On June 3, Canada’s Governor General, David Johnston, laid out the Conservatives’ plans for Canada in the Throne Speech to the Senate. As the Conservatives have finally secured a majority in Parliament, they will likely have more success in realizing their vision. In one paragraph, Johnston summarized his government’s plans for the North.
“Our Government has made Canada’s North a cornerstone of its agenda. The strongest expression of our sovereignty comes through presence and actions, not words. Our Government will continue to exercise leadership in the stewardship of northern lands and waters. It is also committed to working with the Northwest Territories and the private sector to complete the Dempster Highway—by linking Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk—thereby realizing Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s vision of connecting Canada by road from sea to sea to sea.”
Though Johnston emphasizes the importance of “presence and actions” over rhetoric in expressing sovereignty, his words were carefully chosen, too. He said that the Government will steward the “northern lands and waters” – waters being an essential part of Canada’s perceived sovereignty in the Arctic. Those waters do not just include Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay, but the Northwest Passage as well. The U.S. may not agree that the passage constitutes internal waters, but Canada is determined to attempt to express sovereignty in these waters. Whether it will be able to back up its words with actions, such as by deploying more Arctic/Offshore patrol ships, will be the true test of Harper’s commitment to Arctic sovereignty.
While sovereignty at sea might be difficult for Canada to uphold, it is working to improve its infrastructure on land. The Dempster Highway is a cornerstone of the Conservatives’ plan for developing the North. Liberals have opposed its construction, as they believe a much longer road connecting more Aboriginal communities needs to be built. Yet now, Liberals will not really be able to put any more roadblocks in the way of the construction of the 140-kilometer highway. Once built, it will improve transportation in the remote North and enhance the country’s sovereignty in its more distant reaches.
Johnston also touched upon the welfare of Aboriginal and First Nations communities in Canada:
“Canada’s Aboriginal peoples are central to Canada’s history, and our Government has made it a priority to renew and deepen our relationship. The contribution of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples will be important to our future prosperity. Concerted action is needed to address the barriers to social and economic participation that many Aboriginal Canadians face.
Our Government will work with Aboriginal communities, provinces and territories to meet this challenge. It will help open the door to greater economic development by providing new investments in First Nations Land Management. It will promote access to clean water and the deployment of clean energy technology in Aboriginal and northern communities.”
Mary Simon, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, was pleased with the Throne Speech. In a press release, she called it a “strong statement in support of the Arctic, and Aboriginal peoples.” At the very least, the language Johnston uses identifies communities as the foundation of First Nations societies, rather than atomized individuals. The Northern Strategy, contrastingly, hones in on “individuals,” overlooking the importance of groups and communities to Aboriginal peoples. It is also promising that the speech underscores the need for social and economic development to help Northerners as opposed to a strict focus on resource development. Simon continued in the press release,
“I was pleased to see a commitment to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. The action needed to address barriers to economic participation in the Arctic communities means improving our education system, an issue Inuit are taking concrete action on with the impending release of our National Inuit Education Strategy.”
The National Inuit Education Strategy will be released tomorrow (Thursday, June 16), at a news conference which Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan will attend. He is a supporter of the strategy, which will promote bilingual education for Inuit children. Teaching students in both their mother tongue and either French or English is seen as a means of turning around the high dropout rate, which is 75% in Nunavut. If the Inuit are better educated, they will stand a better chance of participating in their local economies. This, in turn, could make the Northern economy more sustainable and less reliant on outside investment in non-renewable resources.
“Clear picture of Tory agenda emerges in June 3 throne speech,” Nunatsiaq Online