Diplomats explore Canada’s North

| October 7, 2018 | 0 Comments
The Northern Tour takes place every two years and brings together ambassadors and high commissioners to tour a part of Canada that many Canadians never see.  (Photo: Susan Jane Le Jeune d'Allegeershecque)

The Northern Tour takes place every two years and brings together ambassadors and high commissioners to tour a part of Canada that many Canadians never see. (Photo: Susan Jane Le Jeune d’Allegeershecque)

Every two years, Global Affairs Canada organizes a tour of the North, including the Arctic, for interested ambassadors and high commissioners posted to Canada. For Canada, it is an opportunity to introduce international guests to a storied, but less known, part of our country. This year, I was part of this interesting initiative that many have previously described to me as life-changing.
Roy Norton, chief of protocol, whose office leads in arranging the tour’s logistics, told me how this program links the international community with Canada’s North: “The hope is to help our diplomatic partners achieve a greater understanding of the realities in the North and to create opportunities for ongoing dialogue and co-operation directly with the various communities there.”
This year’s tour began with a First Air commercial flight from Ottawa to Iqaluit. It continued by charter, with stops in Cape Dorset, Hall Beach, Pond Inlet, Resolute Bay, Cambridge Bay, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Dawson City, Whitehorse and Yellowknife. Each stop included program elements reflecting the specific characteristics of the community we were visiting. Our goal was to create platforms for formal and informal learning. They ranged from presentations by representatives of governments to meetings with community, indigenous and business leaders.
The globe’s diversity was well represented by the diplomats on this year’s tour, with ambassadors and high commissioners from 24 countries participating. They posted on Twitter using #NorthernTour2018 so users could follow their journey.
Indian High Commissioner Vikas Swarup spoke about the educational opportunities for Indian students: “[The] last stop in Whitehorse is Yukon College, which received a record 130 Indian students last year.”
Australian High Commissioner Natasha Smith sent a message of thanks to Northern communities: “An incredible few days learning about the Arctic. Can’t thank the communities in Nunavut and Northwest Territories enough for their hospitality and willingness to share views and experiences.”
I was with the group on the tour as I had heard so much about it from colleagues who had participated in 2016. It was clear it had created a very special bond among the participants and had influenced how they approached the remainder of their assignment in Canada.
As Canada’s senior Arctic official, my role on the tour was to serve as a resource for the participants by providing context around Canada’s international Arctic work and partnerships. I had already had the opportunity to visit some parts of the Arctic, so the landscape was not entirely unfamiliar, nor were the perspectives of some of the communities we visited. The main difference was crossing the whole of the Arctic — a vast expanse of territory — in a relatively short period. It was remarkable to see my own first experience of the Arctic reflected in the reactions of the participants, at least to some extent.
The varying regional, professional and individual backgrounds, experiences, interests and aims of those on the tour contributed to a rich tapestry of response to what individuals experienced and encountered. As breathtaking as the beauty and diversity of the landscape were, the most compelling element was to see connections being formed by members of the group and those they met. The international community had the opportunity to engage with northerners, including Inuit and First Nations communities, who provided a deeper understanding of Canada’s North and the diverse people who live there. It was an extraordinary trip and one that will lead to partnerships of benefit to northerners in areas such as tourism, science and education, health, culture and commerce.

Alison LeClaire is Canada’s senior Arctic official and director general of Arctic, Eurasian and European Affairs.

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Alison LeClaire is Canada’s senior Arctic official and director general of Arctic, Eurasian and European Affairs.

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