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EDITORIAL: Northern policy late and light

It was in the making for almost three years.

Then, literally on the eve of a general election, the Trudeau government drops the long-awaited Arctic and Northern Policy Framework on Sept. 10.

There was no major photo op or ministerial parade to coincide the release of such a major document; the defined plan that was to detail how Canada is to both protect the people of the North and defend its sovereignty.

It was also released online as a text webpage – complete with several editing errors – without a colourful PDF version as is usual for a government issuing such a major policy document. No maps. No art. No photos. Just many, many words.

The development of the new Arctic policy outline to direct government action and investment for the next decade was announced in December 2016. To set it apart from previous policies by the Harper Conservatives, this would be co-developed with Indigenous and territorial governments and leaders.

However, this last-minute delivery looks suspiciously like a document that was issued just in time to avoid any criticism of failing the North by not delivering a promised policy package during the current election campaign. Parking a problem inside a report is a time-honoured tradition by political parties of all stripes.

"The Arctic and Northern Policy Framework is a profound change of direction for the Government of Canada," stated Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. "For too long, Canada's Arctic and Northern residents, especially Indigenous people, have not had access to the same services, opportunities, and standards of living as those enjoyed by other Canadians."

Yes, that is true. It is also very well-known by everyone who lives here.

We all know about the problems with transportation, energy, communications, employment, community infrastructure, health and education – all things identified in the framework.

So what are we to make of this "bold opportunity to shape and direct change in the region" as stated by Bennett?

The framework doesn't reveal much change at all from previous policy documents. Sure, there is much stronger language promoting inclusiveness with, and understanding of, Indigenous governments and priorities.

But the document is very short on details. While it is fantastic to make a pledge to end poverty in the North, how will that be accomplished, given present and predicted economic realities?

"Call me a skeptic if you must," wrote Kivalliq News editor Darrell Greer this week, "but count me very much among those who think it would be nice to see exactly how the federal government plans to do all the great things it alludes to with its Arctic and Northern Policy Framework.

"I think we can all agree the top elements of addressing health, economic development and infrastructure, followed closely by ending poverty, homelessness and food insecurity, are all necessary initiatives, but they are also massive issues with big price tags."

The document states that the next phase of framework co-development "will focus on implementation, investment strategies and governance, moving towards more integrated federal-territorial-provincial and Indigenous approaches to challenges and opportunities in Canada's Arctic and North."

Of course that will depend on the Liberals getting re-elected. If another party takes power, there's a chance much of this framework will be scrapped and it will take even longer to return to this point.

Canada needs to protect the North, while also providing some security and comfort to those of us who are from here, or have chosen to call this place home.

Whatever happens in the Oct. 21 election, we hope the next government will stop dragging its feet on implementing a positive plan for the North. Its time to strap on the snow boots, throw on the Canada Goose parka and get to work.