Senate report says Arctic security requires ‘human security’

Planned spending by federal government won’t be enough to clear the North’s infrastructure deficit

By Jorge Antunes, Nunatsiaq News - July 3, 2023
Senator Margaret Dawn Anderson said a lack of engagement by the military with Northern Indigenous populations was part of a continuing “pattern of colonialism.” Photo: Jorge Antunes

The nearly $5 billion the federal government plans to spend on modernizing its North American defence won’t be enough to solve infrastructure deficits in the North, according to a report released by a Senate committee Wednesday.

The committee hoped that that new planned spending, which was announced last year, will have “collateral benefits” to improve services such as roads and housing as well as economic development, said Sen. Tony Dean, the chairperson of the Senate’s national security and defence committee.

However, the committee determined, that won’t be possible under the $4.9 billion over six years the federal government announced a year ago.

“[The government] will not address housing [in the North]. They will not address food insecurity. There are a number of things that they will not address,” said Dean at news conference following the release of the study on Wednesday.

In a written response to the committee’s report, Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok said “Arctic security and sovereignty rely on robust transportation, energy, and telecommunications infrastructure.”

Akeeagok said nation-building investments “are needed to promote social development and realize the full economic potential of our regions and Canada.”

The senators’ study of Arctic security followed the federal government’s June 2022 announcement that it will spend $4.9 billion over six years to modernize Canada’s NORAD, or North American Aerospace Defence Command, capabilities.

The committee also cited the growing importance of Arctic sovereignty in the world’s changing geopolitical climate for its decision to conduct its study.

A few weeks before the Senate began studying Arctic security, Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, adding urgency to the study.

The timing of the committee’s work means the preparation of its report took place after the war in Ukraine began.

In the report, the senators called the invasion of Ukraine the greatest “upheaval in Europe” since the Second World War.

Existing Arctic civilian and industrial infrastructure is “stretched,” the committee said. Food insecurity, poor internet and inadequate housing are also concerns.

Meanwhile, the North’s abundant “natural gas resources and rare-earth elements” remain largely inaccessible.

For that reason, the senators called on the federal government to put in “parallel strategies and investments” to address those needs, Dean said.

“The importance of the Arctic and military defence and security cannot be overstated,” said Sen. Margaret Dawn Anderson of the Northwest Territories, the only Inuk member of the committee.

“I think there is a belief that in Canada there’s equality and equity between all the provinces and territories,” Anderson added. “I can affirm that that is not true.”

She said there are large inequities, especially in the territories.

Witnesses interviewed for the study noted northern governments must consider updated interpretations of Arctic security when making decisions.

One of them, historian P. Whitney Lackenbauer, said it’s harmful to view Arctic security as a trade-off between hard security and “human security,” such as access to food and health care.

The senators agreed that involvement and engagement from Indigenous communities is key.

However, Anderson said, engagement on the part of the federal government “is not as fulsome or meaningful as Indigenous” people would like.

Located in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada, Nunatsiaq News is dedicated to covering affairs in Nunavut and the Nunavik territory of Quebec since 1973. It has been a partner to ArcticToday and its predecessors since 2016.

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