Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Axworthy urges Arctic co-operation

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OTTAWA -- Canada and the United States need to join forces when it comes to the Arctic, University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy said Monday.

Axworthy delivered the message to Americans last week at a conference on the Arctic hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard Foundation. He said there is a window of opportunity opening for the U.S. and Canada to do something big when Canada takes over as chair of the Arctic Council in 2013.

The U.S. will follow suit, becoming chair for two years in 2015. Those four years together could be a chance for the only two North American nations on the council to work together on everything from oil and gas development to joint shipping plans.

There should even be discussions about Canada and the U.S. working jointly to build new ice breakers, said Axworthy.

Russia, said Axworthy, is spending $10 billion on Arctic infrastructure and ice breakers. Canada and the U.S. are barely in the game.

Canada's fleet of four ice breakers are aging -- the newest is 25 years old -- and plans are to replace them with offshore ice-strengthened patrol boats that may only be capable of operating during the summer.

Axworthy said there was some interest at the U.S. coast guard level of co-operating on such infrastructure.

He said there also needs to be greater emphasis on peace and security as it relates to the Arctic. The U.S. did not agree to include them in the mandate in 1996 but with the Arctic becoming more open as warmer weather thins ice and leaves shipping routes accessible for longer, it needs to be put back on the table.

"There's a recognition now there are different kinds of security issues including shipping traffic, potentially drug traffickers, and environmental spills," said Axworthy. "The council is picking up its game to respond but there are gaps. Changes are coming too quickly and we're not keeping pace."

He said with Canada and the U.S. poised to have four years to control the council's agenda, it is a perfect opportunity to get something effective done.

Churchill and its port would be primed to benefit greatly from any additional work in the Arctic, as it works to diversify the port business in the wake of the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly, said Axworthy.

The Arctic Council was created in 1996 and has eight permanent members -- Canada, the U.S., Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2012 A5

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