Evidence of meeting #116 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was nato.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chair  Mr. Michael Levitt (York Centre, Lib.)
David Barber  Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual
Leona Alleslev  Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, CPC
Frank Baylis  Pierrefonds—Dollard, Lib.
Stephanie Pezard  Senior Political Scientist, RAND Corporation
Abbie Tingstad  Senior Physical Scientist, RAND Corporation
Pertti Salolainen  Member, Parliament of the Republic of Finland
Tom Packalén  Member, Parliament of the Republic of Finland
Paavo Arhinmäki  Member, Parliament of the Republic of Finland
Ilkka Kanerva  Member, Parliament of the Republic of Finland
Simon Elo  Member, Parliament of the Republic of Finland
Stefan Wallin  Member, Parliament of the Republic of Finland
Maarit Feldt-Ranta  Member, Parliament of the Republic of Finland

3:35 p.m.

The Chair Mr. Michael Levitt (York Centre, Lib.)

I am going to call this meeting to order.

We have several witnesses, but only one currently accounted for.

I'd like to welcome and thank David Barber for joining us today. David Barber is the Canada research chair in Arctic system science and the associate dean of research in the faculty of environment, earth and resources at the University of Manitoba. We have already established that he is contacting us here from Winnipeg. Dr. Barber is also the director of the centre for earth observation science at the university.

Mr. Barber, you can take about eight to 10 minutes to provide some testimony, and then I am sure my colleagues are going to have lots of interesting and insightful questions for you.

3:35 p.m.

Dr. David Barber Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual

Great, thanks.

First of all, thanks to the committee for inviting me to present here.

I am an old Arctic hand, I guess you would call it. I started my research career in the Arctic in 1981 so I am now in my fourth decade of doing research in the Arctic. I've seen a lot of changes over that time and I'd like to talk with you about some of those changes.

I get involved with a variety of research in the Arctic. All of it has to do with sea ice and how climate change is affecting sea ice in the Arctic. I've been very interested and engaged with various sovereignty-related issues in the north as well. I work with very large, integrated programs in the north. We work quite closely with circum-Arctic nations through the Arctic Council. We operate a lot of our research work from icebreakers. We also have field camps pretty much all over the Arctic as well.

Basically over the course of my career I've seen some very dramatic changes happen in the north. In the first decade of my research career there was really not much in the way of change going on in the Arctic. We had thought at the time we would see the first and strongest signs or evidence of a warming global climate system on the Arctic, but in those first 10 years of my career I was a skeptic about whether climate change was really happening in the north and what it was doing.

The next 10 years of my career we started to see some very distinct signals that were showing a change in the Arctic, so that next 10 years saw quite a lot of change. The next 10 years were very dramatic. That was through the period of the late nineties into the 2000s and there were very rapid changes in both extent of sea ice and thickness of sea ice. Then in this most recent decade that trend has been speeding up and it's been increasing quite dramatically and really causing a lot of changes both inside the Arctic and also outside the Arctic, through things that we refer to as teleconnections.

A lot of the changes that are going on today are not just staying in the Arctic, but rather they're spilling over, if you will, into more southern latitudes of the planet. A lot of them are very counterintuitive. We have had many experiences over the last couple of decades where we have been surprised as to what has been happening with Arctic sea ice and the accessibility of the Arctic Ocean to people who are interested in seeing development occur there, so I think there is lots to talk about in terms of sovereignty.

I have also been around the system long enough that I know it's very challenging, as a country, to manage something like the Arctic, with the longest coastline in the Arctic being under the proud ownership of Canada. It's very difficult to manage that kind of change not only in the Arctic but, as I said before, with teleconnections to lower latitudes of the planet.

I think there are a lot of both challenges and opportunities in the sense of climate change in the Arctic. The challenges come in the form of how we, as a nation, respond to what's actually going on in the north. We have a lot of problems with icebreakers. Our icebreaking fleet is aging. It spends a lot of its time being repaired nowadays. You can imagine if you were driving a car that was 40 years old, what that car would be like. We're driving icebreakers that are over 40 years old and they spend most of their time in the garage getting fixed. This is an ongoing problem.

There are also a lot of opportunities with changing climate in the north. Here in Manitoba we've just had the sale of the rail line and the port. This is the only rail-linked deepwater port we have in the Arctic, and not just us but also the Americans, so it's the only one in North America. Russia has eight rail-linked ports and they are using all of them to develop their economy with a northern focus.

When I'm talking to the public I quite often use the fact that Russia gets about 23% of its GDP from the Arctic and we get a fraction of 1% of our GDP from our Arctic. It's the same Arctic and it has the same minerals and resources and fisheries potential, but we are not organized around how to develop it. We don't have the infrastructure to support Arctic development the way Russia has been able to.

There are lots of concerns there, I think, about how we move forward, as a nation, with both these challenges and opportunities.

I am here mostly to answer questions as opposed to giving you more of a statement, so I think I'll just stop my brief introduction at this point. I look forward to getting into a dialogue with what some of your interests and concerns are regarding the Arctic and climate change.

3:40 p.m.

Mr. Michael Levitt (York Centre, Lib.)

The Chair

Thank you very much.

I think we'll go straight into questions.

We'll begin with MP Alleslev, please.

November 26th, 2018 / 3:40 p.m.

Leona Alleslev Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, CPC

Thank you very much.

You made some incredibly important points, and I'm wondering if you could expand on them just a bit. Obviously, sometimes it's difficult to explain to people what I would call the “so what” questions, as in, “So what? Why should we be concerned about Arctic sovereignty? Why does it matter to Canada?”

From your experience, what would you recommend we focus on as a first step?

3:40 p.m.

Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual

Dr. David Barber

The idea is that the Arctic and Canada are inseparable, in my mind. Our history is steeped in the Arctic. A lot of the immigration that went on actually came through Hudson Bay. York Factory was a big part of that here in northern Manitoba. The connections with the fur trade between the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company are part of the rich history we have. The indigenous peoples we have in the country, those who live in the northern parts of the provinces as well as those who live in the territories, have a long, rich history of living and working in these environments.

When you take it into the modern context, you also have to think about the economic opportunities associated with the north. It's very clear to me, as a guy who's been in the Arctic for almost 40 years now, that the Arctic is really the next big area for us to develop. I've often thought of Canada as having two oceans. We have the Atlantic and the Pacific for development. We've done that development. We've had a lot of development across our land mass. We've had almost no development in the north, terrestrially based development or marine-based development.

Those opportunities are significant. There is a lot of economic opportunity in the north. We're coming out of a time as a society when we had blinders on. We always thought about the two coasts, east and west, and the land mass that was in the southern margin that was right up against the U.S. We need to think more about our entire country, and a big chunk of that is in the north.

I think there's the whole shepherding side of things, where we have to be good stewards of what that land is, but there's also the building of necessary infrastructure to take advantage of these new opportunities that are being unlocked because of climate change.

3:40 p.m.

Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, CPC

Leona Alleslev

In your opinion, if we don't exercise our sovereignty up there, are we at risk of perhaps losing it?

3:40 p.m.

Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual

Dr. David Barber

I think the adage “if you don't use it, you lose it” is a very good one. I think it's very appropriate in this context. Lots of people would like to take over the Canadian Arctic. I think the UNCLOS process that's under way right now, using the United Nations as a way to settle some of these disagreements, is a very important part of the process. Think about the Americans' perspective of what the Northwest Passage is, that it should be an international waterway. It's very important to us that it's a national waterway if we're going to maintain and manage that corridor through our northern territories.

Yes, I think it's very important. We need to put our stamp as a nation on the north and make sure we're actually there and engaged and using it. This is a very big part of the whole United Nations process and procedures for sovereignty.

3:40 p.m.

Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, CPC

Leona Alleslev

Outstanding.

Would you say we have every opportunity to achieve a significant percentage of our GDP, as Russia has, or is our Arctic different from theirs? In your opinion, is there the same potential in our Arctic to leverage economic growth to that extent?

3:40 p.m.

Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual

Dr. David Barber

The Arctic is the same. It's the same Arctic both sides of the pole. The resources and the resource base are very similar between the two. The difference is that the Russians have had their eye on the north and have been doing economic development in the north for decades, and we have not. We have been slow to get going on it. We need to catch up. I think there is a very significant opportunity to grow our GDP through resources that are associated with the Arctic and of course to fund transportation corridors that go through the Arctic. Think about intercontinental shipping and what goes on with that.

Yes, there are tremendous opportunities there. I think as a nation we need to pay serious attention to this and put the resources into it to catch up on the development cycle so that we can start to compete with the Russians in the Arctic.

3:45 p.m.

Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, CPC

Leona Alleslev

In many respects, we are starting from scratch. It's sort of an overwhelming project. We as parliamentarians want to be able to make a recommendation to government and to citizens on where to start. If you had to give us one piece of advice on which piece of that puzzle to start with, what would that be?

3:45 p.m.

Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual

Dr. David Barber

I'm a marine person. My research is in the marine area, so I understand it a lot better than I do the terrestrial environment.

To me, the big areas on the marine side have to do with transportation and development of marine-based resources: fisheries resources, non-renewable resources such as mining, and then the big one, which is transportation. One of the key things we can do as a country is to build our marine transportation infrastructure better.

We've had many examples, when we're going through the Arctic in our research icebreaker, of finding a ship full of tourists that's grounded on an underwater atoll that hasn't been mapped properly, and they're stuck there. If we hadn't just happened to be there, it would have been a major disaster for the tourists on board the ship. But because we happened to be there, we could take them off and everything worked itself out. Quite often, we're doing these things by the seat of our pants rather than by good planning.

Our Arctic isn't even mapped properly. We don't even know what the bathymetries of our various waterways are. There's a move afoot right now to create transportation corridors so we can really understand the bathymetry in those areas and what those ecosystems look like. I think these are all valuable investments by the country.

I also think deepwater ports are important. What the feds are doing in terms of the Iqaluit port is very important. The investments that have been made in the Churchill port are very important. We need to build this infrastructure so that we can take advantage of this opening of a third ocean in our country.

3:45 p.m.

Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, CPC

Leona Alleslev

Thank you very much.

3:45 p.m.

Mr. Michael Levitt (York Centre, Lib.)

The Chair

Thank you, Dr. Barber.

We'll now move to MP Sidhu, please.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jati Sidhu Liberal Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Barber, for your testimony today.

As I see, you have done extensive research in Arctic climatology and marine systems. Can you speak about the threat of climate change to indigenous culture in the Arctic?

3:45 p.m.

Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual

Dr. David Barber

Sure. They're on the front lines of things. The indigenous culture lives with the Arctic environment.

When I first started my career in the north 40 years ago, the traditional knowledge of the Inuit who we worked with was very precise and very usable, because it had come from generations of having a stable climate system, and things were predictable. The elders now have a really hard time trying to understand and predict how the climate interfaces with the other parts of their system, and as a consequence they're put at a lot of risk.

Just to give you an idea of this, this past summer we took our research icebreaker into Hudson Bay. For the first time ever, we conducted a study that looked at what happens when the fresh water is coming off the land into the basin in Hudson Bay when the ice cover is still there. Over the course of a six-week experiment, we had to go on five different search and rescue calls. Those search and rescue calls were all associated with indigenous hunters who were out on the land trying to harvest resources. They were caught off guard, because the conditions were different from anything that had happened before. The traditional knowledge that they used to help them adapt to the realities of working in these extreme environments just doesn't work the way it used to, because the climate is creating such unusual conditions for them. It's outside the realm of what would be considered normal.

The Inuit are having to adapt to these conditions. They also have the strength of being a highly adaptable people. To be able to settle in these areas initially, you had to be very resilient and adaptable. They are adapting to it, but not without significant struggle because it just creates such unusual conditions that—

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jati Sidhu Liberal Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Going forward, will they be able to hunt marine animals in the future?

3:50 p.m.

Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual

Dr. David Barber

That's a really big question. The marine ecosystem is all changing in the Arctic. When we find that climate change affects things in the marine biota, we mean everything from the very smallest organisms right through to the seals and polar bears and things.

A lot of species from the Atlantic and Pacific are replacing species that were historically in the Arctic. Of course, some of these species are of tremendous interest to the Inuit, because they are commercially harvestable species. In some situations, the Inuit are looking forward to being able to get more species that are different and can reproduce more quickly. In some areas there may be a positive boost to this, and in other areas there might be a negative decline to it. It's quite variable, depending on where and when you talk about that in the Arctic.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jati Sidhu Liberal Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Dr. Barber, recently the Government of Canada released a co-management plan with the Haida Nation and my home province of British Columbia. Would you support a similar plan with Inuit to protect and manage Canada's Arctic waters going forward?

3:50 p.m.

Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual

Dr. David Barber

There already is a lot of co-management going on in the Arctic. There are a lot of co-management boards already, where both indigenous people and people from the ministries have a co-management responsibility for harvestable species.

I think in particular about the Inuvialuit Joint Secretariat in the western Arctic. They have a co-management group there that sets the priorities for how harvesting occurs. They come to agreement on harvestable levels, and they have responsibility and co-management for it.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jati Sidhu Liberal Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

You talked about icebreakers, Dr. Barber.

I need a little more knowledge on that. To my knowledge, we don't have what is called an icebreaker yet. We have a couple of them under construction, with one going into the waters hopefully in 2019. That's more likely a monitoring ship.

The icebreaker will not be in the waters, to my knowledge, until 2021, 2022. What kinds of icebreakers do we have in the waters there?

3:50 p.m.

Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual

Dr. David Barber

We have an entire fleet of icebreakers. We have about 12 or 13 of them, which are all 1200-class icebreakers and they're very capable. We've overwintered on our icebreaker twice now in the High Arctic.

The problem is that the entire icebreaking fleet, which is run by the Coast Guard, is very old. These are all ships that were built in the seventies.

The Amundsen, which is the Canadian research icebreaker that we run, was built in 1979, and it's one of the newer icebreakers that we have. I think you're probably referring to the Diefenbaker, which is an icebreaker that has been funded to be developed, but the delays on it are significant. It's not going to be out in 2019. It will be maybe 2025 or 2030, if it ever gets built. There are some significant issues there.

There have been some stopgap measures by the federal government to try to get some additional icebreakers. They just purchased three used ones this year to take some of the pressure off the fleet. However, we're still sorely under.... We don't have enough icebreakers to manage our country. That's the problem. You need these icebreakers to do it.

With regard to having frigates that are being built for the military, these frigates are not ice capable like an icebreaker is. They can't even go right into the sea ice. They have to be around the periphery.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jati Sidhu Liberal Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

The frigates....

3:50 p.m.

Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, As an Individual

Dr. David Barber

It's the frigates that are like that, yes.

3:50 p.m.

Mr. Michael Levitt (York Centre, Lib.)

The Chair

Thank you very much.

Now we move to MP Blaikie, please.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Professor Barber, for your testimony.

I'm an MP hailing from Manitoba myself. You mentioned Churchill in some of your remarks. One of the things that has been of interest to me throughout this study has been trying to figure out where Churchill figures in an updated Canadian Arctic strategy.

I am wondering if you have some thoughts on the matter that you would like to share with us for the purpose of the study.