Mary Simon in Finland focused on cross-polar collaboration
Governor Mary Simon says Canada needs to find ways to continue bilateral cooperation while holding Russia accountable for its invasion of Ukraine.
“When it comes to indigenous peoples, research and climate change, these are issues that transcend borders,” Simon said in an interview after his state visit to Finland.
“It’s a very difficult situation.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent Simon to Helsinki this month with a delegation of Arctic research and government officials to mark the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Finland.
The visit comes as Finland seeks closer military ties with other Western countries following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finland shares a 1,340 km border with Russia. The country has maintained a strong military for decades, but has avoided formal ties with the NATO military alliance.
That is until last year, both Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO, with Canada becoming the first country to vote in favor of both memberships.
Last October, the Finnish government tweaked its Arctic strategy announced a year ago, saying an invasion of Ukraine meant a new Cold War was underway.
The report calls on Finland to seek to maintain “functional relations” with its Russian neighbor on issues such as climate change and indigenous peoples, but little else.
“There will be no return to pre-war reality,” read the English-language summary of the report, urging Finland to examine everything with Russia through a security lens. “Even chaos is possible.”
In an interview, Simon said it was clear Canada needed to work with Russia and the people of all Arctic countries on issues such as climate change and indigenous peoples.
“It’s important for countries to understand how they can continue to work together when there is a terrible war going on against the rules-based international order,” she said.
Simon emphasized that this does not imply a deep relationship with Russia.
“For Canada, we take our responsibility to defend our northern sovereignty very seriously, and we will continue to ensure that Canadian interests are protected at home and abroad,” she said.
Simon, an Inuk who grew up in northern Quebec, said, “What’s happening in the north is affecting the world. When you look at security issues and climate change, the world is paying more attention than ever.
Prior to becoming Viceroy, Simon did the heavy lifting on Canada’s Arctic and Northern policy framework, leading dozens of consultations across Northern Canada.
Prior to that, he was Canada’s ambassador to Denmark, a role focused on working with the Greenlandic Inuit.
Simon noted that the Far North, which has generally avoided geopolitical conflict for decades, is increasingly attracting attention as a site for resource extraction and transportation routes.
“The Arctic has historically been a corporate region, and as the strategic importance of the region grows, safety and security challenges have recently emerged,” she said.
Tensions were particularly pronounced at the Intergovernmental Arctic Council Forum, which had been largely suspended since the Russian invasion.
The agency, which Simon helped found, coordinates circumpolar research, transportation routes and search and rescue services between eight nations and indigenous peoples.
However, all members except Russia have gotten out of their bodies and started side projects involving fishing etc. without any input from Russia.
Simon mentioned the difficult situation facing the Arctic Council.
“Rising sea levels are having a direct impact,” she said of the region.
“These are the things we must continue to work together.”
During his stay in Helsinki, Simon met with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto to discuss security and climate change.
Simon then traveled to the Arctic Circle to meet with education officials and representatives of the region’s indigenous Sami people.
She referred to Finland’s move towards truth and reconciliation with the Sámi people, which she said was in its “early stages”, and gave Canada lessons on engaging with Indigenous youth.
Finland’s coalition recently attempted to incorporate an existing Sami legislative assembly as part of the country’s governance, but it collapsed this week due to uncertainty over what role the council would play.
Simon also said Finland’s renowned education system could be a lesson for Canada in reaching higher graduation levels across the country.
Simon, meanwhile, said he would like to continue a candid discussion with the Canadians. Weeks after Rideau Hall shut down the comments section of all his social media accounts, citing toxic acrimony.
“These are the tough decisions we have to make sometimes,” she said.
“We stand for constructive criticism. I’ve always stood for it. If people disagree with me, I want to hear about it. But it’s done very respectfully.” You should. It’s important to do that.”
Simon declined to elaborate on how the comments affected her, but said her staff had been dealing with a flood of inappropriate comments for “a long time.”
“We’re not trying to block anything here, but I think it’s important to understand that toxic abuse, harassment, and misogyny cannot continue in our space.”
This report by the Canadian Press was first published on February 28, 2023.