Canada: Native Premier Stands Firm on Global Warming

IQALUIT, Nunavut -- Premier Paul Okalik used a simple story about his children to help derail Alberta's attempt to forge an anti-Kyoto Protocol consensus among Canadian premiers meeting in Halifax.

At last week's provincial-territorial premier's conference, Okalik refused to side with Alberta premier Ralph Klein, who wants Ottawa to soften its position on reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.

As the world moves into the second half of what could be its warmest year on record, Okalik is fighting hard for Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

"We did not condemn Kyoto, as some premiers wanted to do, but we said no, we can't do that. There's some of us that are in agreement with it, and there's some that aren't, so there's no consensus on it," Okalik said.

"I made it clear that Nunavut is in favour of Kyoto and I was very pleased with the other premiers that were with Nunavut. Even with those premiers that weren't for Nunavut's position on Kyoto, we understood each other as to why we were for or against Kyoto." Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and Quebec Premier Bernard Landry lined up with Nunavut on the global warming issue.

At a nationally televised press conference last Friday, Okalik publically confronted Klein after the Alberta premier warned that the terms of the Kyoto agreement could reduce oil rich Alberta's equalization contributions to have-not regions of the country. Okalik responded by telling reporters about his attempt to cross a river near Pangnirtung with his children last summer. The river, normally at low levels at that time of year, was too dangerous to cross - because of water from melting glaciers.

"You can keep your money," Okalik told Klein, saying global warming presents a direct threat to the Inuit way of life.

Under the December, 1997 Kyoto agreement, 159 nations agreed to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases below 1990 levels by the year 2012.

Scientists believe that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which is produced by the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal, are responsible for trapping the sun's heat in the upper atmosphere and reflecting it back onto the Earth.

Although individual nations have their own reduction targets, the overall goal of the Kyoto Protocol is to reduce the human production of greenhouse gas by 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. Canada's individual target is to reduce the nation's production of greenhouse gases by six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Alberta, however, has complained that this could throw thousands of Albertans out of work and take billions of dollars out his province's economy. Klein has also said that the U.S. refusal to ratify Kyoto would make it difficult for Alberta to compete with U.S. oil producers.

By the end of their conference, premiers agreed to disagree on the Kyoto issue, and put the matter off to a future federal-provincial-territorial meeting. In an interview this week, Okalik had some conciliatory words for Alberta, saying he recognizes Alberta's position.

"Alberta's done a lot in reducing their emissions as well, I think they deserve a lot of credit for that. They've done a lot more than, actually, Nunavut. They, like all premiers, support it [the Kyoto Protocol] in principle. It's just that the targets will put economic constraints on their province, for Alberta in particular."

Okalik says he will have a much easier time dealing with the global warming at next week's Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) in Kuujjuaq, where the issue sits high up on the conference's agenda.

A statement on climate change in the Arctic is likely to be included in the "Kuujjuaq Declaration," a document that would set out the ICC's future goals and principles.

"There will be a more common position there because we all live in the North and we won't have to do any educating there, it's just a matter of how we work together on this issue," Okalik said.

On the health care funding issue, premiers also agreed to hold another meeting with Ottawa, some time after Roy Romanow issues his one-man commission's report on the future of Canada's health care system.

Okalik said he used last week's conference to once again point out that the federal government is not meeting its fiduciary responsibility to pay health care costs for aboriginal people in the northern territories.

"All the premiers know our issue and supported us in our position, and supported each other, in making sure that aboriginal health is improved and the current situation is unnacceptable," Okalik sai


The government of Nunavut is now seeking a 50-50 cost sharing agreement with Ottawa to pay for the construction of three badly needed health facilities in Nunavut, including a replacement for Iqaluit's aging hospital building.

"We continue to wait for the federal government to live up to its obligations," Okalik said.

{Published in cooperation with Nunatsiaq News, Iqaluit, Nunavut. Email:}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2002. All Rights Reserved.

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