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Polar Commission to open office in Canadian North

Lyndsay Herman
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 11, 2012

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development gave the Canadian Polar Commission $240,000 in April to meet its legal requirements and finally re-open an office in Northern Canada.

The Canadian Polar Commission Act, through which the commission was established, legally requires at least one Canadian Polar Commission office North of 60 but three territorial offices, which accounted for all the offices located in Northern Canada, were closed in 2000 due to financial issues.

"The Government of Canada is committed to making the Canadian Polar Commission an effective instrument that can contribute significantly to the delivery of the government's Northern Strategy," states Genevieve Guibert, spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs and North Development Canada, in an e-mail to News/North.

"To ensure the Canadian Polar Commission can fully deliver on its mandate, last fiscal year the minister extended an offer of an annual funding increase to open a Northern office.

"Having a full-time employee located in the North is going to give us a much better chance of staying connected to what Northerners are concerned about, what Northerners are doing in terms of creating new knowledge," said David Scott, executive director for the Canadian Polar Commission. "It also gives us a conduit to get information back into the North.

"We're kind of setting ourselves up as a bit of a knowledge broker, being on top of things, sharing information around, synthesizing it, making some sense out of it. The goal, he said, is to bring the information to Northerners so they have the opportunity to make use of it.

Dawn Tremblay, program co-ordinator for Ecology North, said there is a need for an organization that can collect and share information generated by Northern research in language that is understandable and through means that are accessible to everyone.

Tremblay said she hopes the communication will also help academia hear and answer questions Northerners are asking.

"(The Canadian Polar Commission) is a good investment," she said. "When researchers come from the south it's nice to have (Northerner's) concerns and questions answered but that's not always what motivates the research."

Scott said the new full-time employee will be someone from one of the three territories or northern Quebec. He said the commission intends to locate the Northern office in the candidate's region in order to utilize the candidate's regional networks. The model will also allow the Northern office to move around between the territories and Quebec as new candidates fill the position in future years.

He said the position will require a lot of travel to ensure that territorial and provincial boundaries don't become boundaries of communication as well.

"The person we hire will move around a fair bit," said Scott. "We'll try and get them travelling in the North to attend various places were folks are coming together and where they can efficiently, over the course of a couple of days, reconnect with a group that's doing something in a different region of the North."

Scott said the funding, and the appointment of a new "high-powered" board of directors in 2010, are proof of how important the North has become to the federal government.

While that may be true, Tremblay said she is concerned that the new board does not sufficiently represent Northern interests.

"I found it somewhat strange that there's only, from what I could see, two sort of token Northern aboriginal representation and the rest is all academic," she said. "I recognize that it's supposed to be a research forum but it would have been nice to see more meaningful Northern representation so that Northern knowledge is also shared back to the south."

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