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Interview with Alison LeClaire, Senior Arctic Official for Canada

9 November 2016
The Arctic Council has recently welcomed three new Senior Arctic Officials: Hanne Eskjær (Kingdom of Denmark), Anniken Krutnes (Norway), and Alison LeClaire (Canada). In this interview, we speak with Alison LeClaire about her background and about her thoughts on her upcoming work with the Council.

Q: What is your background, and how do you feel it has prepared you for your role as a Senior Arctic Official?

I have worked in many different areas of the Global Affairs Canada, and I think that that variety will serve me well in this role. Three assignments have particular relevance. First, I was what we call the desk officer for International Arctic and Forest issues from 1993-1995, leaving to have my first child just one year before the Arctic Council was created. Most of that work related to the Arctic Environment Protection Strategy or AEPS; the governance and structure of the AEPS were folded into the Arctic Council so much of the language is familiar to me. Also familiar from those days is the remarkably spirit of collaboration that I can already see is alive and well in the Arctic Council. I am delighted to back! While not connected to my work on the Arctic, that job also gave me the opportunity to work with Russian colleagues in Khabarovsk and in Moscow. I spent four (wonderful) years later in my career posted to Canada’s Embassy in Stockholm and was involved in some Arctic related work in the context of the excellent Canada-Sweden bilateral relationship. In fact, my last trip in Sweden was a week-long tour of Northern Sweden, including a visit to the Sami Museum in Jokkmokk, a night in the Ice Hotel, and a visit to Lulea. Lastly, I was most recently posted to Canada’s mission to the UN at Geneva. Not only did I have many opportunities to learn about and work on issues that are relevant to the Arctic, I gained practical multilateral experience that I think will help me in my role as Senior Arctic Official.

Q: What elements of your work with the Arctic Council are you most looking forward to?

That is a tough question! The work of all parts of the Council is so important and interesting. I am very mindful that I need to be in “receive” mode at the start, to learn about the Council’s work in detail and to understand better the challenges facing the circumpolar world and the communities that are on the front line of the impact of those challenges. I am very much looking forward to working with the Permanent Participants. There are so many challenges that Northerners face, and I believe that the work the Council is doing will make a difference in creating conditions for language and culture to continue to thrive, in fostering responsible economic development that will benefit Northerners, and in bringing the use of traditional knowledge to the forefront of science and research in the region.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you see for the Arctic Council that you are looking forward to tackling in your new position?

As an early answer, I am very interested in the work that the Council is doing on governance, particularly in strategic planning. Good governance is an ongoing challenge for any institution. I think that there are opportunities to improve the impact of the Council’s work by strengthening some of its mechanisms for coordination, planning and reporting. I also want to sustain the efforts of my predecessor (and good friend and colleague!) Sue Harper in building up the economic dimension of the Council’s work, grounded of course in the aim to work collaboratively with the Arctic Economic Council and Northern communities for responsible economic development by and for Northerners. My final comment would touch on my own personal commitment and interest in issues relating to gender equality. That is not to say that I see it as a challenge for the Council, but it is one that I am interested in exploring in the circumpolar context. Like any policy objective, it must be underpinned with evidence-based analysis. Our government emphasizes the importance of gender-based analysis plus (i.e. work to understand through specific methodologies the potential impact of policies and programs on men and women in all their diversity). Its aim is to improve the effectiveness of policies and programs, and to position us to mitigate negative impacts. I’m interested in exploring the implications for the work of the Council.