27 August 2008
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Thank you very much, Minister Baird. Greetings ladies and gentlemen. Greetings also to Mayor Gruben, to our Aboriginal elders and of course to all residents of Tuktoyaktuk who are hosting us here today. Special greetings, of course, to members of the Canadian Coast Guard who play a vital role in keeping the True North strong and free by patrolling and protecting Canada's Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts, which are in total the longest shoreline in the world.
Last month I was in Quebec City. There I participated in the unveiling of a rediscovered map of the Canadian Arctic, created by the famous Québécois mariner, Captain Joseph-Elzéar Bernier. Exactly 100 years ago this summer the federal government dispatched Captain Bernier on a mission to claim the Arctic Archipelago for Canada. Over the following year, Bernier and his crew landed on and claimed all of the main Arctic islands for Canada. On Melville Island, they installed a bronze plaque that reads, "This memorial is erected today to commemorate the taking possession for the Dominion of Canada of the whole Arctic Archipelago."
Bernier's mission was a critical event in Canadian history, as important to our national destiny in the North as the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway was in the West. But not even Captain Bernier could have imagined now important the Arctic would become to Canada and the world.
Its economic and strategic value has risen exponentially over the years. The rising global demand for energy and mineral resources has sparked a so-called "cold rush" of countries to the Arctic region, and with the retreat of the ice pack, record numbers of ships are plying our Northern waters. Canada must therefore move quickly to affirm and protect its sovereignty over the archipelago, including the navigable waterways within it, and the undersea extensions of our continental shelf.
Now sovereignty, as you know, is not an abstract notion. It conveys a source of authority and protection. The people of Tuktoyaktuk know from history how important it is for Canada to exercise control and provide order in the Arctic. Between 1890 and 1910, unregulated foreign whalers brought influenza to the Mackenzie Delta that decimated the community.
Today the threats are different, but no less dangerous. The proliferation of international shipping in the North raises the potential for shipwrecks, smuggling, illegal immigration, and even threats to national security. But more specifically it raises the potential of environmental threats like oil spills, poaching and contamination. These are particularly acute in the sensitive Arctic ecosystem. Protecting and understanding the Arctic environment is one of the four pillars of our Government's Northern Agenda, and it is one that we have been acting on.
We have invested in the health of the oceans initiative, including projects here in the Arctic Ocean. We are providing direct assistance to the territorial governments to deal with adaptation to climate change.
We are supporting numerous activities for the International Polar Year. In fact, we have made the largest single contribution of any country. The scientific projects on the Coast Guard vessel here today are part of our International Polar Year activities. We've announced the intention to establish a cutting edge Arctic research station here in the North.
And of course, Minister Baird has announced a number of Northern conservation initiatives, including the expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve, the protection of the lands on the east arm of Great Slave Lake, as well as The Ramparts, and just last Friday, the establishment of the bowhead whale sanctuary near Baffin Island. We've also introduced new ballast water control regulations that will reduce the risk of unleashing harmful aquatic species and pathogens in our Northern waters, and we have toughened the regulations that prevent ships from releasing pollutants, including dangerous chemicals, into our waters.
Today our Government is further strengthening Canada's control over our Arctic environment with two important announcements. First, our government will introduce legislation to expand the reach of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act. The act currently limits Canada's ability to regulate Arctic shipping to within just 100 nautical miles from our coastline. We intend to double our jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles, the full extent of Canada's exclusive economic zone as recognized under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea. This will give us jurisdiction over an additional half million square kilometres of our waters, roughly equivalent to the land mass of one of our prairie provinces.
Second, the Government will amend the Canada Shipping Act to require vessels entering Canadian Arctic waters to report to the Coast Guard's NORDREG reporting system. Under current NORDREG rules, reporting is voluntary. But our changes will make reporting mandatory. This law will apply to all Canadian waters north of 60.
These measures will send a clear message to the world: Canada takes responsibility for environmental protection and enforcement in our Arctic waters. This magnificent and unspoiled ecological region is one for which we will demonstrate stewardship on behalf of our country, and indeed, all of humanity.
Thank you very much.