OTTAWA — The Conservative government’s plans for the Arctic are suffering because of bureaucratic infighting and a lack political leadership, a group of Defence Department advisers has concluded.
They also urged the Canadian military to reach out to both mining companies and Inuit communities as it looks to establish a more tangible presence in the North, saying such relationships can be financially beneficial.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper first announced in 2007 that his government would focus on ensuring sovereignty over the country’s vast Arctic territories, developing its abundant natural resource deposits, and improving the lives of those living there.
But the Defence Science Advisory Board wrote in an internal report published last year and obtained by Postmedia News that “frustration is often the predominant emotion” within federal departments when it comes to the Arctic. The advisory board is made up of academics, analysts and industry representatives who provide the department with advice.
The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is supposed to be the lead department on the Arctic, with other government departments and agencies supporting it in a variety of roles and areas.
Yet the advisory board found “there is still no ‘champion’ at the political level that can either gain the consensus amongst government departments or provide direction, when needed.”
The same is true within the bureaucracy, the board added.
“The federal government culture can often be described by its hierarchical leanings and stove pipes which limit the exchange of information and often produce a reluctance to co-operate lest traditional boundaries be violated or perceived authority be ceded unnecessarily,” the report reads.
As a result, on-the-ground results of the so-called Northern Strategy “are not seen by local residents as progressing as rapidly as possible.”
One example cited is the Royal Canadian Air Force’s “reluctance” to bear the full cost of improving a strategically important airfield at Resolute Bay — estimated at between $25 million and $200 million — because it will be used by a variety of other federal departments.
Arctic expert Rob Huebert from the University of Calgary said the “800-pound gorilla in the room” is the Conservative government announced most of its plans for the North before 2008, when the federal government was flush with money.
But now that they are facing deep budget cuts, each department is looking out for itself.
The fact is the prime minister is the real federal champion for the North, Huebert said, which is good in raising the region’s profile when the prime minister visits, as he will be doing again in August.
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