Canada unveils Arctic strategy

The federal government has promised to assert Canada's sovereignty over its resource-rich Arctic lands and waters while it addresses the needs of northerners.

The federal government has promised to assert Canada's sovereignty over its resource-rich Arctic lands and waters while it addresses the need for jobs, housing and a clean environment in the North.

Three federal cabinet ministers released the new spending and a public relations plan, called Canada's Northern Strategy: Our North, Our Heritage, Our Future, at a news conference in Gatineau, Que., on Sunday.

"At every opportunity in my discussions with foreign ministers, I have and will continue to have frank discussions, and that includes reiterating, my friends, our country's willingness and continued engagement to reaffirm our sovereignty," Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told reporters at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Canada, Russia and Denmark have all tried to strengthen their presence in the Arctic in recent years, but Cannon said as members of the Arctic Council, they've been able to work together on common goals and there's no reason that can't continue.

"We're not going down a road toward confrontation. Indeed, we're going down a road toward co-operation and collaboration. That is the Canadian way. And that's the way my other colleagues around the table have chosen to go as well," he said.

Cannon, who was joined by Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl and Minister of State for Science Gary Goodyear for the policy announcement, said his government has made the Arctic an "absolute priority" and that the needs of northerners will be at the heart of Arctic policy.

Plans to increase economic opportunities

Strahl listed the ways in which the federal government intends to help the North's economy, reiterating plans previously announced.

"We're creating a new economic development agency for the North, shaped by northern realities and poised to respond to northern interests.

"We are supporting important new geomapping initiatives to build our understanding of the North's material and petroleum potential and we're working to improve regulatory processes across the North.

"This will build investor confidence in the North and increase economic opportunities for northerners and all Canadians," he said.

"Our ultimate goal is to ensure that economic spinoffs benefit northerners first," Cannon said.

The foreign affairs minister also said he's hoping the European Union will reconsider a proposed ban on seal-derived products. The European Council of Ministers meets Monday in Belgium to vote on a proposal to regulate trade in seal products.

Members of the EU Parliament endorsed a bill in May that would impose a tight ban on the import of seal products to all 27 member countries as of 2010. Only seal products from Inuit or aboriginal hunts would be exempt under the ban.

With files from The Canadian Press