NDP’s Bevington named official opposition critic for Arctic Council
“It is vital to have an alternative voice”
The federal New Democratic Party has appointment Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington as official opposition critic for the Arctic Council, the party said in a Nov.12 news release.
“New Democrats understand that the Arctic will play a major role in the future of Canada,” said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair in the release.
“The official opposition will stand up to Stephen Harper’s plans for the Arctic and I can think of no better person to do that than Dennis.”
In addition to the new appointment, Bevington will continue as official opposition critic for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
“With the Harper government’s short-sighted plan for unsustainable resource development for the Arctic, it is vital to have an alternative voice,” Bevington said Nov. 12.
The Western Arctic MP’s northern riding has made him a shoo-in for a number of northern critic roles since he was elected to the House of Commons in 2006, including critic for northern development, northern affairs and Arctic sovereignty.
Shortly after the announcement, Bevington told Nunatsiaq News that the new role marks “a recognition of how important the Arctic is,” both “nationally and internationally.”
In that position, the MP said he will stand watch over the Conservative government’s policy on the Arctic Council, an international forum for Arctic states. Bevington’s new role will put him in even more direct contact with Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, the minister responsible for the Arctic Council.
The council is under Canadian chairmanship for 2013-2015, with Aglukkaq serving as Arctic ambassador and chair of ministerial gatherings during that period.
The Conservative Party’s overriding focus on economic development of the Arctic during its chairmanship has gone against the Arctic Council’s purpose, which is to work on international issues, Bevington said.
“We need to be focusing on the things that are going to be decided internationally, like shipping, fishing, environmental best practices,” Bevington said Nov. 12 from Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories.
“Dealing with those types of issues, that’s the role of the Arctic Council. It’s very important that it stays on that focus,” he said. “Economic development is in many respects a national issue, because most of it right now is going to occur on land.”
As chairperson, Aglukkaq’s role during Canada’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council should be to follow the overall focus of the other seven member states within the international organization, he said.
“If you’re chair for two years, you have to understand that you’re going to be following in the footsteps of the other groups that have chaired it, and the consensus approach that is there,” Bevington said.
“I think the Canadian government came out very aggressively and said ‘we’re going to turn the attention of the Arctic Council to economic issues,’ and that hasn’t been the model so far,” the opposition MP said.
The council’s model until now, has “been more on the environment, and international agreements, and how to protect the Arctic and how to protect the people that are traversing the Arctic,” Bevington said.
Global warming and climate change make the environment “the key issue in the Arctic right now,” he said. “When we understand how to take care of the environment, then economic development can proceed in an orderly fashion.”
Putting economic development ahead of environmental concerns, on top of the government’s “lack of interest in scientific research,” is out of line with the work of the Arctic Council, Bevington said.
“If we’re going to understand how [climate and the environment] are changing, there’s a need for an even larger degree of international cooperation in that regard,” he said.
Sustainable economic development in the North should be the government’s priority, he said, and this includes finding solutions to regional issues such as the high cost of living, poverty and resource development.
“We need to work on national issues at the national level, and international issues with our international institutions, like the Arctic Council,” he said. “And we want to make sure that those roles are not confused.”
Bevington also sits on the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, an international agency that promotes the work of the Arctic Council.
Shortly after Aglukkaq was appointed as chair in 2012, Bevington questioned Aglukkaq’s chairmanship, telling an Ottawa newspaper that Canada’s foreign affairs minister should have been appointed chair instead.
Bevington said that appointing a health minister could mean Canada would be less effective in leading the international body.
“We can only hope all the sea ice is not melted before the Harper government wakes up and provides effective leadership at the Arctic Council,” Bevington said at the time.
Aglukkaq — along with Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson — fired back, saying that northerners should be able to speak for themselves.
With files from Sarah Rogers