Climate adaptation, education key to Canada's strategy in the Arctic: Mary Simon

Healthy, educated people and an eye on climate change are key for sustainable development in the North, according to a new report from the Minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs' special representative on Arctic Leadership.

Mary Simon's report, A New Shared Arctic Leadership Model, makes more than 40 recommendations, touching on education, infrastructure and environmental protection in Canada's Arctic, among other topics.

To reach her conclusions, Simon conducted 65 engagement meetings across the North, including 170 people. She also received 34 written submissions.

Though the report is non-binding, it aims to help direct the creation of a new Arctic Policy Framework, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in December 2016 would be created jointly with Northern stakeholders to replace the federal government's current strategy for the region.

Simon, originally from Kuujjuaq, Que., is well-known in Inuit communities. She's a past president of national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a former chairperson of the National Committee on Inuit Education, and was involved in the creation of the Arctic Council.

Climate change will affect everything

In her report, Simon highlights the disproportionate impacts felt on Canada's Arctic as a result of climate change. 

"I heard repeated accounts of the impact of a warming Arctic on food security, infrastructure, housing, and safety on the land and sea," she wrote.

"The message was very clear: an adaptation strategy and implementation plan for the Arctic must become a national priority within Canada's climate change commitments." 

Many of Simon's recommendations also focus on education, including the need for an Arctic university and culturally-relevant early childhood education.

"The legacy of residential schools lingers in some families who have not yet developed a confidence in the education system or the skills to support their children's academic learning," the report reads. 

"Children must come to school rested, well fed, with their homework done and ready to learn.

"These conditions can be fostered by quality, affordable, culturally-appropriate ECE [early childhood education]. Strengthening ECE programming through enhanced and sustained funding agreements is the first bridge toward success in school."

Infrastructure 'desperately' needed

The report calls for massive upgrades to northern infrastructure, especially when it comes to housing and broadband.

This message in particular was welcomed by Nunavut's premier, Peter Taptuna.

"It sure is pleasing that she touched a lot on infrastructure deficits," he said. "That's something we desperately need in the North. Our communications services we have in the North are slow, it's antiquated."

Paul Crowley, the director of WWF Canada's Arctic program, wrote in a news release that he applauded Mary Simon's holistic approach. 

"I am particularly excited by the recommendation to develop a new conservation tool for Canada's North... and her recommendation to apply this conservation designation to the Pikialasorsuaq, the most productive polynya in all of the Arctic.

"Mary Simon has established a roadmap that should be followed."

Not every aspect of the report was praised. Taptuna said he wished that Simon touched on resource development in her recommendations.

"The disappointing part about the report is that there is no recommendations on, no mention of, resource development," he said. 

"And of course, resource development in the North, in Nunavut, is a critical part of building healthy and sustainable communities in the Arctic."