Arctic Policy Framework Roundtables Report, Natural, theoretical and applied sciences, Ottawa, February 8, 2018

The opinions and views set out in this report prepared by Stratos | BDO are not necessarily the opinions or views of the Government of Canada.



To inform the development of the new Arctic Policy Framework (framework) by gaining insight into the interests, priorities and desired outcomes of partners and stakeholders; and to identify possible areas for joint action to achieve shared goals.

Representatives from the natural, theoretical and applied science community across Canada participated in this roundtable, along with representatives from some of the framework’s co-development partners. To protect the privacy of participants, the names of individuals are not disclosed, except where permission to be quoted has been obtained.

About the report
This report synthesizes the input provided by participants across 6 thematic areas:

  1. Ciomprehensive Arctic infrastructure
  2. Strong Arctic people and communities
  3. Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies
  4. Arctic science and Indigenous knowledge
  5. Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity
  6. The Arctic in a global context

The discussion within each theme was guided by a small set of discussion questions, which are provided below. Comments were shared by individual participants, unless otherwise noted.

Information gathered during this roundtable will be used as input to the development of the framework, along with information gathered at other national and regional multi-stakeholder roundtables, and through ongoing engagement with Indigenous governments and representatives and territorial and provincial governments directly involved in the co-development process.

Overarching themes and messages for the framework

Key themes and messages that were repeated throughout the day by participants and often applied to multiple themes are listed below, in no particular order of importance:

Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure

Discussion questions

  • What are the key infrastructure priorities for the Arctic?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?


  • From an Inuit perspective, ice is considered critical infrastructure, including for transportation purposes
  • For example, ships that create gaps in the ice are monitored and communicated by local community members


  • Ports should be considered for Nunavut in Resolute Bay and Qikiqtarjuaq, as well as a location on the west coast of Nunavut
  • Ports often are hubs for economic activity, improve access to communities and improve emergency response capabilities
  • Ports can also have environmental impacts (e.g. aquatic invasive species), which require monitoring and enforcement activities to prevent


  • There is a large deficit in housing infrastructure, including standards of already built infrastructure (e.g. housing in Nunatsiavut is built to Newfoundland standards, but due to discontinuous permafrost, some homes require repairs or replacement within five years)
  • The tuberculosis epidemic in the Arctic is partly driven by overcrowding in housing


  • Northern health services need greater access to doctors, nurses, x-ray technicians, equipment, etc., as often patients are medically evacuated from their communities for long periods of time
  • For example, pregnant women in Nunatsiavut leave home 7 months into their pregnancy to have access to health care in time for their delivery; this can disrupt their household income, family life, etc.


  • Airstrips should be updated to accommodate larger aircraft, which are more economical and can drive down transportation costs
  • Investments in weather and navigation information and equipment could help reduce the number of flights that do not make it to communities due to weather, visibility, etc.

Internet and infrastructure technology

  • Connectivity is generally available in the North, but bandwidth is not necessarily functional
  • Connectivity affects everything; health, education (e.g. distance education), commerce (e.g. online sales and marketing), etc.
    • This can also prevent the growth of a knowledge economy

Renewable energy

  • Provincial and territorial regulations can be a barrier to implementing renewable energy options (e.g. regulations that prevent net metering, lack of local authorizations to turn on back-up generators in extreme weather events, etc.)
  • Reducing reliance on diesel can decrease energy costs, although it is a challenge to appropriately manage intermittent energy sources

Other infrastructure needs

  • There is a lack of research infrastructure across the North; for example, most researchers work in High Arctic islands due to the availability of Twin Otter hours, icebreakers, etc.
    • A greater investment in research infrastructure could also help recruit and retain Northerner researchers in Northern institutions
  • Clean drinking water (e.g. water treatment, sewage) and waste disposal infrastructure needs investment in the North

Infrastructure implementation

  • Partnerships between industry and government are often successful at building infrastructure, but may not provide long-term funding sources for operations and maintenance, particularly once industry leaves
  • The North has short construction seasons for building infrastructure and, therefore, longer time frames need to be accommodated i.e. equipment should be mobilized far in advance
  • Climate change impacts should be considered in every project proposal (e.g. building/road subsidence)
  • Northern funding programs are typically targeted towards the three territories; this means that other Northern regions are competing for Southern funds that may not be appropriate for Northern infrastructure needs

Strong Arctic people and communities

Discussion questions

  • What key actions could increase well-being within Arctic communities?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Basic needs

  • Participants strongly emphasized that meeting basic needs (e.g. housing, food security, physical and mental health, elder care is foundational to all other priorities, including education, employment, retention of talent (i.e. stopping the "brain drain"), etc.
  • Housing, energy supply, and water infrastructure are perceived as "un-exciting" investments that don’t get enough attention from politicians and government funding
  • There is no obvious reference to food security in the framework’s themes
  • Food security-related activities should holistically address both access to Northern foods (e.g. snow machine parts and maintenance) and Southern foods (i.e. fruit and vegetables)
    • It was noted that Nutrition North is not viewed as effectively reducing the price of Southern food

"If people are suffering from addictions or intergenerational trauma, they are not going to learn or do well. We need to start with the fundamentals to get people well before we talk about education and higher needs". - Mary-Ellen Thomas, Nunavut Research Institute


  • Many participants observed that government partners should provide support to Northerners to implement their own solutions to challenges they face (i.e. support self-determination), as they often lack the money or authority to take action
  • A desired outcome would be Northerners leading and supporting Northern services (e.g. health care, policing, etc.)


  • Many participants agreed that education is a significant challenge in the Canadian Arctic
  • Education programs and, more specifically, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs should be localized and indigenized, focusing on existing assets in the North (e.g. knowledge of the land), and be supported by long-term funds
    • Northerner success rates typically increase and drop-out rates decrease when education is based in the North rather than the South
    • Greenland is an example of an education system that integrates Northern culture with high graduation rates
  • Post-secondary education should be available in the North
    • Yukon College’s transformation to a university is underway
    • The Government of Nunavut is actively seeking a Canadian university partner to bring post-secondary education programs to Nunavut
  • The Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning is an example of a Northern education system designed in the North, by Northerners and for Northerners, i.e. mental health and wellness is a significant aspect of the program, programming takes place on the land, participants represent multiple generations (from mothers and babies to Elders)
    • Dechinta Centre has also worked with Southern universities to recognize Elders with PhD degrees

Research led by Northerners

  • Participants noted that many suggestions to improve Northern research have been made in past processes, but these have rarely been implemented
  • Northerners should be driving research priorities, rather than decisions about science being made far away from the North, which don’t answer questions that are relevant to Northerners
    • This can be achieved, in part, by ensuring Northerners have leadership positions in government and agencies responsible for designing, funding, selecting and carrying-out research
  • An example of an outcome to avoid is researchers emailing affected communities or rightsholders a day before the research application deadline to request a letter of support
  • Northerners should be represented on research ethic boards
  • Northerners and Northern institutions should lead and execute research projects in the North
    • Northern educational, research institutions and communities should be eligible for tri-council Footnote 1 funding
    • Funding should reflect local realities (e.g. not require receipts for guides’ per diems)
  • Some researchers based in the South are not recognized for engaging with Northern communities (e.g. does not count towards achieving tenure)
    • This dynamic should change, i.e. to value community-based research, particularly because it is so competitive to achieve tenure
  • Young scientists, including government employees, are often not appropriately trained to work with Northern communities, Elders, etc.
    • One participant shared an anecdotal example of a Statistics Canada employee that visited a Northern community without a translator and, therefore, only interviewed English-speaking (predominantly non-Indigenous) residents
    • It should be recognized and communicated that working with Northerners leads to better science
  • Research funds should require that researchers report on the level of engagement with communities, as well as Indigenous and Northern representation on the research team
    • The current focus on achieving gender equity should be expanded to include participation of Northerners and Indigenous peoples
    • Southern researchers currently have more power in Canada’s research system (e.g. better access to funds) and should exercise that privilege to push for change
  • It would be helpful to identify and share leading examples of collaboration between researchers and Northerners, where mutual goals lead to all parties being invested in the work
    • Smart Ice, a program that uses traditional knowledge and remote monitoring technology to assess local ice conditions, is one such example
  • Funding timelines often do not reflect the realities of the North (e.g. there is a short period for some types of field work)

"I would like to get to a point where we’re not talking about "academics" and "Northerners" – to get to the point where they are one and the same; where Northerners are leaders of the research, not just partnerships or participation." – Kristeen McTavish, Nunatsiavut Government

Other comments

  • The term "sensible development" may be more appropriate than "sustainable development", which is a Western concept focused on the environment
  • Demographics show a youth bulge in the eastern Arctic; the framework should look beyond 2030

Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies

Discussion questions

  • What can be done to advance sustainable economic development, grow small-to-medium Arctic businesses, and diversify the Arctic economy?
  • What can be done to build capacity/expertise and increase the participation of Arctic residents in local economies?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Defining Northern "economic development"

  • From an assets-based economic perspective, great value is being generated in the Arctic (e.g. food-sharing, arts, carving, film, research), but from a "neoliberal" perspective these same people are welfare recipients
    • The term "economic development" should reflect a Northern perspective (e.g. support for the traditional economy)
  • Northerners should be participants in designing their own economy
  • For example, the Northwest Territories government is prioritizing the development of the knowledge economy (i.e. elder’s knowledge, on-the-land knowledge, research knowledge, etc.), starting with improving an understanding of funding that is used for science research in the Arctic (e.g. conferences, gathering of traditional knowledge, etc.)
  • How can research in communities generate economic benefits? How can research contribute to the development of social enterprises?
    • Funding is needed for Northern research infrastructure (i.e. for Northern organizations)
  • Co-operative enterprise strongly contributed to Arctic economic growth in the 1970s

Addressing the infrastructure, health and social gaps

  • Massive health and social gaps should be addressed to allow for the growth of Northern economies
  • The cost of living and differential impacts of government policies on Northerners (e.g. social assistance, pension plans, etc.) need to be better understood
  • Cost of energy is a barrier to business development; energy alternatives should be explored
  • Arctic infrastructure hasn’t received significant investment since the 1950s; another "war-time" investment program is needed (e.g. a "Marshall Plan")
  • Infrastructure development should be approached from a Northern perspective (e.g. strengthening sea ice, designing education systems based on the land, Indigenous-based models of health and wellbeing, etc.)

East-west mobility

  • East-west mobility between Northern communities should be supported
    • For example, it is a 1hr 20 min flight from Iqaluit to Nuuk, Greenland, but direct flights do not exist
  • The aviation industry has been slow to innovate (e.g. new technologies like air ships have not been considered)
    • A government representative shared that in 120 days Transport Canada will provide a plan to the Senate committee on addressing the aviation infrastructure gap
  • East-west linkages could also be fostered by internet and telecommunications access

Arctic science and Indigenous knowledge

Discussion questions

  • What can be done to respond more effectively to local knowledge needs?
  • What can be done to increase the capacity of Arctic residents to participate in Arctic research initiatives and to better integrate Indigenous knowledge into decision-making?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Discussion guide questions: updating terminology

  • Several participants agreed that the terminology of the framework’s discussion guide questions should be updated, including:
    • Increase Northerner capacity to "lead" in Arctic research, rather than "participate"
    • Indigenous knowledge and "Western" science are two unique knowledge systems; one should not be "integrated" into the other, rather both should be equally valued (i.e. Indigenous knowledge does not need to be rationalized by Western science)

Three categories of knowledge: science (invisible effects), perceptible changes, and human experience

  • Three categories of scientific and Indigenous knowledge include: (1) data only detectable by science, (2) changes measurable in science and perceptible by humans, and (3) human experience and knowledge of the land that cannot yet be detected by science
  • The third category, human experience and knowledge, should be better valued by researchers and research funding bodies
    • This knowledge requires investment and compensation, as it is a more continuous form of data and cannot be generated anywhere else
    • Research in this area could be leveraged to help Indigenous youth and Elders connect on the land
  • Lived experience and science findings do not necessarily align; for example, the usage threshold (i.e. when a person is no longer comfortable using the land) is a significant effect, regardless of scientific findings of environmental impact

"Like any other kind of research, scientists expect to be compensated for their time researching. Nunavummiut should be compensated for their time, their expenses, and be respected as researchers." - Richard Nesbitt, Hutchinson Environmental Science Ltd.

Enabling Northerner/community-based monitoring and contributions to research

  • Communities should be involved early on in designing research projects (i.e. prior to funding) and/or setting research priorities (i.e. to inform the "call for proposals")
    • This work should enable reconciliation and self-determination efforts
    • Research institutes should require sign-off from rightsholders prior to the initiation of research
    • Not all communities have the resources to participate in or prioritize research
    • Each community has different needs and may operate on different timelines
  • Existing research needs to be better monitored to avoid duplication of effort
  • Northerners should be brought down South to academic institutions to teach how to best conduct research in Northern communities
  • If communities are only asked to do one week of monitoring once a year, they won’t get the opportunity to practice and solidify that knowledge
    • On the other hand, if the reason for monitoring is explained and there is adequate training, there should not be a problem with the quality of data
    • This goes both ways, researchers question the reliability of community-based data, just as Northerners question the validity of scientific findings
  • Research findings should be shared through channels that are relevant to Northerners

"We hear about training communities to be good researchers. Why can’t communities also teach researchers to be good Northerners?" - Pitseolak Pfeifer, Carleton University

Collaborative research with communities

  • Collaborative research allows communities to better engage with the data and avoids discrepancies being identified by communities after a peer-reviewed paper is published
  • Collaborative research requires long-term funding and investment in capacity building
  • For example, monitoring of arctic char in Nunatsiavut is now conducted by harvesters and local youth, who send their samples to Southern labs, and results are sent back to the Nunatsiavut government
    • Using local monitoring staff is cheaper than flying Southern-based researchers for samples
    • Excess funds are used to provide training to Nunatsiavut residents (e.g. fly Nunatsiavut government staff to Burlington to learn about the lab analysis process)

International collaborative research

  • In November 2017, the Inuit Circumpolar Council’s Pikialasorsuaq Commission requested the North Water Polynya be co-managed and protected by Canada and Greenland as well as reinstate free movement for Inuit; they are working together on issues in the North water
  • The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) of the Arctic Council monitors and assesses pollution or climate change issues in the Arctic
    • AMAP is a best practice for feeding information up, but information does not necessarily come back down (i.e. results not reported back to communities)
    • There are representative organizations party to AMAP, but they may not have the scientific expertise to meaningfully participate
  • The framework should address barriers to full participation in the above-described initiatives

Other comments

  • Most funding is project-based and short-term; there is a need for sustained, long-term funding available to Northerners to help build long-term success in the North

Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity

Discussion questions

  • How can Indigenous and local experience/knowledge be incorporated into action on climate change and biodiversity?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Stronger regulations and enforcement to protect the environment

  • Regulations should recognize Indigenous knowledge (e.g. to establish baseline data, potential impacts and monitoring regimes)
  • Science research should inform policy and regulations
  • The regulations for shipping in the Arctic are only applicable to larger vessels, while more and more vessels emerging in the Arctic don’t fall into that category (e.g. recreational vessels)
  • Heavy fuel oil should be banned in the Arctic, as it is elsewhere
  • Shipping corridors should be established that minimize potential impacts to the environment
    • Canada Coast Guard and Transport Canada shipping corridors have been routed to protect migratory pathways for charismatic marine megafauna
  • Monitoring the enforcement of regulations should be strengthened, which could include:
    • Increase monitoring activities during the shipping season
    • Using the Automatic Identification System (AIS) and the Situational Awareness System (SAS) to monitor from space
  • Local communities should have a larger role in emergency response and monitoring
  • There is fairly strong legislation in Nunavut for inland water and large-scale mine developments; impacts are well-characterized and monitoring is conducted by Indigenous and Northern Affairs, regional Inuit associations and industry

Protected areas

  • Protected areas should be collaboratively identified with Northerners
  • The Arctic is remarkably diverse, just like the "South", and that diversity should be considered when developing conservation plans
  • Creating protected areas cannot prevent pollution that originates from non-Northern sources (e.g. ocean plastics) or protect against climate change
  • Protected areas may have a larger impact in the South, where there is more industrial development

Gaps in foundational knowledge of the Arctic environment

  • Many participants acknowledged there are significant gaps in baseline inventories of Arctic environments (e.g. species beyond charismatic megafauna) to inform an understanding of vulnerable areas and species
  • There is also a risk of losing baseline information as generations pass on and climate change rapidly changes everything
  • Integrated regional impact assessments (e.g. strategic environmental assessments) can support gathering of baseline data in data-poor regions and can also be used to inform policy recommendations and legislation
  • Partnerships (i.e., between federal, provincial/territorial, Indigenous and academic organizations) to address gaps in knowledge of the Arctic environment exist and should be further strengthened, such as the 5-year research initiative to understand mercury impacts at Muskrat Falls with ArcticNet and other government partners

Northern collection and management of data

  • The long-term knowledge base of the North is primarily housed in the South, with data scattered across various platforms
  • Researchers should work to share/publicize the data in a central data repository, such as the Polar Data Catalogue, although this should ideally be located in the North
    • Historical data from industry should also be collected and publicized
  • Local community knowledge can contribute rich data through research partnerships
  • Indigenous knowledge should be stored in an accessible manner for Northerners
  • Data collected should address both current and future needs (e.g. planning for sustainable resource development)

Arctic science funding

  • Scientific research is needed to better understand the Arctic environment before development occurs
  • Funding does not always match with community needs; funding calls need to be more flexible and/or Northern communities need to be consulted prior to setting funding priorities, as they are often the first to notice small changes in biodiversity and the environment
  • Arctic science funding has been reduced by the present government (e.g. potential closing of High Arctic research station)
  • Long term investments are needed, particularly due to logistical challenges that can be encountered in trying to travel to the North, which can delay projects

Government, academic and Northern-based research

  • Coordination between government, academic, and Northern-based researchers on areas of common interest will strengthen our understanding of the Arctic environment
    • Coordination with international-based researchers should also be considered
  • Often funding swings between supporting government-based versus academic-based research
  • Research funding should flow directly to Northern-based researchers rather than having to flow through government and academics based in the South
    • Northern-based research centres, Indigenous councils, etc. often cannot apply for research funds
    • A central database that lists researchers and their specialties could enable communities to identify researchers they would like to work with to implement their priorities
  • Northerners can gather data on a more continual basis, which also reduces the carbon emissions of Southern researchers travelling to the North

The Arctic in a global context

Discussion questions

  • What domestic interests and priorities should the Government of Canada pursue internationally?
  • What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities for Canada's Arctic foreign and defence policy in the next 10 to 20 years?

Northwest Passage traffic

  • It is important that the Northwest Passage (NWP) be recognized as internal waters (i.e. controlled and regulated by Canadian laws), especially as more marine traffic is expected in the future
  • There has been an increase in recreational and tourism ships rather than commercial; this can have large impacts on the communities (e.g. alcohol and cigarettes may be used to barter for other items)
  • Research vessels are required to sign an agreement that they’ll share the data that they collect as they travel through the Northwest Passage
    • It is not clear how the data collected is shared with the communities

Emergency response

  • The Arctic Council’s agreement on cooperation on marine oil preparedness and response in the Arctic has not yet been implemented
  • There is a lack of adequate training for local first responders and a lack of emergency response equipment

Border control

  • There is a gap in border service agency presence in the Arctic
  • Refugees have been trying to get to Canada from Greenland via Resolute Bay

Social and economic development in Canada is lagging behind other Arctic nations

  • Investments should be made in small-scale and social enterprises in the North
  • Investments should be made in the knowledge economy
  • Economic/trade barriers (e.g. exporting seal products) should be reduced
  • Successes in Canada’s North should be shared and promoted internationally

International research initiatives

  • Canada’s funding for research has stagnated compared to other Arctic countries (e.g. China has 400 social scientists specializing in the Arctic, Norway has a purpose-built icebreaker for Arctic research, Nunavut hunters rely on Norway weather data, there is a decrease in domestic and international natural scientists visiting Nunavut, etc.)
  • A coherent strategy should be developed to leverage other country funds and bring international researchers to Canada to work collaboratively with Canadian partners
    • This strategy should enable Northern leadership and participation in international scientists’ research
  • An implementation plan is needed for the Arctic Council’s Treaty on International Cooperation for Science
  • Arctic research activities should be examined through the lens of reconciliation (i.e. not repeat mistakes of 1950s, where research and military initiatives were often interconnected)
  • Examples of successful international research collaboration include:
    • Responsibility for collecting and sharing operational weather and climate information in the Arctic is divided amongst the Arctic nations
    • University of the Arctic facilitates North-North relationships and knowledge sharing and enables course and degree equivalencies across the Arctic

Other comments

  • The rotating of Arctic council chairs can lead to a lack of consistent direction
  • The framework should include reference to working with international partners on cross-boundary issues (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions)

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