Left out in the cold

Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon has announced that his country will host a conference on Arctic sovereignty on March 29 in Quebec. The purpose of the conference, which will take place right before the G8 summit in Muskoka, is to encourage a discussion on new methods of economic development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Cannon has invited delegates from four states with Arctic coastlines to attend: Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the U.S.  Some players in the Arctic, however, are upset that they were left off the guest list. Iceland has voiced its displeasure, as have indigenous groups like the Arctic Athabaskan Council from the Yukon.

In response, Cannon announced that he will meet with all interested parties before the summit, but he still refused to invite anyone other than the Arctic-5.

Pita Aatami, the acting president of the National Inuit Organization, stated in a press release:

“It is inconceivable that the Government of Canada would contemplate holding a conference to discuss economic development and environmental protection in the Arctic without the active participation of Inuit, who will have to live with the consequences of any new government policies. This reeks of paternalism.”

Both Iceland and the Inuit have suggested that Cannon use the Arctic Council as a template for who to invite. Member states on the council are the Arctic-5 plus Finland, Iceland, and Sweden. Six indigenous groups have spots at the negotiating table as permanent participants.

Cannon’s call for a summit restricted to just the five main Arctic states may be an attempt to show that Canada calls the shots when it comes to who is and is not a major player in the Arctic. Or, Cannon could just be acting hypocritically. For instance, on February 11, the minister met with Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Stubb, in Ottawa. Together, they discussed strengthening collaboration in the Arctic. Yet Finland will not be in attendance at the Canadian summit. Thus, Cannon’s meeting could indeed be seen as an exclusive Arctic club, much to the chagrin of countries and groups like Iceland and the Inuit who could contribute a lot in terms of expertise and experience to the discussion.

News Links

“Aboriginal leaders say they should be at Arctic conference,” Vancouver Sun

“Iceland, Inuit irked at exclusion from Arctic talks,” Montreal Gazette

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