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Premier calls on Feds to protect Arctic boundaries

Brodie Thomas
Northern News Services
Published Monday, January 19, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Premier Floyd Roland called on the federal government to take action on the issue of Northern sovereignty after the United States signed a presidential directive on its own Arctic policy.

As one of his final acts in office, outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush signed a presidential directive on U.S. Arctic policy. It is the first time the US has updated its Arctic policy since 1994.

The new U.S. policy recognizes the changing climate in the Arctic as well as "a growing awareness that the Arctic region is both fragile and rich in resources."

It also asserts that the Northwest Passage is "a strait used for international navigation."

Under the heading "implementation," the directive calls for an increased American presence in the Arctic to support military and civilian vessels and aircraft.

The directive even refers to an "unresolved boundary" with Canada in the Beaufort Sea, referring to oil and gas deposits in that area.

Premier Roland immediately responded to the announcement by calling on the federal government to secure its Arctic interests.

"We definitely need to step up," said Premier Floyd Roland in response to the directive. "We know that the U.S. is aggressively going to try to resolve their border disputes."

He called on Prime Minister Harper to stand behind his "use it or lose it" rhetoric by investing in real Northern infrastructure such as the proposed Mackenzie Valley Highway and the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline project. He said Canada would be better off investing in long-term projects that could create thousands of jobs rather than bailing out the already failing auto industry.

"We need to take the appropriate steps so when the new president takes over we are ready to put forward our arguments," said Roland.

The premier said he would be raising the issue at a first minister's meeting in Ottawa on Thursday and Friday.

The governments of Nunavut and the Yukon did not respond publicly to the U.S.'s announcement, meaning Roland was in the national media spotlight on this issue.

Prime Minister Harper downplayed the importance of the policy change. Although he did not have an official response, he did speak about the announcement on a Calgary radio show. Harper cited the "long-standing" disagreement with the U.S. over Arctic waters and added, "I think we can manage this."