tp-louislaurent-arctic-cp-3

Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St. Laurent off Nunavut. The Canadian Polar Commission wants to be more active and relevant. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

The Canadian Polar Commission wants to become a more prominent player in polar affairs, including Arctic issues such as research and economic development, says its new board chairman.

Bernard Funston said the national commission wants to be at the centre of activity in Canada's Arctic such as scientific research, tourism, mining exploration and more.

"A more active and relevant polar commission is what we're aiming for," Funston told CBC News.

The Canadian Polar Commission is a federal advisory agency set up in 1991 to promote, monitor and disseminate research in the polar regions.

Funston and nine new directors were appointed in November to the polar commission's board. The commission had been without a board for about two years.

The board, which held its first meeting earlier this month, includes former N.W.T. premier Nellie Cournoyea, Arctic sovereignty expert Rob Huebert, and Harry Winston Diamond Corp. executive Robert Gannicott.

Plans to open northern office

Funston said the board is developing a strategy with clear objectives for the commission. One of its first goals is to open at least one office in Canada's northern territories, he added.

"We're going to re-establish the northern office — at least one northern office and perhaps more," he said. "We're looking at how to do this effectively and broadly."

Funston said the commission board wants to develop its international contacts, set research priorities and bring people together to discuss issues related to northern research, aboriginal knowledge and economic development.

Huebert said he would like to see the Canadian Polar Commission play a similar role as the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, which helps set that country's polar agenda.

"If you look at the legislation, it [the Canadian Polar Commission] was given probably just as much power as the American polar commission," said Huebert, associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

"I think that we can do a lot in moving the whole agenda for how we approach polar science and co-ordination."

Funston said the United States has already expressed interest in collaborating with Canada on mutual areas of interest.