identified as an entity that will be a conduit for businesses to engage the Arctic Council. This proposal by the Canadian government is a movement towards increasing the discussion about how to improve the lives of citizens in the Arctic through sustainable economic development, recognizing that the private sector needs to be at the table in some of the policy discussions.
As opportunities emerge for private sector engagement, the PNWER Arctic Caucus will continue to bring the state and territorial governments together with the private sector and Aboriginal communities to promote best practices for peoples of the North. The work of the Caucus will highlight the strong partnership between the respective regional governments and bring people together to communicate community interests and to influence policy.
The objectives of the Arctic Caucus are to:
- Increase the visibility and priority of Arctic issues in PNWER activities
- Build cross-jurisdictional support to achieve shared goals
- Identify areas of opportunity for mutual sustainable economic development in the Arctic
- Provide support to member jurisdictions to help them achieve their individual goals
Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories can be viewed as a network of communities with interests and priorities vital to the well-being of the people that live and work in the region. As the Arctic becomes more of a focus for development, collaboration is an essential component for those who live in the Arctic and everyone who does, or desires to do, business in the North. It is also important to ensure that any development in the North is done with the highest environmental practices and is supported by the people that live there. In some cases, research done in the North has not been shared with the residents who live there. The Caucus will encourage new research in collaboration with local inhabitants, and urge that the findings are shared within those communities. As conversations about the Arctic continue, the PNWER Arctic Caucus is a framework for lasting dialogue that develops a shared, cross-jurisdictional voice.
It is important to look at the Arctic as a place where people live and work, rather than only as a place for study and research. As the Canadian government leads the Arctic Council, PNWER will work with its jurisdictions to ensure the interests of the local people are presented. The PNWER Arctic Caucus will also continue to be a voice for the region's needs to our federal partners in both countries. As the U.S. federal government implements and develops a policy for the Arctic, it must formally engage people in Alaska and learn from the best practices that the Canadian federal government has implemented in close partnership with its northern territorial governments and their Aboriginal communities.
The Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) is a public/private non-profit created by statute in 1991 by the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington, the Canadian provinces and territories of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Yukon. PNWER's mission is to increase the economic well-being and quality of life for all citizens of the region; coordinate provincial and state policies throughout the region; identify and promote "models of success"; and serve as a conduit to exchange information.
The PNWER Arctic Caucus Forum was initially formed as a group to focus on Arctic issues within PNWER. After meeting at the 2009 PNWER Economic Leadership Forum in Regina, Saskatchewan and the 2010 Annual Summit in Calgary, Alberta, the group decided to meet at the Annual Summit each year, as well as hold an annual Arctic Caucus Forum in the North. The first official Arctic Caucus Forum was held in December 2010 in Barrow, Alaska. The Caucus is made up of public and private sector PNWER members from Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon.
Since 2010 the Caucus has held meetings in Yellowknife, Whitehorse, and Anchorage, along with two meetings in Washington, D.C. with federal Arctic officials and congressional members.
Steven R. Myers is the Arctic Caucus Program Manager for the Pacific Northwest Economic Region.