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Canada falling behind in western Arctic, report says

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Sometimes, it seems like not a week goes by without headlines trumpeting business opportunities in the North.

But in Canada, are we missing out on the potential in our western Arctic region?

A new report suggests that's the case.

“There’s a long way to go both in relation to our potential and in relation to developments we see on the other side of the Arctic Ocean in Russia and Scandinavia,” says John Higginbotham, an author of the report and a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, an independent Canadian think-tank.

A few policy adjustments could make the difference, he says.

Rich, untapped potential

The report points out that the historic voyage of the Nordic Orion through the Northwest Passage in September 2013 proved the commercial shipping possibilities through the Arctic waters of North America. And how well Canada’s Northwest Territories is positioned to take advantage of new business opportunities.

“The NWT is arguably the most promising economic region in the Canadian Arctic in terms of public and private potential, scale of resources, variety of transport routes, well-functioning territorial government and close cooperation with neighbours,” it says.

But lack of infrastructure and marine  corridor investment continue to inhibit development.

“At the moment we’re far behind where we should be in respect of charting of the Arctic Ocean, search-and-rescue, aids to navigation and other areas,” Higginbotham said.

While Higginbotham praises recent government initiatives like devolution in the Northwest Territories and the commitment to a new Arctic research center, he says they've fallen behind on other area, including developing icebreakers and Arctic patrol vessels.

“I hope after this recent austerity, all political parties will unite around an agenda of more active planning and cooperation with other partners in the Arctic,' he says.

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