Sustainable Development in Canada’s North

Sustainable development in Canada’s North was the theme of a half-day public panel discussion organized by the Canadian National Committee for IUCN (CCIUCN) at the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa on May 26, 2011.

Duane Smith's keynote address at the Canadian Committee for IUCN's Panel on Sustainable Development in the North

As CCIUCN President Clément Lanthier noted in his opening remarks, Canadians are increasingly focused on developments in the north, as interest in resource exploitation grows against a background of rapid climate change. Ensuring that development respects the rights and traditions of Aboriginal peoples, contributes to prosperity of local communities, and is environmentally and socially sustainable is a significant suite of challenges. CCIUCN’s objective was to contribute to the discussion on how to address them by bringing together experts in the field with individuals from government agencies, non-government organizations, and the interested public.

Duane Smith, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council–Canada gave the keynote address, entitled “Arctic Resources – An Inuit Perspective”. Other speakers were James Eetoolook, Vice President for Wildlife and Environment of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), on Aboriginal traditional knowledge; David Lee, wildlife biologist with NTI, on sustainable wildlife management; Ross MacDonald, Manager of Arctic Shipping with Canada’s Department of Transport, on Arctic shipping; and Rob Prosper, Executive Director for Northern Canada with the Parks Canada Agency on the role of parks and protected areas. The event was chaired by Tom Laughlin, Deputy Head of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme.

It was clear from the discussion that opportunities for economic development must be followed up in the North, to provide wage-based employment for youth (most of the population in Nunavut is under 25 years of age) and to help raise standards of living, which are lower north of 60° than elsewhere in Canada. Housing, education, health care delivery and other social services must be raised to a level consistent with other parts of the country.

Development is welcomed, but the pace of development must be appropriate, human health and the environment must be protected, and the rights and traditions of Aboriginal people must be respected. As one participant in the discussion noted, the pace of development should be dictated by social considerations, not the price of iron ore. The “Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Resource Development Principles in Inuit Nunaat”, adopted in May 2011 by international Inuit leaders, outlines principles for resource development in Inuit lands.

Land Claims agreements with Aboriginal peoples in Canada north of 60° latitude specify mechanisms to ensure that development only proceeds in collaboration with Aboriginal communities. These include a requirement for resource developers to negotiate impact and benefit agreements prior to commencement of operations, and co-management agreements with government agencies for conservation and management of wildlife resources.

Nearly 100 people participated in the event. Financial support was provided by the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, and the Parks Canada Agency as well as from CCIUCN funds. A more detailed report on the event, with information on CCIUCN, is available on the CCIUCN web site

Work area: 
Social Policy
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