Politics

Canada will pass its target of protecting 10% of marine areas by 2020, Trudeau says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to create a new protected area off the Nunavut coast, which the government says will help it exceed its target of protecting 10 per cent of marine areas by 2020.

PM announces creation of a new marine conservation area in the Arctic

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled plans to new create the Tuvaijuittuq ​​​​​​marine protected area off northern Ellesmere Island this morning during a stop in Iqaluit. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced plans to create a new protected area off the Nunavut coast, which the government says will help it exceed its target of protecting 10 per cent of marine areas by 2020.

Trudeau — along with Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association P.J. Akeeagok — unveiled plans to create the new Tuvaijuittuq ​​​​​​(meaning "the place where the ice never melts") marine protected area off northern Ellesmere Island this morning during a stop in Iqaluit. He also announced the completion of a national marine conservation area near the hamlet of Arctic Bay.

The order bans new or additional human activities in the area for up to five years, but still allows Inuit to hunt and fish. There are also exceptions for emergency activities, some scientific research and "certain activities carried out by a foreign national, entity, ship or state."

Trudeau also said the Tallurutiup Imanga national marine conservation area in the northeastern region of Nunavut is now complete, making it Canada's largest.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said these areas cover more than 427,000 square kilometres, which is larger than Newfoundland and Labrador.

"There is no question the climate crisis is changing the face of the Arctic as we know it. Populations of belugas, narwhals, walruses, seals, polar bears and thousands of other species who depend on year-round sea ice to survive are now migrating, dwindling, or in some cases, disappearing," said Trudeau.

"For Inuit who have relied on hunting and harvesting to feed their families, climate change imperils their livelihoods and their way of life."

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed said it's important to note that Inuit will still be able to use the land to harvest and bring food back to their families and communities.

"This is a new way of seeing conservation, not only in Canada but globally," he said.

Obed said climate change has already had devastating impacts on local infrastructure in the territories — a trend projected to continue if emissions and global temperatures continue to rise.

A recent report by warned that most Canadian Arctic marine regions would be free of sea ice for part of the summer by 2050 and that most small ice caps and ice shelves in the area will disappear by 2100, even if emission reduction measures are enacted.

That's why, Obed said, he hopes political parties will not simply bicker about the merits of a carbon tax as they debate climate policy during the federal election campaign. He hopes they will look more broadly at the real-life, "drastic" effects of climate change on northern communities.

"Fixating on one or two pieces of a climate-action policy sometimes overshadows the larger picture," he said. "People should be very concerned about the reality of the Canadian Arctic and the fact that it is a part of Canada. Just because somebody might not see massive changes in their backyard today doesn't necessarily mean that there shouldn't be urgent concern from all Canadians about the Arctic and the Inuit portion of the climate discussion."

Trudeau takes aim at Scheer

The announcements feed into the Liberal government's messaging on climate policy, destined to be a key issue on the campaign trail this fall. Trudeau used his speech to make a dig at the Conservative leader and his strategy for the North.

"In July, Andrew Scheer travelled to Whitehorse to outline his vision for the Arctic. Not once did he utter the word Inuit. It tells you a lot about the future he would build if he were prime minister," he said.

Scheer did visit Nunavut in June where he promised to spend millions to build social housing and an addictions treatment centre in the territory, plus a budget increase for Nutrition North, if elected. 

Pieces of sea ice melt in Frobisher Bay in Iqaluit on July 31. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

It will also give the prime minister something to boast about when he attends the nomination meeting Thursday evening for Megan Pizzo Lyall, a former Iqaluit council member who will run under the Liberal banner. 

This is the second time Trudeau has visited Nunavut this year, and it's his third visit to the territory during his tenure as prime minister.

In March, he visited Iqaluit to apologize to Inuit for abuses suffered during tuberculosis treatment in the mid-20th century.

Corrections

  • This story has been updated from a previous version that stated a new marine protected area called Tuvaijuittuq was near Arctic Bay. In fact, Tuvaijuittuq is off Ellesmere Island, which is farther north. There is also a conservation area near the hamlet of Arctic Bay.
    Aug 01, 2019 1:41 PM ET

With files from Sara Frizzell and The Canadian Press

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