A first ministry dedicated exclusively to the Arctic region
Dan Vandal heads the first department in the country’s history to focus exclusively on the Arctic, but he knows he will depend on his cabinet colleagues to make his priorities a reality.
“From my point of view, my department is responsible for all files – the environment, transportation, resource development – but for the North,” said the Manitoba MP. “We will do this by working closely with other departments.”
The cabinet has had a ministry for the north for decades, but it has always encompassed related areas such as resource development and aboriginal affairs.
The new Ministry of Northern Affairs is unique because it is dedicated to a region and not to a subject. This means that for almost all of the priorities expressed by northern citizens, such as a route to the Arctic or improving health care, Mr. Vandal will have to work with the department responsible for building the roads or funding the hospitals, for example.
“It’s the kind of portfolio that touches so many different areas,” he explains in an interview with The Canadian Press. “All the ministries are autonomous and I am an independent minister; so I will have to design protocols to establish how we will approach things. ”
What will be the priorities of his ministry? Vandal mentions Nutrition North, a federal program that subsidizes northern grocery stores to reduce food costs, but which has been found to be ineffective.
“I want to make sure that these programs are properly deployed so that we do a better job of ensuring that the people there have the right to basic nutrition.” This is fundamental. ”
Mr. Vandal is also interested in access to post-secondary studies in the North. A university is scheduled to open in the Yukon next spring, but access to degree programs is limited in the rest of the Arctic.
Consulting with Arctic populations
Infrastructure is also important to government across the country, but it is especially important in the north, he added.
“We know there aren’t many [in the North]. Basic infrastructure is necessary for resource projects to move forward, so I will definitely make it a priority. ”
Dan Vandal says his priority actions will be determined by the citizens of the Arctic. It provides for several meetings with the premiers of the territories and Aboriginal leaders.
“Before being too directive – we can do this, we can do that – I need to do more field work with the people who live in the region.”
He also promises to consult with members of the Arctic. Two of them are Liberals – Larry Bagnell and Michael McLeod – while Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is an NDP.
Establishing priorities is one thing, but you still have to get the budget to make them happen. Budget talks are underway and Mr. Vandal knows he will have to be convincing to get his share of the cake.
“I have to make sure that the priorities of the North are reflected in the budget if we are to get things done.”