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PHOTO: JEFF SAARELA © CANADIAN MUSEUM OF NATURE PHOTO: LYNN GILLESPIE © CANADIAN MUSEUM OF NATURE

Dr. Lynn Gillespie, Roger Bull, and Paul Sokoloff repack the canoes used to traverse the Soper River, Baffin Island, after portaging around Soper Falls, July 19th, 2012.

Dr. Jeff Saarela paddles towards a camp along the Hornaday River in Tuktut Nogait National Park, Northwest Territories, July 2009.

For Scott, such direct clarification of complex issues is integral to the Commission’s revitalized mandate. “We’re a knowledge brokerage, essentially,” he explains. “Our stock in trade is understanding what’s happening in the North, what the knowledge needs are in the natural sciences and social sciences, what’s happening with traditional knowledge. We very much pride ourselves in being aware of what the North is saying about various things, and then trying to turn that around in Ottawa, in the federal system.” He credits the turnaround in the Commission’s fortunes to a keen interest in the North by many members of the current government, especially Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has gone to the Arctic at least once in every year of his term. “He’s absolutely passionate about it,” notes Scott.

As a further measure of the Commission’s renewed status, Scott points to its recently added responsibility for the Northern Scientific Training Program, which provides more than $1 million annually to hundreds of students at some three dozen Canadian universities who are pursuing research work in the North. Established in 1961, the program is aimed at building a cadre of Arctic expertise commensurate with the expanse of Canada’s northern territory. The Polar Commission has also taken over the administration of the Northern Science Award, a prestigious medal presented to individuals whose work represents a distinguished contribution to the region’s research work. Created for the centennial of the original International Polar Year in 1982, the medal became another victim of neglect and had not been awarded since 2006, until 2013 (See Sidebar p. 39). He also anticipates greater public outreach to enhance the Commission’s profile. While the organization answers directly to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and collaborates with other branches of government such as Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada, it has also built relationships with the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. Nor does Scott want to stop at institutional links. Earlier this year he showcased the Commission’s activities to the country’s science writing community. The Canadian Science Writers’ Association and the Association des communicateurs scientifiques, which have a combined membership of more than 600 people engaged in some aspect of communicating science and technology, held a joint annual meeting in Montreal at the beginning of June. The program included presentations by Scott and four researchers affiliated with the Polar Commission. Each of them was peppered with questions from an audience made up of people who regularly delve more deeply into research questions than most journalists would ever care to do. And Scott, for his part, promised that the answers would be more complete and candid than journalists have come to expect from government sources.

The Arctic is “a pristine wilderness, teasing our imaginations; a frontier, packed with economic opportunity; a laboratory for scientific investigation; and a homeland to part of the country’s population.” — Polar Commission Board Chair Bernard Funston January/February 2014

above & beyond

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Above & Beyond | Canada's Arctic Journal January-February 2014  
Above & Beyond | Canada's Arctic Journal January-February 2014