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Arctic Yearbook 2012
In dealing with its Northern region, Canada has been somewhat ambivalent: On one hand, it
has approved strategies or policies at the local and regional circumpolar level, such as
through the Northern Dimension of Canada’s Foreign Policy. On the other hand, the
Canadian Government has a history of institutional neglect when it comes to its Northern
region (Borlase, 2010: 83-92). In 2004 the Liberal Party of Canada launched Canada’s
Northern Dimension policy with ambitious goals in terms of a national and foreign policy
directive. The Conservative government, however, failed to pursue these objectives when it
came into power, adopting instead a defensive stance following the Russian expedition to the
shelf under the North Pole in August 2007. Followed from this the debate was shifted
towards an emphasis on sovereignty and national defense, although there are a few on-going
disputes concerning northern waters, particularly the NWP between Canada and the USA. In
spite of this, no other country reflects the complexity of geopolitical change(s) in the Arctic
as well as Canada: Harper’s Conservative government has taken a considerably more direct
interest in the North, “made the Arctic a major political platform” (Globe and Mail (Metro)
National News, 2011), and emphasized Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic.
Indeed, the Canadian Government first released its Northern Strategy in 2009 with the
following priority areas, which the 2010 released Statement on Canada’s Foreign Policy also
fully promotes: first, exercising our Arctic sovereignty; second, promoting social and
economic development; third, protecting the North’s environmental heritage; and fourth,
improving and devolving northern governance (Government of Canada, 2009).
In the Strategy, Canada is defined as a “Northern nation”; the North is central to Canada’s
character and national identity. The term “Our North, our Heritage” refers geographically to
Canada’s Far North which is included in the definition of Canada’s heritage and future, even
“central to the Canadian national identity”. Further, Canada’s North is said to be “first and
foremost about people – the Inuit, other Aboriginal peoples and Northerners” (Government
of Canada, 2009: 3). However, neither (indigenous) peoples nor the human dimension are
among the priorities of the Strategy, although “Empowering the Peoples of the North” is
included in the Statement’s four priorities (Government of Canada, 2010: 22-24).
Canada’s “Arctic (maritime) Sovereignty” is stated to be the first priority and “our number
one Arctic Foreign policy priority” (ibid: 3). Also emphasized is the importance of
strengthening Canada’s presence in the Arctic by, for example, exerting rights based on the