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Canada discontinues Arctic trips for foreign ambassadors

Mia BennettEye on the Arctic

Analysis: Late last week, the Canadian House of Commons held a 24-hour session to vote on the 2012 federal budget. After members listened to the over 800 proposed amendments, they finally voted in favor of passing the budget. It will now move on the the Senate, where it will almost inevitably pass.

One of the notable cuts is the $71.8 million decrease in the annual budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The Department will actually have to make do with $169.8 million less over the next three years.

Jeffery Simpson of the Globe and Mail reports that there will no longer be an annual trip for ambassadors to Canada to the Arctic. These trips to the North had been an important way of showing Canada’s Arctic in a positive light to foreign diplomats. If Canada wants to further its Arctic policies, such as seeing the EU’s ban on seal fur imports overturned, it’s helpful if diplomats can observe firsthand aboriginal lifestyles.

Furthermore, next year Canada plans to both submit its claims to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and take over chairmanship of the Arctic Council. With all of these events on the horizon, it seems like a bad idea for Canada to cancel the trips this year.

Other notable points in the budget related to the Arctic include:

--Fisheries and Oceans Canada will complete the transfer of managing and maintaining Arctic ports to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. One such harbor, Pangnirtung in Nunavut, will hopefully be completed this year. Fisheries and Oceans is spending $5.8 million this year to finish construction.

--No additional funding will be allocated to Arctic research infrastructure under the Economic Action Plan, as the program has concluded. In 2009-2010, $32 million was allocated, and in 2010-2011, $51 million. A total of 20 projects were completed, ranging from the refurbishment of the M’Clintock Channel Polar Bear Research Cabins to the upgrading of the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory.

--$5.2 billion will be spent over the next 11 years on renewing the Canadian Coast Guard Fleet. This is in addition to the $35 billion that is going towards the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.

    Canada is right to invest more heavily in its Coast Guard. But it should also think about having a more comprehensive strategy in the Arctic that involves courting diplomats, meeting Northerners’ needs, and enhancing its capabilities. If only it were that simple.

    This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.