Heading into a March 23 summit with the U.S. and Mexican presidents, the Canadian government did nothing more than reiterate its opposition to exploration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In the aftermath of the U.S. Senate vote to allow drilling of the refuge, Canada issued a more moderate response than at any time in the past decade.
Prime Minister Paul Martin had nothing to say about the latest source of cross-border tensions before leaving for the one-day summit in Waco, Texas, with U.S. President George Bush and Mexico’s President Vicente Fox.
What Martin hoped to accomplish at Waco was an agreement to negotiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement to remove regulatory barriers and a clear mechanism to resolve disputes.
The reaction to the ANWR vote was left to Environment Minister Stéphane Dion and the Canadian embassy in Washington.
Dion said Ottawa, despite Bush’s view that ANWR can help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, would continue to pressure Washington to prevent what Canada thinks is a “big mistake.”
Two years ago, when a Senate vote rejected drilling, Canada’s environment minister at the time, David Anderson, said it was “obviously the right decision from our point of view … this is definitely a victory.”
In a flight of fancy, a jubilant Anderson said he would “hear all sorts of caribou cheering cheerfully, clashing their antlers and otherwise making caribou-like noises of approval.”
He said the proposal should never have been in the budget resolution and described it as an “attempt by the Bush administration to improperly smuggle ANWR through the process.”
Canada: 1987 treaty bindingWhile more subdued this time, Canada still insists the United States is bound by a 1987 treaty which requires each side to consult the other before undertaking any activities that would cause a “long term adverse impact” on the 15,000 Porcupine caribou herd that ranges over the northern coastal plain in Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, providing a food source for the Gwich’in people.
Dion said he plans an early meeting with U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton to look “very carefully” at ways to ensure the caribou are protected.
The Canadian embassy said in a statement that Canada opposes efforts to open ANWR to oil and gas development “because it would displace the Porcupine caribou herd.”
It said Canada has protected its portion of the herd’s habitat by imposing permanent wilderness status through the establishment of Ivvaik and Vuntut national parks in northern Yukon, closing the door on some prospective oil and gas regions.
The embassy said exploration would have a “devastating impact” on both the caribou and First Nations people of the Yukon and Northwest Territories who depend on the herd.
John Bennett, policy advisor on energy with the Sierra Club of Canada, described the Senate vote as a “very sad day for the planet,” arguing that 1 million barrels per day of ANWR oil would do little to solve U.S. energy supply needs.
Drilling in ANWR would mean there would be “no sacred areas left in the U.S.,” he said.
Theresa Gulliver, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said the fight is not over, when questions remain about how an exploration program would proceed.
Joe Tetlichi, a member of the Porcupine caribou management board in the Yukon, said that for 18 years the Gwich’in have worked “in a very healthy way … to protect the caribou and protect the Arctic refuge … without stepping on anybody’s toes.”