Northerners must define north’s future: senators

Report urges Ottawa to honour local ­decisions



For the senators behind yet another report on Canada’s Arctic, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s oft-repeated mantra of “use it or lose it” misses the point.

Instead, Ottawa must help Northerners build the society they want. In the process, the federal government might find it easier to convince its circumpolar rivals of Canada’s claim to sovereignty over the region, says a new report from the Senate’s standing committee on energy, the environment and natural resources.

“It is very important…the future of the North be defined by Northerners and that Southerners view their role in this as helping where we can,” said Grant Mitchell, a Liberal senator from Alberta, during a news conference in Ottawa May 14.

“The North is not a frontier to be exploited, it is a place to evolve and develop as Northerners would have it develop.”

For that development to happen, the report urges Ottawa to:

* boost research spending, especially for climate change adaptation and melting permafrost;
* speed up the decision-making process on the contentious MacKenzie Valley natural gas pipeline project;
* honour local decision-making;
* and strike a devolution deal with the Northwest Territories. There was no mention of any such deal with Nunavut.

Alberta Liberal senator Tommy Banks said successive federal governments have talked big about the Canadian North, but failed to do much for the people who live there. That’s an old colonial mindset that has to change, he said.

“We have to change the way we think about the North,” he said.

Mitchell also said that eroding coastlines and melting permafrost in the Arctic mean Canada needs an “aggressive, world-leading strategy on climate change.”

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