Hot topic


Trinity hosts groundbreaking international conference on Arctic governance
By Liz Allemang

“In our national anthem we sing, ‘True north strong and free.’ As Canadians we identify with the words, but we don’t really understand what’s going on ‘up north,’ ” says Emily Tsui, a fourthyear International Relations specialist at Trinity.

Tsui spent last summer as a research assistant for the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation (a non-profit that works to promote innovative public policies for the North). It was in that capacity that she helped to organize a recent conference at Trinity designed to promote Arctic awareness—in Canada and around the globe. Says Tsui, who is now an intern at the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History (BGCCIH) on the Trinity campus, “Illustrating the complexity of the Arctic to those beyond it is essential, especially as the Arctic becomes more significant for Canada and globally.”

Held on September 18, 2015 the “Regional Governments in International Affairs: Lessons from the Arctic” conference welcomed an impressive and international roster of speakers and panelists, plus members of the community to the Munk School of Global Affairs for a day of conversations. The event was a partnership between the Gordon Foundation, the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program and the BGCCIH, in support of its focus on bringing together current and former policymakers with students and scholars to exchange insights and perspectives.

Speakers included Christin Kristoffersen, mayor of Longyearbyen, Norway; Elaine Taylor, the deputy premier of Yukon; Lesil McGuire, senator in the Alaska State Legislature; Madeleine Redfern, mayor of Iqaluit; Nauja Bianco, a senior advisor with the Nordic Council of Ministers; Trinity Provost Mayo Moran; Trinity Chancellor Bill Graham; and academics from Iceland, Moscow and Toronto.

Among the topics discussed at the conference were the environment, the economy in the North, geopolitics and natural resource development, societal development and our moral obligation to the Arctic. The role of regional governments in international affairs and in governance of the circumpolar Arctic, as well as the Arctic Council at 20 and its transition to the next 20 years were also considered (see sidebar for more on the Arctic Council).

Apart from the shared experiences and regional issues that united its speakers, event organizers also sought regional diversity in the conference’s attendees.

“We wanted to give a voice to people who are not normally represented in the few events like this that do take place,” says Tsui. “Our hope was to connect them so that they can compare best practices,” says Tsui. “They may not know one another, but they’re in similar situations, facing similar challenges.”

“Northerners recognize that they have common problems, opportunities and experiences,” says John English, director of the BGCCIH. Communication between regional governments could prove more relevant, if not as important, as dialogues between northern and federal
governments within the same country. “Those in the Yukon may have more in common with Greenland than with Ontario, for example.”

While that may be true, the bulk of the decisions pertaining to the future and fate of the Canadian Arctic are currently determined by individuals who live far from it. This conference was one important step in broadening the conversation.


Established in 1996 by the Ottawa Declaration, following the 1991 signing of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, the Arctic Council is a high-level forum for political discussions on common issues to the governments of the Arctic States and its inhabitants. It is the only circumpolar forum for political discussions on Arctic issues involving all the Arctic states and with the active participation of its Indigenous Peoples.

The Council is comprised of eight member states: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States. It also includes numerous subgroups and observers, and meets at least twice a year to discuss relevant matters such as the Arctic marine environment, science cooperation and telecommunications. They then make assessments and recommendations based on the efforts undertaken by the working groups.

Key accomplishments include the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the Agreement on Co-operation in Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue, and the 2013 Agreement on Co-operation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, which has prompted each member state to commit to equipping itself to respond in the event of a spill— anticipated as a likely possibility considering the pending increase in oil and gas development in the region in coming years.

The current United States Chairmanship (until 2017, with Finland in line to take the reins) is focused on improving economic and living conditions for Arctic communities; Arctic Ocean safety, security and stewardship; and addressing the impacts of climate change.


“Canada, in recent years, has approached Arctic politics as an extension of domestic Canadian politics, lacking a regional perspective as to how Arctic developments should unfold. The world is In the grip of globalization, and this applies to the Arctic, too. Arctic governance must include Arctic residents and cannot be done properly from national capitals, far removed from the region.”

Franklyn Griffiths ’58, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, George Ignatieff Chair Emeritus of Peace and Conflict Studies at U of T, and noted Arctic expert

“These exchanges are important because there’s a lot that can be shared and learned between Arctic regions. In Nunavut, for example, we have the largest indigenous land claim agreement signed and we have a tremendous ability to influence territorial legislation impacting education, housing, health care and wildlife. I don’t think we’re fully using that influence because Inuit in Nunavut are unaware of the power that they have.”

Madeleine Redfern, president of Ajungi Arctic Consulting and mayor of Iqaluit, Nunavut

“The Arctic is increasingly being seen as the world’s barometer for measuring the impact of climate change. The challenge facing all of us is to get people everywhere to understand the Arctic’s message.”

Terry Fenge, principal of Terry Fenge Consulting Inc., specializing in Aboriginal rights and interests, environmental affairs, and public policy in the circumpolar Arctic and beyond

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.