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Pro-development Arctic Council, led by Canada, begins to take shape

Mia BennettEye on the Arctic
Canada's emphasis on developing the Arctic for the benefit of the region's residents comes at a time when many countries are looking to foreign investors. Michelle Valberg photo

Canada, the upcoming chair of the Arctic Council, has named Patrick Borbey as the new chair of the group of Senior Arctic Officials. His role will be to work with the SAOs from the other seven permanent member states along with representatives from indigenous organizations. Borbey will still retain his title as head of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq noted in a press release, "As Canada assumes the chairmanship in May of this year, we will lead the important work of the Arctic Council. Mr. Borbey's extensive experience working with Northerners will be a great asset in his role as the chair of the Arctic Senior Officials."

Borbey formerly served as Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Treaties and Aboriginal Government and Assistant Deputy Minister of Northern Affairs at the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Then, in December 2011, he became head of CanNor. The Conservatives opened the agency in 2009 to promote economic development across the country's three northern territories. It's a small agency, with a budget this year of CAN $51.1 million. In an interview with Nunatsiaq News last year, Borbey stated that one of his goals as CanNor head would be to increase mineral development with projects such as the Mary River iron ore mine. "Those are the big ones, the big game-changers that are really going to bring lots of prosperity," he expressed.

Borbey's experience promoting northern natural resource projects will fit in well with Canada's plans for its two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The country will pursue a strategy of "Development for the People of the North." The strategy's three prongs will be responsible Arctic resource development, safe Arctic shipping and sustainable circumpolar communities. This mission contrasts with the goals of Sweden, the current chair, which focused on climate change and the environment alongside economic and human development. Earlier this year, for instance, Sweden convened a meeting of the Arctic environment ministers in Jukkasjärvi.

The current chair of the SAOs, Gustaf Lind, will step down in May, when Sweden passes its chairmanship to Canada. The end of the Swedish chairmanship will mark a close to the six years of Nordic chairmanships, with Norway, Denmark and Sweden having formed an "umbrella program" in 2006 to coordinate their three successive chairmanships. Sweden promoted a more open, outward-facing Arctic Council, with the SAO Chair holding informal observer breakfasts before SAO meetings. It is unclear whether Canada will continue to hold these breakfast meetings given its more insular tendencies focused on upholding Arctic sovereignty.

Canada's emphasis on developing the Arctic for the benefit of the region's residents comes at a time when many countries are looking to foreign investors. Many in Greenland hope that Chinese company Sichuan Xinye Mining Investment Cothe and U.K.-based London Mining Plc will begin mining a large iron ore deposit on the island, while in Russia, Lukoil President Vagit Alekperov announced today that the company will support a bill to allow independent producers to explore for oil in the Russian Arctic. Currently, only state-owned companies are allowed to do so. If Borbey and Aglukkaq have their ways, however, the revenues generated by northern resource development would stay there.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.